Winning tip: Achill Island, Ireland
Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland is a place of spectacular natural beauty, boasting vast boglands, rugged hills, vertiginous sea cliffs and a catalogue of blue flag beaches. Do not miss the breathtaking Atlantic drive, the mysterious deserted village at the foot of Slievemore mountain, or the clear turquoise waters and pale sandy beach of Keem Bay, set snugly amid green velvet hills and guarded by a small flock of ever-watchful sheep.
St Anna archipelago, Sweden
Paddling around the uninhabited St Anna archipelago, only two hours from Stockholm, you’ll experience true solitude. Lush islands and still waters are yours to explore, paddle around and pitch your tent on as you please. Spend your days swimming, fishing for perch and basking on the rocks before finding your next island to visit. Go between May and July to make the most of the long midsummer days and seemingly endless sunsets.
Gozo is an enchanting part of the Maltese archipelago. Head to its Museum of Archaeology to admire one of the oldest art collections in the world, including 5,000-year-old terracotta goddesses. Visit the Ggantija temples, a magnificent Unesco world heritage site. From the grand temples, walk to the beach through countryside with great views of the island. Enjoy the blue water and don’t forget to try Kinnie –a Maltese coca-cola!
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca lies several thousand metres above sea level and was revered by the Incas as the birthplace of the sun. Stroll along the tracks that criss-cross the landscape, passing deserted Incan ruins and nodding greetings to the Aymaran inhabitants. You’ll feel a world away from home. At the end of a day, what could be better than a fresh trout supper as the sun sets over the lake?
Dahlak Archipelago, Eritrea
Set in the Red Sea, this Eritrean Archipelago is about as hard to get to as they come. But the effort is more than rewarded by these spectacular, deserted islands. Snorkelling beckons by day, phosphorescence on the water abounds by night and aside from the four inhabited islands, you’ll have them all to yourself.
Ang Thong marine park, Thailand
Abandon the day-trippers and stay in one of the six national park bungalows. Once everyone leaves, you’ve got 42 islands to yourself and plenty to explore: hidden coves, beautiful reefs, fascinating caves and Ko Mae Ko, the inspiration for Alex Garland’s book ‘The Beach’ – an emerald saltwater lake encircled by limestone cliffs and linked by an underground tunnel to the sea. It’s one of Thailand’s few untouched paradises.
Sindabezi Island, Zambia
Sindabezi Island sits in the middle of the Zambezi river a short distance upstream from the mighty Victoria Falls and accessible only by boat. With just five guest chalets, my family and I felt like we were hosting our own house party on a private island.
St Martin’s Island, Bangladesh
This is an absolute gem of an island. Its surprisingly sparse population and few visitors meant we often had vast stretches of beautiful tropical beach to ourselves. The food and accommodation available was simple, but provided all that we needed for an escape from the hustle of life in mainland Bangladesh; we spent most nights sleeping under the stars.
Ilha das Peças and Superagüi, Brazil
Ilha das Peças and Superagüi are two islands in a beautiful area of preserved Atlantic forest in southern Brazil. Superagüi has a 19-mile beach and one very small fishing village. This is one of the places where you can still see the Caiçara culture thriving, with their violin-based songs and men dancing in noisy sabots. These islands also offer a rare opportunity to see other spectacles like flocks of parrots, dolphins and jumping manta rays.
This temperate Atlantic island, less than a four-hour flight from the UK, has much to offer the adventurous. Venture into the lush, verdant mountains to explore the network of levada walks, following vertiginous paths alongside aqueducts and beneath waterfalls; or travel further into the forests by jeep or horseback. Ride in a cable car for far-reaching views across the rooftops of the capital city, Funchal, hurtling back downhill via a 40mph wicker toboggan!
Reaching this island chain in the Bicol region of the Philippines felt like winning a challenge from Survivor and The Amazing Race combined. As I got settled in one of the nipa stilted huts, I realised how little I actually needed to feel comfort, even luxury. With every island I hopped on, I was left breathless with the simplicity nature alone could create. The sound of the waves kissing the pristine sand and the wind disturbing the coconut trees made me feel like I’d found paradise.
Coiba Island, Panama
A former penal colony an hour’s ride from Santa Catalina, Coiba Island is not your average tropical island. Accommodation is with the park rangers in one of their huts. They will lead you into the depths of the primary rainforest, much of which remains undiscovered. Diving is phenomenal, and wildlife above and below water is plentiful and fascinating and includes snakes, crocodiles, and some endemic birds to name but a few. A sense of adventure is required for Coiba, but it’s guaranteed to be the highlight of a trip.