The world’s must-visit islands

With draws including Jurassic Park-like scenery, hand-blown glass and thousand-strong king penguin colonies, these five islands don’t need tropical beaches to thrill.

Often featuring unique geography, wildlife and culture, islands can easily become a world unto themselves. But to find the most unconventional of these options – destinations that are both stunning and more exotic than the beach-lined isles most tourists know – we turned to question and answer site Quora, asking “What are the must-visit islands of the world?

“Islands are my favourite destination,” said Julien Vaché, a business and technology consultant living in Amsterdam. “They always give you a special sense that they are a world of their own. Our anxious human nature feels somehow quieter when the hugeness of the cosmos is reduced to clearly palpable physical boundaries.”

Tristan da Cunha
While Vaché suggested more than 50 islands across the world (complete with a Google map of them all), he saved Tristan da Cunha, located in the South Atlantic Ocean, for last. The most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, the British territory is 2,000km from the nearest inhabited land mass, the island of Saint Helena – and 2,400km from the closest continental land, South Africa.

Aside from its remoteness, Tristan da Cunha is also known for its bountiful bird life, with 15 native species of breeding birds including albatrosses and rockhopper penguins.

A frazione (village) 1.5km north of Venice, Murano has been home to Italy’s world-famous glassmakers since 1291, when the craftsmen were forced from Venice for fear of fires.

The centuries of craft have created one of the world’s most surprising shorelines. “I've been to quite a few islands in my day, with beautiful beaches, secluded palm trees, resort hotels… but Murano island takes the cake,” said Ahn-Minh Do, an editor living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. “It is the only beach I've ever seen made almost completely out of glass.”

Over the years, if the artisans had extra glass or a mistake, they threw it on the beach. Over time, the glass smoothed to look and feel like pebbles. “The beauty of colourful glass shining in the sunlight is a true sight to see,” Do said. These small, unnamed glass beaches can be found around the island, but top collector spots include the beach near the Glass Factory (39-041-527-5370) in the southern part of the island, and a small area just next to the Navagero taxi landing in the frazione’s southeast.

Abhay Kini A
, a mechanical engineer from Mysore, India, described Aogashima as a “Jurassic Park-like natural fortress”, thanks to the crater walls rising up as high as 400m from the sea. The volcanic island also has a smaller crater within, formed from a second, smaller eruption. Those looking for spectacular stargazing can camp out within the second crater, where photographer Toshihiko Ogawa has captured some spellbinding starry nights.

The odd geography is interesting enough, but the fact that people live within the crater itself is even stranger. No one is quite sure why the settlements first occurred, but records of inhabitants stretch back to the early Edo period, which started in 1603. According to local legend, Kini A said, the island was once forbidden to women, as “it was believed that men and women living together would anger the gods”.

Local Peter Clark chimed in for his hometown island of Guernsey, part of the British Channel Islands. He mentioned the “adorable” Guernsey cows that produce some of the most delicious dairy in the world and are celebrated in the annual cow parade, where locals decorate and paint cow mannequins in colourful and crazy ways, then parade them down the street.

Other island animal life includes “puffins everywhere”, Clark said, as well as ormers: shellfish like sea snails that can only be caught during the tides under the full or new moon from 1 January to 30 April each year. Ormers must also have a minimum shell length to be kept, and no one can dive underwater to retrieve them (instead, harvesters must feel for the hard shells between and beneath underwater rocks during low tides) – all rules put in place to reverse the overfishing that took place over the past century.

Clark also said the island’s “proper England” culture has left it somewhat stuck in the past. “It was only in 2000 that women could inherit property,” he said. “Seriously.” However, as Guernsey is geographically closer to the French mainland, the island also has strong French influence, particularly in its cuisine; don’t miss Guernsey Gâche, a fruit-filled bread usually eaten for dessert.

South Georgia
Despite having visited both remote and famous islands, Ian Michael Shaw from Toronto, Canada voted for South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, due to its “stunning scenery, a rich historical tapestry and wildlife off the chain”.

The British overseas territory sits just inside the Antarctic polar ecosystem, but does not see the yearly sea ice that other Antarctic regions experience. This unusual location has led to a proliferation of wildlife: with no land-based predators, the island supports the breeding of penguins, albatrosses and seals by the thousands. And visitors can actually get relatively close. “None of them are afraid of you,” Shaw said. “It is nature on a scale that simultaneously ridicules and reinforces your mortality.”