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By their very definition, islands are surrounded by water, distinct and isolated, just waiting to be discovered and explored. Here we’ve tried to pick the ten best from a whole world of possibilities…

new zealand kayaks on beach

New Zealand

A giant adventure playground

Coastline 8,700 miles  |  Highest peak Mount Cook (3,754m)  |  Language English  |

With over 9,300 miles of coast and 18 peaks topping 3,000m on the South Island alone, it’s no surprise that the Kiwis are such an outward bound nation. Hike long-distance trails in Fiordland, swim with dolphins, surf southern ocean waves, kayak, ski or snowboard… it’s hard to think of an outdoor pursuit you can’t get up to in this giant adventure playground.

If you like your adventures wet, a guided kayaking tour can take you from the towering grandeur of the fiords, to the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds, or even open water safaris around, for example, the Bay of Islands or Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

See New Zealand Sea Kayak Tours’ Bay of Islands kayak camping trips for example.

Price: from £670 pp staying in cabins and hut, all kit and meals incl. Flights and transfers are not.



Riding the Celtic tiger

Coastline 5,631km  |  Highest peak Carrauntoohill (1,038m)  |  Language English  |

With a small population, wind-swept barren mountains and an unspoiled coastline, Ireland is ripe for discovery. We’re including Northern Ireland of course – with its spectacular Causeway Coast and the mountains above it. To the west there’s Donegal, whose stunning surf beaches catch every ripple of Atlantic swell, and then, at the bottom of the island there’s Kerry, whose finger-like headlands reach out into the Atlantic, overlooked by kilometre-high mountains and glassy loughs.

Ireland’s cycling heritage is strong and deep, so why not explore it by bike?

Explore’s Cycle Ireland bike tour offers a seven-day circuit of County Kerry. You’ll ride through the spectacular Killarney National Park, under Ireland’s highest peak Carrauntoohill, and around the dramatic Dingle Peninsula, riding an average 53km daily.

Price: from £749 pp, including flights, transfers, B&B and bike hire.


Gozo, Malta

Mediterranean diamond in the rough

Coastline 196km  |  Highest point Ta’Dbiedgi (195m)  |  Language Maltese

Blessed with year-round blue skies, warm seas and a staggering wealth of natural and historical splendour, Malta’s rugged little sister island Gozo is perfect for an active escape. It might only measure 14km by 7km but Malta’s second largest island turns its small size into an asset, as it’s all easily accessible on foot. Whether it’s visiting the Ggantija Tombs at Xaghra – the oldest freestanding temples in the world dating back to 3500BC, or snorkelling by the Azure Window coastal arch, you never have to go far for a jaw-dropping view. And if you want more – and more people – just take the ferry to Malta.

If you want a bit of smooth with your rough island walking, then take a look at Headwater’s Exploring Gozo walking holiday. You’ll be given maps and notes for a range of self-guided walks and staying at the secluded 5 star Hotel Ta’Cenc, where you’ll stay in a stone bungalow and be served dinner al fresco under a 200 year old carob tree.

Price: from £699 pp for 7 nights B&B, including flights, transfers, and all evening meals.

 Xwenki Bay Salt Pans in Gozo


Sri Lanka

Indian Ocean exotic culture and wildlife

Coastline 1340km  |  Highest peak Ritigala (2,513m)  |  Language Sinhala  | 

Sitting in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southern India, the Island of Sri Lanka is not just great for tea. Here you’ll find a tropical island rich in colourful, cultural history that spans over 3,000 years. Its lush green forests, jungles and cool highlands are punctuated by stunningly ornate Buddhist temples and ruins. One of the most famous sites is the 1,600-year-old ‘Fortress in the Sky’ at Sigiriya, which is built on a 200m high flat-topped column of rock. Built into a complex capital city and fortress by a self-crowned king, who feared attack by the rightful heir, the site’s frescos, gardens and sculpted rock formations have to be seen to be believed.

Not to be outshone, Sri Lanka’s wildlife is equally exotic, with whales and dolphins to spot in the ocean, and elephant, wild boar, sloth bears and even leopards on land.

For a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday, take a look at Families Worldwide’s Ceylon Discovery tour. You and your family will whale and dolphin watch, visit Sigiriya, ride an elephant, and explore Kandy’s botanical gardens and the Temple of the Tooth. Now that’s a half-term holiday to remember!

Price: from £1499 per person, including flights, B&B and meals but not airport transfers.



Extra-ordinary in every way!

Coastline 4,828km  |  Highest peak Maromokotro (2,876m)  |  Language Malagasy and French  |

The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is found off the coast of southeast Africa, close to the equator where its tropical climate has helped evolve an astonishing array of habitats. These range from rainforests to deserts and from mountain tops to mangrove swamps – it’s no surprise that this island is considered one of the most important countries for biodiversity on the planet.

This diversity also means variety for you: from snorkelling among multicoloured coral and sea turtles on the tiny island outcrop of Nosy Tanikely, to guided night walks through the Kirindy Forest reserve, or testing your mettle on the via ferrata that scales the serrated limestone pinnacles of the Tsingy de Bemaraha national park, Madagascar never ceases to surprise.

One of the most rewarding ways to explore some of Madagascar’s less accessible landscapes is by canoe. World Expeditions’ epic 21-day Madagascar Adventure holiday includes four days paddling down the Mananjary River, camping each night by the riverside, and four days trekking through the spectacular Tsingy of Bemaraha national park, where many species of Lemur live can be found.

Price: from £2,390 per person, including internal and external flights, all accommodation and food.


