As Hannah, one of our beach specialists has it, ‘The best view I’ve ever seen was out of a seaplane window in the Maldives’. For our money, one of the most rewarding ways to take in an island can be to admire its coastline from the deck of a boat or see it stretch out below from the window of a plane. Our specialists have narrowed down some of the best island-hopping trips across the Seychelles, Maldives and Caribbean, where your destination is matched by your route there.
Island hopping in the Caribbean
For me, there isn’t a region better suited to island hopping than the Caribbean. The smorgasbord of islands range from colossal volcanic peaks rising proudly from the ocean to low-lying coral islets. You can listen to steel bands at Antigua’s Sunday night barbecue, explore Saint Kitts’ 19th-century battlements and hike the volcanic landscape of Nevis, all on one trip. And, combining a choice of quick flights, local ferry routes and yacht charters, getting around is part of the fun.
The Caribbean’s main airline is LIAT, which any local will cheerfully tell you stands for, ‘leave island any time’. If you do fly LIAT, morning flights tend to be less disrupted. For a more reliable option, British Airways also runs between many of the islands.
There’s a seemingly endless choice of island combinations, but one I always come back to is Saint Kitts and Nevis, followed by Antigua. After flying into Saint Kitts, you can take a private powerboat taxi across to its sister island, Nevis. This peacefully rural volcanic island was the first Caribbean island to be occupied by the British. Between the bougainvillea and hibiscus bushes and overgrown ginger plantations, you’ll find 17th-century battlements and Georgian architecture.
Once one of the richest sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Montpelier Plantation is now a hideaway hotel. During your stay, you can hop across to Saint Kitts for the day, to ride the scenic railway or explore the UNESCO-listed Brimstone Hill Fortress. Take the local ferry, which runs between the two walkable towns of Charlestown on Nevis and Basseterre on Saint Kitts, for the added views across the coastline.
From Nevis, you can fly across to Antigua, and Nelson’s Dockyard. This key historic site still has the remains of the Georgian naval yard Nelson called home. Here, you’ll also find fine-dining restaurants, cocktail bars that really know their craft and a range of local sand-between-your-toes barbecue joints. Stay at The Inn at English Harbour and you have access to its sweep of blond beach, with a complimentary boat shuttle to Nelson’s Dockyard.
Sailing around the Caribbean
The pirates of the Caribbean are no more, but the trade winds still fill the sails of yachts and catamarans. On a crewed yacht charter, you can enjoy the freedom of sailing between islands and dropping anchor to snorkel in remote lagoons or stroll beaches unreachable by land. And, if you crave a livelier atmosphere, there are plenty of restaurant-lined marinas.
As a yacht skipper, I’ve sailed the Caribbean chain. Personally, the best route sets out from Saint Lucia, stopping at St Vincent, Bequia and Tobago Cays (all part of St Vincent and the Grenadines) along the way. You can explore the uninhabited Grenadines before finishing on Grenada for a few beachside nights.
Island hopping in the Seychelles
I’d always recommend visiting more than one of the Seychellois islands, even if it’s just for the flight itself. Sitting in an 18-seater Twin Otter plane, you can see the ocean change from fluorescent turquoise to a deep indigo with the rifts and banks of the sea floor. Using the island of Mahé as a base, it’s a half-hour flight to outlying Bird Island, a no-frills nature lodge, or Denis Island, a refined private resort.
My biggest surprise was how different each island looked, which makes an island-hopping trip a necessity in my books. The Crusoe feel of Bird Island plays well with the busier (in the laid-back Seychellois sense) island of Praslin, where you can dine on traditional creole recipes and, if you stay at the self-catered Les Villas D'Or, cook up a freshly caught red snapper, straight from the fisherman.
From Praslin, you can take a local ferry over to La Digue, the third-largest island, which runs at an almost sedentary pace. Many come for Anse Source d'Argent Beach, the posterchild of the Seychelles, with water clearer than a swimming pool that swashes around smoothed boulders. I hired a bicycle straight off the ferry and rode through coconut plantations to the beach, before circling back around the island, past palm-shaded residential homes and local convenience stores.
