Off-the-Beaten-Path Tropical Islands
Millions of flip-flop-clad travelers head to tropical islands every year, seeking the sweet escape of paradise. The problem? Many of these islands become so overcrowded, you can end up feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.
If you’re trying to dodge the honeymooners and selfie sticks, or the rowdy beach bars and crammed beaches, then this list of off-the-beaten-path tropical isles has you covered. We’re talking about hidden gems in the middle of nowhere. Say goodbye to cell service, grocery stores and, you guessed it, even Wi-Fi.
Chances are you’ve never even heard of the following islands where bliss awaits. And that’s a very good thing.
Swap your sandals for hiking boots on this tiny-yet-rugged island in the South Pacific.
Niue (pronounced New-ay) is one of the smallest countries on earth, and affectionately known as “The Rock” — short for “The Rock of Polynesia” — because of its craggy coastline, sea caves and limestone cliffs.
It’s one of the only places in the world where you can swim with humpback whales, which stop here during their migration to nurse their calves, usually between July and October. Friendly dolphins are also frequent visitors.
There are hundreds of caves to explore, and a number of trails in the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area. However, there’s only one sandy beach on Niue, making this more a destination for bold adventurers than beach bums.
Kiribati will truly get you off the grid. Less trafficked than nearby islands like Tahiti, this small cluster of 33 atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean saw just 5,700 tourists in 2016.
With so few tourists, visitors may have to rough it in Kiribati, as luxury accommodations are few and far between, and some of the islands can be challenging to get to. But of course, this is precisely why it's such an ideal spot for avoiding the crowds.
For serious swells, the breaks off of Fanning Island and Christmas Island are renowned among surfers. You probably won’t have to share the waves with anyone else, making the trek well worth it.
All this, plus the island is said to be home to some of the friendliest people in the world.
Fiji is paradise in the South Pacific. The problem is that the secret’s out.
If you’re looking to escape boatloads of tourists, go to Taveuni, the third largest of the more than 300 islands that make up Fiji. Known as “the Garden Island” for its lush jungles, hidden waterfalls and blissful beaches, Taveuni has a more secluded feel than its popular neighbors.
Bouma National Heritage Park and Waitabu Marine Park put Taveuni on the map as an ideal destination for ecotourism. The island is home to rare birds and flowers, like the Tagimoucia — a red flower found only in the high elevation rainforests of Taveuni. Longing for the sweet smell of plumerias? These are found in abundance, too.
Stay in a treehouse. Or, camp on the beach at Beverly’s Campground. Either way, you’ll never want to leave.
Cocos Keeling Islands, Australia
Want that stranded-on-a-deserted-island feeling? Only two of the 27 coral islands that make up Australia’s most remote territory are inhabited, with a population of roughly 600 people. So if you’re in search of empty beaches, then the Cocos Keeling Islands, found about halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka, are the place.
The wide-open waters and near-perfect conditions of this archipelago make it an ideal locale for kitesurfing. Other popular watersports include windsurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP), snorkeling, surfing and fishing.
Kayaks and SUPs are the best ways to explore the lagoon and access its uninhabited islands, and can be rented by the day. Or, you can just post up on a white-sand beach lined with palm trees, and do absolutely nothing.
Dreaming of Bali, but fear the flocks of expats and tourists? Flores, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia, has the off-the-beaten-path vibe you’re looking for.
If seeing a Komodo dragon is on your bucket list (and it should be), you’ll most likely be going by way of Flores. To witness the largest lizard in the world in its natural habitat, take a boat from Flores to Komodo Island and visit Komodo National Park, which also encompasses the breathtaking islands of Padar and Rinca. Pro tip: Don’t let the lizards steal all your attention — there’s also pristine diving and snorkeling (with manta rays) here.
In search of beautiful beaches? Trekking on Padar Island is a must, and there are a number of trails throughout. Take your pick between a black-, pink- or white-sand beach to spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun.
Camiguin Island, Philippines
The Philippines are a popular destination for good reason: Tourists head to the islands for beach-party vibes in a more-than-idyllic setting. Camiguin Island is the perfect alternative to busy islands like Boracay, which was temporarily closed to the public in 2018 to repair the damages of overtourism.
Ever thought of swimming with giant clams? No? Well maybe you should reconsider; at Kibila Giant Clam Conservation and Ocean Nursery, you can swim with nearly 2,600 of the mollusks, and the experience is both weird and wonderful. Of the nine species of clams on earth, seven can be found on Camiguin Island.
If swimming with clams isn’t your thing, hike one of the island’s many volcanoes, or soak in some hot springs. Then take a boat out to White Island, a tiny sand bar less than a mile offshore. Be sure to bring your sunscreen, and perhaps even a cocktail to go — there’s no shade and no beach bar.
Andaman Islands, India
The Andaman Islands have some of the best beaches in Asia, known for their turquoise waters, white-sand shores and technicolored sunsets.
The islands are nestled between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Of the archipelago’s 572 islands, only 36 are inhabited, and an even smaller number are accessible to tourists. Some of the islands, and the neighboring Nicobar Islands, are still home to indigenous tribes, and are completely off limits to travelers.
Radhanagar Beach on Havelock Island, with its pristine shores and forested backdrop, has earned the Andaman Islands its reputation. Or consider Neil Island, with no light pollution, where you can enjoy some of world’s best stargazing.
Indian food enthusiasts can enjoy dishes from every region of India on the Andaman Islands, as well as cuisines from neighboring countries like Burma and Thailand. With incredible seafood to boot, you won’t go hungry.
