7 Excellent Small Islands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

“…I know a place…”

Possibly the three best words a traveler can ever hear. A holy utterance delivered from the mouth of one vagabond to the ears of another. As a rule, it’s a sentence always followed by a disclaimer:

“But you’ll have to promise not to talk about it.”

Then comes a nod or sometimes a sly wink. Of course the arrangement is a touch more complicated. The traveler receiving this tip isn’t agreeing to “never” talk about it—just not to talk about it too often. And certainly not to talk about it with someone who might be reckless with the information. Why? Because no one wants to see their favorite getaway turn into the next tourist trap. This might be called the “Bali Rule” or the “Sayulita Corollary.”

With that said, “…we know a place…” – seven of them in fact. Each is an island. None are home to a Sandals or a Four Seasons—and none are big enough to support one. Still, you’ll have to promise not to talk about them. Of course we’re saying that in the same breath as we publish them on the internet where scores of people might view them daily. But how much of the information that you see on the internet do you actually retain? It’s always been the case that real travel secrets are spread by word of mouth.

If you do find one of these spots nestled in your subconscious and decide to plan a visit, there’s no need to get all chatty about it. Be sly. Trust us: you’ll want it that way when the time rolls around for your second visit. And each of the islands listed below deserve a second visit. So keep mum and when a random acquaintance asks where you’re going say: “Uh…I forgot the name…it’s near…the ocean……ish…Sandy? Sandy Island?…I’m not sure.”

That’s sure to get them off the scent.

1 – Ibo (Mozambique)

IboMozambique

This onetime Arab trading port is part of Mozambique’s Quirimba Archipelago, a string of islands dotting the country’s northern coast. Ibo is a perfect place to sample the “perri-perri” flavors of Mozambique (based around the Bird’s Eye chili) on plates piled high with prawns.

When the meal is finished, get lost amongst stone buildings, holdovers from Portuguese rule, watch jewelry makers work wonders with now obsolete coins or sail around the island in an Arab Dhow. The best guesthouses on Ibo are boutique hotels made from converted colonial mansions with intricately carved wooden doors.

2 – Nosy Nato (Madagascar)

Bathing-Beauties-Ile-Aux-Nattes

Nosy Nato—also called Ile Aux Nattes, shines even in a list of beautiful islands. Once a famous haunt of pirates and marauders, the sandy dot is now as peaceful as they come. More a spit of perfect sand than an island, Nosy Nato is separated from nearby Ile Saint Marie by a perfectly blue channel 100 yards across.

It can be circled on foot in an afternoon but motivation is tough to come by when you’re jumping off white sand dunes into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and playing King of the Hill with local village kids.

3 – Ko Chang (Thailand)

KoChang

Many of the islands that once made Thailand so popular among backpackers have fallen victim to package tourism (Phuket, Ko Samui, etc.). Still, many of Thailand’s islands remain as tranquil as ever—the result of preservation efforts by the government.

Ko Chang off of Thailand’s northeast coast, is a testament to the hidden wonders that the country still holds. Part of a National Marine Park of the same name, Ko Chang is sparsely populated and absolutely beautiful. An estimated three-fourths of the island’s interior is protected rainforest.

Walking the myriad hiking trails, visitors have the chance to spot monitor lizards, civets and the Javan Mongoose. The beaches on Ko Chang (and other islands in the chain) rival the best in the whole country with a fraction of the people.

4 – Coche (Venezuela)

Uninhabited

Like the better known island of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela, Coche is one of the world’s most famous kite surfing spots. But that isn’t the only reason to visit. The island, though relatively small, is loved for its scenic cliffs and stunning beaches.

Visitors typically shift between soaking in the perfectly blue Caribbean and dangling in hammocks.

More arid than most Carribean islands, Coche’s hilly interior is uniquely beautiful with romantic sunset spots abounding.

5 – Kadavu (Fiji)

Empty-Beaches-Mahambo-2

Because of its southern orientation (one of only a few Fijian Islands lying south of Viti Levu) and the fact that it sees more rain than most of the other islands in the chain, Kadavu has managed to stay unspoiled by heavy tourism.

