While the world’s best-loved islands—places like Maui, Jamaica, Bermuda, and Capri—easily roll off the tongue, the names of some lesser-known isles can leave all but geography fanatics stumped. Sure, there are thousands of tiny specks dotting our seas and oceans, so no one can be expected to know them all. But here are seven low-profile-yet-alluring islands that may have escaped your attention—until now.
The Cook Islands
If you’re hoping for seduction South Pacific-style, let the Cook Islands outpost of Aitutaki (pronounced EYE-too-tah-key) be your 50 Shades of Blue! There are at least that many amazing hues in the shallow lagoon that surrounds this tiny, 2,000-resident island, and it’s all every bit as serene and surreal as it seems in photos. To be honest, there’s not much beyond the mesmerizing water. And that’s okay. This is the perfect spot to escape to with your spouse or partner and enjoy relaxing swims and spectacular snorkels, romantic sails to deserted motus, and an authentic Polynesian hospitality that includes some seriously sensual, hip-shaking dancing.
Where to Stay: Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, located on private Motu Akitua directly on the lagoon and featuring 36 traditional beach and overwater bungalows as well as local ambience in its SpaPolynesia and Bounty restaurant, from $460/night.
It’s becoming harder and harder to escape the 24/7 home, work, and social media routine, but an old-school island experience that will inspire you to sit and chat (in person, that is) or pick up a good book (a printed one) is closer than you think: just off the coast of Maine. Simply head up to Portland, drive 20 minutes north to Yarmouth and hang a right to the Cousins Island dock. There, you’ll hop a small ferry to Chebeague (pronounced shuh-BEEG) and settle in for a few nights of unplugged bliss: bike riding, golf, croquet, tennis, fishing, and some seriously delicious seafood.
Where to Stay: Chebeague Island Inn, a recently restored 1920’s Greek Revival inn featuring 21 rooms (none with TV or phone), the wonderful local cuisine of Chef Justin Rowe, and the perfect shaded porch from which to enjoy the mind-clearing view, from $290/night.
Lord Howe Island
Looking like a postcard from French Polynesia that got accidentally slipped into the Australia batch, this stunning island is met with "never heard of it" aloofness or "wow, where is that?" enthusiasm, usually depending on whether a photo is involved. Located an hour by air from Sydney, Lord Howe Island (named in 1788 for British Admiral Richard Howe) is six square miles of unspoiled serenity that’s home to excellent hiking trails, incredible bird watching, a few exclusive luxury lodges, and just 300 residents. Its equally captivating lagoon is ideal for snorkeling, diving, sailing—and pretending the rest of the world no longer exists.
Where to Stay: Capella Lodge, where panoramic views of Lord Howe’s twin peaks and aptly named Lover’s Bay await, and just nine rooms and suites cocoon guests in contemporary comfort, from $1,350/night, including meals.
The Galapagos Islands
A trip to the Galapagos Islands is guaranteed to thrill any nature-lover, but it’s birders who get the biggest Darwinian bang for their buck. And while most of the chain’s islands deliver plenty of up-close photo-ops, Rabida is certain to please birder watchers since it’s home to flamboyant flamingos, adorable blue-footed boobies, waddling Galapagos penguins, and red-pouched great frigate birds among dozens of avian species. There’s also a dramatic red-sand beach that’s a favorite of snoozing sea lions, whose nap time even bird lovers will want to snap.
Where to Stay: Celebrity Xpedition offers a comfortable way to cruise the Galapagos Islands, accommodating just 90 passengers and sailing seven-night, naturalist-led itineraries, from $2,799 per person.
Who doesn’t know the Isle of Capri (after all, there’s both a delicious salad and cropped pants named after it), but what about its larger, less-glitzy sister? Ischia (pronounced ISH-key-ah) might not have Capri’s cachet, but it does offer plenty in the way of lemon-scented Mediterranean sunshine, cuisine, and pampering. This volcanic island, just a quick high-speed ferry ride from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, is home to more than 50 thermal springs and more than 100 spas, so like Capri it can get a bit overrun in high season. But its emerald landscape, imposing Aragon Castle, and delicious seafood-based cuisine make it worth getting to know.
Where to Stay: Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, located high on a pine-studded promontory and blissfully away from the day-trippers, this 57-room resort overlooks a picturesque bay and coddles guests with its thermal spa and haute-cuisine restaurant Chandelier, from $492/night.
Part of Iles des Saintes, a group of eight tiny islands off the coast of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, Terre-de-Haut is blissfully low-key. Home to Les Saintes’ only accommodations and a population of 1,500, this hilly and photogenic five-square-mile island has a distinctly French ambience—think a less-flashier St. Barths—and is ideal for a simple yet sensuous romantic escape where the raison d’etre is relaxation by day and delicious food and fine wine at night. There’s just one tiny town, bistro-lined Bourg; an historic fort with panoramic views; and plenty of colorful cottages and grazing goats ready for their close-up.
Where to Stay: L’Auberge Les Petits Saints, a traditional French-Caribbean house hotel featuring eclectic antiques in its 12 rooms, pretty views of the Bay of Saints, and easy access to the wine shops and bistros of Bourg, from $207/night
Everyone knows Tahiti, but it’s actually this tiny motu in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu group that truly delivers castaway chic—simple overwater bungalows, pale pink sand, incredible snorkeling, and extreme relaxation. With a population of less than 400, serene oval-shaped Tikehau is ideal for couples that want to soak in nothing but the hot sun, a crystal-clear lagoon, and each other. And when darkness falls and the vast nighttime sky reveals its array of connect-the-dots stars, it’s time to enjoy simple yet flavorful French-Polynesian fusion cuisine served beachside or on your bungalow’s private deck.
Where to Stay: Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, which features 37 beach and overwater bungalows plus a lovely open-air restaurant, a small Polynesian-inspired spa, and an assortment of water-based activities, from $430/night.
Photo credits: Aitutaki Lagoon, courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism; Chebeague Island, courtesy of Chebeague Island Inn; Lord Howe Capella Lodge View, courtesy of Capella Lodge; Rabida Celebrity Xpedition, courtesy of Celebrity Cruises; Ischia-Mezzatorre, courtesy of Mezzatorre Resort & Spa; Terre-de-Haut, courtesy of Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board; Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, courtesy of Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort & Spa