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Top 10 Islands You Should Visit

Islands You Should Visit Islands You Should Visit

Winter is still a few months away, which is why you should be making the most of inclement weather in the tropics when your own lands are besieged by dreary light and heaps of cottony snow. But Phuket, Bali or the Caribbean islands are not what we have in mind! Instead of these much-milked island holidays, we went island-hopping in Asia, Africa and Europe to find you ten places that are a choice selection of the best seaside experiences ever, with something for everyone from the diving freak to the nature lover.

10. Atauro Island, East Timor, Asia

Who wouldn’t want to be here?Who wouldn’t want to be here?East Timor is one of the world’s newest countries, having attained freedom from Indonesian occupation only in 1999, after which it spent a few years under UN stewardship. The tourism industry is far from developed, but that’s what makes it an attractive place to be, before its uninterrupted beaches are colonized by swarms of hotels. That doesn’t mean you are left to your own devices either, because East Timor offers unique experiences to the discerning island traveller. Atauro Island is an isolated community of fishermen and subsistence farmers 25 km north of the capital Dili. During times of foreign occupation, Atauro has been used as a prison island because of its isolation.

Apart from the wondrous texture of the white crushed coral beaches here, vacationing at Atauro also exposes you to the simple local culture and genuinely welcoming people. Popular water activities like snorkelling, fishing and gliding are possible here. Tourists can stay at community-run ecotourism projects like Tua Koin; the revenue generated from running this resort goes back into the community through various development projects. Atauro is reachable by the daily ferry from Dili. It is expensive to travel to East Timor - Dili is linked by air to Darwin in Australia and Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia, from where flights to Sydney and other Asian cities connect you to Europe and North America. But then, who said exclusivity came without a price tag?

9. Praslin, Seychelles, Indian Ocean

The beautiful shapes of weathered granite at beaches near PraslinThe beautiful shapes of weathered granite at beaches near PraslinWith gorgeous granite faces weathered to heartwarming smoothness by warm and salty ocean waters, the Seychelles, with their 115 islands and miles of idyllic coastline, are a beach lover’s paradise. Praslin, 45 kms northeast of the capital Mahe, is a good place to be. It is yet to be affected by the industrial boom that threatens to overtake Mahe’s seaside serendipity; also, it is only a hop, skip and ferry ride away from the more soporific La Digue island. The beaches are addictive and only the dazzling swirls of white sand might entice you out of Praslin’s topaz blue waters.

Local tourism authorities are investing heavily in promoting tourism, hence Seychelles has everything from uber-luxurious hotels to economical and quaint self-catering guesthouses. Ecotourism is the buzzword here; once you’ve had your fill of Seychelles’ inanimate splendor, grab the chance to observe birds and giant tortoises in their natural habitat. The dense mountainous interiors offer splendid opportunities for walks and jungle trails. The weather is cooler and drier between May to September but the waves here are known to act up. Seychelles has an international airport near the island of Victoria and most international airlines fly to Victoria from major hubs in North America, Dubai and Europe.

8. Jejudo Island, South Korea, Asia

Waterfalls and lava cliffs come together at JejudoWaterfalls and lava cliffs come together at JejudoVolcanoes and awe-inspiring islands often go together, as the hidden gems of Asia prove to us. Jejudo is the embodiment of natural diversity; from oceanic palms to stubby cactus trees, fruit orchards to golden beaches, it has something for everyone. The volcanic landscapes are worth a dekko – at 1950 m, Hallasan is South Korea’s highest peak and a national park; while Udo island is an exercise in contrast with its towering black lava cliffs and a sheer white coral-sand beach. Jejudo is also known for its rich cultural heritage – including the distinctive annual fire festival, that stems from the custom of removing harmful insects and old grass in villages in the first lunar month of every year.

The climate is not tropical, rather, one should expect island climate, which could change as much as four times a day. Because of Hallasan, Jejudo is perhaps the rainiest spot in South Korea, however, the rains are evenly spread out and autumn sees almost no rainfall. Since Jejudo is a popular Korean holiday spot, there is no dearth of world-class resorts and motels. If you feel adventurous, you can even stay in a traditional but well-equipped minbak, which is a Korean bed and breakfast. Jejudo has an international airport, Jeju, which is well connected to the mainland and to cities in nearby Japan, China and Taiwan.

