Hidden-Gem Islands You Should Add To Your Bucket List

Perhaps it's the physical separation of an island that makes it such a great vacation destination. An island can be many things — a home to sultry beaches, a remote getaway that's off the grid, a fount of biodiversity, or a place to pamper yourself — and has a disarming way of resonating with us. Just say the word "island," and you're likely to feel more relaxed, perhaps picturing an aspirational place that allows you to depart from the daily grind. Some islands loom large in public perception, with identities that speak to their popular appeal, places like Santorini, Bermuda, Koh Samui, Mauritius, Capri, Okinawa, Bora Bora, Boracay, and Maui. 

However, for everyone that is a household name, there are scores more to discover, isles that tend not to enter popular conversation. And there are a lot of islands out there, with no general consensus on exactly how many exist in the world, except that the number runs into the thousands, making the choices seem endless. To help you narrow them down and place them on your radar, here are a few hidden-gem islands worthy of your bucket list. 


This remote destination in the Seychelles doesn't have lodging or inhabitants, but it's a wellspring of biodiversity. Despite its lack of tourism-oriented infrastructure, you can visit. It's a rare treat, the kind that few travelers get to enjoy. Aldabra actually refers to the name of a tiny atoll that comprises four small islands, located hundreds of miles from the country's main island, with an international point of entry of Mahé. The islands wrap around a gorgeous lagoon of clear turquoise water, and visitors usually come here on a "live-aboard vessel," after getting permission to visit from the government-appointed Seychelles Island Foundation. 

The hoops are definitely worth jumping through, as the atoll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aldabra's solitude has helped its unique biodiversity to thrive, with hundreds of endemic plants and animals, flamingos that live by the ocean, and a huge population of giant tortoises. You can think of Aldabra as the Galápagos Islands of the Indian Ocean.

Barro Colorado

A little more than a century ago, this island destination in Panama didn't exist. But then, along came the engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal, which created an inland body of water known as Gatun Lake, the home of Barro Colorado. The island is run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), an institution that focuses on tropical environments, with scientists on staff, researchers, and other visitors who look specifically at the forest and marine realms of the island.

The amazing flora and fauna make this a bucket-list spot, plus it's the only Smithsonian Institution department outside the United States. Travelers can arrange a visit through STRI (or directly with a tour operator) and will be rewarded by pristine rainforest, guided and educational hikes, and the chance to spot toucans, howler monkeys, and hundreds of types of butterflies that flutter under the canopy. It's only a 30-minute drive from Panama City to Gamboa, the closest town to the island. From here, the institute will arrange your transportation by boat. 


Known also as Tenedos, and sitting east of the Greek island of Limnos in the Aegean Sea, this charming Turkish island has managed to evade mass tourism. Bozcaada is one of the few islands in the Aegean part of Turkey. However, it didn't attract visitors for decades, as many travelers headed south to the islands near Bodrum. Bozcaada has benefited from the lack of tourism focus, and it retains an aura of yesteryear. The main harbor is charming, with small, independent hotels instead of large chains, and family homes that look like they have stories to tell. 

Visitors can wander around cobbled streets, explore castles, and visit Greek Orthodox churches in the main town. You can also sip a glass of white at the island's many wineries, or head to some fantastic beaches, including Sulbahçe Plaji, where the sunsets are spellbinding. Music fans should consider planning to visit during the annual jazz festival, held in September.


The gorgeous waters around St. Vincent and the Grenadines are some of the most attractive seascapes anywhere on the planet, and plenty of that beauty is also on view on the Vincentian Island of Canouan. The relatively unknown island is shaped vaguely like a seahorse, where the jagged coastline curves and curls, and forested hills rise along its spine to give the landscape a bit of drama. The sea is clear, warm, calm, and kissed by striking soft-sand beaches.

There's even a great reef just offshore that allows for some excellent snorkeling excursions. Canouan is also a great place to spoil yourself thanks to the plush accommodations, from independent villas to high-end resorts. Canouan Estate Resort & Villas comprises individual homes to rent within a larger community that has its own beaches, restaurants, and a golf course, while Mandarin Oriental Canouan and Soho Beach House Canouan bring a full-service experience to the island escape.


Located in Chile, south of Santiago, this island has so much to see, from natural attractions to manmade miracles. Among the highlights are the UNESCO World Heritage Site churches. There are 16 of them in total, with a majority located on the main island of Chiloé. Notable for their unique construction and first built in the 1600s, they meld European architectural practices with local raw materials (including the region's wood) and methods of building, creating a fusion that is visually striking. Wood is also used to dramatic effect in the structures known as "palafitos," which are brightly painted houses built on stilts above the coastal waters. 

The island's outdoors also beckons, with many great spots for kayaking and hiking in Chiloé National Park. When it's time to exercise the palate, seafood is abundant on Chiloé and it's showcased in a beloved local dish called "curanto," which involves slowly cooking the seafood with other ingredients in a pot heated by a pit of hot stones.


