Explorer Tips 5x islands full of natural beauty, from Trinidad to Siberut

In the Explorer Tips section, this time we highlight five special islands that are high on our wish list and where we can visit all year round: Trinidad, Mauritius, Ponza, Siberut and Socotra .

Text: Angelique van Os

The beautiful Saltpond Trinidad | Photo: Visit Trinidad

Trinidad, Caribbean paradise with unspoiled nature

When you think of the Caribbean islands, you don’t immediately think of Trinidad. This island, located off the northern coast of Venezuela, is not subject to mass tourism like many of its neighboring islands. Here island life is still authentic and nature is raw and dreamy with misty rainforests and paradisiacal beaches.

From howler monkeys to hummingbirds

Howler monkeys, anteaters, iguanas and caimans can be found in the lush jungle of Trinidad. It also seems to be a must for butterfly and bird lovers. A special inhabitant of the island, for example, is the tiny colorful hummingbird, which, like many other colorful birds, has its breeding ground here. The exotic wildlife can be found in one of the bird sanctuaries such as Caroni Bird Sanctuary or Yerette’s Hummingbird Sanctuary and in the savannas of Aripo.

Meaningful journey

Trinidad is listed by National Geographic as one of the 35 most kid-friendly and meaningful trips in the world. It is an ideal place to support and save endangered turtles, which is also a fascinating lesson in nature conservation.

Flying with zipline

Trinidad is bursting with hiking trails and numerous waterfalls that provide cooling. Adventurers fly from treetop to treetop with a zipline like a real Tarzan or Jane. There are also plenty of opportunities for water sports, from diving and surfing to wakeboarding and jet skiing.

Cultural mix Trinidad

The mix of cultures in Trinidad is mainly reflected in the diverse range of food, the different languages and the diverse architecture. The capital Port of Spain exudes contrasts: from old bazaars, modern skyscrapers, historic forts from the British era and towers of mosques and churches.

Although English is the official language, the residents of Trinidad mainly speak Creole, supplemented by French, Spanish and Hindi. The island is also known for its cheerful music and annual carnival.

For more info look HERE

New island formation Japan

Although many islands are threatened by climate change and extreme weather conditions, new islands sometimes arise. For example, Japan has had a new uninhabited island since October 30, 2023, as a result of a volcanic eruption in the sea. Near the island of Iwo Jima, the volcano erupted and created new, rocky land with a diameter of about 100 meters.

Underwater volcanoes erupt more often in Japan. In 2015, a new piece of land was created, located about 1,000 kilometers from Tokyo. It bears the name Nishinoshima and is now a peninsula, attached to a neighboring island.

Exotic Mauritius, adventurous and sustainable

The beautiful coastline of Mauritius. | Photo: MTPA

Mauritius is also an exotic island that is easy to travel all year round due to its pleasant climate. It is located in the Indian Ocean about 800 kilometers east of Madagascar. The volcanic island is known for white sandy beaches, the warmth of its multicultural population, luxury hotels and it is a sought-after honeymoon destination. However, the island is much more than that.  Like Madeira nature is versatile with lush forests, exuberant waterfalls, rugged mountains and unique flora and fauna.

Birds Mauritius

Mauritius has many birds that only occur in and or around Mauritius, such as the pink pigeon, the Mauritius olive white eye, echo parakeet, the paradise flycatcher, Mauritius Fody and Mauritius Kestrel (symbol of the island). And there are many other tropical birds to spot. You will also find reptile species such as the Albadra turtle and the graceful day gecko and there is a rich marine life with dolphins and whales.

Mauritius National Parks

The compact island has two National Parks:  Black River Gorges National Park and Bras d’Eau where many walks are possible, as well as around the rugged coast of Bel Ombre and Jardin Telfair, a hidden gem with tropical vegetation. There is also more and more sustainable and ecotourism in Mauritius. Another example is Ebony Forest,a protected area of 50 hectares with unique flora and fauna. Here you can book excursions and walk on marked hiking trails, so that the area can be visited in a responsible manner. In addition, the proceeds from the excursions are used to preserve the area and to support new research programs.

