The swimming pigs of Exuma in the Bahamas. Photo / Simon Forest, Unsplash
Nothing like an island to capture the imagination. Thomas Bywater suggests five stops to add to an island-hopping odyssey.
Full of scaly dragon’s blood trees and desert flowers – Socotra has been described as the Galapagos of the Middle East. Its position in the Indian Ocean, between Yemen and Somalia, has kept it off the radar of all but the most adventurous travelers. Since it has weekly direct connections from Abu Dhabi, it’s a bit more accessible but not much. The Greeks claimed that it housed the mythical phoenix. You won’t find magical firebirds, but there are plenty of other weird and wonderful plants and animals.
About 800 endemic species, according to Unesco. It’s not an easy place to get to and there’s not much in the luxury range, but Engage Socotra runs eco tours around the island and helps run a conservation and community fund for the World Heritage Site.
Flores Island, Indonesia
Yes, here dragons, but here also underground caverns, volcanic pools and funnel-shaped padi fields.
Flores is famous for its reptile neighbors from the nearby islands of Komodo National Park. The largest lizard in the world, the Komodo monitor lizard can weigh over 150 kg. Guided tours are a must for naturalists.
Once you’ve fulfilled your Jurassic Park fantasy, you don’t want to overlook the other amazing natural features of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The Liang Bua Caves are remarkable karst tunnels that at one time housed tiny prehistoric humans. Yes, dragons and hobbits! However, the snorkeling and tropical coral of the 17 Islands Marine Park trumps anything Tolkien could come up with.
Gateway to the park and Flores, Labuan Bajo is an hour and a half flight from Bali Denpasar, with plenty of accommodation options, from the most luxurious to the most basic.
Pig Bay Exuma, Bahamas
The phrase “Bay of Pigs” conjures up a lot of mixed emotions in the Caribbean, unless of course you’re in the Bahamas. In the Exuma Islands, on Big Major Cay, there is a beach full of swimming magpies.
Pig bathers are an additional surreal sight in the clear Caribbean Sea. The semi-wild pigs learned to swim up to the swineherds who came to feed them. Now they swim for kayakers and boaters. There are only about thirty pigs in total but they have become celebrities. Thousands of visitors arrive each year by seaplane from Nassau or by boat from Staniel Cay.
Swimming pigs aren’t the weirdest animals in the Bahamian animal menagerie. Visitors often take a detour to dive with toothless nurse sharks and black iguanas at Compass and Bitter Guana Cays. There are a number of operators offering island hopping day trips from Nassau with itineraries that are more like Gulliver’s Voyages than a Caribbean charter.
Saadiyat Island, United Arab Emirates
Everyone has seen photos of the islands of the world. The Atlas-shaped archipelago that can be seen from the Palm Jumeirah is one of the most visible white elephants in the United Arab Emirates – 20 years later and the 300 man-made sandbars are still mostly empty.
On the other side of the Emirates, you will find a much more successful attempt to design an island of pleasure: Saadiyat Island or “the island of happiness” is a more complete offer. On Abu Dhabi’s waterfront, you’ll find the Middle Eastern outpost of the Louvre. The contemporary art gallery, the largest in the United Arab Emirates, is housed in an impressive domed structure near the public beach of Saadiyat. Here you will find sand, sea. . and more sand.
For a more exclusive stay, the Pura Eco Resort in Jubail is located in the nearby mangroves on boardwalks and sandbars. Offering yoga, kayaking and bird watching in the wetlands, Abu Dhabi’s towering skyline looks like a mirage on the horizon.
Ogasawara Islands, Japan
Only two of Japan’s 30 outer islands are inhabited by humans, Chichijima and the rest contain only the weirdest and most wonderful nature you can find in the Pacific. You will find Japanese wood pigeons, shiny tiger beetles, honeyeater birds. The outer islands are full of white sand beaches and volcanic coves. Minamijima Island is particularly stunning for its rock arches and closed white sand lagoon on Ogi-ike Beach. It is a perfectly contained launch pad for kayaks or snorkeling. Guided tours and cruises are limited to 100 visitors per day to protect the delicate natural ecosystem. There are also strict biosecurity measures on the islands, as you would expect. For this reason, no off-road hiking or camping is permitted on the outer islands.
The only way to get there is on the 24-hour Ogasawara-maru ferry, which departs from Tokyo three times a week in high season.