One of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands, Flores resembles a tadpole swishing through the water, long and relatively slender, though it is still a big island to explore. A unique site on the island is Mount Kelimutu, a volcano that has pools of multi-colored water within its craters, turning the landscape into a fantastical realm seemingly not of this Earth. The colors of the water tend to change depending on the light. Sometimes they seem green and blue, but can also appear red and black, and looking at them is a 'pinch-me-am-I-dreaming?' moment. 

Elsewhere on the island, visitors can gaze over precise, terraced rice paddies, beaches with pebbles of blue stone, and the amazing tribal village of Wae Rebo. A small settlement of conical-roofed houses, Wae Rebo can only be reached on foot via a three-hour hike and sits in a grassy bowl surrounded by mountains. An overnight stay here, which can be organized by local tour operators, is a magical experience. 


This island in Norway is certainly tiny, but the scenery is truly outsized. It sits among deep fjords and soaring mountains, a geography that makes this northern part of Norway such a bucket-list destination. From the island, which is little more than an extended fishing village, that dramatic terrain is on full view, and Husøy plays the role of a quaint refuge in a realm of untamed beauty. Yet, there is enough to do on the island to make a stay here special. 

There are hikes around Husøy that let visitors appreciate the lay of the land, and during certain months, the Northern Lights glimmer. But regardless of the time of year you visit Norway, the main fishing village feels like it belongs in another era. It's simple, with basic stores and a complete sense of tranquility. Further afield, travelers can also find a church and a lighthouse. This is a place where you'll feel like you're moored at the end of the world.

Nosy Boraha

Nosy Boraha is a thin, needle-shaped island that sits off the east coast of Madagascar. Come here and you'll find gorgeous, white-sand beaches and clear, turquoise waters. It's an archetypal island paradise. The water is perfect for swimming and is coupled with sand that is comfortingly soft underfoot. Quiet fishing villages along the coast reinforce the easy vibe, and the reefs sitting just offshore ensure that exploration of the sea is just as enjoyable as the time spent on land. 

Even more exciting is the chance to see migrating humpback whales that swim by in the winter months— June to September — as they head north from Antarctica to give birth in warmer waters. Off the island's southern tip, across a narrow channel that you could almost wade across during low tide, visitors will find Ile aux Nattes, where the beaches are even more spectacular.

Ilha do Campeche

Close to the surfing haven of Florianópolis, this island in Brazil has gorgeous water and beaches, and looking across the gently rippling sea, visitors might be forgiven for believing that they are in the Caribbean, where the color and clarity of the water are similar. Campeche is not an island where one can stay overnight. In fact, it's a protected reserve, and visits here consist entirely of day trips. Voyages are organized through operators, often companies situated across the water in Florianópolis, and guests can only stay on the island for a set number of hours, giving it an air of exclusivity. 

Wildlife roams freely, and you might see endangered species like the fiery red bird called the Brazilian tanager. Beyond the natural wonders, travelers can also pore over rock carvings, which are ancient records of the country's heritage, that appear in various locations around the island.


Not far from the Turkish town of Bodrum, the Greek island of Kalymnos has much to admire beyond the sea. For adventurers, the island holds great promise, a destination where the rock climbing is magnificent — there is even a paperback guide that details more than 4,000 climbing routes around the island. Some are right by the water's edge, while inland routes are scenic and blissfully shady. Non-climbers need not fret though, as they'll have plenty else to keep them entertained. 

The island maintains a healthy sponge industry, with divers plunging into the depths to recover valuable sea sponges from the Aegean, but the town of Pothia is the island's beating heart. Set in a valley and filled with winding alleyways and colorful blooms, the town features historic homes, grand churches, and a castle that all capture the imagination of travelers. The rocky terrain of Kalymnos, punctuated by quaint villages and caves, is ringed by beautiful seas with many sigh-inducing beaches.

Kangaroo Island

The name of this island in South Australia gives away what animal might be commonly spotted during a visit, but it's not the only animal likely to charm visitors. A more elusive creature, but equally adorable, is the echidna, which often hides in the bush with its long, slender snout protruding from its spiky form. The creatures thrive because Kangaroo Island has a sense of undefiled wilderness, with large parts of the island protected and conserved, and a tiny population — less than 5,000 at the last census — in a territory that is more than 1,700 square miles in size. 

The rust-tinged Remarkable Rocks have a very appropriate name. The vast lumps of granite have stayed in the same place for 500 million years within the ruggedly beautiful Flinders Chase National Park. Elsewhere on the island, travelers can sand-board down giant dunes, watch fur seals frolic in the surf, and leap into water that defies belief at Vivonne Bay.

Madeline Island

The Apostle Islands in Wisconsin are hallowed ground for fans of kayaking in the Great Lakes. These small slips of land dotted around Lake Superior present heavily indented coastlines and towering cliffs that make for incredibly picturesque vistas, and the calm, salt-free water only adds to the rapture. The largest of the isles, Madeline Island promises excellent kayaking, and there is enough here to make it a wonderful base for exploration. 

