The Best Private-Island Vacations For Every Budget—Even Yours!
With private-island getaways available for every taste and pocketbook, you don’t have to be a Silicon Valley success story to indulge your Crusoe fantasies. Here, a guide to 12 winning options
FOR A FEW DAYS every summer, I have my family’s remote private island in the St. Lawrence River all to myself. The house is ramshackle, overrun with spiders and has no staff, but watching the sun set in great brush strokes of pink over the river, I don’t feel like I’m on vacation: I feel like I’m the queen of a small kingdom where my editors can’t find me, the air isn’t toxic and barbarians are not at the gate. Sometimes privacy is the best luxury of all.
More conventionally luxurious private islands are the stuff of fantasies, the settings of James Bond hide-outs and royal honeymoons, the ultimate reward for the unfathomably famous who yearn to be left alone. Marlon Brando, for instance, had Tetiaroa, his secluded atoll in Tahiti, which he bought after filming “Mutiny on the Bounty” in the region. Mr. Brando had the island all to himself, but those of us with the bank accounts of mere mortals can enjoy a slice of it, now that his family last year opened it as the Brando, a 35-villa hideaway where a one-bedroom hut starts at $2,500 per night.
“Private islands” come in two varieties: Those you can hire for your exclusive use and those on which a sole resort welcomes just a handful of guests (even wealthy castaways can learn to share). Both types are growing in popularity, according to the travel agents who book them. “Demand for private island vacations has increased by 26.5% in the last two years,” said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations in New York, which specializes in luxury getaways. “Demand for ‘fancy’ is very high,” said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors, a California agency that caters to Silicon Valley’s power players.
It doesn’t get much fancier than a place like Calivigny, an 80-acre island off Grenada that can accommodate up to 50 people and is rented only to one group of guests at a time. Included in the $140,000-a-night rate are butlers, maids and private chefs available around the clock, and a full range of sea toys—from paddleboards to a 27-foot Boston Whaler.
Who rents a private island? The sort of people who “don’t want a timetable, don’t want to share a pool, hear other languages or listen to other people’s children,” said Ileana von Hirsch, co-founder of UtraVilla, a directory of grand palazzos around the globe. “If there’s bad behavior, no one will ever know. That’s the mystique of it.”
Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos
But not all private islands come with a small army of staff, Italianate villas and price tags only an oligarch can afford. In fact, there’s an island for every taste—from the barefoot luxury of Zanzibar’s Mnemba Island, where the nearest other couple might be a pair of antelope, to the jet-set glamour of Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos, just a three-hour flight from New York City. And there’s one for nearly every pocket book, too: You can take over all 74 acres of Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgins for $78,000 a night or stay in an A-frame lake house on Laurel Island in East Hampton, Conn., for about $125 a night—and plenty of can-do spirit (remember to bring your own sheets, towels and drinking water).
While nothing beats the privacy—and bragging rights—of having an island of one’s own, there’s also something to be said for the option of rubbing elbows with birds of a feather on the many private islands that are home to just one small resort.
The villa accommodations at Kamalame Cay, in the Bahamas, for instance, allow guests to mix or remain cloistered on their own beach.
Margaret Gugelmann, a fashion and luxury consultant from Connecticut, goes to Kamalame Cay two or three times a year with her husband. They always stay in one of the island’s secluded villas but are often invited to events by the family that owns the island. “Sometimes it’s cocktails,” Ms. Gugelmann said, “or a luncheon party outside. You meet amazing, really interesting people from all over the world—like the owners of Soho Houseor a baroness from Croatia—and become friends.” Even at peak season, there are never more than 60 people on the cay—many of whom stay in one of the villas, which are so private you can practice your downward dog en plein-air without worrying about being seen.
Here are a dozen fully or semiprivate islands where you can hide out, play with a submarine or other fancy water toy or just revel in the solitude. Now, pick a place and get marooned.
For the Rekindlers | &Beyond Mnemba Island, Zanzibar
&Beyond Mnemba Island, ZanzibarPHOTO: ANDBEYOND
There are never more than 20 guests on this island off the northeastern tip of Zanzibar, where the spoiling service and the small environmental footprint might convince even the most jaded that “sustainable luxury” isn't a contradiction in terms.
Vibe:I had an island in Africa…
Accommodations: Ten elegantly minimalist, thatched-roof accommodations done up in shades of sand and beige sit right on the beach, with plenty of room to practice the art of relaxation.
Perks: Sunset cruise in a dhow.
Price Tag: From $1,155 per person per night, all inclusive (andbeyond.com).
For the Hardscrabble Historian | Sanda Island, Scotland
Sanda Island, Scotland PHOTO: VLADI PRIVATE ISLANDS
This 400-acre outcrop is a long way from a tropical paradise, but Robert the Bruce used it as a hideout and, as wild and craggy sheep-studded landscapes go, it’s got cred.
