12 Islands to See by Kayak

12 Idyllic Islands Where The Kayaking is Sweet (Plus Where to Rent the Kayak)

Smoothly slicing through the ripples, your kayak quietly glides over clear blue waters as the evening darkens. When your paddles cut through the bioluminescent water in the bay, the ocean comes to life with bursts of neon light. It sounds like the perfect vacation fantasy—except it can be real if you know how to avoid the over-touristed boating destinations. Kayaking provides a deeply pleasing way to take in unspoiled locales across the world. You'll leave no trace behind while getting excellent exercise—and besides, some places (like the many motus of French Polynesia, pictured) are simply better experienced in peace from the water.
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Dugi Otok, Croatia
Aleksandar Gospič/ Croatian National Tourist Board
Dugi Otok, Croatia
A short ferry ride west from Zadar, Dugi Otok is an easy day trip from the mainland. Long and thin, the island is the seventh-largest in the Adriatic and home to one of Croatia's most beautiful white-sand beaches, Sakarun. Taking to the waters, visitors paddle along the shoreline to reach dark karst caves for swimming, shipwrecks ripe for snorkeling, and cliffs to leap from for an adrenaline fix. Spend a full day on the island and in the water with Kayak Adventure Zadar, which keeps groups small.

Outfitter: Kayak Adventure Zadar
Bioluminescent Bay, Grand Cayman Island
Witnessing bioluminescence—radiating blue light that is activated by tiny organisms living in the surf—is captivating, unforgettable, and something that can only be experienced in person. Just a 10-minute paddle from Rum Point off of the Caribbean's Grand Cayman Island, Bioluminescent Bay is home to a plethora of tiny creatures that emit light when they're disturbed, so as you kayak you perceive illumination from both the water below and the stars above. Cayman Kayaks regularly leads tours to the bay. Book early, because the tours are based on the moon cycle; no-moon nights book faster. 

Outfitter: Cayman Kayaks
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Ksamil Islands, Albania
Ksamil Islands, Albania
A small set of islands known as the Albania Riviera is just north of a pass between Greece and Albania, the Ksamil Islands are full of rugged beauty, with rocky outposts, forested groves, and the turquoise Ionian sea visible in every direction. A morning on the water is paused only for a lunch of fresh fish, a quick swim, and a walk to the tallest point of one of the islands. Book a private tour through Adventure & Fun Albania, an operator that focuses on showing tourists Southern Albania. 

Outfitter: Adventure & Fun Albania
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Comino, Malta
Comino, Malta
Start the day with a paddle around Comino, your own little Maltese island that has no villages, then and spend the afternoon escaping the Mediterranean heat with a swim or spell in the shade. Launch your boats into the sea to see the craggy shoreline from a new perspective: narrow straights and sheer cliffs all around you, birds overhead (Comino is a protected wildlife sanctuary). Go with Kayak Gozo, which gives you a kayak, lunch, a dry bag, and snorkel gear so you can make your own discoveries. 

Outfitter: Kayak Gozo
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Ko Kudu Island, Thailand
Ko Kudu Island, Thailand
Koyao Island Resort puts together one of the best kayaking experiences of the limestone towers of Ko Kudu Island: The day begins with a traditional long-tail boat transfer to Ao Thalene, where guests begin kayaking away from civilization and toward isolated waters, weaving through thick mangroves while keeping eyes out for Macaque monkeys. After a short transfer to Ko Kuku Island, lunch awaits with the promise of an afternoon swim. The guide brings towels, lunch, water, and fresh fruit for all participants. 

Outfitter: Koyao Island Resort
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Busuanga Island, Philippines
Busuanga Island, Philippines
Busuanga Island is the largest of the Calamian Islands in the Philippines' western Palawan province. The isle rises 1,970 feet (600 meters) from the green waters below, giving kayakers a thrilling playground among long skyward views of the lush greenery and karst cliffs. Tribal Adventures, out of the island of Panay, runs tours that can be as long as a week if you have the time; the guide leads participants to lesser-known snorkeling sites, helps them spot manatee-like dugongs, and takes them to Calauit Wildlife Safari Park. 

