Islands have caught the fancy of humans for ages and continue to do so for many reasons including but not limited to their unique culture and biodiversity often different from even the nearest countries. A very popular example is that of Charles Darwin reaching Galapagos island and documenting his observations on the beginning of life.
Islands being surrounded by water are unique in their biodiversity. Seeds are carried through wind or brought along by local inhabitants, and animals who reach the island often adapt to the environment and end up becoming a new species like the Lemurs, Galapagos penguins, Tasmanian devils, etc.
Here is a list of islands that I find amusing and the things that make them special. They are broadly listed from West to East.
1. Hawaii, USA
The 50th state of the USA, Hawaii, has a unique culture and stunning scenery, the reason it has become the shooting location for many Hollywood movies including Jurassic Park.
The pictures from Hawaii seem all picture perfect and only upon taking notice would you realize that there are no billboards in sight. That’s because they are banned. On banned things, snakes too are banned in Hawaii. The only place you will see snakes are in zoos.
Fun Fact: Former US President, Barack Obama, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Hawaii is among the two states (the other being Utah) where gambling is illegal. This has made Las Vegas a popular holiday destination among the locals.
2. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
It was here in the Galapagos in 1831 that Charles Darwin came up with the Theory of natural selection.
The volcanic islands are 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. Being on the equator makes it a perfect destination for holiday year-round. But the government ensures tourism doesn’t harm the islands by capping the number of tourists allowed per year and on top of that 97% of the island is national reserves.
A big deterrent for me personally was the huge park entrance fee of USD 100 plus the flights that are that could cost USD 400 for the roundtrip. Add to this the cost of taking boats between islands, the whole trip becomes quite expensive for budget backpackers. Definitely one of the most expensive places to visit in South America quite close to the INCA trail for Machu Picchu.
The archipelago is a collection of 19 islands of which 3 are inhabited.
There are many great hiking options along with beach activities like diving and snorkeling. Catching sight of green sea turtles is commonplace on the islands.
Fun Fact: Galapagos was the first UNESCO heritage sites.
Galapagos is home to many endemic species but some of the most popular ones are blue-footed boobies, the only iguanas in the world that have learned to swim in the ocean, giant tortoises, northern penguins, and sea lions that outnumber the tourists on beaches.
The Caribbean island of Barbados was colonized by the British in 1627. Upon colonizing they started cultivating tobacco, cotton, and later sugar. Slaves were brought in from Africa to work on sugar plantations.
The sugarcane plantation is deeply ingrained in the culture so much so that the biggest carnival in Barbados, Crop Over, began to celebrate the last harvest of the season. The carnival garners the attention of many and celebrities are known to fly in to take part in Barbados’ biggest party.
Barbados gained independence in 1966 and is now an independent nation. It is NOT governed by the USA, unlike popular belief.
Fun Fact: International pop star Rihanna is a native of Barabados.
Barbados’ national dish cou cou and flying fish is a testimony to the diverse marine life the island has.
The beaches are a stunning blue, my only complaint is it’s not budget-friendly (definitely not with my Indian money).
4. Bananal Island, Brazil
Bananal Island is a river island in Brazil. The northern part of the island is popular for ecotourism, and the bottom two-thirds of the island is home to the indigenous community.
The island has 16 different villages and four tribes. With no bridges, the only form of transport to reach the island is through boats and in dry weather, by road.
5. Morajo Island, Brazil
The largest freshwater island in the world, Morajo is located on the east coast of Brazil separated by the river Amazon and river Tocantins.
There are about 450,000 water buffalos on the island, an animal that is not native to either Brazil or South America.
The Mediterranean island is known to have one of the cleanest shorelines with 65 beaches that are blue flag certified (in 2019).
Fun Fact: The locals believe that the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, was born on a beach in Cyprus that’s now named after her.
Cyprus is also known for the world’s oldest wine label, Commandaria, dating back 5000 years.
Be prepared to see a lot of cats around that were allegedly brought to the island to control the snake population. The cats fell in love with the island too and never left.
Madagascar is an island country off the coast of Africa in the east. It has been isolated for millions of years making it a unique biodiversity hotspot. Over ninety percent of the wildlife from Madagascar is found nowhere else on the planet.
The one thing most representative of the island is the national tree, the baobab tree. The tree appears to be in the shape of a water bottle as it collects rainwater within.
The Lemurs from Madagascar are especially famous. They range from 30 g to 9 kg in size.
