Islands are an exciting place for wildlife. Not only do they offer endemic species that have evolved in their own different ways and are completely unique to that island, but islands tend to be a microcosm of wildlife offering coast and beach as well as often mountain and swamp environments, moments from each other. On each of the islands below you will be blown away with the diversity of wildlife, and can be assured of wonderful experiences and interactions with these creatures.
1. Langkawi, Malaysia
Beyond Langkawi’s perimeter of white sand beaches, a tangle of dense jungle and tropical rainforest hums with life. Colugos – flying lemurs – glide from tree to tree. Great hornbill birds, identifiable by the protruding yellow and black casques on their bills, soar above the canopy and distribute the seeds from their frugivore diet, making them crucial to the rainforest’s ecosystem. In the understorey’s penumbra, strangler figs smother the trunks of existing trees and use them to climb towards the light. Keep your ears pricked as twilight descends: the island’s cricket population, who chirp away merrily for most of the day, suddenly stop in perfect synchrony as soon as the sun sets.
You don’t necessarily need to venture deep into this island’s interior to discover its bird and plant life: it’s all around you. The Datai resort, which is set in the rainforest, even has a resident naturalist who leads nature walks into the primary rainforest surrounding the property.
2. Kangaroo Island, Australia
Kangaroo Island is a concentrated version of all the wildlife in Australia in a secluded, unspoilt wilderness off the coast from Adelaide. A patchwork of farmland and red dirt roads in the interior gives way to eucalyptus forests and a rugged coastline with unusual rock formations and wide, sandy bays. It’s home to many endemic species, but perhaps its most special feature is the inquisitiveness of its wildlife due to a lack of natural predators. A little way off main roads, doe kangaroos laze under trees nursing their joeys or you can walk among seal colonies, stepping over adorable pups as they lie across the beach’s wooden boardwalk. Expect to see koalas, wallabies, echidna, possums, goannas, bandicoots, platypus and more. Stay in luxury at Southern Ocean Lodge on the edge of a cliff and right next to the beach. The views are fabulous.
3. Miniloc and Shimizo islands, The Philippines
Miniloc and Shimizo islands in the Bacuit Archipelago are celebrated for their marine life. Some of the best diving and snorkelling sites lie close to the idyllic El Nido Miniloc Island Resort, along the coral ridge that stretches between Miniloc and Shimizo islands. The current that runs between the isles means that all food is brought directly to the coral ridge’s residents, and so they thrive. Snorkeling here is marvellous. Swim among local fish include yellow fin snapper, Spanish mackerel and green or hawksbill turtles.
4. The Galapagos Islands
Famed for its unique flora and fauna, the Galapagos archipelago lies 500 miles West of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The wildlife here is unbelievable. Even on the main island, you will see brown pelicans fishing in the harbour, friendly sea-lions hoping to grab a treat from the fish market and giant tortoises that roam freely in the coffee plantation at Semilla Verde. A great way to experience these islands and their wildlife is from the water. See how we chose to enjoy the wonders of these beautiful islands in our review of Galapagos Island Tours.
5. Yakushima, Japan
Yakushima is an island that is like no other part of the Japanese archipelago. Yakushima is the land that time forgot: the entire island is a sea of green, a primeval temperate rainforest with soaring vegetation and a bamboo grassland at its highest points. It’s carpeted in ancient Japanese cedars, the oldest of which is 2,300 years old. The island is also the largest nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle in the North Pacific (you can only access their beaches with a guide). Stay in luxury on the island at Sankara Hotel & Spa Yakushima.
6. Mafia Island, Tanzania
Covered in baobab trees, Mafia Island is a marine reserve, but it’s worth looking to the skies as well as the sea to discover its wildlife. From Pole Pole Bungalows, you can take a short trip over to Chole, a smaller island, where a local guide will show you fruit bat colonies who roost in huge fig trees there. During daylight hours, while they are hanging upside down from the branches, they really do resemble giant fruits. Mafia’s mangroves are also worth exploring: seahorses flourish in their shallow lagoons, and at low tide look out for decorated coral crabs crawling over the sand.
7. Medjube Island – Mozambique
Nestled around twenty kilometres off the coast of Mozambique are the stunning islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago. These islands enjoy more than pleasant weather and picturesque beaches, they offers an opportunity to explore the unique human history of Mozambique, with many of its settlements dating back centuries. The clear waters around the islands are teeming with marine life and are also one of the finest diving spots off the western coast of Africa.
8. Mergui Archipelago – Burma
During the dying hours of the day, the sky above Burma comes alive. Ablaze with a hundred shades of red, orange and yellow, there aren’t many better sunset spots than the islands of the Mergui Archipelago.
The crystal clear waters around the islands are some of the best in the world for divers, home to a wide array of marine wildlife including Dugongs and Manta Rays. The islands of the archipelago are perhaps the best in this article if you are looking to truly escape the hustle and bustle. Tourism to the area is very much in its infancy and many islands remain uninhabited. It is likely that when relaxing upon an island shoreline the Mokens are the only people you’ll see. They are the archipelago’s indigenous inhabitants who live a nomadic life almost entirely on water.
9. Corn Island – Nicaragua
The Caribbean sea is well famed around the world for quintessential island getaways. This is with good reason, the sunshine is consistent and its seven thousand islands offer resplendent scenery. But if you are willing to look further than Antigua, the Caymans and Saint Martin, there are a variety of island treasures waiting to be discovered.
A truly fantastic example of these hidden gems are a pair of islands found off the coast of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands. The larger of the two, Great Corn island, is dotted with brightly coloured houses which house its indigenous Creole population. When visiting this island be sure to sample the fresh and delicious produce that acts as the island’s largest industry, Lobster!
The smaller island, Little Corn, has no roads or major urban development and is where you will want to head if you’re seeking to escape the stresses of modern life.
10. Sentosa Island, Singapore
The wildlife on Sentosa Island, a resort island off Singapore’s southern coast, is far from natural but this gorgeous island is a favourite of my mother’s – she loves the butterflies here, so I felt it deserved inclusion. Even though this island has a man-made feel with an array of organised entertainment, it is hot on conservation, offers an amazing selection of wildlife and is incredibly easy to get to, connected to the city by road, cable car, pedestrian boardwalk and monorail.
Sentosa is home to 23% of Singapore’s bird species, including rare birds such as the Oriental Magpie Robin. This distinctive black-and-white bird became virtually extinct in Singapore by the late 1970s. Sentosa is one of the last three offshore islands to see the bird. Sentosa Nature Discovery has adopted the Magpie Robin as its mascot. Sentosa also has 30% of Singapore’s butterfly species largely in their cool outdoor conservatory which houses 3,000 species of the most beautiful and rarest insects and is one of Asia’s largest collections. You can also spot 80 free-roaming peafowl on Sentosa which are thought to have originated from a pair of birds given to the island in the 1970s by a distinguished guest.