There’s something about chunks of land surrounded by ocean that make them primevally covetable. Celebs and A-listers flock to the world’s islands like magnets: Jay-Z bought Beyoncé one for her 29th birthday, Johnny Depp splurged on one that he spotted when filming Pirates of the Caribbean and Virgin tycoon Richard Branson famously rode out Hurricane Irma on his own Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. Today, with the rise of companies like Airbnb, even if your pockets aren’t as deep as the Hollywood elite, there are plenty of bookable private island vacations, some costing less than what you’d pay for Friday brunch. So, whether you’re notoriously private, a secluded sun-seeker or are keen to follow in the vacation footsteps of your favourite celebrity, create your own island narrative with our pick of some of the best bookable private islands for every budget.
Ultimate island hopping
In the largely unexplored Palawan province in the Philippines, island-hopping is a must-do, and all the better if it’s to your very own private isle. (See main picture) At Brother Island, about two hours by boat from El Nido, you can do exactly that without breaking the bank. Sleeping up to 12 people, the brightly painted house is basic but comfortable, and comes fully staffed with a caretaker, housekeeper, chef and boatman. Relax on pristine beaches, laze in a hammock under a palm tree or take to the water on a kayaking loop around the island. There’s a massage room atop a small hill where you can book a treatment that comes with gorgeous ocean vistas. Meals feature traditional Filipino fare with plenty of local, organic ingredients, and the staff can also set up a romantic dinner on the shoreline with a bonfire nearby to keep you cosy.
Rates start from $117 (Dh429) per person per night for a group of 12 (minimum two-night stay), with kids aged 6 to 12 half price and those under 6 staying for free; www.airbnb.ae/rooms/2944607
Bed down in Kerala’s backwaters
If ocean views aren’t a necessity, Vini’s Farm offers a two-acre island stay on Kerala’s famous waterways. Located on Munroe Island in the Kollam district, this eco-friendly retreat isn’t exactly five-star living – you’ll be sleeping in a wooden house tottering on stilts – but it does offer a real sense of getting away from it all. Wander the island’s farmland and forests, take a fishing lesson, spot river otters and a variety of birds, or explore the surrounding mangroves, all while enjoying views of Ashtamudi Lake. Traditional Keralan food is one of the island’s highlights. Prepared by your very own chef, most ingredients are sourced from around the island or bartered for with local fishermen who sail over with their fresh catches each morning. If you like what you eat and want to recreate it at home, a cooking class with the chef can be arranged, where you can learn the nuances of the cuisine.
Prices start a Rs17,900 (Dh1,021) per night, per couple, including food but excluding transfers; vinisfarm.com
Explore the Scottish wilds
For a ruggedly remote experience, the Isle of Ronay in the middle of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides offers almost 600 hectares of isolation to call your own. Primarily a private family home, the island’s only building is a five-bedroom house that can be rented by the week. Self-catered and completely isolated, you’ll have to bring everything with you on the boat from Kallin harbour on North Uist.
Ideal for those seeking a rough coastal adventure, days are spent rambling across crags and gullies, swimming in pristine lochs or discovering relics of long-forgotten crofts. With no internet or television, it’s a chance to reconnect with nature. You can spot deer, seals, otters, falcons, grouse and plenty more. In summertime, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm, meaning there’s plenty of time for long evening walks followed by excellent stargazing and an evening curled up by a roaring fire.
Rates start from £1,400 (Dh7,109) for a one-week stay for up to 10 guests, not including boat transfers or security deposit; www.ronayisland.com
A Tanzanian gem
While most people head directly to the Zanzibar archipelago’s best known and self-titled island, those in the know are bound for its lesser-known lands. On the island of Pemba, Fundu Lagoon offers barefoot-chic lodgings in splendid isolation, surrounded by Indian Ocean views. Book the entire island and take your pick from any of the 18 bungalows, all with makuti-thatched roofs, huge wooden decks and private plunge pools. Feast on a fusion of Swahili and international dishes, with ingredients, plucked right out of the ocean. Set sail on the resort’s wooden dhow, perfect for sunset pictures. Then, back on land, keep an eye out for the island’s only other residents – vervet monkeys and bushbabies. Keen divers can head a few miles to the west to explore Misali Island, where crystal-clear waters guarantee impressive marine life and turtles nest on the untouched sands.
Rates vary but start from around $10,000 (Dh26,340) in low season, all inclusive for the whole island; from $350 per person for an individual room; www.fundulagoon.com
Secluded Sri Lanka
A teeny-tiny island some 100km off the coast of Weligama in the south of Sri Lanka, Taprobane Island is perhaps the teardrop nation’s quirkiest. Purchased by French Count de Mauny Talvand – a self-styled inventor and landscaper – the island was transformed from a dumping ground for cobras into a private little haven. The count built an octagonal-shaped villa with lofty ceilings and expansive verandas, then landscaped the grounds, which now bloom across two acres.
Today, the house is a lovely mix of colonial and colourful interiors, with every room commanding ocean views. Meanwhile, the tropical gardens teem with palms, hibiscus, bougainvillaea and orchids.
