Travel

The World's 14 Most Beautiful Unspoiled Islands

Published On 08/26/2015 Published On 08/26/2015

“Unspoiled.” The word itself conjures up images of chaste fawns lapping up crystal-clear waters in a lush valley while a harpist plays minuets in the background, or something. The places on this list aren’t like that, though, because that place most likely doesn’t exist. Also, we might’ve just described Bambi.

Instead, these are 14 tourist-friendly islands where civilization hasn’t yet fully ruined everything. If you do end up going, try not to be the one who ruins everything.

Flickr/Maria Cartas

Flores Island

Azores, Portugal
Population: 3,900
Any island that’s named after its sheer abundance of flowers has gotta be a serene place to be, and Flores certainly lives up to that assumption. Flores’ volcanic geography and relative isolation in the middle of the Atlantic make it a place of stark contrasts between the sea and sky, and the food that the locals pull out of the ocean (and raise on the land -- volcanic soil means great stuff for cows!) is absolutely sublime. And -- I reiterate -- the flowers! So many flowers!

Flickr/yeowatzup

Gili Islands

Indonesia
Population: 3,500
There are three Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok, and on each of them, cars and motorbikes are banned. That means a few things: 1) there’s very little background noise here, 2) people from Los Angeles will be extremely confused, and 3) there’s VERY LITTLE background noise here. The islands each have their own distinct character, but all of them -- from Air to Trawangan to Meno -- are laid-back, covered in thatched huts, and wonderful spots to go diving. In fact, sea turtles, reef sharks, and even shipwrecks are common sights in the waters around the islands.

Flickr/Ben K

Ilha Grande

Brazil
Population: 5,000
Ilha Grande, before it was a tourist destination, was a leper colony. Then it housed a prison for violent criminals and political dissidents. But all that stuff’s gone now! The government demolished the prison in the ‘90s, and while the island was always a lush paradise, now the people who go there can actually enjoy it. It’s become a go-to destination for backpackers and young people, and even though the island’s main settlement has become a bit more bustling, most other parts are still serene. Make sure to hike out to Lopes Mendes Beach, widely considered to be one of the best in the world.

Flickr/wilm

Isle of Skye

Scotland
Population: 10,000
The first thing you’ll notice as you step off the ferry onto the Isle of Skye is how green it is. I mean, just look at that! The island is almost constantly wrapped in mist, which’ll make the moment when it retreats to reveal dramatic monoliths, cliffs, and waterfalls all the more dramatic. The second thing you’ll notice is the amount of Gaelic being spoken here -- about a third of the island still speaks the language. The third thing you’ll notice is the whisky, particularly the world-famous distilleries on the island. You will probably notice the whisky many more times.

Flickr/Ray Dumas

Isle Royale

Michigan
Population: 0
Isle Royale is the third-largest island (with an area of 206.73 square miles) in the contiguous United States, but you might not have heard of it. That’s probably because the people who go there often -- to escape their bosses and coworkers, wander through the peaceful forests, and not have to talk about Bachelor in Paradise for once -- are trying to keep its existence a secret. A narrow strip of National Park land in the middle of Lake Superior, it’s far enough away from everything that you have to take a ferry to get there, but once you do, it’s all wildlife, foot trails, and canoeing. And nobody is allowed to live there. Not even Chris Harrison.

Flickr/Matthew Fuentes

Kangaroo Island

Australia
Population: ~4,400
Wine. Kangaroos. Lots of beaches. No, that’s not how Jerry Bruckheimer originally pitched Kangaroo Jack. It’s actually a fairly accurate description of Kangaroo Island, a pseudo-sanctuary for marsupials located southwest of Adelaide. There are lots of vineyards on the island, but it’s really most famous for its abundance of kangaroos and its natural formations, such as the aptly named “Remarkable Rocks,” which will almost certainly cause you to… remark.

Flickr/Michael Cory

Ko Yao Islands

Thailand
Population: 14,000
Thailand has a growing reputation for being a tourist hotspot where Hangover sequels are filmed, but that particular word of mouth hasn’t reached deeply into the Ko Yao Islands, a pair of quiet mangrove-covered paradises that probably haven’t even witnessed the antics of Zach Galifianakis. Here, fishermen get up each morning to wade into crystal-clear waters, and it’s not uncommon to see more water buffalo than people. Climb the mountainous interior or shuffle along the bungalow-dotted shores -- this place is nothing like Bangkok, and it’s bound to stay that way for quite some time.