Natural phenomenon Charamel

Chamarel is both an area and a village in Mauritus. The natural phenomenon is one of the most visited places on the island. Carmarel covers approximately 27 km2. It is a unique landscape close to the Black River Gorges NP, consisting of sand dunes that do not flow into each other and therefore do not change. The seven colors are: red, brown, purple, blue, violet, green and yellow. Geologists are not sure what the exact cause of the color layering is, but it is suspected that it is due to the cooling of the rocks beneath different heats.

Spectacular underwater waterfall

Mauritius and nearby islands such as La Reunion and Rodrigues are also known as the Mascarene Islands. They were formed – like many islands – about 8 million years ago after volcanic eruptions. What is special is that the islands are located on an ocean plateau, approximately 150 meters below sea level.

On the southwestern tip of Mauritius, opposite the famous Le Morne Brabant mountain, the ocean plateau is spectacularly visible. It is a breathtaking spectacle, especially from the air, where shallow and deep water come together to reveal an underwater waterfall. But is that also true?

Optical illusion

What you see is an optical illusion caused by sand and silt sediments moving due to strong underwater currents. So it is not water that flows over the steep rock wall and falls to a depth of 4000 meters; it is actually sand and silt blown over the edge by the ocean currents. Instead of an underwater waterfall, it is more of an underwater sandfall.

This natural phenomenon is best viewed from a plane or helicopter. Or climb the 500-meter-high mountain Le Morne Brabant, which offers an incredible view of the island and allows you to somewhat recognize the contours of the water spectacle.

Living as a Mauritian

During the excursion  Mautourco’s the focus is “vis ma vie de Mauricien”, which means: live my life as a Mauritian. This gives you a glimpse into the daily life of Mauritians. For example, by going to the market or catching fish in the traditional way. And during the Nou Artizan route, an initiative of  The Friendly Dodo, as a traveler you come into contact with local artists and craftsmen. They won the Sustainability Awards in 2022 for this unique experience.

World Travel Awards

Mauritius also stood out at the prestigious World Travel Awards. For example, Mauritius was awarded four prizes in October 2023: as the best destination for adventure and sustainable tourism in the Indian Ocean. And two awards for best wedding and cruise destination in the Indian Ocean.

Look HERE for more information about Mauritius.

Small villages and jetties of Ponza. | Photo: Visit Ponza

3. Ponza, unknown beautiful island off the coast of Lazio

Until recently we had never heard of them: the Pontine Islands. This is a small archipelago off the coast of Lazio, Italy. The largest island of these is Ponza. The archipelago has a rich historical and geological history; because it originated millions of years ago as an outflow from Vesuvius. The magazine The Taste of Italy writes extensively about this relatively unknown destination. Ponza and related islands are popular among locals and especially offer peace and relaxation for the Roman and Neapolitan jet set who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

Promising Island

A weekend or midweek on Ponza sounds promising with the bustling old port full of luxury boats and yachts, a versatile local cuisine of traditional (fish) dishes, the robust nature and idyllic bays, rugged rocks and mysterious caves.

The smaller island of Palmarola also seems to be very beautiful.

            Look HERE for more info.

Sakkuddei man, Siberut | Foto:

4. Pristine wilderness on Siberut and Mentawai islands

High on our bucket list is Siberut, the largest of the four Mentawai islands. Siberut is located more than 150 kilometers from the west coast of Sumatra (Padang), Indonesia and covers approximately 4000 km2. Our photographer, Henk Bothof, was there in 1991 and remembers untouched jungles, vast rivers, streams and bounty-like sandy beaches. Here you snorkel among the coral reefs and swim among colorful fish.

