10 (Almost) Deserted Islands

Beautiful blue lagoon surrounded by lush green islands under a blue sky
Photo: Pavinee Chareonpanich/Shutterstock

People have long been fascinated by deserted islands. Famous literary classics like “Robinson Crusoe” have inspired the imaginations of generations of readers — long after the world map was filled in. While there are no remaining unmapped islands waiting to be discovered, there are still many uninhabited places in the far corners of the world's oceans. Many of these unpopulated places are very Crusoe-esque — nothing like the relaxing and isolated tropical paradises that we fantasize about. With no resorts or habitation of note, nature dominates. These are the destinations that live up to the deserted island lore.

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Parts of the Maldives

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Sitting in the Indian Ocean, the Maldive Islands are made up of an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands. Only a fraction of these landforms are inhabited, and only a handful of these have populations in the thousands. The sandy beaches and tropical foliage of the Maldives give them the kind of scenery we associate with deserted islands. A number of five-star Maldivian resorts have their own private islands where they provide the kind of luxury deserted-island experience that draws honeymooners and the super-rich. However, virtually every resort and tour company in the Maldives provides tours of the surrounding deserted islands, with overnight tent camping options available for Crusoe wannabes.

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Henderson Island

Photo: Angela K. Kepler/Wikimedia Commons

Located in the South Pacific, tiny Henderson Island is virtually uninhabitable by humans — it has steep sea cliffs and no fresh water source. What it does have, however, is a population of animal species that are not seen anywhere else on Earth. Four endemic bird species, a number of unique plant species and even unusual butterflies and snails call Henderson home. The island also has huge phosphate reserves that have never been touched. Henderson is one of the Pitcairn Islands, which were made famous by "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Sadly, even though humans don't live here, their presence is still apparent on Henderson Island due to the estimated 37.7 million pieces of trash cluttering the island and water — making it the highest levels of plastic pollution in the world. All that plastic has resulted in roughly 18 tons of debris, 68 percent of which isn't even visible because it is being buried at least 10 centimeters into the ground. Researchers estimate the island has 671 plastic items per square meter and 17 to 268 new items wash ashore daily on North Island.

"The majority of items appear to be coming from land originally, which made its way into the ocean and that really falls on our shoulders to make a difference and to reduce our demand for these products," Australian researcher Dr. Jennifer Lavers told ABC News Australia.

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Ang Thong Islands

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This group of islands in Southern Thailand, not far from the popular beach resorts of Koh Samui, offers a different kind of tropical experience. The islands, all but one of which are uninhabited, are made of limestone and covered with lush tropical foliage and stunning rock formations. Many have narrow beaches that are only accessible by boat. Thailand's Southern islands have long been popular with adventure-seekers and budget backpackers, so there is a steady stream of tourists seeking day-trip excursions to the beaches of these islands. Fortunately, the entire archipelago is part of a national park, so entrance is controlled, with only a handful of kayak tour operators offering access to these unique islands.

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Jaco Island

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This uninhabited island in East Timor has an unusual story. Considered sacred, locals have traditionally chosen not to set foot here. Nonetheless, Jaco's fine sand beaches and bright turquoise waters draw tourists seeking untouched paradise in this southern corner of Asia. The island has been included in East Timor's first national park. Since no one lives on Jaco, there are no accommodations, but Jaco is popular among tourists. Even so, the island could hardly be considered part of the mainstream tourism scene. Local fishermen provide rides to tourists who want to spend the day on Jaco.

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Aldabra Island

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Aldabra Islands sits in a far-flung corner of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Though it remains relatively unknown, it is the second-largest coral atoll in the world. Aldabra has a huge population of giant tortoises (most estimates are around 100,000), but it does not have any permanent human residents. Arguably the most protected of all the islands on this list, Aldabra has long benefited from an impressive conservation effort. Conservationists have a history of fighting off attempts to build various military bases or permanent settlements on the island.

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Phoenix Islands

Angela K. Kepler/Wikimedia Commons.

The Phoenix Islands sit in the middle of the South Pacific. Though they are officially part of the island nation of Kiribati, these islands sit nearly 1,000 miles away from the country's capital. A few researchers, conservation officers and caretakers live on Kanton Island, which has the chain's only permanent residents. These people are employed as part of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. This area contains the entire chain and is one of the largest marine conservation areas of its kind in the world. Birds, trees and marine species thrive here, almost completely untouched by humans. Most people arrive in the Phoenix Islands area by ship. It is a long journey from virtually anywhere, and a single airstrip on Kanton is mainly used for supply flights, not commercial air services. There is no tourist infrastructure to speak of, so these are remote islands in every sense of the word.

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Tetepare Island

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Tetepare Island was not always a deserted island. Humans once thrived on this member of the Solomon Islands, speaking a unique language and living in several large villages. However, for reasons that remain unknown, these people all left Tetepare in the mid 19th century. Subsequent attempts at establishing a farming colony failed, and the forests that cover large parts of the island have now overtaken the former plantation sites. Marine life thrives off of Tetepare's shores. The descendants of Tetepare's former residents recently established an organization to oversee conservation activities on the island. This group offers some ecotourism experiences and makes sure that Tetepare's landscapes remain pristine and untouched.

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Devon Island

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Not all deserted islands are located in the tropics. In fact, the largest uninhabited island in the world is located in the Arctic. Canada's Devon Island sits in Baffin Bay. People have lived on Devon in the past: it was a fur-trading outpost, and there have been several Inuit settlements. However, the last of these people left more than 50 years ago. The topography is such that the island has been used by astronauts to test equipment and to train for future missions to Mars. Devon's austerely beautiful landscapes are also home to musk oxen and bird species. Plant life thrives in the island's lowland areas, which have a microclimate that features more hospitable conditions compared to the windswept highlands and coastal areas. Camping expeditions are possible on Devon, though visiting without the support of an outfitter is not advisable.

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Clipperton Island


Clipperton Island sits in the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico and north of the famous Galapagos. A barren atoll with scattered clumps of grass and small groves of palm trees, most of the land here is only a few feet above sea level. Shipwreck survivors have been marooned on the island in the past, surviving on coconuts and water from Clipperton's freshwater lagoons. These stories have given the island a romantic image. Officially an overseas territory of France, Clipperton has a remoteness and history that attracts a unique set of visitors: ham radio operators. Groups of academics and radio enthusiasts have come here over the years to make radio transmissions and to make contact with other operators from other parts of the world.

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Photo: CanonS2/Wikimedia Commons

The Icelandic island of Surtsey doesn't have a long history because it simply didn't exist before the 1960s. The island was formed by an underwater volcanic eruption, so it's of special interest to scientists who want to witness the formation of the island's ecosystem firsthand. Mosses and fungi were the first living things that grew in the volcanic soil, with a number of migrating birds, plants and even insects now thriving on this young land mass. Because of its scientific value, Surtsey is heavily protected and remains off-limits to tourists, but there are regular sightseeing flights over the island.