Courtesy of Hawkins-Bermuda’s Private Island
Courtesy of Fregate Island
When it comes to private islands, Fregate Island in the Seychelles is a leader in conservation.
We’re tapping into that post-COVID desire to find remote island escapes, from the Seychelles to Wisconsin (who knew?).
As we dream of travel and start to step back into the world, we’re seeking ultimate wilderness escapes, for those who like a bit of pampering and seclusion. You can book a room or rent entire private islands for that castaway feeling of untouched nature with comfortable, design-forward interiors, the freshest local cuisine, and a sustainable connection to the surrounding areas.
Both in the United States and around the world, here are 18 private islands you can stay on, either entirely to yourself or as part of an exclusive hotel or resort.
Bermuda, with its pink sand, intimate coves, and impressive dining, is a quick flight from most eastern U.S. cities. But there’s a lesser-known private island option in the Great Sound. You can exclusively buy out Hawkins—Bermuda’s Private Island for up to 16 guests in two accommodations, the Main Villa and the Guard House. The stay comes with a private chef, all meals and beverages (to enjoy alfresco!), all airport and boat transfers, and water sports equipment including kayaks and paddleboards.
Media mogul Ted Turner, known for his unwavering dedication to sustainability, bought St. Phillips Island northeast of Hilton Head in 1979. It became part of the South Carolina State Park system in 2019, and now his former home is available for rent after undergoing renovations. The five-bedroom, five-bath Turner House evokes Southern hospitality with a wooden staircase leading up to a large screened-in porch. It’s perfect for large families and sleeps up to 14 people, with an outdoor firepit, bikes, kayaks, and golf carts to get to the beach. You can choose an exclusive or standard rental, which allows the island to stay open for public tours during the day.
The famed Necker Island, home to Virgin founder Richard Branson, is open again following a pandemic closure and, as a result of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, is now refreshed with new villa options and two new guest rooms at the Great House, the largest accommodation. Private pools have also been added to some villas, as well as three wind turbines, so the island runs on 90 percent renewable energy. Necker Island is typically sold as a buy-out option for up to 30 guests, but it offers certain weeks for individual bookings throughout the year.
Sister property Moskito Island, just two miles from Necker, will open this spring for the first time to the public, where you can rent out Branson’s 11-room estate. More estates will come in 2021 and beyond, and guests will be able to take advantage of the beach house, infinity pool, tennis courts, three different dining pavilions, and more.
Jesse Katz, a travel advisor with Protravel International/Global Travel Collection, recommends Eustatia Island in the BVI. “It’s on the smaller side, with a seven-bedroom split among three villas,” he says. “It’s only sold as an island buy-out, but great for a smaller group that isn’t looking for a typically larger island like Necker or Calvigny.”
On the Isle of Eriska, a 300-acre private island with a Relais & Châteaux hotel and spa, you’re just a 30-minute drive from seaside Oban but feel fully remote, surrounded by the wild beauty of Scottish lakes and mountains. Throw on a pair of Wellingtons (they keep them by the front door) and explore the grounds on foot, or choose to linger over the whisky menu in the main house.
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There are 16 guest rooms, as well as private cottage and spa suite options. All guests have access to a heated swimming pool, fitness center, and spa facilities. If you want to add the Isle of Skye, you can combine a stay here with taking the historic Jacobite steam train from Fort William (an hour’s drive from the island) to Mallaig, and then on to the Isle of Skye.
Search “private island” and the tropics—bath-warm lagoons, white sand beaches—pop up in your feed. But keep digging and you’ll find a hideaway in (of all places) Wisconsin. In addition to bordering two of the Great Lakes, Superior and Michigan, Wisconsin has around 15,000 lakes, many with small islands that are privately owned.
In Birchwood, Wisconsin, the historic Stout’s Island Lodge, on an 18-acre private island in the middle of Red Cedar Lake, started offering cabins to rent this winter for the first time. While winter bookings end March 12 (and start at $2,000 a week), you can also reserve for summer weeks, as traditionally booked, from May through October for a more upscale family summer camp vibe. The original main lodge was built in 1903 for Chicago businessman Frank Stout and modeled after Adirondack Great Camps built for Vanderbilts and Rockefellers in upstate New York. Stout and his family used it as a summer retreat for many years.
In Lake Winter in northern Wisconsin, you can rent this VRBO private island vacation home: a four-bedroom, sleeps-16 Midwestern log-cabin style chalet on five acres of land, only accessible by boat (which can be rented by the day or week). You can boat, fish, and swim the days away before board games and grilling at night. It’s also a more accessible price point—the average rate is around $395 a night.
