For many of us, an island holiday is the ultimate in escapism. There’s something about it which engenders a kind of “pull up the drawbridge” mindset perfect for recharging the batteries. What follows puts together those islands that for one reason or another have made a lasting impression on me, with a suggestion for a good time to visit weather-wise.
Gorée – January
Senegal’s Île de Gorée is at once a melancholy and vibrant place. The focus for the country’s remembrance of those lost to the slave trade even though few were ever shipped from its shores, it’s also colourful and charismatic, a favourite of artists and craftsmen. It’s an easy day trip from the Senegalese capital Dakar. In January the weather is sunny and mild, making this the perfect winter escape.
Roatan – February
Honduras might have a hellish reputation in terms of safety and security – its largest city San Pedro Sula is considered to be the murder capital of the world – but the languid island of Roatan off its northern coast is about as far from trouble as you can get. It has all the characteristics you’d expect from a Caribbean island: a laid back welcome, turquoise warm waters and fresh fish dinners. In February, it’s busy enough to feel buzzing, yet you’ll have no problem finding space on the beach to soak up those tropical rays.
La Digue – March
The Seychelles has a reputation for luxury – and all the costs that come with achieving it. The good news is that La Digue manages to offer accommodation for all budgets. Better still, it’s one of the prettiest islands on the planet and compact enough that you can explore it by bike in a few days. In March, the weather’s on the turn, but unless you’re really unlucky, visiting La Digue in the shoulder season means you’ll dodge the worst of the crowds as well as the rain.
St Lucia – April
One of the lushest islands in the Caribbean, St Lucia is also one of the prettiest. But that verdant setting has only been achieved with rainfall totals higher than many in the region. April is statistically the driest month, so time your visit to the island’s cocoa plantations, hot springs, iconic peaks and of course fabulous beaches to hit the best of the weather.
Gozo – May
Malta’s firmly on the beaten track when it comes to Mediterranean escapes, but visit Gozo before the main tourist season kicks into gear and you’ll be impressed. This rural and characterful island combines fascinating historic attractions with impressive coastal scenery.
Lanzarote – June
If you’ve ruled out Lanzarote on account of its nickname, Lanzagrotty, then you need to have a rethink: this place is seriously cool. Avoid the crowds of tourists tied to school holidays and get in ahead of the crowds to explore Cesar Manrique’s fabulous architectural legacy and some of the hottest volcanic scenery on the planet.
Zanzibar – July
There are few islands with names that conjure up as exotic an image as that of Zanzibar. The reality is as satisfying: the narrow alleyways of the capital Stone Town are lined with mansions made from coral stones held together with lime mortar, built by merchants who traded spices, silks and slaves. To the north of the island, you’ll find plenty of excellent beaches where you can enjoy the dry, hot July weather.
Tanna – August
Faraway in the South Pacific lies the archipelago of Vanuatu. Its most fascinating island is without a doubt Tanna. Dominated by one of the most accessible active volcanoes on the planet, visitor interest is piqued by the John Frum cargo cult, and in particular the offshoot Prince Philip movement that think our Queen’s husband is a god. Toast him with kava, the local firewater which numbs your mouth and sedates your brain.
Bali – September
Well on the beaten tourist track, Bali offers a winning combination of culture and relaxation in one neat and tiny package. Its resorts make the best of the sandy beaches and September sees the crowds thin ahead of the October to March wet season. Watch the sunset over the ocean at Uluwatu temple or head inland to the green rice terraces that encircle the pretty town of Ubud.
Kyushu – October
The most southerly of Japan’s big four, Kyushu packs a punch. It’s a good choice for those wishing to get up close to the country’s tectonic action, with mud pools, hells and hot sand baths at Beppu and the active volcano Sakurajima an easy ferry ride from the city of Kagoshima. By October, the humidity that plagues the summer months is long gone, but temperatures are still high enough to make sightseeing a pleasure.
Easter – November
Despite its isolation, remote Rapa Nui is recognisable the world over for its moai, the oversized stone heads that gaze out over the Pacific from all parts of this mountainous island. The five hour flight from the Chilean capital just to get there is arduous, but when you do, you’ll agree it’s well worth the effort. Its history is fascinating, but it’s the location that blows your mind.
Cuba – December
Go there before it changes, they said. So I did. But that was well over a decade ago and the tour companies are still saying it. Nevertheless, I haven’t yet met a visitor who was disappointed. Cuba’s one of those places that gets under your skin, from the old ladies in Havana who’ll puff on their cigars for a dollar to the horses that you’ll still see trotting down the cobbles of backstreet Trinidad. Forget generic Caribbean, this place is unique and special because of it.
So there you have it, my favourites. What are yours?