Belize, Central America
A stretch of sand, just enough to hide a pirate treasure chest, then a few hundred coconut trees and some wooden cabins – there isn’t a great deal to Tobacco Caye. I’d take a few thick books and, of course, some snorkelling gear – after all most of what’s here is below the azure glittering surface of the Caribbean Sea. It’ll take a few minutes to stroll around the coast of this atoll, but the reef goes on and on – part of the second longest barrier reef in the world. If you do feel marooned, get over to neighbouring Goff’s Caye – that’s even smaller: six trees and a spit of sand. Cabins on Tobacco Caye are available from around US$45 per night, including meals in the off season.
• For Belize trips see absolutebelize.com
Kuna Yala, Panama
Why have just one tropical island when you can have over 360? The Kuna Yala archipelago – also known as San Blas – lies just off Panama’s Caribbean coast and is the semi-autonomous territory of indigenous Kuna people. Some islands are nothing more than a cluster of palm trees on a patch of white sand; others are packed shoulder-to-shoulder Kuna huts. Days can be spent hopping between local communities, where women still dress in intricate traditional outfits that scream photo opportunity (ask before you snap), and uninhabited islands that you can have all to yourselves. Don’t expect high-end perfection, but you can find a stilted thatched bungalow at Yandup Island, from £129 for two, including meals and excursions (yandupisland.com). Get there via a 2½-hour drive from Panama City, plus a short boat transfer (included in the room price).
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Even royalty with keys to daddy’s Aston Martin wouldn’t be able to drive here. There are no cars on Brazil’s rainforest-covered Ihla Grande. The laid-back tropical island is best for simple living. Evenings can be spent enjoying just-off-the-boat fish by candle light at a beach restaurant. By day, if honeymooners can drag themselves away from a hammock-for-two, the standout attraction is the scenic, two and a half-hour hike to Lopes Mendez, a spectacular beach that remains refreshingly undeveloped.
• Dehouche.com can arrange week at the colonial-style Sagu Mini Resort (saguresort.com), overlooking the Bay of Abrão, which is frequented by turtles and dolphins, from £1,400pp, including private transfers and an international flight with British Airways. The island is a three-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro, followed by a short boat trip. Ilhagrande.com.br lists a selection of small, affordable pousadas in Abraão, the island’s main village
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
The name Tarutao comes from the Malay word for mysterious and primitive. This 10-mile long island in the Andaman Sea is fringed with stunning, sun-kissed beaches while the interior’s rainforest is filled with poisonous snakes and other wild beasties. At one time Tarutao was home to thousands of political prisoners, some of whom became pirates during the second world war to stave off starvation – you can still visit the remains of the prison. Tarutao is a well-protected national park – there are no backpacker hordes or luxury resorts here, making it a perfect spot for honeymooners seeking rustic seclusion. Accommodation is in basic national park bungalows in three beach locations, each with its own restaurant selling simple Thai food.
• You can reach Tarutao via Trang – regular flights and sleeper trains connect to Bangkok. From there minibuses run to Pakbara and boats to Koh Tarutao. High seas make reaching the island hard May-October. Booking and other information can be found at dnp.go.th/index_eng.asp
Heron Island, Australia
They may boast glorious turquoise oceans, white sand and swaying palms but some tropical islands can seem, well, a little bereft of life. Not so Heron Island, 45 miles off the coast of Queensland at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It has all the requisite tropicalness – bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn – but is also teeming with wildlife. The coral cay was named by a geologist who mistook egrets for herons but the island is dominated by huge populations of black noddy terns and delightfully eccentric mutton birds, which sound like ghosts as they go about their courtship. There are also whales, sharks andbetween November and February, hundreds of turtles. These charismatic lords of the sea haul themselves on to the white sands, dig pits and lay their eggs. You can watch them laying and if you are lucky you may see an “eruption” as hundreds of tiny hatchlings struggle back towards the ocean before the seagulls pounce. The number of tourists is strictly controlled because it is such a sensitive environment so the island, which is only 800m long and 300m wide, never feels crowded. Guests stay in pleasant wooden beach houses, many with sea views. There is snorkelling and diving and although there is only one restaurant on Heron it serves very high quality buffet meals.
• Rooms at Heron Island resort (heronisland.com) from around £245 per night. More information at seaturtlefoundation.org andscience.uq.edu.au/facilities/heron-island
Koh Si Chang, Thailand
Just a short hop from Bangkok down the eastern Gulf of Thailand coastline sits idiosyncratic Koh Si Chang. Home to the labyrinthine shrines and caves of the Chaw Por Khaw Yai Chinese temple, one of the most important in Thailand, and the eerie ruins of King Rama V’s palace, you’ll also find troops of monkeys, a couple of decent beaches – the best is Tham Phang – and picturesque cliffs. Si Chang is also famous for its incredible seafood and as a bawdy stop-off for merchant sailors – dozens of their boats are moored just off-shore. Being so close to Bangkok makes Si Chang an intriguing island getaway for couples who’d like an eccentric counterpoint to the Thai capital’s decidedly urban charms. Most accommodation is aimed at Thais – visit ko-sichang.com for an overview. Couples seeking romantic sunsets should try Paree Hut mini-resort (pareehut.com) which has nice bungalows in a quiet location. For great cuisine from north-east Thailand try Pan & David on Asdang Road or local seafood specialists, Lek Naa Wang and No, on the road to the ruined palace.