We love so many of the overwater bungalow options in the Maldives, but you also have your pick of private island escapes. Relais & Châteaux property the Nautilus Maldives offers 26 houses on an island in the Maldives’ Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The room rate includes the services of a private butler, and there is a 24-hour overwater spa with glass-bottomed treatment pavilions. You can also just book one of the houses, which all come with a private butler. They also now offer COVID-19 PCR testing and results within 24 hours.
Jesse Katz recommends Ithaafushi, a private island that’s a new option at Waldorf Astoria Maldives. “What’s nice about this option is that it does not require a seaplane to get to,” he says, “and the island can be completely privatized among two villas and one residence, for 24 people total.”
Rebecca East, another travel advisor with Protravel International/Global Travel Collection, recommends the Four Seasons Private Island at Voavah next to Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavuru. “It’s a beautiful private island with a seven-bedroom villa that comes with the use of a yacht, but if you’re looking for something a bit more social, you can use the spa and dine at the main Four Seasons,” she says. “The manta ray experience here is incredible.”
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Just four hours from Miami by plane and then boat, Gladden Island (part of Onefinestay’s portfolio of luxury villas) is right in the center of Belize’s Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world. This is the ultimate honeymoon experience, with a villa designed for just one couple, although kids are welcome. You can choose to have your kitchen stocked or have local chefs prepare every meal, book spa treatments and boat tours, and snorkel and swim all day long.
Stay on the island of Shikoku at the just-opened Urashima Village in the Kagawa Prefecture of Japan (Japan has 47 prefectures, or municipalities), and you have access to Maruyama, a nearby uninhabited island that’s only accessible twice a day when the tide is low. The three separate luxury ryokans have panoramic ocean views, a beautiful kitchen and dining area, and dual beach and forest living.
Of all the many white-sand islands of the Seychelles, North Island—with just 11 ocean-view villas—is a crown jewel, set some 1,000 miles from the southeast coast of Africa. (Prince William and Kate Middleton honeymooned here, naturally.) Whether you rent out the island or stay in one of the villas and enjoy the private plunge pools, you’re guaranteed total privacy. Choose from several island activities like snorkeling, diving, fishing, hiking, and cruising; guided swimming with endangered sea turtles is an absolute must. “Luxury with a conscience” is at the heart of everything, with many sustainability initiatives, such as reef and beach protection.
Fregate Island Private is great for honeymooners, but also for families—the Castaway Club is available for ages 3–12 and is known for its jungle expeditions, tortoise encounters, and treasure hunts. The 16 sprawling villas have space for two or three children, and come with private butler services.
Eighty percent of the food comes from the island itself, and conservation projects abound, like restoring the almost-extinct magpie robin bird to a healthy population. The Seychelles are now open to vaccinated visitors from all countries.
Miavana, a private island hotel off the northeast coast of Madagascar, promises all the relaxing benefits of an unhurried island paradise, but with lots of adventure options that feel like you’re on safari—nature treks to spot lemurs, diving underwater, helicopter tours, and more.
The “smallest” of the 14 villas is 4,300 square feet, so consider these homes away from home. You don’t want to miss the “chamber of curiosities” in the main public space, with a collection of island finds like cannon balls and lemur skeletons. Mavros Safaris offers a three-night package to Miavana, including return helicopter service from Diego Suarez in the north of Madagascar, all meals and most drinks included, from $11,384 a person.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stayed at Vatuvara Private Islands Resort in Fiji (maximum occupancy: six guests) when they undertook a royal tour in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. You can only arrive by private jet on the island’s air strip and settle into one of three villas—each with its own private beach and infinity pool—on the 800-acre island.
Harry and Meghan likely stayed in the Delana Villa, set on a cliff overlooking the water. Island operations are powered by solar energy, and the Vatuvara Foundation Fiji supports environmental and educational initiatives like empowering local youth to care about the reef.
Laucala Private Island, a totally unspoiled seven-mile-long Fijian paradise where cows and pigs roam free on organic farms, was once owned by Malcolm Forbes. (The publishing giant paid $1 million for Laucala in 1972 after a three-year-long search for the perfect Fijian private island.) Today, it represents total luxury and seclusion with 25 villas, available for a buy-out of 40 people.
Each villa has a private garden, infinity pool, and personal buggy to explore the island, which includes an 18-hole golf course and horseback riding on the beach. Fiji is closed to international arrivals right now, but there is an exception for private jets.
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