Lofoten Islands, Norway
Lofoten Islands, Norway (creative commons/switchback travel)
The Lofoten Islands rise from the sea like the spikes of a stegosaurus whose humps house a kaleidoscope of pastel dwellings. It's a place where crisp Nordic air tickles your lungs as you gape at the infinite shades of green below the cobalt sky. The spindly archipelago of Lofoten boasts one of the most aesthetically daring arrangements of rock and water anywhere on the planet. In this far corner of Norway, the summer sun never sets and the winter sky puts on a light show to rival anything you may have seen at Disney World.
Rabbit Island, Cambodia
Rabbit Island, Cambodia (www.mark-map.com)
Close to the mainland -- but far away in mindset -- Cambodia's Rabbit Island is a 20-minute hop from the dock in Kep. This small, clover-shaped key in the Gulf of Thailand has rustic bungalows and rudimentary beach shack restaurants, but remains predominantly undeveloped. It's hub of action is concentrated around the main beach, leaving the rest of the island blessedly vacant. There are no air conditioning units, no televisions, no mirrors, and no Internet access. Rabbit Island is an emerging destination for those who want to get away from it all, relax, and enjoy a throwback island paradise.
Navarino Island, Chile
Navarino Island, Chile (creative commons/dreamx)
A trip to Navarino is a voyage to the edge of earth ... or at least the southernmost inhabited island in the world. Across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia is the world's southernmost city, Puerto Williams, the official port of entry for vessels en route to Cape Horn and Antarctica and the home of the last vestiges of the Yagan language, the tongue of Navarino's native inhabitants. Travelers to this remote place are struck by the rugged terrain and secluded bays. To call Navarino secluded would be an understatement; this wind-whipped island imbues travelers with a feeling of the end of the world.
The Nature Conservancy recently chose Palau for its Transforming Coral Reef Conservation program and it's not hard to see why. With pearl-white beaches and gardens of coral just beneath the crystalline water, Palau takes conservation and sustainability very seriously. The archipelago is nothing short of an underwater playground and is a perennial favorite for divers and snorkelers alike. Yet, life up above is equally thrilling. Palau boasts Micronesia's richest flora and fauna with delicate orchids, exotic birds, and slithering crocodiles. Known as the beginning of everything, Palau's model of sustainable development is one that others in the region would do well to follow.
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island (www.mark-map.com)
Auckland may be on the horizon, but laidback Waiheke feels miles away from New Zealand's biggest city. With bush walks, secluded beaches, chill cafes, and wine tasting galore, it's remarkably easy to escape the city for a slice of the good life. A 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland's CBD, Waiheke is a place where multimillionaires rub shoulders with stalwart hippies and bohemian artists. Whether you follow an art trail, wine trail, or bush trail, Waiheke promises something for everyone.
Monhegan Island, Maine - USA
Monhegan Island (creative commons/ayhc)
For over 100 years, artists like Rockwell Kent, James Fitzgerald, and the Wyeths have all escaped to Maine's Mohegan Island to hone their craft. This rocky outcrop 10 miles from the coast is a summertime favorite for many, but remains relatively unknown outside of the New England. Monhegan's inhabitants revel in the island's agreeable isolation, and the car-less oasis has strict rules in place to maintain the traditional village life its residents enjoy. A voyage to Monhegan is a trip back to a simpler time.
XXXX Island, Australia
XXXX Island (www.xxxxisland.com.au)
Popular Australian beer company XXXX leased a 15-acre island in the Great Barrier Reef, declaring man caves out and man islands in. Formerly Pumpkin Island, XXXX Island boasts 15 acres of untouched paradise -- but that's about to change. To promote its Gold brand, XXXX signed a three-year lease on the tiny island off Australia's Capricorn Coast. They're asking fans to help shape the island into an oasis of cool for those who love the good life. What's the good life? According to XXXX, it's a relaxing few days where you can do as little, or as much, as you want with activities including fishing, touch footy, beach cricket, swimming in the ocean or simply barbecuing the catch of the day with a beer in hand.
El Hierro, Canary Islands
The waters around El Hierro (creative commons/Cabildo insular de El Hierro)
El Hierro, the seventh and smallest Canary Island, has long been ignored by conventional tourists. It may be harder to get to, but the rewards are many. Bathed in transparent waters, this diver's dream is as exciting below the sea as it is above. UNESCO designated the island a Biosphere Reserve in 2000 and 60 percent of it is protected. Beyond the dry lava fields of the south and west lay the fertile fields of vineyards and plantations in El Golfo Valley and a dense pine forest in the center. Although over 200 years have elapsed since the last eruption, El Hierro has the largest number of volcanoes in the Canaries with over 500 open sky cones, another 300 covered by the most recent outflows, and some 70 caves and volcanic galleries. With such concentrated diversity, it's hard not to be impressed by this tiny North Atlantic retreat.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
Koh Lipe (www.mark-map.com)
You haven't heard of Koh Lipe yet, but that's about to change. This island underwent a rapid transformation over the past five years. What once housed only rustic huts, now boasts world-class resorts. Yet, Koh Lipe retains its undiscovered status -- and even exploits it. Unlike Phuket, Koh Lanta, or Koh Samui, the small, horseshoe-shaped Koh Lipe has held on to its Thai authenticity. Koh Lipe provides all the amenities of its more famous neighbors, but without the hefty price tag and hordes of red-faced farangs.
City Island, New York -- USA
City Island, New York (creative commons/llahbocaj)
Though it lies within the boundaries of the largest city in the United States, most New Yorkers have never even been to City Island. This picturesque fishing village on the edge of New York City feels eons away from midtown Manhattan and those in-the-know head north to City Island for a little bit of Nantucket in the Bronx. If you crave fresh seafood and a relaxing day out on the water, head to the New York Sailing Center & Yacht Club and they'll provide free transportation to City Island for private lessons. Back on land, the island's streets -- which homogenization and big development forgot -- will leave you wondering where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are hiding.