7. Maldives, Indian Ocean, Asia 

Seeing the world through blue eyes in MaldivesSeeing the world through blue eyes in MaldivesThe Maldives are a group of ancient coral reefs that rimmed fire-breathing prehistoric volcanoes; since then, the volcanoes have disappeared, leaving behind some of the most breathtaking coral islands in the Indian Ocean. The country is currently in the throes of development, but Maldives is still the place for your dream holiday. The skies are blindingly blue, you’ll end up with a tan whenever you visit and you can dive and snorkel in clear blue lagoons naturally set to cosy bath water temperatures.

There is no dearth of luxurious places to live in; eco-hotels are an increasingly popular concept here, apart from the multitude of resorts and boutique hotels.  Maldives is connected to the world through the international airport that takes up an entire island near the capital city of Male. Sri Lankan Airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates have regular flights to the island nation. International airlines fly to various major cities in Europe and Asia. In North America, if you live around the East Coast, you could fly to London and catch a Qatar Airways connection to Maldives. For those on the West Coast, a plane connection through Singapore is more practical. Maldives is also serviced by a host of chartered flight operators in major European cities.

6. Cape Verde, Africa

Cape Verde is a mélange of African and Portuguese influenceCape Verde is a mélange of African and Portuguese influenceSeparated by 500 km of ocean from Senegal and the rest of Africa, Cape Verde is a heady combination of African and Portuguese influences. It is one of the most politically and economically stable countries in Africa, and boasts of delightful weather throughout the year. Compared to the rest of West Africa, the standard of living is high. The islands were uninhabited till the late 1400s. They cover a small geographical area but are remarkably versatile in character – there are barren flats and dizzying valleys, with volcanic peaks thrown in for good measure.  And then there are the dazzling white beaches, easily accessible but still unexposed to hordes of travellers.

The cooling ocean currents and offshore winds ensure that Cape Verde has one of the lowest temperatures in West Africa. Even the rains are sporadic; weeks can go by in the monsoon months without a single downpour. In Cape Verde, there are airports on all but one of the inhabited islands. Cape Verde is connected to Lisbon in Portugal by a daily flight and to New York, Boston, Johannesburg, Paris, Madrid, Munich, Dakar (Senegal), among other places. From Dakar, tourists can catch connections to many other African cities.

5. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The Andamans have beaches that leave you breathlessThe Andamans have beaches that leave you breathlessGoing to the Andamans once meant that you were cast out on the endless ‘black waters’, never to return. This former penal settlement is now a laidback tropical getaway. The Andamans are a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkelling, thanks to the admirable array of marine life and the awe-inspiring corals. Needless to add, the white, deserted beaches of the Andamans are to die for. The most popular of the 572 islands (of which only 36 are inhabited) is Havelock Island. Only a third of Havelock has permanent settlements; on the other hand, there are miles of pristine white sand to lose your way on.

The weather is not too extreme and one can even feel a nip in the air between December and February. Scuba diving and snorkelling facilities are available; if you change your mind about the beaches, you can even head inland for some adventurous jungle trekking. The main islands, like Port Blair and Havelock, have accommodation options ranging from tents and beach huts to five-star resorts. Port Blair is connected by air to Chennai and New Delhi on the Indian mainland, which are connected to most European and North American cities. If you are open to slower travel, you could also consider sailing to the Andamans on one of the regular cruise ships that depart from Chennai.

4. Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

people-of-zanzibarpeople-of-zanzibarZanzibar is flat and sandy, with a selection of delightfully white crusty beaches. At the centre of the city, at a short distance from the vast beaches, lies the old Stone Town, with its snaking alleys choc-a-bloc with small spice shops and relaxed locals taking in the days. A heady mixture of ancient Persia and the old Omani Sultanate and Goan India, Zanzibar is the epitome of susegaad, or the relaxed life, so different from chaotic mainland rhythms.

