TripAdvisor: Top 10 islands of 2015 – Part Two

6.Madeira

Portugal

The beautiful Portuguese Island of Madeira lies well out in the Atlantic where the Gulf Stream affords it a mild and equable year round climate. Volcanic in origin the rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1800 metres/6000 feet. Forests of pine and laurel flank its jagged peaks. A characteristic feature of the island is the elaborate system of levadas or irrigation channels. Over the centuries this network has extended to more than 2000km of channels and more than 40kms of tunnels. They wind their way across gullies and steep slopes bringing water to the coastal settlements and farms. Many of the levadas can be followed on foot and these together with a network of local trails make even the most remote parts of the island accessible. Spring and autumn are the ideal times to visit the island when a myriad of colourful flowers and trees are in bloom; jasmine, begonias, freesias, magnolia and camellias form just a part of the spectacular flora. We have devised an itinerary that exemplifies the best walking that the island has to offer. Our walks follow levadas through a peaceful pastoral countryside or traverse terraced hillsides. More challenging trails climb up to the rugged volcanic peaks of the interior, to Pico Ruivo, at 1860 metres the islands highest peak. Our itinerary ends in the bustling little capital of Funchal. There you will have time to visit a Madeira wine lodge, explore colourful food and flower markets and enjoy superb fish restaurants.

sunrise-phu-quoc-island-ocean

7.Bali

Indonesia

The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It’s more than a place; it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.

Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts great and small, but it’s the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat. It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far but, in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people. There’s also a fun, sly sense of humour behind the smiles. Upon seeing a bald tourist, many locals exclaim ‘bung ujan’, which means today’s rain is cancelled – it’s their way of saying that the hairless head is like a clear sky.

The rich and diverse culture of Bali plays out at all levels of life, from the exquisite flower-petal offerings placed everywhere, to the processions of joyfully garbed locals, shutting down major roads as they march to one of the myriad temple ceremonies, to the other-worldly traditional music and dance performed island-wide.

8.Mauiritius

Mark Twain once wrote, ‘Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius’. He was right.

Once thought to be the preserve of nearby Madagascar, wildlife tourism in Mauritius is rapidly gaining in popularity. And why wouldn’t it? Mauritius has saved more bird species from extinction than any other country on earth, with the result that you can now see two of the loveliest birds of the Indian Ocean – the pink pigeon and the Mauritian kestrel – at various places around the island. Giant tortoises – in captivity in their hundreds, or roaming free on Île aux Aigrettes – are another drawcard, while dolphins, whales and sharks are just three highlights of the island’s richly biodiverse marine environment.

What to do, what to do? Lie on a beach all day? Or enjoy the wonderful range of activities on offer? Either way, you can’t really lose and there’s not much you can’t do here on the water – highlights include kitesurfing, boat excursions to the beautiful islands of the lagoon, and the full suite of paddling activities offered by hotels and beach operators. But the diving and snorkelling here is terrific, encircled as Mauritius is by shallow waters, a coral reef, sublime underwater topography and a dramatic ocean drop-off. On land, you’ll need to decide between fabulous hiking, horse riding and even championship-standard golf courses. Decisions, decisions…

night

9.Bora Bora

French Polynesia

Ah, Bora Bora. The stuff of dreams. As you arrive by plane, the view says it all. How not to be mesmerised by this stunning palette of sapphire, indigo and turquoise, all mixed together in modern-art abstractions? And these sand-edged motu (islets) and soaring rainforest-covered basaltic peaks? With such a dreamlike setting, Bora Bora is, unsurprisingly, a honeymooners’ choice. But there’s much more to do than clink glasses with your loved one in a luxurious hotel. The good thing is that you can mix slow-paced sun-and-sand holidays with action-packed adventures. Diving, snorkelling, lagoon tours, hiking and parasailing are readily available. What you shouldn’t expect, though, is a thriving nightlife. Bora Bora is a quiet island. And this dream destination is much more accessible than you think. As well as five-star resorts, a handful of low-key midrange hotels beckon.

10.Fernando De Noronha

Brazil

While religion, science and philosophy continue to battle out what happens when we die, in Brazil there is little discourse on the subject: heaven plays second fiddle to the 21-island Fernando de Noronha archipelago. Located in the Atlantic, 525km from Recife and 350km from Natal, Noronha’s natural beauty holds its own against any tropical locale in the world. With crystal-clear waters, rich marine life – including the highest known concentration of resident dolphins in the world – and spectacular tropical landscapes, it’s in a Brazilian class all of its own. The country’s ‘Beach bible,’ Guia Quatro Rodas Praias, awards five stars to just five beaches in the whole country – and three are right here.

Give yourself plenty of time because Noronha is addictive. It’s a wonderful place for doing things both on water (diving, surfing and snorkeling) and on land (hiking and touring), and the average stay is four or five nights. Thanks in large part to the Parque Nacional Marinho de Fernando de Noronha and conservation projects based here, the marine and coastal environment is tightly regulated: locals joke that it’s the island of ‘No’ – no, you can’t do this; no, you can’t do that, etc.

With only between 270 and 400 plane seats normally available per day to Noronha, tourism doesn’t overwhelm the islands, and it’s rarely a problem to find an isolated patch of sand on a dreamy beach, even in high season. However, it’s advisable to reserve accommodations and flights well ahead for December, January, February, July and August. The week or so either side of New Year can get booked up six months or more in advance.

Paradise comes at a premium: due to the cost of transporting goods from the mainland, prices are surreal and rooms cost about double what you’d pay on the mainland. But as a guaranteed highlight of any trip to South America, Fernando de Noronha is well worth the expense.

The largest and only inhabited island, Ilha de Fernando de Noronha is 10km long, with its population concentrated in the village of Vila dos Remédios and the adjoining, spread-out neighborhoods of Vila do Trinta, Floresta Velha and Floresta Nova. A single paved road, the BR-363, runs 7km from the port near the island’s northeast tip, through the populated area, to the airport and down to Baía do Sueste on the south coast. Unpaved side roads lead to several other beaches. The spectacular extinct volcanic cone Morro do Pico is the highest point, 323m above sea level – and more than 4300m above the ocean floor. No, you cannot climb it.

The showery season is from February to June and the islands are blessed by fresh breezes year round. The time zone here is one hour ahead of Brasília time.


Sources: 1. TripAdvisor; 2. Lonely Planet

Also see: TripAdvisor: Top 10 islands of 2015 – Part One

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