We all want to find a private island paradise. But it’s hard to keep a white sand beach secret for too long, and after a while all those pristine beaches start to look the same. And besides, there’s so much more to island living than finding your own Eden. This is a list of islands with wildlife, strange histories, and intriguing native culture. Set sail for these islands to see some truly rare sites.
The Galápagos, Ecuador
Ecuador takes the prize for the most interesting chain of islands — the Galápagos Islands are in such isolation that they have many species that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Animals like the blue-footed boobie live in peace because of the lack of any natural predators — otherwise its awkward gait would make it an easy meal.
Here are a couple of islands that your cruise ship might miss. Make a special trip out of your way to see some of these gems.
1. Bartolomé, Ecuador
From January to March, green sea turtles come to nest on Bartolome’s beach. You can go snorkeling to see reef sharks near the sharply jutting Pinnacle Rock. Year-round you’ll have the opportunity to see Galápagos penguins, which are the only penguins to live north of the equator.
2. North Seymour Island, Ecuador
North Seymour Island is one of the top islands in the Galápagos for bird watching. While you’re here you can see the strange mating dance of the blue-footed booby, and the graceful flight of the island’s huge population of frigatebirds.
3. Floreana Island, Ecuador
Although this island’s wildlife has suffered from human (and goat) interference, it has the strangest history of all the Galápagos Islands. Some European settlers arrived here in the 1930s, and a few years later one of the couples disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The air of mystery remains, as does the old mailbox that visitors still stuff with postcards. If you find a card addressed to somewhere where you can deliver, take it with you.
4. Turneffe Islands, Belize
Belize’s Turneffe Islands offer an exclusive peek into Belize’s underwater ecosystem. This island has two populations: Resort guests and fishermen. Visitors who stay here can take a 1.5-hour boar ride to the incredible dive site of the Belize Blue Hole. These islands are surrounded by protected coral reefs and sand flats where you can go fly-fishing.
5. Isla Contadora, Pearl Islands
In the Gulf of Panama you’ll find the Pearl Islands, which covers a cluster of over 90 islands. They have white sands and aquamarine water. Many of these islands are undeveloped, and have untouched nature.
Isla Contadora is one of the islands that has attracted a lot of resorts, and visitors congregate on the white sands of Cacique Beach. As you stroll the beach you’ll see the splendid mansions that line the shore.
6. Carti Island, San Blas Islands
Panama’s San Blas Islands are home to the Guna Yala people. Visitors come here for the unblemished tropical beaches, but on Carti Island you can a significant population of Guna Yala people. They have a museum on the island that has a few unusual artifacts from their past.
7. Taboga Island, near Panama City
Take a short boat ride from the Panama City Canal to Taboga Island. Its know for atmospheric conditions that allow flowers to bloom in abundance. In addition to the flowers that grow along the side of the road, this island has a cemetery with above ground tombs where you’ll see clusters of colorful bouquets.
8. Isla del Coco
Isla del Coco, much like the Galápagos, has animals that have evolved in isolation. There are species here you can’t find anywhere else in the world, including species of flycatcher and cuckoo. On this island you’ll find a thick jungle, and there is a rich variety of marine life in the surrounding water.
9. Isla Tortuga
Isla Tortuga is a sizable island off the south coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. You can get to it via a 90-minute boat ride. Explore the vibrant coastline in a kayak or a glass-floor boat – look down to see spinner dolphins, angel fish, and rays.
10. Flores Island
Flores is jumping off point for exploring nearby caves and Maya artifacts. It has a small-town feel and colorful rows of houses. You can travel quickly from Flores to Santa Elena by a thin causeway, and have access to lots of travel services. This island is in Petén Itzá Lake, and you can rent kayaks to explore it on your own, or sign up for a boating tour.
Zach Smith is CEO of Anywhere.