Zanzibar’s beaches are fringed by coconut palms and gently lapping turquoise waters. The island of Pemba, also a part of the Zanzibar archipelago, is a lovely diving spot, with its abundance of coral reefs and fish. If you are possessed by the urge to head inland, explore Pemba’s beautiful mangrove plantations, tidal creeks and lagoons. The main town, known as Zanzibar Town or Unguja, has excellent accommodation options, including rustic lodges and thatched spaces on the beach. The island is connected to several cities in Tanzania by air, apart from the regular ferries that run to the mainland, which is two hours away. From Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, international airlines fly to select cities in most continents.

3. Pulau Sipadan, Borneo - Sabah, Malaysia

Sipadan: Endangered diving spot.Sipadan: Endangered diving spot.Pulau Sipadan is a deepwater oceanic island formed by an undersea volcano. Located in an oceanic area famous for its rich marine bio-diversity, it is one of the world best dive spots, and can be daunting for first-time divers. Around 35 km off the coastal town of Semporna in Borneo, a bigger island known equally for its sweltering jungles and its waters, Sipadan is open to visitors only during the day. The waters change their colour quickly, becoming indigo blue around 15 feet away from the beach, where the depth of the sea suddenly drops to 2850 feet. Sometimes, it’s so dark that it is hard to tell what lurks below! Another marine attraction here are the Green and Hawksbill turtles that come ashore to nest in the golden sands between April and September.

Tourists stay on other nearby islands that are reachable by ferry, signing up with professional dive companies on Sipadan for their dive tours. It is also convenient to stay at Semporna, which has a waterfront market and many holiday resorts. From Semporna, one can reach the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, by bus or private transport. From Kota Kinabalu, one can fly to Jakarta or a clutch of other Asian destinations, including Kuala Lumpur, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Seoul.

2. Sao Tomé and Principe, Atlantic Ocean, Africa

The lava beaches at Sao Tomé leave you awestruck.The lava beaches at Sao Tomé leave you awestruck.No one can pinpoint why Sao Tomé is not a roaring tourist hub – Lonely Planet pegs the number of visitors per week at 20. Despite its tendency to fall off the map, Sao Tomé has all it takes to be a perfect little island. Regular beaches jostle for space with lava rock beaches. Lagoa Azul, in the north, is one such beach, with blue, blue water and a range of birding sites for nature lovers. In the southern parts of the island, Praia Piscina makes for an interesting visit, with a lava cave blocking off most of the beach from the sea. The resulting lava pool is mostly placid, and you can lounge in the water even as you watch violent waves thrashing against the other side of the rock barrier. In Sao Tomé, one can also hire boats to sail into the ocean and indulge in a spot of whale watching when Humpback whales travel from their summer feeding grounds to more tropical mating zones.

Once in Sao Tomé, you can choose from a host of interesting places to live in. There are the de rigueur luxury hotels, charming little boutique hotels; one can also opt to stay at one of the old colonial plantation houses in Sao Tomé Town. Travellers to Sao Tomé fly in from Libreville in Gabon or Lisbon. Weekly flights to Angola, Ghana and Cape Verde make leaving Sao Tomé easier for those who’re travelling in Africa.

1. Ibiza, Spain

Nice legs in Ibiza, Spain.Nice legs in Ibiza, Spain.Though we’d like to introduce you to places off the beaten path, it would be blasphemy to leave out this jewel of the Catalan coast. Ibiza first became a hippie hotspot for the flower-power generation of the sixties. The landscape here is harsh and rocky, and the rainfall is at best scanty. That explains the pines dotting the region, apart from the succulent olives, figs and almonds. If you go to Ibiza in the summer and expect to have a beach to yourself, you’re headed the wrong way. Ibiza is the ultimate party town and the altar of the rave, with the tourist population outnumbering the local folks by several millions. The quiet won’t elude you permanently though. Densely wooded patches dot the more forgotten parts of the island, like the northeast.

For heritage buffs, the old walled town of D’Alt Vila, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must visit. While it was the Romans who first fortified this hilltop, it was completed during the reign of the Portuguese monarch Felipe II. Ibiza is easily accessible by air via several Spanish cities and London. Accommodation to suit every pocket and fancy is easily available.

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Last modified on Thursday, 04 November 2010 17:09

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