The democratisation of VIP experiences has arrived. Thanks to global improvements in travel infrastructure and socially motivated accommodation sharing, scouting unique adventures has become a budget-blind endeavour. So whether you’re after a perfect Instagram post or simply want to get away from it all, private islands are tantalisingly within reach.
Trang Province, Thailand
The domain of the chao leh sea gypsies, Thailand’s quiet southern province of Trang feels a million miles away from the hulking resorts of Phuket. Hire a colourful longtail boat and putter out to the crystalline tidewaters of Ko Kradan, the secret Emerald Cave on Ko Muk, and the claimable limestone verticals on the ultra-quiet twin islets of Ko Lao Liang.
Thailand’s beaches are public property. The Trang Islands are a great target for a backpacker version of a private island experience.
Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada
North America’s Great Lakes are peppered with thousands of pine-studded islands. And Canada’s cottage culture has populated their lonely coves with summer homes, making full-island rentals practically commonplace. Standouts include Deepwater Island with a cosy cottage for two perched on crisp granite, and the A-frame options off the coast of Pointe au Baril.
Search for ‘Georgian Bay’ on accommodation marketplace sites like vrbo.com. Private island rentals start at around $150 per night.
Ilet Oscar, Martinique
The French Caribbean’s laid-back rum-swigging isle of Martinique has a secret off its eastern shores: Ilet Oscar is home to a wonderfully ramshackle B&B with four breezy rooms sporting lacquered accents and encrusted shells. Rumour has it that the original owner lost the private island paradise in a card game – his loss is our gain.
Book your stay at iletoscar.com. Rooms start at €200 per night including breakfast; dinners are available from €60.
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Dozens of islets spread like shattered glass from the Scottish Highlands. Mile-long Torsa Island, off Oban, has a farmhouse and colony of red deer. On the motorboat ride over, travellers can chance on dolphins and seals. For something upmarket, venture to the Isle of Eriska with its Downton demeanour and Michelin-anointed restaurant.
Stays at the Isle of Eriska start at £195 per person. Browse vladi-private-islands.de for details of other Scottish island properties of note.
Society Islands, French Polynesia
The go-to destination for extravagant honeymooning delivers on every ounce of hype, thanks to turquoise water and peach-pink sand so perfect it induces fits of giggles. Bora Bora is the classic option due to its shallow lagoon and overwater bungalows orbiting a turret of stone. Tetiaroa – Marlon Brando’s untouched island paradise – now features ultra-luxurious villas with direct outrigger access to a sanctuary of motus (Polynesian mini-isles).
Escape Bora Bora’s resorts for a meal at one of La Villa Mahana’s seven tables; email email@example.com to reserve.
Anchored by fortress-like Stone Town, this archipelago elegantly flaunts its Islamic roots from the city’s old engraved doors to the small dhows (Arab sailboats) floating in sheltered bays. Private-island accommodation, such as the simple suites at Chapwani or the refined thatched huts of Mnemba, blend a distinct sense of place with unbridled castaway charm.
Luxury operator and Beyond arranges Mnemba Island trips along with East African safari camps, plus its other private island offering, Benguerra in Mozambique.
Venture far beyond the throngs of tourists around Iceland’s Golden Circle to find the island of Flatey (‘Flat Island’ in Icelandic), one of more than 3000 seaborne crags dotting a broad westerly fjord. Only two feuding families call the island home year-round, so you’ll have the grassy acre and its precious 11-room hotel largely to yourself.
Hótel Flatey is open in summer and the island is reached daily by the Baldur public ferry.
Nine years into diminished tourism sanctions, the sinking nation is a viable DIY destination for backpacking beach enthusiasts. Pre-planning is the key to maximising the access afforded by public inter-island ferries. And deeply discounted day rates at scenic resorts help keep your coffers from draining while you’re tracking down the island chain’s crystal water.
Maafushi is the busiest of the local islands, but is a good activity base. Temper your private island time with a second destination like quieter Fulidhoo, accessible by a speedboat transfer.
Derived from an indigenous term meaning ‘the place of seagulls’, Chiloé is located about halfway down Chile’s 4300km-long coastline. Tourism has been rising since the inauguration of a local airport in 2012. Today the archipelago is dotted with friendly pensiones and unique barn-shaped churches, flanked by a backdrop of snow-capped volcanic peaks on the mainland, plus many opportunities for individual island adventures.
Tierra Chiloé is an architectural marvel and a gastronomic pit-stop for when you end your island escape.
Belize Barrier Reef
The planet’s second-largest barrier reef system flanks Central America’s coastline between Mexico and Honduras. Development has borrowed a construction ethos from Costa Rica, creating low-impact bungalows instead of ostentatious displays of wealth. Take over the entirety of Bird Island with a booking on Airbnb or shoot out to the far-flung Sapodilla Cayes Marine Park for rustic digs at bargain basement prices.
Reach the Sapodillas from the mainland port in Punta Gorda and hire a transfer for an overnight excursion (with a side of kayaking and snorkelling).