Besides boasting one of the most beautiful beaches in the South Pacific, Kadavu is situated close to The Astrolabe one of the world’s largest protected coral reefs. Part of the island’s allure is also the fact that tribal systems are very much in place. While a traditional kava ceremony might seem like a novelty in Suva or Nadi, the kava root is still a central piece of how business gets done on Kadavu.

6 – Whitsunday Island (Australia)

Whitsundays

Okay, you may have heard of this island, or rather the chain of islands that carries its name: The Whitsundays off the coast of Queensland. But you probably didn’t know just how accessible this island is for adventurous travelers.

While most visitors see Whitsunday Island and the famed Whithaven Beach for the matter of an afternoon on a sailing tour, the island has a variety of camping options. The campsites often go completely unoccupied—but those who do make the effort are treated to afternoons and mornings completely alone on what very well may be the world’s most perfect beach. The parched white silica squeaks underfoot as visitors cross the sand for a swim amongst sea turtles before the crowds arrive.

7 – XXXXX (XXXXX)

Secret

Located at exactly XX-degrees XXX latitude and XX-degrees XXX Longitude, this island is the crown jewel of the XXXX Ocean. Famed travel expert Elexander Blodgett once described the spot as “heaven…with a significantly better view.” The interior of XXXXX is covered with a lush jungle that trickles out onto a ring of blindingly white sand. [Names & coordinates redacted, our apologies -ed]

As you can see, some secrets just can’t be given away (even on the internet). But they’re out there, waiting to be found, waiting to be explored, waiting to become your private oasis. And when you find them, don’t spill your fortune to anyone who will listen.

Be patient, find just the right moment: maybe over a glass of wine with good friends or scribbled on a napkin handed over to a kindred spirit in your hostel—begin with the three sacred words: “…I know a place…”

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Older comments on 7 Excellent Small Islands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Stephen Bramucci
07 October 2009

As a little commentary track here, I will admit that I’ve had a fair bit of nervousness about this one. The idea of “revealing” certain spots that I’ve fallen in love with is definitely something that I have my qualms about. I probably wouldn’t have written the same article for any other outlet. But I do feel that the type of person who comes to this site is different on some level.

It is also worth noting that none of the places I’ve highlighted here really have the infrastructure, water supply and accessibility to get overloaded in the way that Bali or Sayulita has. I knew that going in.

In the cases of Ko Chang and Whitsunday, the respective governments have done a great job protecting and preserving the islands and their surrounding waters.

Thanks for reading!

-Steve

Ryukyu Mike
07 October 2009

Steve,
Great photos and writup; look forward to seeing more !

beachhouse
08 October 2009

i loved this article! and i share the thought that sometimes, once you find your precious oasis, there is the urge to tuck it away only for you and your “chosen ones.” my family has been visiting sayulita for years and, with mixed feelings, saw its rise to tourism stardom. maybe i’ll hop on the bandwagon and explore some of these islands so that i can start all over in a different area of the world and see the cycle begin once again…

Ian on Koh Chang
08 October 2009

Great to see Koh Chang getting a mention. For more real info, from someone living on the island since 2003, see iamKohChang.com.

Texas Lebenskunstler
12 October 2009

Travel stories for me are typically shared with other travelers over beers and meals. Non-travelers may get an abbreviated version of some anecdotes, but the detailed version of any of my experiences is usually reserved for people who can appreciate them. Whether that story is about crashing a Peace Corps Halloween costume party at Dracula’s castle, getting VIP treatment at clubs and restaurant by spending quality time with newly met locals in Sicily, crashing rented motorcycles in Portugal, drinking Bier with the German national Fussball team, watching the Americas Cup from a yacht in New Zealand, swimming in the volcanic waters of Antarctica or getting charged by a hippo in Tanzania, as much as I love telling stories, I treat my stories as if they are my children. Proud, yet protective.

From one Steve to another, well written!