There’s something to be said for solitude. A bit of quiet does wonders for the soul. When you’re ready to take a break from riding that merry-go-round or rollercoaster that is your life, a vacay on a private island is the perfect respite.
Just getting there is often an adventure. It could mean you catch a flight and then continue via a water taxi, ferry, commuter plane, or even better, a seaplane. The world feels smaller already, and you’re happy about that, especially if you call a big city like New York or Los Angeles home.
Private islands are having a moment, becoming especially popular since the pandemic as people want to travel but have concerns about safety and crowds. Choose to stay in a villa or cottage with your inner circle instead of a mega hotel. You mix with others as little or as much as you like.
After the last couple of years of maybe little or no travel, it’s time to treat yourself. Start planning your private island getaway to paradise.
1. Kamalame Cay, Bahamas
My journey to Kamalame Cay in Andros included a flight, commuter flight, cab ride to the dock, and a water taxi to the island. The minute the water taxi docked on the island, it’s like I clicked my heels twice and I was there — all the machinations of getting there went out of my head. I was in another world. All that mattered was the beauty surrounding me, lush greenery, beautiful white sand beach. Where was Mr. Rourke to welcome me to Fantasy Island?
Truth is, I didn’t need him. I had concierge Keith and his assistant, who were on the water taxi to greet me. They immediately made me feel like royalty, fussing over me with big smiles, offering a cool, refreshing towel, water. “We’re here for you Miss Sheryl. What can I do for you Miss Sheryl?” was what I heard a lot throughout my three-night stay. I loved every minute. High touch indeed. At Kamalame Cay they get A-listers who relish the privacy. But even if you’re just you, while you’re there, you’re a star, too.
You might think you’re in a movie. The resort is located just off the world’s third-largest Great Barrier reef on 97 acres with coconut palm groves, bougainvilleas, an array of stunning vegetation that competes with the sparkling bluest of blue sea for what deserves the most oohs and ahhs. The bungalows, villas, cottages, and beach houses are spread out for miles, and you don’t have to worry about traffic when you’ll wheeling around in your golf cart along the white sand roads. It mostly feels like you and Mother Nature. Even when it’s mealtime, or you hang out on the beach or freshwater pool, there are just enough people to have a lively atmosphere.
You can do a lot, be it bone and deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, diving, playing tennis, biking, picnicking, or chill watching a movie at the alfresco cinema, at the pool, sipping a cocktail at the Monkey Bar, or in a hammock along the beach. If you’re in a really quiet mood, simply go from your back patio/deck and walk the few steps to your cabana, curl up with a book, glass of wine on the table, and marvel at the sea in front of you.
A spa visit is a must-do. Kamalame boasts the Bahamas’ only overwater spa. This was the highlight of my trip. Spa maven that I am, this was my first overwater experience. I’ll never forget the wind blowing, the sea splashing, and the big thrill, a stingray swimming past during my Swedish massage. The full-service spa offers everything from facials, exfoliation, and wraps to custom treatments.
When it comes to cuisine, the resort impresses, too. For breakfast go for lionfish and grits with a sunny-side-up organic egg, smoke salmon board with Atlantic smoked salmon, capers, diced red onion, cream cheese, and flame-grilled baguette. Lunch? How about snapper and avocado mini burgers on sweet Bahamian buns. As for dinner, for apps conch fritters are mandatory for your belly’s content, entrees, the Asian barbecue spareribs, Kamalame surf and turf, and the coconut green vegetable curry are crowd-pleasers. Do order Sampson’s Special, a secret concoction that you probably should only have one of.
Kamalame gets that it’s the little things. Every morning there’s a continental breakfast basket delivered to your room in case you don’t want to come to the Great House. Every afternoon freshly baked cookies arrive at your room. The staff is warm and genuine, and you’ll likely have many conversations and maybe even make a friend. Kamalame is decidedly different. There are no room keys. Why lock the door? When I forgot to plug in my electric cart overnight, when I went in the morning, someone had come by and plugged it in. I met a couple who had last visited in May, and they were there in December for another week. I would consider myself lucky if I could do the same.