The archipelago of Seychelles has over 115 islands. They gained independence in 1976 as a republic within the commonwealth.
Fun Fact: World’s heaviest seed, Coco de mer is found in Seychelles
Mark Twain famously said, “Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and heaven was copied after Mauritius”.
Fun fact: Public transport is free of cost for Students, senior citizens, and people with disability.
The now extinct dodo bird, that weighed around 50 pound was only found in Mauritius. In the absence of predators, they lost their ability to fly and grew to be the size of turkeys this became the reason they were picked to be eaten when the humans arrived on the island. Less than 65 years after the Dutch arrived ont he island, the Dodo bird went completely extinct.
Coral reefs around the world are protected by law but there was once a time when locals made houses out of coral reefs in the Maldives. Some of these old houses still exist in Male and few other islands.
Fun Fact: Maldives has been recognized as the flattest country in the world by Guiness world records.
In the last four decades, Maldives has gone from 70% to 98% literacy rate. This is quite an achievement especially for a country where residents are spread over 200 different islands.
Owing to the severe climate crisis, Maldives is sinking at a rapid rate and if things don’t change, it is said that the island would completely submerge by 2030. To highlight this very fact, the government of Maldive held a cabinet meeting underwater in 2009.
11. Lakshadweep, India
Lakshadweep is an Indian union territory off the west coast. In order to protect the island from over-commercialization, only people who are born in Lakshadweep are allowed to own land on the island. Spouses not born on the island cannot inherit the land either.
Lakshadweep can be reached via passenger ships from Kochi or via Air India flights. A permit needs to be taken before reaching the island through the Lakshadweep tourist office at Kochi.
The islands are not promoted as wild tourist destinations to preserve the islands from the adverse environmental impact of doing the same. This means the costs on the island tend to be higher when compared to mainland India.
12. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India
Andaman and Nicobar is an archipelago part of India with over 550 islands. While only 37 of these are inhabited, many islands are open for day tours. Some of the cleanest beaches in India are in Andaman and Nicobar islands. This makes it a perfect place for diving, snorkeling, and getting a PADI certification.
Unlike the rest of India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands are not as densely populated, large sections of them are still forest reserves.
Fun Fact: World’s most isolated tribe, the Sentinelese, live on an island that’s part of Andaman archipelago, called the north Sentinel Island.
Apart from the Sentinelese, there are many other indigenous tribes that live in Andaman and Nicobar islands including the Jarawas.
Indonesia is the largest island country in the world with over 18000 islands.
The fourth most populated country has the world’s largest young population (under 30). This could the reason it is one of the fastest-growing economies in spite of the fact that a large population lives on less than $2 a day.
Fun Fact: The world’s biggest lizard, Komodo dragons are only found in Indonesia.
Indonesia is a biodiversity hotspot, only behind Brazil. The varied terrain from volcanic mountains to stunning beaches makes it a perfect place to go island hopping, laze around by the beach, or have a more adventurous time by taking on beautiful trails.
Note: Civet coffee, the world’s most expensive coffee comes from Indonesia. This article from the Guardian explains really well why it’s time to drop the desire attached to this coffee.
The tropical island of Borneo is the largest island in Asia and quite unique in its administration which is shared by three different countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The largest share is that of Indonesia at above 70%.
Fun fact: Borneo’s rainforest is known to be the oldest in the world. Almost twice as old as the Amazon.
Borneo has rich flora and fauna with nearly 100 animal species endemic to Borneo. The most popular residents of the island are Orangutans, the only apes that come from Asia and that can only be only in Borneo and Sumatra.
Recommended tour company: https://borneoadventure.com/
The archipelago of Fiji has over 330 islands of which 110 are inhabited. Fiji gained independence in 1970 from the British after 96 years of being colonized. A permanent change of that colonization is that today 40% of Fiji’s population is of Indian descent. Indians were primarily brought to the island by the British to work in the sugarcane fields.
A rather disturbing fact about Fiji is its long-standing history with cannibalism and while it is no longer practiced, the locals accept their history, and souvenirs like cannibalism dolls and cannibalism forks are sold on the island.
Fun Fact: It’s considered insulting to touch another Fijian’s head. It’s also not permitted to wear hat or sunglasses in a village, that’s a privilege granted only to the village head.
The Tagimaucia, a red and white flowering plant blooms on the banks of the Tagimaucia river in Fiji and nowhere else in the world.
Did I miss any of your favorite islands out? Do let me know so I can add it to the list.