Top 10 Wild Islands

Want an authentic island escape? We've assembled a list of the Top 10 purest, wildest and most eco-friendly islands, based on their efforts to preserve culture and ecology, as well as on the quality of their national parks and sustainable opportunities for responsible travelers. Agree with our Top 10 list? Disagree? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Vanuatu Even in the idyllic blue waters of the South Pacific, the natural colors of Vanuatu stand out. Here, ecosystems range from rainforest to grassland to coral reef, and the 3,000-year-old Melanesian culture nurtures more than 100 indigenous languages and dialects. But what really makes this island chain special is the fact that all of this still exists in a pure spectrum. Return to Main PageThinkstock
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Dominica When islands contributor Ty Sawyer describes Dominica, it sounds like something out of Tolkien: “Rippling with waterfalls, boiling lakes, thick rainforests – in many ways, this island exists in a state of natural grace.” Thankfully, Dominica is located in the middle of the Caribbean, not Middle Earth. In the Morne Trois Pitons National Park alone, there are 50 fumaroles venting volcanic gas, three freshwater lakes, five volcanoes – and ecological wonders are just the beginning. Return to Main PageThinkstock
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Papua New Guinea A 2,000-foot-high peak, 429 coral varieties, 269 bird species. And that's only the tip of Papua New Guinea – the eastern tip, or Milne Bay province, to be exact. Nationally speaking, the numbers get bigger (more than 750 languages), but Ty Sawyer says
this Pacific destination boils down to two words: "wonderfully primal." Return to Main Page
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100 san blas panama islands wish list

See the San Blas Islands of Panama

Culture here in the San Blas Islands of Panama isn’t preserved behind museum glass – it’s carried out by the semiautonomous Kuna Indians. Only 36 of these 365 San Blas islands are inhabited, and here travelers can witness life as it has been since the 16th century: Women stitch intricate molas; children practice folk dances in the street; men fish for lobster and spider crabs from dugout canoes. See our Top 10 Wild Islands gallery.Thinkstock
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Tasmania One of the last expanses of temperate rainforest on earth does not merely exist on Tasmania – it thrives on this island. The Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area covers 3.46 million acres (20 percent of the island) and is home to myriad threatened species, including the eponymous Tasmanian devil. But as islands editor Ty Sawyer points out, all that wilderness is tempered with a culture of luxury: “If you like a good pinot after a day of spectacular adventure, then Tasmania will fire your wanderlust.” Return to Main PageThinkstock
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Galápagos Islands, Ecuador You've heard the comparisons: This island is the Galápagos of this region; that chain is the Galápagos of that country. So why all the fuss? The UNESCO World Heritage List calls this mostly uninhabited chain of 19 islands a "living museum and a showcase of evolution," citing land iguanas, giant tortoises and assorted finches among the countless varieties. Much has changed since Darwin first theorized natural selection here; invasive species and increased human activity threaten the unique biodiversity of the region. But environmental awareness still reigns. Return to Main PageThinkstock
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Sleep under a Socotra tree

You may never make it to Socotra. Situated amid political turbulence and only modestly equipped for tourists, the Yemenese archipelago is inaccessible at best. And that’s a large part of its purity. The land of dragon’s-blood trees has a long history of remoteness; ancient Phoenicians believed Socotra was home to the mythical Phoenix, and Egyptian pharaohs commissioned risky expeditions to the island for myrrh. But it’s more than a land of legend. See our Top 10 Wild Islands gallery.Thinkstock
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Madeira, Portugal In the heart of the Portugese island, Madeira hides a relic of old-world Europe. Old, old Europe. The Madeira Laurisilva Forest is the largest surviving area of its kind and a glimpse into the type of ecosystem that used to cover much of Europe. Spend your days hiking through the national park, spying endemic, long-toed pigeons. Then head back to Quinta del Bela Vista, a resort in Funchal, and spend your evenings sipping Madeiran wine. Return to Main Page**
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Lanai, Hawaii It may be the 21st century when you board the flight to this island. But when you land on Lanai, it will seem very much like a different time period altogether. Everywhere on the isle feels like another step back in time, from the plantation-era Lanai City (no traffic lights, no high-rises) to the natural wonderland at the Kanepuu Preserve (home to 48 species of native plants). Return to Main Page**
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Channel Islands, California Southern California wasn’t always a playground for movie stars and celebutantes. There was a time when a healthy portion of the Golden State looked less like Hollywood and more like the uninhabited Channel Islands National Park, where the biggest star is a Pacific gray whale and the foxiest character is, well, an island fox. Return to Main PageThinkstock