Not every island is a sand-and-sun beach destination where you go to crack open a good book, sip a tropical drink and forget about the worries of home for a few days. Some are full of wildlife and culture and things you can’t find anywhere else. Maybe they’re a little bit out there. Maybe they’re cold or the beaches aren’t anything to write home about. But they’re worth exploring. This week, we visit a few of them.
The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar lies east of Mozambique and is home to 5 percent of the world’s wildlife and vegetation. While the beaches are great, there is a diversity of terrain from rainforest to desert, and much of the flora and fauna are unique to the island. Of the more than 200 bird species, about half are found only on Madagascar, which has almost 20,000 plant species, including seven types of the baobab tree. Lemurs leap from tree to tree, while chameleons cling to the branches, making for an entirely different kind of safari experience.
A teardrop-shaped island off the southeastern tip of India, Sri Lanka has recently opened up to the outside world after a 30-year civil war ended in 2009. Marco Polo called it “the finest island in the world,” and it yields treasures far beyond the many precious gems found in its soil. Its two dozen national parks are home to elephants, leopards, sloth bears, and deer. As far as human contribution, Anuradhapura served as the capital for nearly 1,500 years and is still a sacred site for Buddhists, while Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress full of murals and gardens that was a revolutionary example of urban planning in the fifth century.
The seat of the Republic of China since defeat at the hands of the communists shortly after World War II, Taiwan has developed a unique culture that is a mix of aboriginal, Chinese and Japanese elements. With nearly 25 million inhabitants, it packs about 1,700 people into every square mile. At 1,671 feet, Taipei 101 in the capital city briefly held the title of world’s tallest building, though now it’s struggling to remain in the top 10. Street food is the hallmark of Taiwanese dining, with tofu, rice, pork, and vegetables all enjoying starring roles. Outside the city are temples in gorgeous natural settings reminiscent of a much older way of life.
There is a settlement with a couple dozen non-permanent human inhabitants at any given time on this island east of Tierra del Fuego and north of Antarctica. There’s even a church. But the main attraction is penguins. Tens of thousands of king, Gentoo and macaroni penguins share space with elephant and fur seals. South Georgia is also where Ernest Shackleton landed in a lifeboat on of one of the most harrowing rescue missions of all time after a wreck some 800 miles away, then hiked more than 20 miles to a whaling station for help. Not to worry, though, you’ll be safe in the hands of our Virtuoso partners.
About 50,000 brave souls inhabit this archipelago between Iceland and Norway, and it’s assuredly not for the beaches. An independent country in the Kingdom of Denmark (after a treaty with Norway in 1814), the Faroes play host to Europe’s largest puffin colony and dramatic waterfalls tumbling to the North Atlantic. There are several animal species that have evolved uniquely in isolation, such as the Faroe pony, strong as a horse but with a smaller stature and the Faroe sheep. The friendly population has an interesting blend of Norse and Celtic heritage and are fond of traditional saga-like songs accompanied by dance known as kvaedir, some of which are hundreds of verses long.
After another round of snowmaggedon, it seems like the warm weather might never arrive. But you really need to get out of the house and stop freezing, maybe even see solid ground. Fortunately, with these island getaways just a few hours’ nonstop flight from the major airports on the East Coast, you can get yourself to the warmth without too much trouble.
Leave in the morning and by afternoon find yourself stretched out a long pink or white beach. Hit the links at one of the island’s many top-flight golf courses. Try your hand at sailing in the waters that were to last year’s America’s Cup races. Fish for all manner of species in the clear waters off the beach, over the reefs or out in the deep sea. Or just get an eyeful of the colorful aquatic life by diving or snorkeling around the more than 350 shipwrecks offshore.
Jump on a nonstop flight to Nassau and you’ll be soaking up the sun in no time. There you’ll find a treasure trove of nautical and colonial history best explored on a tour of the defensive forts that ring New Providence island and in the Pirates of Nassau museum. Kids of all ages will enjoy the wonders of Aquaventure, Dolphin Cay and marine habitat at Atlantis on Paradise Island. Those of legal age will equally enjoy the gaming at casinos and sportsbooks, as gambling is legal throughout the islands for nonresidents ages 18 and older.
Fly into Montego Bay in the north of the island, and you’re right in the middle of an array of great resorts. The northern coast of the island, especially the 120-mile stretch from Oracabessa in the east to Negril on the western tip, is a playground of white-sand beaches, lush forests and rushing rivers. Rafting on the White River or the Martha Brae is a must. Reggae music and the smell of jerk chicken and pork fill the air, while smooth Blue Mountain coffee gets you energized for another day of adventure.
Turks & Caicos
Having avoided major damages when Hurricanes Irma and Maria came through last fall, Providenciales and the Grace Bay area are still a top destination for beautiful beaches and turquoise waters. The Columbus National Marine Park off Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and the coral reef right there in Grace Bay are a few of the great dive spots home to all kinds of marine life. If you prefer to keep your head above water, Provo Ponies has morning and afternoon horseback rides along trails and across Long Bay Beach.
Jet into Punta Cana and you’ll find yourself just a few hours removed from home but in an oasis of all-inclusive resorts straddling the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. While the beaches are great for lounging, activities abound, from ATV rides to horseback riding to day trips to nearby Isla Saona. Work with your travel advisor to pick the resort that’s right for you and you’ll find a haven of relaxation, entertainment, and dining all within easy reach.
Chase away the winter blues in just one flight. Maybe it’ll warm up by the time you get home.