The Canary Islands

Continents in miniature

Coastline 1,600km  |  Highest peak Mount Teide (3,718m)  |  Language Spanish  |

Such is the variety of landscape between the Canary Islands, it almost seems unfair to deal with all 12 of them in one entry – unfair on the rest of the world’s islands, that is. Gran Canaria alone is known as the ‘continent in miniature’, thanks to its bewildering variety of microclimates and landscapes, from the long beaches and dunes of the east coast, to the 1,950m high Pico de las Nieves. Next door is Tenerife, no-less renowned for its awesome walking, mountain biking, road biking, and surfing. It’s also home to Spain’s highest mountain, the often snow-capped volcano Mount Teide, which looms pyramid-like 3,718m above the sea. And then there are Fuerteventura’s 152 beaches, Lanzarote’s surf breaks, catching swell that has travelled 2,000 miles across the Atlantic, and of course the other eight islands… Not to mention the plethora of affordable flight and holiday options for getting to them.

senderismo anaga 1A7835 alta

If you’ve never been to the Canaries, then perhaps the best place to start is Gran Canaria itself. Macs Adventures’ Islands of Contrasts self-guided walking tour makes the best of the island’s diversity with a 7-night, 80km hike. Highlights include the 80m high rock monolith Roque Nublo, sandy beaches and lush tropical valleys.

Price: from £655, including B&B, transfers and some meals. Flights not included.



Faroe Islands

A Bird watching wonderland

Coastline 1,289km  |  Highest peak Slættaratindur (882m)  |  Language Faroese and Danish  | 

This group of 18 islands might be in the middle of the North Sea but the surrounding Gulf Stream means it’s not as grim weather-wise as you might expect. More to the point, the Faroes’ severe, grass-topped, steep-sided islands are achingly dramatic and teeming with birdlife.

Despite there being nowhere on the archipelago further than three miles from the sea, there are still 800 metre plus mountains, and the highest sea cliffs in the world, no less. Hiking, kayaking, boat excursions, and fishing are all great ways to experience the islands. Unsurprisingly considering its North Sea location, the hotter months of June, July and August are the best dates to visit for the migratory birds, with fulmars, gannets, guillemots, razorbills and puffins all adding to the aerial display you’ll be able to enjoy.

Any visit to the islands should include a boat trip, such as Sunvil Discovery’s four-night activity tour, with its boating tour through the narrow sounds and ocean-carved grottoes of the island of Streymoy. Don’t miss the option of a seven-mile guided walk on Mykines, with its huge puffin colony.

Price: from £1,232 pp, excluding flights but including transfers and B&B.


Dominica, Caribbean

A tropical trekker’s paradise

Coastline 148km  |  Highest peak Morne Diablotins (1,447m)  |  Language English  |

The wild and untamed island country of Dominica is known as the Caribbean’s ‘Nature Island’. It gets this moniker for its lack of commercial development and stunning, unspoilt  tropical natural beauty. There are no direct international flights, and it doesn’t boast the endless sandy beaches of some of its neighbours – but the considerable flipside of these insignificant quibbles is that the island’s thick covering of unspoilt, virgin rainforest hides some spectacular natural wonders and tropical wildlife.

Dominica green iguana suning themselves

The best way to explore the island’s natural habitats is on foot, such as on World Expeditions’ 12-day Waitukubuli National Trail Trek. The Trail climbs slopes carpeted with rainforests, descends dramatic gorges, crosses rivers and takes you up close to spectacular waterfalls and sulphur springs.

At 114 miles long, and split up into 14 segments, the National Trail runs from the southern village of Scott’s Head to the Cabrits National Park in the North, and showcases virgin forest and the best of Dominica’s nature, culture, landscapes and local lifestyles.

Price: from £2,090 per person, all-inclusive, land only.



Island of extremes

Coastline 4,970km  |  Highest peak Hvannadalshnjúkur (2,110m)  |  Language Icelandic  |

Formed by millions of years of volcanic activity and carved by giant glaciers and their mighty melt-water rivers, Iceland has landscapes the word epic was invented for. With a surprisingly temperate climate considering how far north it sits in the Atlantic, this is a country with midnight suns that never set, hot springs, waterfalls, geysers and lava fields under majestic volcanoes and more, all in the most sparsely populated country in Europe.  

Starting in western Iceland, Ramblers Worldwide’s Icelandic Explorer 10-night walking tour will include the active volcanic area Lake Myvatn, with its craters, lava fields and bubbling mudpools, under the 917m high volcanic cone of Baula. You’ll also visit the incredible Golden Falls, Gullifoss.

Price: from £2,025 pp, including a guide, B&B, all transfers and dinners.


The Azores

Volcanic variety

Coastline 667km  |  Highest peak Mount Pico (2,351m)  |  Language Portuguese  |

Almost 1000 miles west of Lisbon, the mid-Atlantic ridge bursts through the ocean to create nine volcanic islands, whose peaks rise all the way from the ocean bed to over 2000 metres above sea level. Characterised by huge volcanic craters, green mountains and dramatic coastlines, these islands are ripe for adventure – from biking, to paragliding, surfing, walking, swimming with dolphins and whale watching.

To get up close and personal with the island’s lush green landscapes check out Archipelago Choice’s 14-day Guided Walking Holiday on the five main islands, São Miguel, Terceira, São Jorge, Faial and Pico. You’ll visit secluded lagoons, mirror-like crater lakes and climb the 2,351m summit of Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest mountain.

Price: From £1,898 pp including flights and B&B, as well as guides and picnics lunches.

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