Flickr/Lucas Siragusa

Lampedusa

Italy
Population: 4,500
Lots of civilizations have inhabited Lampedusa in the past -- Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks… the list goes on --  but as the global Risk board’s currently settled, the Italians have it, and it’s the southernmost point in the entire country. This rocky, grotto-dotted and gorge-streaked blip in the deep-blue Mediterranean also boasts one of the world’s best beaches, Rabbit Beach, which actually took top honors from TripAdvisor in 2013 and surprisingly still isn’t that mobbed, mostly due to Lampedusa’s remoteness.

Flickr/Courtney Boyd Myers

Little Corn Island

Nicaragua
Population: ~1,000
Before you ask: Yes, there is a Big Corn Island. And while Big Corn Island isn’t actually very big (with a population of around 6,000), Little Corn is certainly little. It’s the rare Caribbean spot where civilization hasn’t yet propped up all-inclusive resorts, the trees still grow wildly, and all the businesses are run by locals. No cars or motorbikes are allowed here, either, but that shouldn’t be a problem, since you’re going to want to traverse the place on foot and feel the grass between your toes anyway. This should only take about an hour. I told you it was little.

Flickr/Rob DeGraff

Lopez Island

Washington
Population: ~2,200
The third-largest of the San Juan Islands of the coast of Washington, Lopez Island maintains a small population but still sets aside a lot of space for nature. It’s kinda like the archipelago’s Andrew Wilson -- not as bombastic and well-known as its siblings, but with a rugged, quiet charm all its own. Its beaches are dotted with seals, and its rolling hills are ideal for someone looking for a pastoral bike ride. Oh, and there’s a reason it’s called “the Friendly Isle,” and it’s not because it’s the perfect place to get a Fishamajig.

Flickr/Froschmann

Miyako Islands

Okinawa, Japan
Population: 55,000
The chill Miyako Islands, a subtropical archipelago that stretches south of Okinawa, aren’t very well-known in Western circles. Sure, you’ll find plenty of Japanese tourists there, but it’s possible to go days without talking to any Americans or Europeans. Or talking to anyone at all, in fact, if you visit some of the more sparsely populated areas, like Ikema. The islands’ sandy white beaches, giant coconut crabs, and spectacular reef diving make them a slightly more surreal Japanese destination.

Flickr/Harry and Rowena Kennedy

Raiatea/Taha'a

French Polynesia
Population: ~17,000
A mere puddle jump from the bustling capitol of Papeete -- and a short boat ride from one another, since it's believed they were once the same island -- Raiatea and Taha'a are exactly what you think of when you imagine French Polynesia: white sands, dense jungle, and crystal waters. Except conspicuously missing are the coconut-buttered millionaires drinking frozen daiquiris. Instead, hotels on these islands are mainly limited to huts and cabins (with the exception of a resort on a private island). You can explore the jungles and discover hidden temples, or sit down for a meal with the locals: one of our food editors claims to have had the best seafood of his life at Chez Louisa, a rustic place that looks like an abandoned boat dock from a horror film and tastes like heaven.

Flickr/James H

Stewart Island

New Zealand
Population: 381
There aren’t many places in the world where you can swim alongside penguins without being “permanently banned” from the zoo for “breaking into their enclosure.” Stewart Island is one of those places -- the third-largest island in New Zealand, it has one major settlement and is blanketed by rugged mountains, dense forests, and, yes, some penguins. Of course, they aren’t the only birds on the island (kiwi, albatross, and shearwaters call it home too), making this a birder’s paradise. Or, more accurately, just a paradise. That happens to have birds.

Flickr/Hans Juul Hansen

Streymoy

Faroe Islands, Denmark
Population: 22,400
Streymoy’s largest city, Tórshavn, rarely reached a population of higher than 100 until this past century, when the number of people exploded to nearly 13,000. That’s over half the population of an island (situated between Iceland and Scotland) that spans 144 square miles -- of course, there are far more puffins on the island then there are people. The rest of the human inhabitants live in tiny hamlets nestled along the dramatic, craggy coastline, which looks like if someone did a live-action version of How to Train Your Dragon (note: some frustrated director somewhere is probably already thinking of doing this).

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Adam Lapetina is the partnerships editor at Thrillist, and lives in Brooklyn, which definitely can't be classified as "unspoiled." Read his musings at @adamlapetina.

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