Unspoiled and isolated, hidden islands are vacation bait for anyone with escapist tendencies. Protected from crowds and the stress of modern life, these retreats will allow you to become one with nature, soak up local culture, and live in paradise. So go ahead and become a castaway for a day or two. Here are 10 secret places -- from the mysterious North Atlantic to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean -- where you can completely surrender to island time.
The Azores, Portugal
Isolated in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, a Portuguese island chain unknown to most Americans, feels remote but is actually closer to the U.S. than any other point in Europe. Each of the nine volcanic islands -- from main island Sao Miguel to the tiny isle of Corvo (population: about 400) -- exudes a distinct character. But all of the islands are rooted in Old World charm and offer plenty of ways to experience local culture and the outdoors. Feel the spray from the world's biggest mammals on a whale watch, hike up calderas to pristine crater lakes, or go spelunking though extinct lava tubes. Just be sure to make time to savor the local cuisine, which prides itself on wine, artisan-made cheeses, and seafood from the islands' rich ocean waters.
Don't Miss: Immersive jeep and hiking tours of Faial's volcanoes with Casa d'ￃﾁvilas, wine (and ever-potent firewater) from Pico's World Heritage vineyard landscape, the colorful Holy Ghost Festivals of Terceira, and geothermal cooking and swimming on Sao Miguel.
Getting There: Sao Miguel is about a four-hour direct flight from Boston on SATA airlines. Connections to the other islands are available via plane or ferry.
Summer Isles, Scotland
A cafe. A post office. And a handful of snug holiday cottages. What more do you need when you truly want to get away? In the Summer Isles, a little-known archipelago of mostly deserted islands in the Scottish Highlands, crowds and modern life are out and rugged coastlines and pristine beaches are in. The largest and only inhabited isle, Tanera Mor, offers the only bit of civilization while still feeling remote. The isle doesn't have roads and it can't accommodate more than 35 people, but what it does have are hundreds of acres of bogs and peat-covered slopes, abundant wildlife, and plenty of inspiration for aspiring artists and writers. If a short stay isn't enough, consider the role of island keeper. Rumor has it that Tanera Mor is up for sale.
Don't Miss: Wilderness Scotland's camping and guided sea-kayak tours; on the latter, you'll circumnavigate Tanera Mor, then paddle north to Eilean Flada Mor, spotting dolphins and passing a seal colony along the way.
Getting There: From Inverness -- which is connected to the rest of the U.K. by rail, bus, and air -- drive or bus through the scenic Highlands to Achiltibuie or Ullapool, then pick up a boat to Tanera Mor.
San Andres, Colombia
Want old-school Caribbean without all the resorts and glamour? Then San Andres might be for you. Part of an island chain in the Caribbean Sea about 435 miles from the Colombian mainland, San Andres boasts a rich native Raizal culture with English, Dutch, African, and Spanish influences. Locals, especially in the small village of La Loma, still converse in Creole and maintain traditions such as making handicrafts from coconut and totumo wood. The favorite island dish? Rondon, a stew made with fish, yucca, plantains, and dumplings (or "domplines"), all simmered in coconut milk. The outdoors is the main draw for tourists, though. On land, visitors can circle the island by scooter, while stopping to explore hidden coves or feel the sway of coconut palms. San Andres' seahorse shape hints at what lies beneath its waters: a fish-filled coral reef that is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Don't Miss: Johnny Cay, a small islet with a natural aquarium for snorkeling plus a white-sand beach that pulses to the beat of reggae music.
The Chilean archipelago of Chiloe, near Puerto Montt at the northern edge of Patagonia, beckons with misty landscapes and ancient lore. Local Chilotes, known for their hospitality, will stir your imagination with tales of witches and ghost ships. The biggest island, Isla Grande de Chiloe, is home to seaside villages lined with colorful palafitos, wooden houses on stilts, and dozens of shingled churches. And although Charles Darwin spent some time here, many tourists have not. The national park on the island's western edge remains untouched, with miles of beaches and temperate rainforest and vast stretches of rolling farmland and forest, all of which make Chiloe an ideal spot for geotourism and agritourism. On the water, sail or kayak around the other islands, and spot penguins nesting in the colony that is home to both Magellanic and Humboldt species.
Don't Miss: Curanto, a traditional dish made with seafood, meat, and potatoes that's covered in nalca (Chilean rhubarb) leaves and steamed over hot stones underground.
Getting There: Flights to Chiloe on LAN Airlines depart from Santiago, with a stopover in Puerto Montt. Ferries from Puerto Montt are also available.
Lord Howe Island, Australia
With no cell-phone reception and a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit (for the few allowed cars), Lord Howe Island, off the eastern coast of New South Wales, epitomizes island time in Australia. It's a short bike ride across this seven-mile-long island, so you'll have plenty of time for snorkeling at Erscott's Hole or hand-feeding large fish at Ned's Beach. The isolated volcanic island is located at the crossroads of five major ocean currents, and as home to the world's southernmost barrier coral reef, it's a diver's haven, boasting more than 90 species of coral and 500 species of tropical fish. It's also Australia's top bird-watching destination, with breeding grounds for colonies of endemic rare birds such as the Providence Petrel and the flightless Lord Howe Island Woodhen. Due to its near-virgin forest and biodiversity that rivals the Galapagos, Lord Howe is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and 75 percent of the island is preserved.
Don't Miss: Hiking treks on Mt. Gower, Lord Howe's highest peak at nearly 2,900 feet, where you can spot rare flora and fauna and catch views of the entire island.
