Secret Islands

On Providencia or Mljet or Ovalau, you get the feeling no one is expecting you. Nobody greets you with a rum punch or puts a lei around your neck. These places have avoided the transformative pressures of tourism. But through a sea cave awash in myth, a spring-fed pool, a toast to new friends, our secret islands extend a deeper welcome.

MljetOdysseus spent seven years as love slave to Calypso on Mljet -- so one island legend claims -- on his way home from the Trojan War. That seems like a long time, especially for his wife, Penelope. But after a few days here, the ship- wreck story sounds to me like an alibi. It's easy to imagine that Odysseus might willingly have let himself be lured to the island and persuaded to spend seven years with a sea nymph. When my intended guide, Nikolina, fell ill, her friend Marijana agreed to show me the island of her birth. After meeting at a café in central Mljet, we set out by car for her favorite haunt, Odysseus' Cave, a site seldom visited by tourists... read more

Ovalau Ovalau is nothing like the Fiji I know, all pearly white beaches and thatched-hut bures fronting tranquil lagoons. I found none of those things on this reclusive Fijian island or in its old colonial capital, Levuka. No gorgeous beaches, no bures for the tourists and nary a three-star hotel, let alone a luxury resort. But I did find something else on Ovalau. Something almost intangible, something I didn't recognize until I'd been there a few days: a secret beauty veiled behind the last vestiges of the English colonial era, when Great Britian controlled much of the world. Fijian chiefs were cajoled, in 1874, into ceding the islands to the Brits right here on Ovalau... read more

ProvidenciaOur rented motorbike lurched to a halt as five scowling Colombian soldiers with machine guns blocked the road. "Despacio!" one barked -- Slow down! We crawled around a corner overlooking the turquoise sea, and our jaws dropped. Bazillions of black crabs were climbing from the beach up the cliffs, a vast carpet of crabs covering the road. Another biker rounded the bend and braked. "De crabs go down to the sea to wet their eggs off," he said. "Den they all climb back to the hill with the little ones. The army making sure the crabs don' get molested." We watched in wonder as this sleepy island in the southwest Caribbean revealed another of its secrets... read more

Aldabra Islands The world's largest raised-coral atoll is the place to drift-dive past grouper and Gorgonian fan coral, then dry off among 150,000 giant tortoises.

Eysturoy From the mists of the North Atlantic, the jagged basalt cliffs of this Faroe island shoot straight up, towering over green valleys and idyllic lakes.

Holy Island After Vikings raided a monastery here in 793, it became known as Holy Island. Visit an 11th-century Benedictine Priory, 16th-century Lindisfarne Castle and more here.

Jeju This South Korean island is Asia's version of Hawaii for its commanding dormant volcano and historic sites.

Palmyra Atoll The only way to visit this lush, uninhabited atoll is to become a Nature Conservancy volunteer or donor.

Procida This smallest of the three Gulf of Naples islands offers Italian life at its unspoiled best.

Socotra If Darwin explored this Yemenese archipelago today, he'd enjoy the evolution of unique wildlife here.

Tuvalu This South Pacific gem is remote and well under-the-radar for most travelers, making it a true secret island.