Outfitter: Tribal Adventures
12 Islands to See by Kayak: The Everglades, Florida
The Everglades, Florida
Many people know about Florida's Everglades National Park and its inland swamps, but the area also abuts an 850-square-mile, island-flecked bay between mainland Florida and the Florida Keys. That wilderness, rich in bird and animal life, is best seen from the water because there’s no better way to get close to its overlapping ecosystems, and kayaks are the best at navigating the shallow basins of mud banks and sea grass. Paddle through mangroves or venture out into estuaries where saltwater and freshwater mix, all in the company of guides who are experienced in spotting the locals: spoonbills, dolphins, and lemon sharks, among many other species who use this undeveloped area for nesting and breeding. 

Outfitter: Garl's Coastal Kayaking
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Icebergs and rugged, broken coastline in the Arctic
The Arctic
The icebergs and rugged, broken coastline of the Arctic, the domain of polar bears and walrus, are not typically kayaking destinations that travelers immediately think of—and that's an excellent reason to make the effort to go. Travel with Quark Expeditions to northerly locations in countries including Canada, Greenland, and Norway; the company takes care of logistics, ensuring you have all of the gear, knowledgeable guides, and equipment necessary to safely get the most out of such a harsh environment. 

Outfitter: Quark Expeditions
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Mljet Island, Croatia
Mljet Island, Croatia
Mljet Island, off the coast of Croatia, is more than 70% covered by forest and known for its national park. Though the island is easily reached by ferry on a day trip from Dubrovnik, book Huck Finn Adventure's three-day itinerary for an escape from the crowds. You sail to Mljet on a yacht before being set loose to explore the clear blue waters as you wish. On the third day, you head across to the Peljesac peninsula, where some of Croatia's best wines are produced. The company also mounts an 8-day sea kayaking trip that confines paddling time to 2 to 4 hours daily, leaving the rest of the day for exploring the islets (pictured) and ancient coastal towns of the Dalmatian Coast.

Outfitter: Huck Finn Adventure Travel
Owen Island, Cayman Islands
In the Caymans, Owen Island is known for its seclusion from the tourist buzz and for its true Caribbean beauty. For an easy kayaking day trip, this sandy island with a forested interior makes for a popular picnic spot, and is a short paddle away from Little Cayman Island. Plan ahead: pack supplies and rent a kayak from The Club at Little Cayman Beach Resort, and venture to the south side of the island for excellent afternoon snorkeling. 

Outfitter: Little Cayman Beach Resort and Reef Divers
12 Islands to See by Kayak: Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island is the second-largest island in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, within easy reach of the sailboat capital of Auckland onboard a 35-minute fast ferry. Kayak Waiheke’s simple half-day tour, which is easy to fit into an overall tour of New Zealand, visits aquatic caves, floats through canyons, and skims around coves that can't be seen from the land. Though it may be tempting to spend more time on the water around Waiheke, visitors will want to save time to visit a winery on the island, which is known to grow similar grapes to those of Bordeaux, France. 

Outfitter: Kayak Waiheke
12 Islands to See by Kayak: San Juan Island, Washington State
Oksana Perkins / Shutterstock
San Juan Island, Washington State
The San Juan Islands are easily one of the most classic American destinations for kayaking. San Juan Kayak Expeditions' two-day Orca Quest itinerary is a rewarding itinerary like few others, but it's not for beginners. The journey covers 19 miles of paddling, bouncing between 15 islands in prime Orca habitat for the best chances of seeing the black-and-white creatures in the waters where they live. In the evening, everyone camps among pristine nature on an island only accessible by boat. It's a strenuous adventure, but it's also a rare chance to paddle among whales, seals, and porpoise in such a dramatic landscape.

Outfitter: San Juan Kayak Destinations