From the legendary Atlantis to television’s Fantasy Island, travelers have been drawn to islands; surrounded by the sea and each with unique charms. Islands such as Jamaica, Hawaii, and Great Britain get millions of visitors each year.
If you’re weary of crowds, or the whole continental travel experience, Daniela Baker from CreditDonkey shares six islands of which you may or may not have ever heard to put at the top of your travel list.
The Orkney Islands
Located 10 km north of Scotland, the Orkney Islands are a little-known treasure. Settlements on this small archipelago date back to pre-historic times, and Druids, the Royal Navy, and various forms of wildlife have called them home ever since. Lakes (this is technically Scotland, so call them lochs), gentle beaches, rugged coastline; it’s all to be found in the Orkneys.
A unique attraction in the Orkneys is actually scuba diving, which you wouldn’t expect so far north. The Orkneys were a major Royal Navy base in both World Wars, and the German High Seas fleet sank itself here in 1919 to protest the Versailles Treaty. In addition to the international commotion this caused, it created a wonderland for sea life and divers alike. You can learn more about these islands here.
The Channel Islands
The United Kingdom boasts another island destination few outside the financial world have heard of, the Channel Islands. These four islands are physically closer to France than England, but are English thanks to their siding with the English king in 1204. Culturally, too, they are closer to France, as the names of the locals and the French-inspired patois will quickly tell you. The islands also have the distinction as the only part of England ever occupied by the Germans in World War II.
Walking, bird watching, exploring castles and ruins, water sports, shopping, and, until recently, Luxembourg-style banking laws tempt visitors to the islands. Ferry services also allow day trips to Normandy, if one grows weary of water surrounding oneself. Visit this website for more information.
The Galapagos Islands
You’ve probably heard of the Galapagos Islands, but only in science class. These islands, which are west of Ecuador, are a naturalist’s dream. Unique plant and animal species inhabit this archipelago, which boasts over 140 “visitor sites” on both land and the water, yet welcomed only 173,000 visitors in 2010. This is due to a quota system, since in addition to being an Ecuadorian National Park, the Galapagos are an extremely fragile ecosystem with countless endangered species.
Having said that, a visit to the Galapagos is well worth the costs involved if you enjoy nature and perhaps have an elitist bent (being 1 of 173,000 visitors is enough for some people, believe it or not!). The government strictly controls tours to the islands, but an internet search will help you find licensed operators. Many tours arrive by boat, so you can combine a cruise with exploration of what Charles Darwin once called “a little world within itself.”
If your idea of an island vacation includes rum punch and warm tropic breezes, this isn’t an island for you! In reality, Antarctica needs little introduction. As a tourist destination, however, it doesn’t leap immediately to mind. An island and a continent, Antarctica is one of the driest, most desolate places on earth.
Have no illusions – a trip to the Antarctic is expensive, and it will be very cold. As reward for your expenditure of money and body heat, you get to walk on the bottom of the world, a place inhabited by penguins, seals, birds, and a few thousand scientists. Several web sites offer information about both the Antarctic continent and tour operators who can take you there. If you like snow, ice, wildlife, or incomparable adventure, Antarctica’s brief summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) offers a trip worth taking.
Tangier Island, Virginia
In the middle of the Chesapeake Bay lies an island in some ways untouched by time. It is an island fishing village, with few cars but plenty of beautiful views of the bay and the surrounding wetlands. Also on view is a way of life that the mainland has mostly passed by. The official website is a trifle hard to navigate, but it can give you the basics. The island itself is a cozy weekend getaway you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.
Several of my friends have visited Tangier, and all had the exact same take: “I wasn’t sure about it, but I loved it. It was so
Angel Island, California
Located in San Francisco bay and much less well-known than it’s cousin Alcatraz Island, Angel Island is an undiscovered gem. A ferry ride across the bay (or from Tiburon, much closer to the north) drops you at a pier with a gift shop, small café, and seasonal tram and Segway tours. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails, campsites, and gorgeous views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate with its eponymous bridge, and Mount Tamalpais in the Marin headlands.
During its history, the island served as a military base, a POW camp, and immigration station, and a ranch. As a unit of the California State Park system, it is now (with the exception of a section of the island belonging to the Coast Guard) devoted to tourism and recreation. Check ferry schedules before you go, lest your visit last much longer than you planned!
John Donne wrote “no man is an island,” but it’s important to remember he was a theologian and not a travel agent. Islands offer something for everyone who is not overly afraid of water, and with a little research, you can certainly find an island to make your vacation both memorable and enjoyable. Whether you choose these islands, or any islands, for your next travel experience, enjoy yourself!