The Best Island Holidays Ever – Sail+Leisure
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The Best Island Holidays Ever

by Simone Balman

Island holidays are dreamy. Step away from the norm with these unusual and mind-blowing island getaways. From the untamed Riau Archipelago to the first underwater hotel in Australia, these are the best places to visit if you’re looking for an alternative to the Maldives.

Riau Islands, Indonesia

Best for: Splendid isolation

Percolating through the South China Sea, Indonesia’s untamed Riau Archipelago feels like it’s on the edge of the world but can actually be reached fairly easily from Singapore (rather than Jakarta), via the Bintan and Batam ferries or a Maldives-esque seaplane. In the more accessible southern islands, you’ll find adorable sea otters dancing along bright-white boulder-studded beaches. While the north, jewel-like island clusters rise out of aquamarine lagoons flecked with tropical fish.

Where to stay: Cempedak Private Island has impressive eco-credentials and striking bamboo architecture or go for the more remote Bawah Reserve, set across six edenic islands.


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Best for: White beaches and blue whales

Mozambique shares more than 2,500 kilometres of its platinum sand coastline with the same Indian Ocean as the Maldives. Unspoiled islands come in chains ringed by vibrant coral reefs, superb dive sites and a wealth of magical marine life, including dugongs, dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays and, at the right time of year, blue whales (which you won’t find in the Maldives).

Where to stay: The Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort has 44 thatch-roof villas set on a sweep of beach set inside a protected national marine park.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

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Best for: Food lovers

Cradled inside the Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar and west of Thailand, this coral-encrusted archipelago is made up of 572 islands, only 38 of which are inhabited. Along with turquoise waters, ivory sands and sensational diving (dense coral belts, 55-metre drops, shipwrecks, volcano dives), visitors can hike through rainforest, kayaking through mangroves and feast on tandoor snapper, coconut prawn curries and grilled lobster garnished with butter, parsley and chilli flakes.

Where to stay: Perfectly positioned on one of the best beaches in the archipelago, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa offers a Maldives-level luxury experience. Or, try the atmospheric rainforest retreat Jalakara.

Northern Palawan Philippines

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Best for: Exclusivity

Made up of 1,780 fantastical tropical islands surrounded by shimmering beaches and electric blue waters, Palawan is one of the most popular beach destinations in Asia. But, while the main tourism hot spots – El Nido, Coron, Puerta Princessa – attract big crowds, if you aim for the north of the archipelago you’ll find a pretty puzzle of pristine islands, peroxide blond beaches, sea caves, deserted coves and soaring limestone cliffs – and barely a tourist in sight.

Where to stay: At Amanpulo, where guests arrive by private fix-wing plane and all of the villas come with private pools.

Bora Bora French Polynesia

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Best for: Overwater villas

While the Maldives has become synonymous with overwater villas, the concept actually originated back in the 1960s in French Polynesia. Set in the Tiffany-blue South Pacific, it’s home to 118 dreamy islands, including Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora, fringed by volcanic peaks, vast coral reefs, pale pink beaches and wonderfully biodiverse marine life.

Where to stay: The most spoiling overwater villas in the country can be found at the St. Regis Resort Bora Bora.

The Whitsundays Australia

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Best for: Underwater hotel rooms

If you’ve got £10,000 a night to spare, The Muraka at the Conrad Rangali Maldives has an underwater suite where you watch black-tip reef sharks and shoals of parrotfish from bed. Alternatively, you could fly to Australia and check-into Reefsuites, the first underwater hotel rooms in the Great Barrier Reef with rates around £500 a night. The tank-like rooms are anchored underneath a pontoon beside Hardy Reef, which is frequented by gigantic Queensland groper, sea turtles and barracuda.

Where to stay: Reefsuites, a part of the Cruise Whitsundays group.

Sipadan Malaysia

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Best for: Serious divers

The pioneering ocean explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau described Sipadan as ‘an untouched piece of art.’ A masterwork of nature, the extinct volcanic island in Sulawesi is home to a dozen sensational dive sites, with kaleidoscopic coral gardens, plunging drop-offs, underwater tunnels and an abundance of marine life, from teeny-tiny pygmy seahorses to large hammerhead sharks to mini-bus big manta rays.

Where to stay: You can’t stay on Sipadan and the nearby islands have little in the way of luxury accommodation, but the Mabul Beach Resort on Semporna has comfortable rooms and a lively bar.

Raja Ampat Indonesia

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Best for: Yachting

Private yachts are 10-a-penny in the Maldives. For a real sense of adventure set sail for Raja Ampat, a collection of 1,500 rainforested islands spliced between East Indonesia and West Papua. The epicentre of the spice trade during the 16th and 17th centuries, this enigmatic archipelago is as rich in history and local traditions as it is in marine life. Expect to encounter puffing volcanoes, prehistoric cave paintings and sperm whales along the way.

Where to stay: Rascal, a hand-crafted five-bedroom Indonesian phinisi with hip Hamptons-like interiors and menus created by Balinese restaurant Watercress.


Credit: Conde Naste Traveller

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