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Cruise lines often have a few hidden gem destinations up their sleeves, both on their classic itineraries and the more unique cruises. Some will whisk you away to special island destinations around the world: secluded archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean islands rich in culture, and island paradises in the Caribbean. From the popular hotspots to the top-secret locations, we’ve compiled a list of ten beautiful islands that you have to visit!
Nature lovers, wellness seekers, and hikers alike will fall in love with Madeira: the “island of eternal spring”. The flower-filled island in the Atlantic Ocean will enchant you with its mountainous landscape, rocky cliffs, exotic plant life, and quaint villages. One of the top tourist activities in Madeira is hiking through the rugged terrain. For example, an especially beautiful tour leads to the Levada do Galhano. The levadas were constructed in the 16th century as irrigation channels, and along these canals, the trail leads through protected natural areas, such as the largest surviving laurel forest, the Laurissilva.
A must-do on any trip to Madeira is an excursion to Funchal, the island’s capital. From the cruise ship docks, you can easily reach the town on foot. Visit the Mercado dos Lavradores in the morning, an indoor market where farmers sell fresh fruits and vegetables. After that, pop in on the fish market next door for a quick picture to send back home. Stroll through the winding roads and over the historic squares of the old town. Take the cable car to the district of Monte, where you can enjoy some beautiful views of the island. For a few more sights worthy of a picture, you can head to the Madeira Botanical Garden with around 2,000 different plant species, the lava cave in São Vicente, and the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse on the western end of the island.
White sand beaches and charming, peaceful bays, lively resorts and picturesque villages, wild nightlife and lots of art and culture – you can experience all this and more in Ibiza. Dalt Vila, the old town, and the imposing ramparts overlook the island’s capital. But towering over everything is the cathedral, surrounded by a medieval city wall. From here, you’ll have stunning views of the bay, harbour, and gorgeous greenery.
Between the fortress walls and the rows of houses are cosy and shaded bars and restaurants – important in the summer months. In the lower part of town are the fishing district, Sa Penya, and the harbour area, La Marina. Many small stands and shops line the harbour promenade, where you can purchase souvenirs for your family and friends back home. If you’d rather have a beach day, there are plenty of options: You’ll have a selection of around fifty sand beaches and bays to choose from. The crystal-clear waters glimmer in all shades of turquoise, and the sea is often so shallow that you can still stand even after walking 30 metres out. Ibiza is more than just an island for partying and celebrities: With its villages filled with white houses and sprawling pine forests farther inland, Ibiza is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers alike.
The islanders will welcome you to Mykonos with a friendly “kalimera”! The small, peaceful island, at only 105 square kilometres, is a popular cruise destination and even more so in the summertime. On “the Island of the Winds”, as Mykonos is also known, stiff breezes are always blowing. Instead of towering mountains or stately trees, white windmills reach toward the bright blue skies.
Boasting several beautiful beaches, every trip to Mykonos is a sunny wellness trip. Everyone will be able to find their own slice of beach: Surfers, for example, prefer to hang ten at Ftelia Beach, Kalafatis Beach, and Korfos Bay. On the other hand, families are more likely to be found at Agios Stefanos Beach and Ornos Beach because their shallow waters are kid friendly. Cruise ships either dock in Tourlos, a coastal village just two kilometres north of the town of Mykonos, or anchor just off the coast and tender cruisers to the island.
For the Swedes, Gotland has always been a gorgeous destination with a mild climate; for everyone else, this island in the Baltic Sea is a hidden gem. A small selection of cruise lines, including Cunard, make a stop there on some Baltic Sea itineraries. If you’ve been to Gotland before, you’ve probably visited the capital Visby, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The Hanseatic city was once one of the leading trading ports in the Baltic during the Middle Ages. As proof, a three-and-a-half-kilometre-long wall from the 13th century still surrounds Visby. Within the wall, it’s as if time is standing still: Charming houses covered with roses, the impressive cathedral, and the ruins of the fortress Visborg, which was destroyed in 1679, are all relics of a time gone by.
Guernsey, English Channel Isle
You won’t find skyscrapers or the hustle and bustle of the city in Guernsey; you won’t even find it in St. Peter Port, the largest city in the picturesque Channel Isles. However, thanks to the Gulf Steam, flowers and exotic plants flourish in the mild climate. Cruise ships anchor just off the coast, and the town is just a stone’s throw away from Albert Pier along the harbour seafront of St. Peter Port.
