Destinations Rated: islands

Photo: Kalsoy of the Faroe Islands
Tiny Kallur lighthouse rests high on the island of Kalsoy, one of the Faroe Islands.

The world’s most appealing destinations—islands—are the ones most prone to tourism overkill. Our 522 experts vote on which ones avoid the danger, which are succumbing to it, and which hang in the balance.

Tourism is a phenomenon that can cook your food or burn your house down. In other words, we all risk destroying the very places that we love the most.

Nowhere more so than on islands. Islands symbolize vacation. Escape! Their very insularity makes them more attractive than a comparable piece of real estate on the mainland. They are worlds unto themselves—their own traditions, ecosystems, cultures, landscapes. That’s what attracts us. But as micro-worlds, islands are also more vulnerable to population pressure, climate change, storm damage, invasive species, and now, tourism overkill.

To see how the integrity of islands around the world is holding up, Traveler and our National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conducted this fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey, aided by George Washington University. A panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship donated time to review conditions in these 111 selected islands and archipelagos. The scores that follow reflect the experts’ opinions. Quoted phrases from their remarks suggest the thinking behind the scores.

The results show that beach-blessed islands draw sun-and-sand resort tourism development that can get out of hand quickly, although there are exceptions. Multiple cruise-ship crowds can also overwhelm an island, transforming it.

No surprise, then, that cloudy, beach-poor islands score well. Yet even these cooler islands are sometimes losing traditional families to soaring real estate prices.

Faroe Islands, Score: 87
“Superb glaciated landscape with improbably steep slopes. Little flat land. Local society unified and resolutely Faroese, not Danish, with own language, etc. Built heritage, down to the grass roofs, reasonably protected, certainly cherished. Most tourists adventurous and well-informed.”

“Cultural integrity strong. On Koltur, visitors can meet a farmer, tour the island, experience a living museum of farm life today, and sample local traditional cuisine. The farmer is part of a green certification program. If the numbers of cruise ships continue to grow rapidly, there may be problems with island carrying capacity.”

“All new buildings are required to maintain historic architecture.”

“Quite rightly, tourists are expected to be like the Faroese, such as taking choppy ferries and hiking through any weather. The future could bring severe social and environmental impacts, but the Faroese are aware of the dangers and are debating solutions.”

The list, by score
87     Faroe Islands
84     Azores, Portugal
82     Lofoten, Norway
82     Shetland Islands, Scotland
82     Chiloé, Chile
81     Isle of Skye, Scotland
80     Kangaroo Island, South Australia
80     Mackinac Island, Michigan
80     Iceland
79     Molokai, Hawaii
78     Aran Islands, Ireland
78     Texel, Netherlands
77     Dominica
77     Grenadines
76     Tasmania
76     Bora Bora, French Polynesia
76     Fraser Island, Australia
76     Bornholm, Denmark
76     Hydra (Ídra), Greece
76     Falkland Islands (U.K.)
75     Corsica, France
75     Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
74     Vanuatu, Melanesia
74     Santa Catalina Island, California
73     Upolu and Savai’i, Samoa
73     Isle of Man (U.K.)
72     Palawan, Philippines
72     Moorea, French Polynesia
72     Block Island, Rhode Island
71     Ilha Grande, Brazil
71     Sardinia, Italy
71     Hvar, Croatia
71     Jersey and Guernsey (U.K.)
70     San Juan Islands, Washington State
70     St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
70     Seychelles
70     Anguilla  (U.K.)
70     Nevis
69     Palau, Micronesia
69     Cook Islands
69     Prince Edward Island, Canada
69     Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia
69     Mount Desert Island, Maine
69     Réunion (France)
68     Bonaire
68     Sicily, Italy
68     St. Vincent
68     Yasawa group, Fiji
67     Pemba, Tanzania
67     Hawaii (Big Island)
66     Out Islands, Bahamas
66     Bermuda, North Atlantic
66     Tobago
66     São Tomé and Príncipe
65     Cyprus, Turkish side
65     Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
65     Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
64     Solomon Islands
64     Jeju/Cheju, South Korea
64     Ocracoke, Outer Banks, North Carolina
64     Kauai, Hawaii
64     St. Lucia
63     Nantucket, Massachusetts
62     Martinique (France)
62     Corfu, Greece
62     Crete, Greece
62     Lombok, Indonesia
62     Barbados
61     Tonga, Polynesia
61     Madeira Islands, Portugal
61     Tortola, British Virgin Islands
61     Islands of Lake Titicaca, Peru/Bolivia
61     Sanibel, Florida
61     Santorini, Greece
61     Maldives (except Malé)
59     Grenada
59     Capri, Italy
59     Tahiti, French Polynesia
59     St. Kitts
58     Viti Levu, Fiji
57     Maui, Hawaii
57     Bali, Indonesia
57     Cape Verde Islands
57     Curaçao
55     Isla Mujeres, Mexico
55     Malta (all islands)
55     Guadeloupe
55     Mauritius
54     Mykonos, Greece
54     Federated States of Micronesia
54     Mallorca, Spain
53     St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
53     Zanzibar, Tanzania
52     Canary Islands, Spain
51     Puerto Rico
51     Cyprus, Greek side
50     Antigua
49     Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina
48     Aruba (Netherlands)
47     Grand Cayman
47     Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras
47     St. Martin (Netherlands/France)
47     Cozumel, Mexico
46     Oahu, Hawaii
46     Key West, Florida
46     Phuket, Thailand
45     Hilton Head, South Carolina
44     Jamaica
44     Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
37     Ibiza, Spain
37     St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Get an illustrated version of this article as it was published in the November/December 2006 issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Download PDF now. (Requires Adobe Acrobat.)

All the islands that follow, even the lowest scoring, have great experiences to discover. To protect them, to restore them, we must value them as much as resort developers and cruise companies do. Even more.

Guide to the Scores:
0-25: Catastrophic: all criteria very negative, outlook grim.
26-49: In serious trouble.
50-65: In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives.
66-85: Minor difficulties.
86-95: Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.
96-100: Enhanced.

Meet our Panelists

About the Survey

Click on a part of the world below to read a sample of our panelists’ comments.

Caribbean Region
East & Southeast Asia
Indian Ocean Region
North & West Europe
North America
South America

From: National Geographic

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