• Buses leave every 30mins from Bangkok’s Eastern Terminal to Si Racha, where hourly boats run to Si Chang from 7am-7pm. Si Chang’s famous oversized tuk-tuks will greet you on arrival
St John, US Virgin Islands, Caribbean
This small, remote island has little room for five-star hotels and the trappings of royal luxury. Small, wildly oscillating roads make large swathes of the island inaccessible for big vision hoteliers, leaving the majority of the coast untouched. Instead, a handful of campsites and stilted treehouses nestle into coves around the island, from the upscale summer camp surrounds of Maho Bay to the pre-pitched tents on the fringes of the national park (which encompasses two thirds of the island) at Cinnamon Bay. Expect an adventure just getting there – flights from the UK go via New York and Miami to St Thomas, where a ferry transports you to St John, and a shuddering jitney taxi plies the rest of the journey, hurtling down tiny forest roads towards the campsites. • From US$67 for a platform tent to US$105 per cottage, based on two sharing
Boracay, the Philippines
Boracay is the tropical island 315km south of Manila where the Philippine’s beautiful people come to unwind. It is a picture postcard tropical island – the sand is powdery white, palm trees paddle their fronds in the clear warm waters, and the pace of life is as chilled as the margarita in your hand. Most people head to the crowded White Beach, the 4km stretch of white sand on the island’s western side, but Bolabog beach on the eastern flank is fantastic for windsurfing. It also has a spooky ghost-white mangrove forest. Pack a picnic and clamber 100m up Mount Luho for stunning views across the island, or catch a paraw(wooden sailboats which let you zip around the island’s coves and reefs) to Balinghai and watch a perfect sunset. Shangri-La spa resort will treat you like royalty, or there’s a relaxed vibe in the numerous bungalows along White Beach (see boracaybeaches.info).
To see a more remote side of the Phillipines (there are some 7,000 islands to choose from) the western island group of Palawan, which Filipinos describe as the country’s last frontier, is wonderfully exotic and relatively undiscovered. It’s an archipelago of turquoise sea, jagged limestone islands with underground rivers, virgin rainforest and, of course, immaculate white sandy beaches.
• Trailfinders (0845 050 5892, trailfinders.com) offers seven nights B&B at the Boracay Regency Beach Resort, including one free night, and return flights from Heathrow and boat and road transfers to Boracay, from £1,199. The same package but staying at the five-star Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa costs £1,859
São Tome and Príncipe, west Africa
Due to its long Portuguese name and obscure position in the Gulf of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe is almost unknown outside the Lusophone world. This former cocoa colony – for hundreds of years a slaving post between Angola and the Americas – is today a stunning archipelago of lush forest, sugar loaf mountains and decaying colonial buildings in pastel pink. It was here that the first cocoa boycott was organised by William Cadbury in 1909 due to conditions on the plantations. More Caribbean than African in feel, the country’s watchword is “leve leve” meaning “easy easy”, which is quite right for perhaps the safest and most relaxed country in Africa.
• Five nights at Bom Bom, an islet off the island of Principe, and two nights at Omali Luxury Lodge, including all internal flights and transfers, from £1,421pp with Farside Africa (0131 315 2464, farsideafrica.com). Flights from the UK via Lisbon with TAP start at about £900
Bazaruto island, Mozambique
My new wife was no fan of flapping tents, sleeping with snakes or running to an outdoor loo. So the Indigo Bay resort (indigobayresort.com)on Bazaruto island, where we honeymooned last year, offered a winning combination of splendid isolation and 21st century comforts. A 10-minute flight from the Mozambican coast, Bazaruto is 22 miles long and four miles wide, a textbook tropical island of white sand and palm trees encircled by the Indian Ocean. Our chalet opened on to the beach, with an outdoor shower and hammock hitched to a nearby tree, and felt suitably private. But it also offered TV and the chance to wallow in bubbles in a luxury sunken bath. The nearby spa was the pinnacle of pampering with massages, rasul treatments and yoga. A tour of Bazaruto takes a bumpy couple of hours, stopping at lakes to view the crocodiles, or at sand dunes to climb. Other activities include diving and snorkelling, fishing, horse rides and birdwatching. It’s not quite in the stratospheric North Island league but nor is it affordable. Slightly more affordable is White Pearl, a brand new resort on the main island, 100km south of the capital, Maputo. Opening on June 20, it’s all pristine white loungers and rooms painted in cooling shades of pale green and grey.
Turquoise Holidays (turquoiseholidays.co.uk, 01494 678 400) offers 5 nights (for the price of 4) in a Beach Chalet at Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa from £2,045pp (based on two people sharing) including all meals, transfers and return flights between Johannesburg and Vilanculos. International flights are additional. Price based on travel in October 2011. Turquoise’s opening rates for White Pearl – valid from June up to 19 December 2011 – start from £175 per person per night in a Pool Suite on a half board basis (stay 7 nights, pay for 6) Access is via a helicopter flight from Maputo at a cost of £300 per person return. International flights to Maputo are additional.