Vibe: Hardcore Celtic pastoral.
Accommodations: Four comfortable stone cottages with interiors that are a mashup of traditional and mod (it works). Each has sea views and a fireplace.
Perks: whiskey, bagpipes and radiant heating.
Price Tag: From about $280 a night for two, or about $3,000 a night to take over the whole island, for up to eight people (vladi-private-islands.de).
For the Three-Generation Family | Kamalame Cay, The Bahamas
Kamalame Cay, The Bahamas
This family-owned haven has perfected laid-back glamour: Mingle with an international cast at the “great house” or just hole up in your beach villa, which feels as if it’s the only one on the island.
Vibe: As chill as Mustique used to be.
Accommodations: The eight oceanfront villas feature high ceilings, big fans, lots of French doors and vast porches.
Perks: Golf carts for those staying in villas.
Price Tag: Resort rooms from $250 a night; villas from $1,100 per night(kamalame.com).
For the Serious Scuba Diver | Vamizi Island, Mozambique
Vamizi Island, Mozambique
One of the world’s top diving spots, Vamizi is set on a pristine reef and has a resident coral expert.
Vibe: Remote and exclusive.
Accommodations: Six villas, spaced well apart, in haute timber-and-thatch style, each with its own pool, chef and dedicated beach.
Perks: The water’s so clear that you might see a blacktip reef shark, even if you’re standing on land.
Expectant parents can loll on their expansive, overwater deck and never see another soul (apart from staff, of course), or mix with other gilded birds at one of the five restaurants and three bars on Noonu Atoll, before the baby changes everything.
Vibe: Sequestered, sophisticated.
Accommodations: Forty-five sleek, white villas (each with its own infinity pool) perched above pale blue shallows. The Owner’s Villa—four bedrooms, big pool, and spa—sits on its own spit of land
Perks: A couple of Jim Courier Tennis courts on a nearby island.
All of the profits from the resort on this 146-acre gem in the Vanuatu archipelago support the local community. Fifteen bungalows—refurbished 200-year-old Indonesian houses—are arranged in three villages. Horses wander freely, and kitchen staff will cook your catch for dinner.
Vibe: The real South Pacific.
Accommodations: Authentic island refuges with wicker settees and canopied beds, unfinished wood floorboards, glassless windows, modern bathrooms and no TVs.
Perks: Kayaking with turtles and riding a horse as it swims.
Price Tag: From about $356 per person a night (ratua.com).
For the Effortlessly Chic | Li Galli, Italy
Li Galli, Italy PHOTO: ALAMY
Once owned by Rudolf Nureyev, this island off the Amalfi Coast has been updated yet maintains its old-world allure. It has three villas (one of them a Roman watchtower with its own saltwater pool), a chapel and a helipad.
Vibe: La dolce vita.
Accommodations: Each villa has its own style—from whitewashed and open to the sea air to crazily colorful, thanks to Moorish tiles.
Perks: A skippered boat for trips to Capri and the whiff of a bygone era.
For the very Fancy Fisherman | North Island, Seychelles
North Island, Seychelles PHOTO: AUSTEN JOHNSTON
Eleven thatched-roof villas spaced to preserve privacy and staffed to meet every whim. Go by private boat to snorkel or fish whenever you like, maybe dropping anchor right where Will and Kate did on their honeymoon.
Vibe: Sloth deluxe in Louboutin espadrilles.
Accommodations: The villas are vast—nearly 5,000-square-feet—with gauzy white curtains, big open decks and direct beach access.
Perks: A cellphone to communicate with your butler.
To get to this private islet surrounded by a coral reef, meet the owner at the hardware store on the mainland and he’ll ferry you over in his boat. There’s no staff, but you’ll have an entire (tiny) island, a small turquoise house and a sleeping cabana all to yourself.
Vibe: Gilligan’s Island.
Accommodations: Three charming, simply furnished bedrooms with windows that frame nothing but blue.
Perks: The sea is visible from every angle, even at night, when bioluminescent marine life comes out to play.
For the Gauguin in All of Us | The Brando, French Polynesia
Unspoiled nature is on display at Marlon Brando’s former hideaway, with 35 villas scattered along the beachfront. There are outriggers for the taking and a Tahitian pearl boutique, in case you can’t find an oyster in the wild.
Vibe: No mutiny; bounty in spades.
Accommodations: Thatch-roofed villas with massive baths and all the mod-cons.
Perks: Outdoor bathtubs to watch whale migrations from July to October.
Price Tag: From $2,500 a night for two, all-inclusive (thebrando.com).