Sunbathe in the shade of a palm tree or enjoy a dip in the ocean with absolutely no one else in sight. Al fresco dining in the garden sees the chef serve up some authentic Sri Lankan curries and hoppers. With nothing but ocean between you and the South Pole, this is as private as it gets.
Rates start from Dh3,672 per night, including tax; www.taprobaneisland.com
Mozambican marine life
Part of the hideaway that forms the Quirimbas Archipelago off Mozambique’s north coast, Anantara’s Medjumbe Island Resort is a rustic island escape surrounded by splendid marine life. Book the Naturally Exclusive rate to guarantee the entire island to yourself, giving you miles upon miles of deserted shoreline to enjoy. Transfer is by helicopter and there’s space for up to 24 guests in thatched-roof villas, all with private plunge pools.
The island’s year-round warm waters and fantastic visibility make for excellent scuba diving. Pristine reefs, huge coral mounts and intricate caves are home to turtles, morays, eels, tuna and more. If you’re visiting between July and October, you can book a trip to see migrating humpback whales. The beachfront spa makes winding down a breeze, and a sunset dhow cruise, dhow sailing lessons and a handful of watersports are all included in the rate.
Rates start from Dhs47,378 per night for the whole island (minimum three-night stay) inclusive of taxes, meals and house beverages; or Dh4,150 per night for an individual room, including taxes and full board; www.medjumbe.anantara.com
The fourth-largest island in the world, Madagascar is considered “mega diverse” by international conservation standards, making it a favourite with wildlife aficionados. Book a stay at the uber-luxurious Miavana on Nosy Ankao. Part of approximately 15,000 hectares of protected marine space, it is the perfect private island base from which to explore the country’s flora and fauna. A “blue safari” here is a must: discover a network of bays, lagoons and channels brimming with marine life not found anywhere else in the world.
Back on dry land, keep an eye out for aye-aye lemurs and other unfamiliar animals, then visit the island’s mini-museum, which is packed with curious finds from across the country. Bed down in one of 14 solar-powered villas, all with sea views and private pools, and enjoy lounging by the infinity pool. There are two helicopters to ferry you to nearby islands.
Rates start from $110,000 per night (Dh403,975) for up to 44 guests, including taxes but excluding a $4,000 conservation contribution fee; from $6,000 per room per night; timeandtideafrica.com/miavana
A home from home
There’s no real need to rack up the air miles to find a private island stay when Abu Dhabi lays claim to around 200 offshore islands. About 15 minutes off the coast of the city’s Saadiyat Island is Zaya Nurai, an island playground that you can have all to yourself. Surrounded by the Arabian Gulf, this boutique retreat offers beachside villas of colossal dimensions, paired with butler service and beachcomber charm. Relax by your private pool, wander along the shoreline, or take a trip to Nurai’s spa for expert treatments and an outdoor relaxation area that makes the most of its locale. Jet-skiing, tennis, sunset yoga and fishing trips will keep you entertained while little ones will love the Petit Z Kids’ Club. Take your pick from five restaurants, where everything from sushi to sustainable seafood is on offer, and wind down with a movie under the stars or a bonfire on the beach.
Buy-out packages start from Dh2.4 million for three nights inclusive of a daily F&B allowance, taxes and VAT; individual rooms cost from Dh3,390 per night including taxes (www.zayanuraiisland.com)
Recharge in Ibiza
Situated 1,000 metres off the coast of Ibiza and surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, you’re going to need a boat or a helicopter to get to the lavish Illa de Tagomago, where total privacy, complete security, spectacular sunsets and panoramic sea views await.
A favourite with celebrities including Justin Bieber and Cristiano Ronaldo, the island boasts a stylish five-bedroom villa, a team of nine dedicated staff and a 100-year-old lighthouse. Sleeping up to ten guests, each of the master suite bedrooms in the villa has en suite facilities and top-of-the-range technology. Outside, there’s a massive pool, a Jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath, and a rooftop lounge area that’s perfect for sunbathing. Set off on a trek around the island to spot rare birds and plant life, or take a cruise where you can see barracudas, sharks and other marine life. For a little extra change, you can rent the island’s 100-foot superyacht, giving you easy access to Ibiza Town or Formentera’s beautiful beaches.
Prices fluctuate but start from €220,000 (Dh990,020) per week, including tax; www.tagomago-island.com
A favourite with celebrities, North Island in the Seychelles offers privacy in what is a tropical paradise complete with talcum-powder beaches and topaz blue waters. Each of the island’s 11 villas is beautifully appointed. Villa North Island, perched on the far east of the island, gives you the ultimate in seclusion, paired with impressive vistas and almost 800 square metres of spacious interiors with wooden decks, surrounding coconut groves and direct access to a private beach. Resort butlers and island hosts will take care of your every need, crafting itineraries that can be as busy or as laid-back as you like. Scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, sea kayaking and sunset cruises will keep water babies happy, while the tropical forests make for excellent biking or birdwatching trips. Trekking the island’s three granitic peaks results in rewards of striking Seychellean views. And while this paradise certainly doesn’t come cheap, it’s all-inclusive basis does mean you won’t get any surprise additions to your bill.
Costs from Dh303,252 per night on an all-inclusive basis for the whole island, www.north-island.com