Sure, sometimes relaxing on a sandy beach with a mini-umbrella-topped cocktail is just what the heart needs. Other times, a true vacation might mean tramping out into an out-of-the-way wilderness.
There are various levels to the definition of “remote.” Some trips that used to be considered a pipe dream (think seeing penguins in Antarctica) have become easier, thanks to more energy-efficient and hardy cruise ships. And while it’s becoming harder to find truly remote areas—thanks, Instagram—there are still wild places to explore.
To help travelers plan their journeys to the far corners of civilization, AFAR compiled a list of the 13 most stunning remote islands and settlements around the world.
A harsh climate makes Ittoqqortoormiit one of the tougher places on the planet to reach, and there are no neighboring cities for 500 miles in any direction. But that’s part of Ittoqqortoormiit’s charm. The best way to get here is by booking a flight to Reykjavík and then catching a quick flight to Akureyri in northern Iceland. After that, there’s one last leg that involves traveling to Constable Point, Greenland, by air, where you’ll be able to catch a ride to the settlement via Fido-powered express (aka a dogsled). Alternatively, travelers can take a 15-minute helicopter ride from Constable Point to view snow-capped mountains, the iceberg-strewn Arctic Ocean, and—if you’re lucky—the Northern Lights.
2. Kerguelen Islands
Location: South Indian Ocean
Also known as the Desolation Islands because of how remote and harsh the landscape is, this wild archipelago (roughly the size of the state of Delaware) is in the southern Indian Ocean near Antarctica. There are no known original inhabitants of the Kerguelens, and its landscapes—characterized by steep cliffsides, dozens of fjords, strong winds, and frigid temperatures—are currently only inhabited by French scientists and local wildlife (penguins and seals). The sole way to reach the Kerguelen Islands is by boat, specifically the Marion Dufresne, which travels to the islands four times a year. Ticket prices are steep—a ride on the Marion will cost you $18,000 a pop as a tourist.
3. The Nyi La Pass
The Nyi La Pass is in a remote region of northern Nepal called the Upper Mustang. The only way to reach the pass is by traversing the Kaligandaki Road Corridor, which the Nepalese army began constructing in 2021. The pass is prone to heavy snowfall and landslides, but the route offers some of the most dazzling views in the whole country. Intrepid travelers will see Nepal’s iconic shale and limestone cliffs as well as many a snow-covered peak. Note: Because of its high elevation, the air is thin here. Be sure to take plenty of breaks and bring supplemental oxygen if need be. Consider hiring a local hiking guide.
Location: Arctic Ocean
Located between Norway and the North Pole, this archipelago has more polar bears than people. Svalbard is much easier to reach these days, and is even a popular cruise ship destination, but it’s still wild at heart. Here, lucky visitors will be able to spot walruses, reindeer, ringed and harp seals, as well as polar bears. Known for being one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, Svalbard is also a fine place to spot the Northern Lights in winter and to experience 24 hours of sunlight during summer.
Location: French Polynesia
The Tuamotu archipelago—78 coral reef atolls north and east of Tahiti—are far enough away from civilization that they’ve not been spoiled by excessive tourism. Instead of being focused on luring international travelers, the local economy relies on fishing, coconuts, and black pearls—lots of black pearls. The marine environment is remains undisturbed, making the Tuamotu archipelago a scuba diver’s paradise with plenty of thriving coral reefs.
6. Machu Picchu
When explorer Hiram Bingham happened across the lost city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian rain forest in 1911, it was then considered one of the world’s most remote places. It remains accessible only by hiking in or by train. An average of 1.5 million visitors reach it each year thanks to two train lines and dozens of tour operators organizing treks to the (as of 1983) UNESCO World Heritage site. And despite its popularity and fame, it’s still a wonder to behold.