Getting There: Regional airline QantasLink flies from Sydney or Brisbane to Lord Howe in just under two hours.
Isle au Haut, Maine
"You can't get there from here" is a common phrase in Maine. And for hidden locales like Isle au Haut that want to remain secret, that's a good thing. Located 17 miles off Maine's rocky coast, the Penobscot Bay retreat is a quiet place to land, a place where more than half of the island (about 2,700 acres) is protected as part of Acadia National Park. James Kaiser, author of Acadia: The Complete Guide, says, "Thanks to its remote location, Isle au Haut is the perfect place to soak in the slow pace of Maine island life. Even in July and August, when much of the coast is teeming with tourists, Isle au Haut feels delightfully untouched." The small number of visitors (only about 7,000 annually) can camp overnight at Duck Harbor or come just for the day to take a scenic lighthouse cruise around the bay, lobster with local lobstermen, sea kayak, and walk on some of the 18 miles of hiking trails.
Don't Miss: A stay at The Keeper's House Inn, a working lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Getting There: Isle au Haut is accessible via a reliable mail boat that offers daily service year-round from the mainland town of Stonington.
Ibo Island, Mozambique
Arab trading posts. Portuguese fortifications. Pirates and prisoners. Intrigued yet? Ibo Island in northern Mozambique may have a storied past, but it is still largely undiscovered by much of the modern world. Part of the Quirimbas Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the island shifted from Arab to Portuguese rule until Mozambique gained independence in 1975. Arab influences are still evident in dhows (handmade wooden sailboats) now used for island-hopping and in silver filigree jewelry crafted by generations of skilled artists. When it comes to food, Portuguese culture shines; highlights include paozinho (a type of roll), cassava-leaf pesto, and dishes spiced with piri-piri pepper sauce. There has been very little island development since the Portuguese ended their 500-year stint. Now, the main tourist draws and centers for the local economy are the unspoiled reefs and mangrove lagoons filled with the likes of red snapper, barracuda, and other tropical fish. Part of Quirimbas National Park, these coastal areas remain protected through conservation efforts.
Don't Miss: A stay at Ibo Island Lodge, a luxurious retreat set in three restored colonial mansions.
Getting There: Fly from African cities including Johannesburg to Pemba Airport, where you'll clear Mozambican customs, then take a short hop to Ibo's airstrip.
Juist, East Frisian Islands, Germany
When thinking about islands, Germany rarely comes to mind. However, once discovered, Juist in the North Sea sparks the imagination. The narrow island known as Towerland, or "magic land," is the longest of the East Frisian Islands at 10.5 miles and is part of the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage site. At only 2,000 years old, Juist is young, geologically speaking, and remains largely untouched. It wants to stay that way, too. The only way to get around the car-free island is by horse and carriage or on foot, and Juist is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. It's also a nature lover's paradise, with protective sand dunes and salt marshes serving as refuge for endangered plant species and nesting grounds for birds. Visitors can connect to the surroundings by strolling on long stretches of sand or relaxing with the ebb and flow of the tide while curled up in covered wicker beach chairs.
Don't Miss: Thalassotherapy treatments enriched with seaweed and North Sea water, and slow walks on tidal mudflats.
Getting There: Just four miles from the mainland, Juist is a 90-minute ferry ride from Germany's northern coast.
The Corn Islands, Nicaragua
Free of T-shirt shops and other signs of mass tourism, the low-key Corn Islands -- Big Corn and Little Corn -- just off Nicaragua's Miskito Coast once lured pirates and buccaneers to their shores. Today, English is widely spoken on the islands, which were one-time British protectorates. On Big Corn, fish for snook and tarpon while listening to island tales from Captain Eddie Downs (also known as "Santa Claus" presumably for his long white beard). Or, hike up Mt. Pleasant Tower, the island's highest point, to capture a 360-degree view. On Little Corn, ride through the lush rainforest on horseback and pay a visit the quirky Bottle House, built by the mayor with bottles found on the island to encourage recycling. On both of the Corns, thatched-roof bungalows and beachfront huts cost a whopping $10 to $15 per night. The price for a cold beer? Just $1.50.
Don't Miss: A 400-year-old Spanish Galleon wreck, and a dive to the Blowing Rock coral formation about 100 feet below the surface.
Getting There: Fly into Managua, Nicaragua, and then hop on regional carrier La Costena to Big Corn Island; from there, you can take the panga (ferry) to Little Corn Island. You can also go local via "chicken bus" and scenic river boat.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Stay in a thatched-roof bungalow and laze away the days on Koh Rong, part of a string of islands in the Gulf of Thailand, where ATMs and electricity will be as scarce as your sense of time. About 15 miles from Sihanoukville, it is the second-largest island in Cambodia, leaving plenty of room for four small villages, long stretches of untouched beach, clear waters ideal for diving and snorkeling, and a dense interior jungle of virgin forest. Trek through the island on hidden trails or hire a local fishing boat to take you around Koh Rong or to other surrounding islands. Couples find serenity at resorts along the beach, while backpackers and divers tend to cluster near villages, staying in more laid-back guest houses. No matter where they stay, visitors will get to experience an island that remains pristine and nearly undeveloped -- ;at least for now. With a bevy of tourist infrastructure improvements on the horizon, Koh Rong is likely to get noticed in the coming years.
Don't Miss: Swimming at night in bioluminescent waters, with phosphorescent plankton that sparkle and glow when disturbed by movement.
Getting There: Koh Rong is accessible via a two-hour ferry ride from Sihanoukville.
--By Anne Banas