Sapokka and Sakuddei

Siberut is also a special place because authentic, animist and tribal peoples such as the Sapokka and Sakuddei still live here and these people can be visited. These people live in traditional long houses also called Umas (family houses) and in field houses. Their way of life is very close to nature. For example, they hunt in the jungle with poison arrows or go fishing. Most tribes also have their own medicine man or woman who produce age-old medicines and the population regularly performs rituals.

Rich biodiversity Siberut

Furthermore, Siberut is an important island because of its rich biodiversity. In addition to pristine jungle, there are also mangrove forests, coastal forests and swamps. The island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 and in 1993 the western part of the island was designated a National Park. This gave rise to the biosphere reserve, where the Mentawaian communities live. They represent 90 percent of the island’s total population.

Vulnerable area

However, the beautiful nature and the traditional way of life of the population are also fragile. For example, a 2006 UNESCO program report already states how vulnerable the area is because “External influences from a rapidly changing world have driven local communities to adopt destructive practices, or allow outsiders to use them. (….) This will inevitably lead to long-term poverty and the loss of their beautiful ancestral land.” UNESCO is referring to large-scale logging outside the National Park, which poses a threat to the habitat of nature, animals and humans.

UNESCO entered into a partnership with the Siberut National Park and the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) of the Ministry of Forestry and Indigenous Peoples. The aim of the collaboration is to promote nature conservation of the biosphere reserve and involve local communities.

Siberut National Park

In Siberut National Park, which covers the western half of the island, in addition to some indigenous tribes, about 135 bird species, 31 mammals and 864 platypus species live. You will also find a number of animal species here that are not found anywhere else in the world, including some rare monkey species: the Bobcat Gibbon/dwarf siamang, the Mentawai macaque, the Mentawaian leaf monkey and the snub-nosed monkey. You can do multi-day treks here to get a good idea of this special place.

Gunung Leuser National Park

Unfortunately you will not find the endangered and famous orangutan in Siberut, but it may be possible to spot it in the spectacular Gunung Leuser National Park. With a short flight or long boat trip, it is interesting to extend your trip with a few days in Leuser, because that is also a beautiful, unspoilt piece of wilderness.  

Look HERE for more information about Siberut.

At Socotra, the semi-desert meets a beautiful coastline with rugged mountains. | Photo: Welcome to Socotra

5. Socotra, Galapagos of the Indian Ocean

Maybe you’ve heard of the rare dragon tree? This lush special tree, known for its bright red sap, also called dragon’s blood, is only found within the Socotra archipelago. This archipelago consists of four islands (Abd Al-Kuri, Samha and Darsa), of which Socotra is the largest. The archipelago is located approximately 380 kilometers south of Ras Fartak, Yemen.

Supercontinent Gondwana

Socotra is a special place because of its exceptional geology and rich and distinctive flora and fauna. The landscape is very diverse: from the Hagghier Mountains, limestone plateaus to extensive coastal strips with a semi-desert climate. Socotra was once part of the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana, before splitting off about 20 million years ago. That is why Socotra has been able to evolve independently and is home to unique plants (308 endemic species) and animals that are found nowhere else.

About 90 percent of reptiles, for example, live only on these islands, such as the chamaeleo monachus, a rare chameleon or the bird called the Socotra honeysucker and there are tree-creeping snails.

Socotra is often called ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ by biologists and experts.

Important biodiversity of Socotra

Biodiversity is therefore one of the most important areas on Earth. Since 2008, the archipelago has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its biodiversity is well protected, although there are many challenges due to climate change, cyclones and the ongoing unrest in Yemen.

Caves and camels

In addition to activities such as hiking, snorkeling and trekking, there are many caves to visit. In 2001, Belgian scientists even discovered ancient art in the Hoq cave. There are also high sand dunes – reminiscent of Namibia – that you can trudge over and it is possible to go on camel treks through the interior.

See HEREfor more info.

socotra-island-grot
One of the many caves on Socotra.

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