High season for Machu Picchu occurs during its dry winter months from June to August. Since hotels in Aguas Calientes—the town at the base of the mountain—book up months in advance, consider visiting during the shoulder season months of April, May, September, and October when there are fewer crowds and temperatures average in the 60s Fahrenheit.
7. Milford Track
Location: New Zealand
One of the most scenic walks in New Zealand, the Milford Track is about 30 miles long and leads into Milford Sound, known for its dramatic coastal views. A nearly four-hour drive from the nearest city (Queenstown, New Zealand), the Milford Track is categorized as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” prompting many people to hike the five-day circuit, which takes hikers past rain forests, cascading waterfalls, misty mountains, and icy glaciers. But be forewarned: This trek should only be attempted by serious hikers who are comfortable carrying what they need with them. There’s also no cellphone coverage over most of Milford Track.
Although Gullfoss gets most of the tourists, Dynjandi waterfall is among of the biggest in Iceland. Situated in the remote Westfjords—which is sometimes described as the region’s crown jewel—the waterfall tumbles down 330 feet, creating a dynjandi, or thunderous sound, in the process. The multiple cascades, around 98 feet wide at the top, spread to 646 feet at the bottom, creating a shape that’s said to resemble a bridal veil. There are a few more waterfalls below Dynjandi that help make the short (15-minute) hike up to the main falls even more picturesque—plus, you may even spot some Arctic foxes.
9. Hamoa Beach
Mark Twain and James A. Michener both sang the praises of Hamoa Beach and its remote beauty. Sandy, sheltered, and lined with palm trees, this isolated stretch of shoreline on Maui’s eastern coast is arguably the island’s best beach. Nevertheless, Hamoa is often more empty than full thanks to tourists mistakenly rushing past it during the 64-mile drive to the town of Hana. To take it all in properly, book a night in Hana so you don’t have to hurry. Snack on banana bread, bathe beneath waterfalls, and take your time exploring Hamoa, where the pleasant shade of sea cliffs and gentle waves beckon.
10. The Pitcairn Islands
Location: Southern Pacific Ocean
It’s safe to say that Pitcairn has an infamous reputation. It’s where the mutineers of the HMS Bounty (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) settled. In order to get to Pitcairn, travelers must board a quarterly shipping vessel from Mangareva in French Polynesia for a trip that can take between 4 and 11 days.
Astronomy lovers will find themselves in terrestrial heaven in Pitcairn—the island’s dark skies offer some of the best views of the cosmos. They’re so stellar, in fact, that Pitcairn was officially designation a Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2018, one of only a few dozen in the world.
11. St. Helena
Location: South Atlantic
Until recently the only way to get to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena—where Napoleon famously spent his final days—was to sail for a week on the royal mail ship that departs from Cape Town. Now, the South African airline AirLink offers a weekly four-hour flight from Johannesburg, making it easier to visit the island and hike the 2,600-foot-tall Diana’s Peak or hang out with Jonathan, the (reportedly) 185-year-old Seychelles giant tortoise.
12. The Outer Hebrides
Some of the Scottish isles get their fair share of tourists—maybe even too many, especially islands like Skye, where the infrastructure hasn’t caught up to its surging popularity. Beyond them are the Outer Hebrides, with the major islands of Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra. Ferries arrive at various ports regularly, but if you want to really make an entrance, buy a Loganair ticket from Glasgow to Barra and land on the beach itself during low tide. Attractive villages, lots of greenery, and excellent bird-watching make for a peaceful vacation on all the islands.
Location: Southeastern coast of Africa
Madagascar is one of the world’s most biodiverse islands—about 92 percent of the island’s reptiles, mammals, and plants exist nowhere else, which often makes it a bucket-list destination for nature lovers. But the island, located off the coast of Mozambique, presents its fair share of logistical problems: Few airlines fly into the country, and once you arrive, it’s tough to get around—many roads are difficult, windy, and rough. The island’s lemurs, unique geographical formations, and giant, fantastical baobab trees are more than worth the trouble.