The most remote inhabited island you can travel to is a British overseas territory called Tristan da Cunha. Known more casually as “Tristan”, the island is a modest 38 square miles, and is situated in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The tapering tip of Africa is more than 1,500 miles away; the stem of South America more than 2,000. There are fewer than 300 permanent residents and no local airport; anyone looking to visit the island has to find passage on the fishing ships that leaves from South Africa — though the voyage lasts seven days.
If you’re looking to enjoy nature on a remote island without going quite so remote, a good option would be the Galápagos Islands. Located some 563 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, this lush and enormously varied archipelago is like a collection of tropical microcosms in the midst of the wild Pacific Ocean. Each island is home to its own diverse and native species of wildlife — and there are hundreds — whose intriguing similarities but obvious differences were one of the crucial inspirations for Charles Darwin’s influential theory of natural selection.
There are daily flights from the Ecuadorian cities of Quito and Guayaquil to San Cristóbal Island, and some private companies can land on Baltra Island as well. However, there are more than 20 individual islands in the Galápagos archipelago, most of which must be sailed to.
Southwest of the Galápagos is an even more isolated site: Easter Island. The historic home of the indigenous Rapa Nui people is a territory of Chile, and situated almost 2,200 miles from the South American continent. The closest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island, is nearly a 1,300 mile trip. The topography of Easter Island is an earthy, gold-green expanse of scrubland and grassland that spreads over the rolling hills, relics of long-extinct volcanoes. But the most famous feature of the island are the moai — monolithic monuments that stand along the shorelines in silent meditation, their faces turned to the land.
Naturally, not all remote islands are sunny and subtropical. The archipelago of Svalbard is situated north of Norway, about as near to the north pole as any sane person is willing to sail. But that doesn’t mean it’s deserted: there are daily flights landing near Longyearbyen, the largest town on the main island of Spitsbergen, which is also home to hotels, museums, schools, a hospital, several cultural centers and institutions, and a campus for university students studying abroad. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is also pretty spectacular: the gene bank is an apocalypse-proof bastion where hundreds of thousands of plant seeds are preserved for anyone who happens to survive the end of the world.
But while Spitsbergen is reasonably accessible, the rest of Svalbard is not. The archipelago actually includes Bjørnøya, or “Bear Island”, which lies between Spitsbergen and Norway in the Barents Sea, 150 miles to the south. As such, it might be among the most isolated islands in the Arctic. Now a nature reserve, Bjørnøya still gets its share of tourists, who come on adventure cruises to appreciate the stunning but bleak geography of an island that has thwarted sustained attempts at colonization for hundreds of years. Like all the locations listed here, its remoteness is an intrinsic part of its appeal — and, paradoxically, the primary reason people are driven to seek it out.
Written by Dillon Ramsey
Headline image of Svalbard by ginger_polina_bublik/Shutterstock