My 6 Favorite Islands From Around the World


The Philippine archipelago consists of 7,641 islands. I was born in one of these, so I’m familiar with life on the beach. However, I emphasize the islands I’ve found on four different continents not just because of the beach life. These six memorable things are the result of one amazing thing, sometimes two or three—a natural formation, a historical place, a unique creation, or even something entirely different.

1. Marietas Islands

Hidden Beaches and the Galapagos Islands, Mexico

The Marietas Islands are located in Banderas Bay in southern Mexico, near the popular Puerto Vallarta. There are two, 900 meters apart. Both are uninhabited and together they form a national marine park and a UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) reserve. An innocent Facebook photo of the hidden beach is said to have gone viral and brought hordes of tourists to the islands, devastating the area.

Strict new rules have since been implemented. For example, we could only snorkel outside the string of yellow buoys demarcating Redonda Island, the smaller of the two buoys guarding the hidden beach entrance. Only 116 people can enter each day (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), so you have to get there early. You have to swim through a narrow 50-foot water tunnel through volcanic rock to the beach below the crater hole. I can’t swim and my husband doesn’t want to be without me, so we’ll just have to settle for the fantasy in the pictures.

On the larger island, Isla Larga, we had to go barefoot to explore its own “hidden beach” and a thousand-foot interpretive trail. That’s good enough, we console ourselves. The island’s underwater life is teeming with rare fish, turtles, dolphins and manta rays. They’re also a protected bird sanctuary, home to 92 species of birds, including the world-famous blue-footed boobies and great frigatebirds, earning them the nickname “Mexico’s Galapagos Islands.” We took a lot of pictures, including pictures of a Lion’s Head, a Dead Man’s Cave, a Blowhole, and a Stone Arch.

Pro tip: It’s a long boat ride from Puerto Vallarta, so another option is to take a car, taxi, or bus from Puerto Vallarta to Ponta de Mita, the closest island to the island. The boat trip is cheap and you can spot whales along the way!

2. Palawan

Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I can’t wait to show my husband Palawan. It is the fifth largest of the archipelago, highlighting the country’s westernmost point. It has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has consistently been on lists of the top ten best islands in the world.

The first World Heritage Site is Tubbataha Reef, one of the best diving spots in the world, only 150 kilometers from the capital Puerto Princesa. This is an atoll with a very high density of marine life. It has a 100-meter vertical wall, two lagoons and two coral islands.

The other is the longest (8.2 km) navigable underground river in the world , just two and a half hours from Puerto Princesa. A short walk through the green forest inhabited by monkeys and monitor lizards will take you to see rivers pouring directly into the sea, set amidst lovely limestone karst mountain landscapes outside and stunning formations deep inside.

Even the Rockhigg penal colony , a “prison without walls,” fascinated my husband. Housed about three thousand prisoners on some 45,000 hectares (initially), the only real obstacle was in the maximum security zone. Low and medium-security prisoners are given some land and farm animals to support their families. Some practice crafts and we bought some of their products in the gift shop. No one tried to escape because it was death on the mountain.

Pro Tip: The island is also known for its world-class beaches and resorts like El Nido, as well as stunning islands like Coron and Honda Bay. Puerto Princesa and other places nearby offer much more: caves, waterfalls, mangroves, parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and even refugee camps.

3. Shetland Islands

Bullock and the World’s Smallest Pony

After Iceland, our cruise ship docks in Lerwick (pop. 7,500), the capital of Scotland’s northernmost islands, Shetland (pop. 23,000). We saw typical stone buildings with their foundations on the water, Charlotte Castle, Lerwick Town Hall, Shetland Museum and Archives and the Old Town Centre.

After the hike, there is still time before you have to get back to the boat. We can choose places that have been inhabited by humans since the Mesolithic, arrive by bus, or take a Shetland pony tour. We dared to take the bus alone to Clickimin’s Bloch . Built-in the first century BC, it is a very striking Iron Age drystone hollow wall structure found only in Scotland.

As luck would have it, a Shetland pony is grazing in the bright green meadows around Broch! Originating from the Shetland Islands, the world’s smallest pony is just 42 inches, with a heavy coat and short legs. Still, they’re used for riding, driving, and packing because of their solid size.

4. Gozo Island

Older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge

My best friend and I made time to visit the Maltese Islands. We hear that many movies are shot on Gozo, which is an island of about 26 square miles. So we took a 25 minute ferry ride across the Strait of Gozo from the larger island, Malta . What we see is not a movie scene, but something else.

There was the Azure Window , a stone bridge arch over the beach that collapsed two years later. Fungal rocks with promising medicinal fungal plants fascinated us, and the Tapinu National Shrine holds so many wonderful objects. Finally, seeing the statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the beach at Ramla Bay is unique.

What impressed us the most was a large pile of old black rock held together in some parts by support structures. It is the Ġgantija temple complex , older than the Giza pyramids or Stonehenge, and second only to Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other temples in Malta; the earliest in the series, dating from the Neolithic period (3600-2500 BC).

Pro tip: We took one of the “hop on hop off” buses to these stops. A taxi would have allowed us to stay longer at the temple.

5. St. Margaret Island

The Man in the Iron Mask and the French Riviera

For our anniversary, my husband and I chose to be on the French Riviera , visiting Antibes, Cannes, Nice, Grasse, Eze, St Paul de Vence and Monte Carlo from a base in Mougins. While in Cannes, we discovered the Lerins Islands , four small Mediterranean islands off the coast. The two largest and inhabited are the Isle of St. Honorat, with its historic Cistercian abbey, and Isle of St. Marguerite, where the fort has a famous cell occupant.

We chose the latter. From the ferry terminal, we hiked to the top of the hill to the so-called Esplanade Museum . My husband loves the dark cell where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned for 11 years. What I liked even more was that we were able to take home completely different views of the French Riviera, Cote d’Azur, Cannes Harbor and the Palais des Festivals from the island.

6. Waiheke

World-Class Island Wines

Waiheke Island is the second largest and most populous island near Auckland, New Zealand. It has been voted the 4th/5th best island destination in the world for several years. From the ferry terminal, we rented a car and headed to the southernmost tip of Orapio Bay . After snapping a few photos, we headed east through rugged coastal roads, uncultivated fields, idyllic scenes of flocks of sheep and lush olive groves.

At the extreme east, we lingered at Man O’War Bay , where we filmed popular lovely scenes and sampled bestsellers from the island’s only world-class seaside winery. Satisfied we continued our trek north and then west, where most of the seaside homes of the 9 islanders were located. Further west on Ocean View Road, we find the enviable holiday homes of 1,000 well-to-do Aucklanders wandering among holiday homes owned by friends. Back on the ferry side where most of the art galleries, shops, restaurants etc are. Located, we chose to have lunch at the famous Mudbrick winery and restaurant. The chef paired world-class wines with our meals and explained each pairing as they were served. We chose to sit in the beautiful open garden on the hill instead of the extended balcony or second-floor deck. From everywhere, there are mystical views of Auckland and Rangitoto Island . For dessert, we moved to the nearby Cable Bay Winery for an after-dinner wine and a different view of Auckland from expanses of greenery rolling down to the waters below.

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