Ferries from Bayfield make the short journey across to the harbor of La Pointe, a small town on Madeline Island with some fine places to eat, accommodation, and worthwhile art galleries. Non-kayakers can enjoy the striking waterfront with a visit to Big Bay State Park. Stretching for miles along the lakefront, and notable for its scenic sandstone headlands and sandy beaches, the park is perfect for adventure-seekers to the Great Lakes. Many years ago, the island's main commerce was fur trading, a far cry from the tourism business that is an engine of growth today.


Once a colony of Portugal, Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde to give it its local name) comprises a scattering of 10 islands a few hundred miles west of Senegal and Mauritania. The islands are volcanic, adding healthy doses of verticality to their form. The capital city of Praia sits on the island of Santiago, but it is the island to the east, Maio, that is the real bucket-list destination. Tourism is light here, and the absence of visitor numbers is a blessing for those who do arrive on these shores. 

The beaches are spectacular on the Portuguese-speaking island, and since the local population is also small, about 4,000 residents, they tend to be empty. The clear turquoise water contrasting with the rocky headlands is pretty breathtaking, and if your island paradise involves seclusion, then Cape Verde may be your ideal far-flung sanctuary. While there aren't luxury resorts on the island, you will find reasonably priced accommodations in the Vila do Maio.


Closer to Africa than mainland Europe, and due east of Tunisia, this Italian island displays various cultural influences, making it a sparkling place to spend some time. On the north of the island, the Castle of Pantelleria is solid and commanding, a fortification first built centuries ago by the Normans. It was later enhanced by King Charles V, who had power over various parts of Europe. Another interesting building is the Chiesa Madre del Santissimo Salvatore. While the church looks modern, it also features an Arabesque dome and tower, reflecting the multitude of ingredients that have produced the island's look and feel. 

Of course, a trip here would be incomplete without time on and in the water (including a vibrant lake), and exploring the coastline by boat is a must. Many of the best places to swim tend to have rocky shorelines, but spots like Cala Levante and Bue Marino promise crystal-clear seas that are amazing for a dip or a snorkel.


Everyone knows about Bora Bora and Tahiti, but this under-the-radar French Polynesia refuge is equally alluring. For locals, it's known as the 'sacred' island, believed to be where the gods that fill lore and legends were born. Raiatea is home to ancient carvings and statues that recount the history of the Polynesian people, and indeed, this is where to find one of the culture's foremost marae (or statue) complexes, Marae Taputapuãtea. It was once the seat of power for a vast expanse of Polynesian influence that extended as far as Hawaii and Easter Island. 

Raiatea has all the knockout scenery of Bora Bora and Tahiti, so expect to encounter crystal lagoons, towering peaks, verdant cliffs, and tropical greenery in every direction. Hikers can take a trip to the top of Mount Temehani, where the rare, endemic flowering plant "tiare apetahi" is found, while divers can explore the wreck of "The Nordby," which sank in these waters more than a century ago.

Salt Spring Island

One of the Gulf Islands of Canada's British Columbia, and geographically close to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, Salt Spring Island is boho-cool with a lot for visitors to enjoy. It's a rewardingly peaceful place, and you can reach it by float plane or ferry from Vancouver or Vancouver Island. There is also a strong arts community here, with shops and studios that showcase the works of glassblowers, sculptors, potters, and painters. If you asked them, artists tend to be drawn here by the inspirational quality of the island and the profusion of wilderness. 

The tranquil environment is also a boon for those looking to improve their wellness, either through yoga workshops, wellness retreats, trips to spas, or simply by healing one's insides through a careful regimen of the great local produce. One of the most enjoyable parts of a visit is the weekly market, which is held on Saturdays during the warmer months in the main town of Ganges. The market is a microcosm of the best that the island offers.


Divers will know about this Malaysian island, which is shaped like a smooth pebble just off the coast of Borneo. Sitting in nutrient-rich waters that pull in plenty of marine life, Sipadan is a diver's dreamscape, and one of the highlights is Barracuda Point, a spot where barracuda curl and jostle for position as they look to feed. Other diving sites are easily accessible straight from the shore. The statistics relating to the water are thrilling, with thousands of species of fish trawling the waters, weaving in and out of hundreds of different types of coral. 

Turtles appear in large numbers, with green and Hawksbill turtles frequently spotted on trips. Since a strict quota is enforced on the number of divers in the water each day, the sites never feel busy or overly commercialized. However, Sipadan is not just a place for underwater enthusiasts. For birdwatchers, the island welcomes a range of migratory birds to its shores, including eagles, kingfishers, and sunbirds.


Another haven for fabulous underwater life, Utila off the mainland of Honduras is also a popular diving destination. It sits southwest of the more famous Honduran island of Roatán, a destination that welcomes some of the biggest cruise ships ever built. But Utila is far removed from such mass tourism, and instead of anything mega, visitors will find calm, independent hotels and guest houses, as well as an overarching laid-back sensibility around many parts of the island. 

There is some nightlife here, but Utila is certainly no global party hotspot. The diving, however, is world-class, with plenty of dive businesses and resorts on the island. Utila is a great place to get certified, thanks to the volume of dive operators and waters that are warm year-round. The coastline is dramatic, most vividly at Iron Shore Beach, a craggy, rocky area where the deep blue water buffets the cliffs to create a churning, frothing mass that is truly hypnotizing.