Wind up and down the steep cobbled streets of the charming harbour town, including the main shopping avenue High Street. Among the town’s noteworthy highlights are the Hauteville House, once home to French poet Victor Hugo, and the impressive Castle Cornet, sitting on a former tidal island just outside the town. You can enjoy long walks along the water and take in the sea views, hike farther inland through the idyllic countryside, or spend a relaxing day at one of the beautiful sandy beaches.
Mauritius, Indian Ocean
Gently sloping beaches, coral reefs, palm groves, and sprawling sugar cane fields will welcome you to Mauritius: a true holiday paradise. The tropical island in the Indian Ocean is one of the most exclusive holiday destinations in the world. The white sand beaches alongside the turquoise sea are absolutely divine and could easily serve as a film location.
Water sports enthusiasts will discover a true underwater paradise on a trip to Mauritius. Surfing, sailing, paragliding, water skiing, and deep-sea fishing are all possible everywhere around the island. The flora and fauna will also make your jaw drop. La Vanille Nature Park des Mascareignes is anything but short of natural spectacles. Around 500 radiated tortoises of Madagascar have made this place their home. The reptiles are more than one hundred years old and have found sanctuary in the park. The island gave its catchy name to the famous deep blue and orange-red Mauritius “Post Office” stamps. Today, the Blue Penny Museum in the island’s capital, Port Louis, has these rare postage stamps on display.
Manukan Island, Malaysia
Manukan Island is located within the boundaries of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park in the South China Sea. The island is just off the coast of Borneo’s capital Kota Kinabalu and can easily be reached by boat. Cruise lines that stopover in the capital city offer day tours to the island. A long, sandy bay lined with forests and crystal-clear waters stretches along the southern coast of Manukan. With colourful fish splashing about, the island is a snorkeler’s dream. The sea is also calm and shallow – perfect for children. After taking a dip in the sea and soaking up the sun’s rays, hiking trails will invite you to take a stroll through the surrounding forest.
St. Lucia, Caribbean Sea
You will experience breathtaking and exotic natural scenery in St. Lucia with its crystal-clear waters, long, white sand shorelines, and lush, dark green plant life. The island isn’t just a treat for your eyes; it’s also a treat for your body, offering you a range of activities. Day trips, for example, will take you to the protected Marigot Bay, one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean. Hop on a catamaran if you want to arrive there in style.
Whether you’re looking for a bit of R&R or are a fan of water sports and adventure, this is the place for you. Don’t forget to treat yourself to delicious Creole cuisine in one of the many local restaurants. Soufrière, located on the island’s southwest coast, is well known for its drive-in volcano and sulphur springs. A few kilometres to the south, two volcanic plugs rise more than 770 metres above the Caribbean. As the name suggests, the Gros Piton is larger and situated slightly more to the south. The locals of St. Lucia refer to the other as Petit Piton. A few years ago, the area surrounding the Pitons was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its immense biodiversity and imposing landscape.
St. Martin, Caribbean Sea
One of the most popular cruise destinations in the Caribbean is St. Martin. Several large cruise lines can be found at the harbour, such as MSC, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises. The 14-kilometre-long Caribbean island is divided between the French and the Dutch. Both sides of the mountainous island compete with their fabulous Caribbean beaches. Among the most beautiful is Great Bay Beach in Philipsburg, which you can reach by foot from the harbour.
A visit to the spectacular Maho Beach is also worth your while. The beach lies adjacent to the runway of the Princess Juliana International Airport. To the delight of many visitors, the beach bar displays the arrival times of the aircraft. The planes roar low over the beachgoers and touch down on the short landing strip right behind the beach. It is an unbelievable spectacle and the tourist attraction of the island.
Santa Catalina Island, California, USA
Off the coast of California, just 35 kilometres from Los Angeles, lies a true hidden gem: Santa Catalina Island. The rocky coast framed by deep blue bays was once a meeting point for smugglers, but in the 1920s, chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Junior transformed Santa Catalina Island into a popular holiday destination.
Celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe, once lived on the island, and even today, you may still run into actors and musicians, who value the peace and seclusion that the laid-back island offers. A must-see in Santa Catalina Island’s capital Avalon is the Art Deco Casino from 1929. If you take a tour to the airport high up in the mountains during your explorations, you may, with a bit of luck, see the free-roaming bison that were left there after a film shooting. There are very few cars on the island – the 4,100 islanders zip around via electronic golf cart.