25 of the World’s Most Remote Inhabited Islands
These are the islands in our dreams. The dots on our globe that we know almost nothing about. Each has its own bizarre story of isolation, adventure, and discovery. Inspired by Judith Schalansky’s book Atlas of Remote Islands, we present to you now 25 of the World’s Most Remote Inhabited Islands.
St. Helena, United Kingdom
Nearest populated region: Angola, 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) away.
If getting away from the world is your thing, you will find it in Saint Helena, a volcanic island over 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) from the African coast.
When it was discovered in 1502 by the Spanish it had no inhabitants. Today, it is administered by Britain along with the islands Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
For hundreds of years, the island has been an important port of call for ships sailing between Europe and Asia.
The island is probably most famous for being the location of Napoleon’s imprisonment when he was exiled to St. Helena in 1815. He lived in Longwood for six years before dying of stomach cancer in 1821 at the age of 51.
Napoleon wasn’t the only person sent packing to St. Helena to serve time as a captive, since from the time of its discovery its remote location made it an ideal destination to send exiles and prisoners.
It may have held 6,000 prisoners from the Boer War in the early 1900s, but today St. Helena can boast that it is home to 400 different invertebrates that exist nowhere else on Earth.
Source: St. Helena Tourism
Ball's Pyramid, Lord Howe Island
Population: Rotating teams of scientists of biologists
Nearest populated region: 643 kilometers (400 miles) from Australia.
Part of Australia’s Lord Howe Marine Park, Ball’s Pyramid is 562 meters (1,844 feet) worth of volcanic stack — the tallest volcanic stack on the planet.
Reaching skyward from the depths of the Tasman Sea, this now seven-million-year-old, brutally rocky and steep-sided ‘pyramid’ is famous for its housing of the rather intimidating looking Lord Howe stick bug.
Because of that insect, sometimes called a tree lobster and thought for decades to be extinct, Ball’s Pyramid has seen its share of scientists setting up camp on its harsh terrain.
More recently, it has become a destination spot for those looking for some middle-of-nowhere adventure by climbing the pyramid’s peak and exploring its caves.
Amsterdam Island, France
Population: Technically none, but usually 30 researchers can be found here.
Nearest populated region: Australia, 3,370 kilometers (2,094 miles) away.
The closest landmass to Amsterdam Island, a volcanic island with year-round temperatures averaging 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) and high winds, is Perth, Australia.
Amsterdam Island is an inactive volcano that last erupted in 1792. Discovered by Sebastian del Cano in 1522 (while del Cano was part of explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet), it took until 1871 before an attempt was made to settle the island by an individual referenced only as Heurtin in the history books.
A small group of settlers tried for seven months to grow crops and raise cattle before abandoning the idea and leaving their livestock behind.
Claimed by France in 1843, its only human population comes from researchers visiting the island and its original meteorological station that was set up in 1949. By 1998 the population of Amsterdam Island cattle had grown to over 2,000 from the original five animals.
The cattle seriously damaged the ecosystem, and after a series of different strategies (including fencing them in on the northern side of the island) operations began in 2008 to kill off the animals.
Christmas Island, Australia
Nearest populated region: Java and Sumatra, 350 kilometers (220 miles) away.
When the first Europeans aboard a British East India ship found Christmas Island in 1643, it was uninhabited. It remained this way until a British naturalist found rich samples of pure phosphate of lime in 1887.
This discovery was of great interest, because the substance — better known as tricalcium phosphate or TCP, is used in powdered spices to prevent them from caking. It is also found in baby powder and toothpaste.
The island was annexed by the Crown the following year, and mining began shortly thereafter.
Mining was pretty much all that happened there for the next century, but by the 1990s the recoverable reserves of phosphate were nearly exhausted.
They tried to develop tourism on the beautiful island, but in 2001 the Australian government found a new purpose for Christmas Island when it built a detention center there.
What could they possibly use a jail for on the most far-flung nugget of territory in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean? Why to house asylum seekers, of course, whom they wish to keep as far away from the center of Australia as they can.
The facility became infamous for inmate riots and poor conditions, and is due to be closed any day now.
Source: Christmas Island
Nearest populated region: Eastern Australia is 2,900 kilometers (1,802 miles) away.
Out of the three islands in the Pingelap atoll, only Pingelap Island is inhabited. It sits in the middle of the South Pacific, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, and from all appearances seems to be a tropical paradise. The 250 residents speak Pingelapese. They see the island differently.
It used to be more of a paradise, before World War II saw Japan use it as a supply base before the U.S. liberated and occupied it.
The foreign presence introduced a lot of things to the Pingelapese people, including democracy, and an end to traditional life, and other stuff like sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis and dysentery.
But that’s not why they see the place differently. About 10% of the population has total color blindness, a very rare condition that affects only on in 30,000 in the rest of the world.