East of Madagascar lies the volcanic island of Réunion. Less touristy than Mauritius, Réunion gives travelers the opportunity to explore rugged landscapes, climb volcanoes and celebrate distinctive culture.
A French overseas territory, Réunion is a cultural melting pot and a hotbed for artistic expression. Check out Maloya — a traditional art form that blends music, singing and dancing, and tells the story of the struggle of African and Madagascan slaves during the reign of Réunion’s sugar plantations.
Looking for something a bit different? Head to Escale Bleue in Saint Philippe, a town located in the foothills of a volcano, which produces a superb, unique “blue” vanilla.
Do the unexpected in Réunion.
Mohéli, Comoro Islands
We’ll let you in on an ecotourist’s little secret: Mohéli. Also known as Mwali, it’s the smallest of the three islands that form the Comoro Islands in Africa, about 200 miles off the coast of Mozambique.
Because the island remains undisturbed by overtourism, sea turtles continue to lay their eggs on Itsamia Beach, giving visitors the chance to watch the rare event. Mohéli is also home to the Livingstone fruit bat — the biggest bat in the world.
Protecting the island’s biodiversity remains a priority in Mohéli. The Marine Park was created in 1999, and was the first area to be protected in the Comoros. It’s a sanctuary for dolphins, whales and sea turtles, and a home for brightly colored coral reefs.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
If you want bragging rights, visit Fernando de Noronha. To preserve the island’s pristine landscape, the country limits the number of tourists who can visit. Only 400 people are able to trek here each day. (If you want to joy exclusive privileges, plan ahead!)
Postcard-worthy Porcos Bay is worth a visit. It’s part of the Fernando de Noronha National Marine Park, which has been protected since 1988 — making it an ideal spot for diving and snorkeling.
This archipelago, made up of 21 islands, is considered an under-the-radar surfing mecca, with the best swells coming from the wintery storms in the North Atlantic from December to March.
Tired of big resorts and luxury hotels? Good, because the island is home primarily to family-run inns, called pousadas, that favor charm over size and posh amenities.
Calling all coral experts. Abrolhos, a national marine park off the coast of Caravelas, Brazil, has some of the richest and most extensive coral reefs in the South Atlantic.
The Brazilian archipelago, made up of five tiny islands, is the country’s first marine park, protected since 1983. Staying on the island is prohibited, so visitors can either day-trip it or spend the night on a boat.
Wildlife-lovers should bring their binoculars. Birds like the masked booby nest on the island, and it’s an important breeding ground for humpback whales between July and November, when sightings are most common.
The name of the archipelago is said to come from the Portuguese phrase “Abre os olhos,” meaning “open your eyes.” The story goes that it served as a warning to sailors looking to navigate through extensive coral reefs.
Dominica lies in the Windward Islands of the West Indies, and is known as “the Nature Island of the Caribbean” because of its mountainous landscape.
The lush rainforests of Dominica, which make up nearly 60 percent of the island, are home to many rare species of plants, animals and birds — like the Sisserou parrot, found nowhere else in the world. There are also more than 300 miles of trails to explore.
Soak your stresses away in the island’s geothermal hot springs and sulfur pools. Courageous hikers can embark on a six-hour round-trip hike to reach Boiling Lake, the world’s second largest hot spring. And for those who prefer to explore life underwater, Champagne Reef — which gets its name from its warm, bubbly water — is an excellent spot for divers.
São Tomé and Príncipe
The island-nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, named for the two main islands that comprise it, is a hidden gem in the Gulf of Guinea. Just be sure to book your tickets now, because the secret is getting out: Although this is one of the least visited nations in Africa, it was named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 countries to travel to in 2019.
Principe island’s Praia Banana, with its golden sand and electric blue waters, is one of the most picturesque beaches on the planet. Also on Principe, Bay of Spires is a must-see, and will leave you feeling like you’ve entered into a prehistoric world. Giant phonolite columns, made of rare volcanic rock, are best viewed from the water.
On both São Tomé and Príncipe, history buffs can explore coffee and cocoa plantations, known as roças, which serve as reminders of the impacts of colonialism and the slave trade.
St. George’s Caye, Belize
Belize has maintained its reputation as an off-the-beaten-path destination for some time now, but it continues to gain popularity among travelers — Lonely Planet named it one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2019.
Yet even as more tourists flock here, you can still find solitude on the island of St. George’s Caye. Here, just eight miles east of Belize City, time stands still; the island has no roads, no cars, no grocery stores and no shopping malls.
Looking to unplug? The island's resorts are free of televisions, phones and in-room Wi-Fi. Instead of packing in screen time, curl up in a hammock, sleep in a thatch-roofed cabana or take a dip at the Sand Bar — a natural swimming pool in the Caribbean Sea.
If all that relaxing has you itching for adventure, scuba dive in the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world. Or dive in the world’s largest marine sinkhole, the Great Blue Hole, and swim with the sharks.
Molokai, Hawaii, United States
If you want to ditch the tiki bars for secluded beaches and the chance to hike some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, then make the trek to Hawaii’s less traveled island. Here you’ll find the magic of Hawaii, but without the crowds.
Molokai is most famous for once housing the site of a leper colony, which began in the 1860s and operated for nearly a century. A small handful of people who were exiled to the colony in the 1960s still live there today. The site has since been turned into Kalaupapa National Historic Park, where you can learn about this fascinating past.
Pophaku Beach is one of Hawaii’s largest white-sand beaches, and campsites are available if you’re up for sleeping on the shores. The Halawa Valley is one of Hawaii’s most historic areas — Polynesians settled here in 650 AD — and hikers can spot ancient sites of worship and cascading waterfalls.
Go ahead, get off the beaten path.