2. Kalangala Island, Uganda
This one is for the adventurous. Lemala’s Wildwater Lodge is on the Nile River in a
rainforest reserve on 16 protected acres. You’ll work to get there. It’s accessible only by boat and helicopter. The suites offer views of the Nile River and forest. The resort had a major renovation last year, and now it features locally handmade furniture, stylish bathrooms with rain showers, secluded wooden decks with daybeds and freestanding baths, and a new pool. The menu has been updated to healthier and lighter fare that showcases local produce and dishes. Nearby Jinja offers white-water rafting, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and fishing. Wildwater is ideal for birdwatching, too.
3. Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands
Location is everything. The Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina is tucked into a rugged cliff overlooking the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and other islands. Take your pick of guest rooms, suites, and villas from two-six bedrooms. Water adventure includes two private beaches, diving historic shipwrecks, snorkeling, sailing, paddle boarding, deep-sea and fly fishing, and more. If you’re a newbie, you can learn to sail and kayak. If you’re more of a land lover, explore the island’s 230-acre volcanic island on foot. Experience elevations or more than 400 feet, panoramic views, and indigenous plant life like the ixora flower and a variety of cacti. When you need a respite from all the excitement, there’s Ixora Spa. Exhale.
4. Hawkins Island, Bermuda
On Hawkins Island, you get 25 acres of woodland reserve with a private beach in the Great Sound of Bermuda. This is ideal for those who want to vacation under the radar. You can have private arrival arrangements at the airport as well as private transfers by boat. Hit the walking and running trails while taking in the views of the Great Sound and lush flora and fauna. Swim on your private beach and enjoy the lunch prepared by your private villa chef.
5. Little Palm Island, Florida
The treasure you’ll find off the Florida Keys coastline is Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. You arrive by seaplane or boat. Forget crowds. Here there are never more than 60 guests at this adults-only getaway. You’ll like the set-up: thatched-roof bungalows with outdoor soaking tubs and showers. This sets the tone for R&R. Unplug. There are no in-room telephones, TVs, or alarm clocks. Instead, amuse yourself admiring the birds, manatees, and dolphins. Kayak and paddleboard. Get up with the to fish or at sunset, meditate while doing your downward dog. Come supper time, take your pick of dinner at one of the island’s sandbars. To keep the good vibe going, SpaTerre offers Balinese treatments and Thai body rituals.
6. Cayo Espanto, Belize
There’s a lot of buzz about Belize, but go where the crowds aren’t. Cayo Espanto is a private island resort with just seven villas three miles off the coast of Belize. You’ll have your own butler, private dock area, and your meals customized and prepared by a top chef. Your experience is tailored by you. Say you want to learn fishing, there will be lessons on a private deck. Maybe you want to watch a movie al fresco. Just make your desires known. Enjoy bird watching tours, trips to the mainland to see Maya ruins, scuba diving charters, snorkeling, and fly fishing.
7. Sea Island, Georgia
Sea Island is home to five miles of private beach, a beach club, tennis, yacht club, and Camp Cloisters for the young folks. There’s horseback riding and falconry. Golfers take note: There are three championship courses. Choose from accommodations like The Cloister at Sea Island, with its myriad of activities, from bowling, hunting, and shooting to boating, biking, and fishing. Another option is The Lodge at Sea Island. It’s beloved for its oceanside pool, 24-hour butler service, golf cottages, and more.
8. Calivigny Island, Grenada
To give you something to dream about, consider Calivigny Island. It’s on 80 lush acres, has two beaches and to-die-for views of the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans. It’s one of the most exclusive private islands in the world. It is said to have been rented recently for $132,000 a night by Melinda Gates.
Interest piqued? Check out our picks for 7 Incredibly Affordable Private Islands That You Can Rent In The U.S. or read up on luxury resorts and how to make luxury travel more affordable here.