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8 of the world’s most magical distant islands

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From the heavenly tiny islands of Madagascar to the most remote reaches of the Galapagos, the coral reefs of Raja Ampat to the spiked peaks of the Lofoten archipelago, Earth’s vast oceans and seas are rife with enigmatic islands, each ready to bewilder and bewitch in their own unique ways. Castaway and secluded, make time to reconnect with nature, immerse yourself in local traditions, and take in some of the most unforgettable scenery you’ll ever lay eyes on. Get away to one of these eight destinations, and you’ll feel like a mere speck on the map of the world, yet also gloriously larger than life.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Located more than 600 miles from the Ecuadorian mainland, the Galapagos archipelago is often front and center for those planning a dreamy, bucket list-worthy island escape, and rightfully so. For keen wildlife-observers and naturalists, you could find no better than this near-untouched sanctuary, where you would be one of the fortunate few to follow in the almost-200-year-old footsteps of Charles Darwin. Pack your best binoculars to quietly observe endemic species, such as land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions and a range of birdlife, as well as a sheer wealth of creatures ranging from flamingos to whitetip reef sharks. The most remote of these islands are Darwin and Wolf – both are uninhabited except by seabirds, and are very rarely visited except by experienced divers in search of hammerhead sharks and other incredible marine life.

Azores, Portugal

Rising from the depths of the Atlantic, the Azores are becoming ever-popular in their appeal. Marvel at the richly diverse volcanic landscape splayed out far and wide before your eyes, swathes of heather and emerald-hued peaks sloping into turquoise crater lakes. The views from every vantage point are nothing if not surreal, and you’ll have to pinch yourself to remember you’re not all that far from the Portuguese mainland. Brightened by generous amounts of rainfall year-round, the flora and fauna which grace the islands only add to their magical appearance, from the pretty pinks of the bell-shaped vidalli flower to the endlessly beautiful summer-blooming magnolia. Of the archipelago’s nine islands, petite Graciosa may be one of the most underrated, yet it’s a charming place filled with quintessentially Azorean character, and a UNESCO-listed World Biosphere Reserve.

El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain

For an away-from-it-all break off the beaten path, the Canary Islands might seem an odd choice. It’s hard to deny the popular appeal of the volcanic Mount Teide, Tenerife’s Michelin-starred culinary scene, and the well-lazed-upon beaches of Lanzarote – the Canaries are often turned to by travelers across the globe for a dose of last-minute sunshine. Yet, amidst its eight main islands, one you may have never heard of is El Hierro. Strikingly beautiful, rugged and wild, it has been declared a biosphere reserve and is a natural haven for underwater explorers, with more than 40 dive points across its coastline and a collection of heavenly natural pools to sink into. Those who’d rather keep their feet on solid ground will delight at the ever-changing panoramas that await at every twist and turn of its winding trails. It’s ideal for tranquility-seekers, and while it may not be geographically as remote as other islands on this list, it will certainly have you feeling light years away from the rest of the world.

Madagascar (and its peripheral islands)

An island country off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is a land of contrasting riches. Recline on sun-warmed sands and venture into tucked-away coves; spot ring-tailed lemurs, colorful chameleons and a large variety of endemic flora, including more than 900 species of orchid alone; or take an enlightening walk down Baobab Avenue, where the iconic trees once stood within a dense tropical forest and are now considered a national monument. You’ll relish getting to know what is one of the world’s biggest yet most underrated islands, and while you’re here, take time to explore the restful havens that are some of its peripheral islands – Île aux Nattes and its sandy shores, Nosy Boraha with its pirate cemetery, divers’ paradise Nosy Mitsio, or snorkeling and swimming spot Nosy Iranja.

Lofoten, Norway

With jagged mountains making up more than 80% of the archipelago’s topography, Lofoten is a Norwegian gem that’s well worth uncovering – certainly if you’re in search of a dramatic nature getaway. Untouched green plateaus, beautiful peaks shrouded in mist, and bright clean waters lend this destination a serene appeal, and you won’t soon be short of outdoor activities to try your hand at – fishing, hiking, and cycling scenic routes are popular here; the midnight sun is a particular summertime draw, while the more daring can head out in search of the elusive northern lights. A striking feature of northern Norway, Lofoten is reachable by car ferry as well as by plane from certain domestic airports; its islands are linked by one road, making them ideal for road-trip excursions. While it has become far less remote and hard to get to in recent years, it still makes for one out-of-this-world trip.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Located off West Papua’s Bird’s Head Peninsula, the Raja Ampat Islands redefine the concept of island escapism. Offering a wonderfully unspoiled experience, they stand out by way of their mind-blowing biodiversity, thickly jungle-clad topography, and the jewel-toned waters that lap their shores. More than 1,500 islets make up the sum of this Indonesian archipelago, with the main islands of Waigeo, Misool, Batanta and Salawati at the heart of it all, and the extraordinary wildlife present both beneath and above the water’s surface makes this destination a dream for birdwatchers and divers. Raja Ampat is only reachable by ferry from Sorong, or by domestic flight from a select number of Indonesian cities including Jakarta – making it a blissfully remote, lesser-explored contender to the country’s more major islands.

Easter Island, Chile

Combine island isolation with blissful and almost child-like wonder on this easternmost Polynesian island, located 2,200 miles west of Chile. Famed for its iconic moai statues, whose oversized heads make a curious feature upon the vibrant volcanic landscape, Easter Island is sure to sway the hearts of adventurers and archaeology enthusiasts. Today you’ll find around 5,000 inhabitants on the island, and while it is a popular tourist destination, you’ll easily lose yourself amidst its national parks and ancient sites, submerged in its fascinating history as you flit from one group of statues to the next (a total of nearly 900 statues, which date back to the 13th to 15th centuries, call the island home).

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Located more than 220 miles from Natal and just under 350 miles from Recife, Fernando de Noronha is one of Brazil’s most stunning islands, known for its colorful scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. A UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, it’s home to a vast array of wildlife and gorgeous landscapes that are a testament to its conservation efforts – whether you’re flying here from Recife or Natal or arriving by boat, your journey will soon be rewarded with abundant sightings of dolphins, turtles, sharks, seabirds, and rainbow-hued shoals of fish. The island’s protected status means that tourism is carefully controlled, and its few hotels have been built with their local surroundings in mind – so if you want an island escape that’s both undisturbed and in total harmony with nature, put this destination at the top of your list.

Make it happen

If you’re aching for a trip to the Azores or another of the world’s most magical distant islands, speak to one of our local experts today – they’ll help you craft the tailor-made escape you’re dreaming of.

  1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  2. Azores, Portugal
  3. Canary Islands, Spain
  4. Madagascar
  5. Lofoten, Norway
  6. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
  7. Easter Island, Chile
  8. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

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