Tip for flying around the Seychelles
Space can be at a premium in the tiny plane hulls, so do make sure you keep within the luggage allowance, as your bags will be fastidiously weighed (with a premium for any additional weight). Flights to Dennis and Bird islands have small luggage allowances but you can leave some luggage behind at Mahé.
The cabins are also small, with no overhead lockers so keep your hand luggage to a minimum, although do keep your camera handy. There’s also no air conditioning so if you’re connecting form an international flight, put a change of clothing to the top of your suitcase so you can change in the airport beforehand.
Seats are allocated beforehand, but do try asking at check in to see if you can get a window seat. If not, local passengers are often happy to swap their seat and give you that once-in-a-lifetime view.
Island-hopping day trips
Each larger island is surrounded by a dusting of smaller islets and sandbanks, which you can visit by catamaran. As part of a small group setting out from Mahé, you could visit Sainte Anne Marine National Park, the first protected area in the Seychelles. The park shelters a seascape of coral gardens and seagrass meadows, as well as secluded bays only reachable by boat. One of the highlights is a stop on Moyenne Island, an ambling ground for more than 100 giant tortoises.
Island hopping in the Maldives
Traditionally, the Maldives have been a single-island destination. But, to get more out of this thousand-island archipelago, I’d combine a couple of islands. Not only does this remove any indecisiveness, it also gives you the choice to mix experiences and try a number of Maldivian modes of transport — often a highlight.
Take a seaplane from Malé to the South Ari Atoll and you’re in middle-of-nowhere desert-island territory. Out here, you can split time on the lively and modern Constance Moofushi with the larger, Conrad Rangali.
Constance Moofushi is an all-inclusive resort where you kick your shoes off for dinner and guests chat over an evening daiquiri. The villas are furnished with nautically inspired local thatch, rattan and rope. Over on Conrad Rangali, dining is quite an event, from the world’s first undersea restaurant to a champagne-and-lobster barbecue on the beach. The villas are a contemporary mix of polished wood and minimalism, designed for the utmost privacy.
Velassaru’s thatched-roof water villas overlook a curacao-blue lagoon. This is an island with a sociable character, displayed in its five restaurants and two bars, and a daily entertainment schedule that ranges from jazz performances to DJ beach parties.
Follow this with a few nights staying in a Baros beach villa. A quieter, smaller island, Baros is my recommendation for anyone looking for traditional Maldivian luxury. It doesn’t have the dining options or activity schedule of Velassaru, but the cuisine is top-notch and the flourishing house reef was entertainment enough for me. Both islands are on the Malé Atoll, a short speedboat ride from Malé.
Getting around the Maldives
A line of desks awaits you in Malé International Airport (I did once try to map them but, as it turns out, they move all the time.) Head to the one signed with the name of your resort, although there are plenty of island staff to point you in the right direction.
If you’re catching a speedboat, you’ll be guided on a short walk to the jetty, where you’ll join your fellow guests on the resort’s boat. A cool cloth and bottle of water are usually at the ready. Some boats have sofa-like seats, on others you can laze in the sun as you watch the surrounding islands pass by. You’ll dock at your resort’s jetty, greeted with more refreshing face towels and a flamboyant welcome drink.
If you’re catching a seaplane, you’ll drive across to the seaplane terminal to wait in your resort’s private lounge. It will supply soft drinks and snacks (some have showers, too). The seaplanes line up outside like a massive overwater car park.
Seats are unallocated, so try to be one of the first on board to get a window seat. The best view I’ve ever had was out of a seaplane window in the Maldives. And, my top advice — the planes can get rather hot, so take a sarong to sit on so you don’t stick to the leather seats.
Trip ideas for the Caribbean and Indian Ocean
Antigua and Saint Kitts and Nevis