The furthest western and southern point of Japan, the Yaeyama Islands are also the most remote of all Japan’s islands. It’s so remote that Japanese is the second language here, with indigenous Yonaguni most widely spoken. Scuba diving and isolation are the main attractions here.
For serious peace and quiet away from the mainland Washington State, take a ferry over to one of the magnificent San Juan Islands (there are 172 islets in total but only four are accessible by ferry). Thick woodland – laced with numerous hiking and biking trails – carpet the islands, and just off shore you watch cheeky orca whales bobbing and splashing about.
Ssese Islands, Uganda
Up until quite recently, no tourists came to Ssese, a cluster of 84 islands in Uguanda’s massive Lake Victoria. Now there’s a ferry that shuttles visitors over to their divine white beaches and leafy tropical forests. Only about half of the islands are inhabited.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
Only scientists are allowed to land on Surtsey Island, off the southern coast of Iceland. Formed from a volcanic eruption beneath the sea that reached the water’s surface in 1963, it’s now colonized by an abundance of plant, animal and marine life, which are visible from the confines of a boat only.
Tetepare, Solomon Islands
Tetepare Island managed to escape the colonization and logging of its neighbouring Solomon Islands and is now a treasured conservation project, run by the Tetepare Descendant’s Association. Its clear seawater and lush forests have become a haven for rare animals and brightly coloured fish, such as the bicolour parrotfish.
Samson Island, England
Hilly Samson belongs to the Scilly Isles, just off the tip of Cornwall. Only five of the 140 islands (some just rocky islets) are inhabited, in a move to protect them from development. You can visit them by boat, though, and explore every nook and cranny, as well as exciting vestiges of human life including prehistoric farms and burial mounds.
Monuriki Island, Fiji
Tiny Monuriki Island, part of Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands, was the star of the 2000 film Cast Away. Celebrity status, along with its blissful sandy beaches and sapphire-coloured lagoons, has earned it quite a tourist following. Despite its popularity, it’s still for the most part a stunning, isolated retreat.
Mu Ko Ang Thong, Thailand
A national marine park just off the shore of Ko Samui, Mu Ko Ang Thong comprises 42 islands blanketed with tropical rainforests and fringed with white sand strands. Boats meander peacefully on the emerald-green sea, stopping off at diminutive coves and intriguing rock formations shaped by erosion.
Hoy is the second largest of the 72 Orkney Islands sitting to the north of Scotland. Along with 19 others, it is uninhabited by humans; however, the wildlife hereabouts is copious, including seals, puffins, whales, dolphins and otters, to name but a few species. Accordingly, wildlife spotting – as well as peace and quiet – is the main tourist draw.
Blasted by strong winds in the winter and spring months, the 64 islands in Taiwan’s Penghu peninsula provide the perfect sporting arena for windsurfers, who flock here in their hundreds. The main islands are all connected by bridges, but boats can take you out into the archipelago for some exceptional bird-watching, snorkelling and swimming.
Gilbert Islands, Kiribati
A chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the Gilbert Islands are named after British sea captain, Thomas Gilbert, who came across them in 1788. Today an independent colony belonging to the Kiribati, the Gilbert Islands exude peace and isolation.
Rock Islands, Palau
The mushroom-shaped Rock Islands, in the south of Palau’s 250-strong island country are the remains of an ancient coral reef that thrust its way violently up through the water. Jellyfish Lake, which (unsurprisingly) hosts many varieties of stingless jellyfish, is a favourite spot for tourists armed with snorkels.
Some of the world’s oldest and most beautiful coral reefs surround the 370-plus San Blas island group, east of Panama’s Canal, and snorkelling (no scuba-diving) here is tourism’s major pastime. The Kuna Indians and Kunu Yala live on 49 of the islands, fishing and growing coconuts.
Devil’s Island, French Guiana
One of the three Îles du Salut that lie just off the coast of French Guiana in rough and shark-infested waters, Devil’s Island (or Île du Diable) used to be a penal colony, notorious for its harsh treatment of the prisoners. The prison system was curtailed in 1953, but the islands’ past is commemorated at the old director’s house on Île Royale, and there are enlightening guided tours round the islands.
Admittedly, the Maldives are far from deserted but of the 1190 islands, only 200 are inhabited so it’s easy enough to find tranquility. The intoxicating combination of sugar-sand beaches, turquoise water and balmy weather is the very definition of tropical paradise, and the snorkelling and scuba diving are outstanding.
Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands
Kwajalein Atoll belongs to the Marshall Islands, a strip of 1156 islets lying halfway between Australia and Hawaii. The atoll is one of the world’s largest coral atolls, itself made up of 97 islets, some covered with tropical palm trees and jungle and popular with picknickers and campers.
The two Hog Islands (aka Cayos Cochinos) off the coast of Honduras belong to the Bay Islands department, a developed cluster of islands, of which Roatán is the biggest. Away from the nightclubs and busy beaches of Roatán, travellers like to escape to the Hog Islands for their utter serenity, stillness and isolation
The last inhabitants of the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland were evacuated to the mainland in 1953. They were Irish-speaking and had lived a particular and unique way of life for many years, becoming a focus for anthropological studies. You can visit the six main islands by ferry, soaking up the sense of history and solitude.
Uninhabited, save for a permanent rangers hut, Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica is enveloped in extraordinarily deep waters favoured by scuba divers the world over. Giant manta rays, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and bottlenose dolphins are just some of the wonderful marine life divers can expect to see here.
Isolated hiking, magnificent coral reef diving – with a chance to see the rare hawksbill turtle – and beautiful beaches are the highlights of the Con Daos Islands, sixteen mountainous islets sitting south of Vietnam. A national marine park surrounds the islands, responsible for committed wildlife-conservation efforts.
Enderby Island, Auckland Islands
Yellow-eyed penguins, Auckland teals, New Zealand sea lions and a distinct variety of rabbit are among the species now residing on Enderby Island, part of New Zealand’s Auckland Islands. Animals aside, there are no humans living here; after the survivors of nearby shipwrecks left, nobody came back.
Ball’s Pyramid – 20km southeast of Lord Howe Island in the Pacific Ocean – soars up through the seawater like a knife. At 562 metres, it’s the tallest volcanic stack in the world and attracts hardcore climbers attempting to scale its peak. An enormous, lobster-like stick insect – the so-called Lord Howe stick insect – was also discovered shimmying up its granite slopes.