It’s called achromatopsia, and it means that most can’t see any color at all, only black and white and shades of grey. So that lush green paradise you and I see? They’ve got no idea.
Nearest populated region: Norway, 950 kilometers (600 miles) away.
Svalbard (formerly known as Spitsbergen) is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of continental Norway.
It can claim the impressive title of being the northernmost year-round settlement on the planet, and along with that has been slowly making the push to offer itself as a tourist destination.
Starting in the 17th and carrying through the 18th century, the islands were used as whaling bases.
During the Second World War, the Nazis built a key weather station on Svalbard which Germany used to collect environmental data vital to their attacks on Allied convoys in the area.
Today, the islands are most famous for the Global Seed Vault, a structure that houses almost one million seed samples from all over the world. The Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity on the planet and acts as a backup to the 1,750 other global seed banks.
After over 100 years of economic dependence on the coal industry that fueled its employment numbers, Svalbard is using the Global Seed Vault as an enticement for researchers to set up camp there to study its wildlife.
Considering there are more polar bears than people there, it might not be a bad idea.
Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile
Nearest populated region: San Antonio, Chile, 670 kilometers (416 miles) away.
Once known as Más a Tierra, the Chilean government hoped to lure more tourists there by renaming it Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.
This was no random decision, because the marooning of Scottish privateer Alexander Selkirk there at the start of the 18th century is thought to have been the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s fictional character. The book Robinson Crusoe was written in 1719, and set in the Caribbean,
Selkirk was marooned there for over four years, from 1704 to 1709, living completely alone. He was not shipwrecked, however, but had complained to the captain of the ship he was on, the Cinque Ports, that the vessel was not seaworthy.
He said he’d rather be left behind on the island, where they’d stopped to resupply than get back on the boat. The captain was sick of Selkirk’s whining and did just that, leaving Selkirk with nothing but a musket, gunpowder, carpenter’s tools, a knife, a Bible, and some clothing.
It turned out that Selkirk was right, and the leaky ship did indeed flounder off the coast of Colombia. The survivors were captured by the Spanish and imprisoned.
Source: Robinson Crusoe Island
Southern Thule, United Kingdom
Population: 0, but only recently
Nearest populated region: The Falkland Islands are 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles) away.
Southern Thule is three remote islands of the South Sandwich Islands, not that far from Antarctica. They have been under British rule since 1908.
They also started a war.
In 1976, Argentina very quietly invaded Thule and set up a military base.
One thing lead to another, Argentina tried to expand their influence in the Falkland Islands, and Britain ended up sending a fleet down there to show Argentina what’s what. Then the Falklands War of 1982 happened.
After the war, the British went down to Thule and booted off the Argentinians.
Napuka, French Polynesia
Nearest populated region: Tahiti is 965 km (600 miles) away.
Napuka is part of a chain of coral islands called the Disappointment Islands. It was so named by the British explorer who stumbled upon them in 1765 and was greeted by hostile natives.
Not quite the same as Deception Island, but one can understand where the disappointment comes from. And hey, the name is better than Sailed-Away-Thirsty Island, or Jabbed-With-A-Pointy-Stick Island, or even Why-Can’t-We-Be-Friends Island.
Source: Napuka Atoll
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Population: 33 park rangers
Nearest populated region: Costa Rica is 550 kilometers (342 miles) away.
There is no evidence that anybody lived on Cocos Island before Europeans came, but after that a spate of fishermen, pirates, whalers, commercial sailors and scientific expeditions have long used Cocos Island as shelter and a source of fresh water.
People have tried to settle there, they even tried to build a prison there, but nobody ever stayed very long. Which is a good thing, because the place is an ecological treasure trove.
It is the only island in the eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest, and its coral reefs are the most diverse in the area.
Today the only people there are conservation staff, tourists, and visiting scientists, and the entire island and the waters around it are protected by Costa Rica’s National Park Service.
The underwater world of the national park is rated as one of the best places in the world to view species such as sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins.
Source: Cocos Island National Park
Floreana Island, Ecuador
Nearest populated region: Ecuador is 906 kilometers (563 miles) away.
This little volcanic island is part of the Galopagos archipelago and was formerly known as Charles Island (after King Charles II of England) and Santa Maria (after one of Columbus’ ships).
The current name comes from the first president of Ecuador, Juan Jose Flores.
In the 19th century, it was a favorite stop of whalers, who’d come to refresh their water supplies. They used to keep a barrel in what became known as Post Office Bay, where they would leave letters.
Other ships on the way home would look for letters addressed to places near where they were going, and would hand deliver these parcels upon their return.
A fire lit as a prank by an American whaling ship’s cabin boy in 1820 burned the whole island.
The island is known for its huge tortoises, and in 1835 Charles Darwin came to the island where he was told that the shells of the tortoises varied from island to island in the Galapagos.
Brava, Cape Verde
Nearest populated region: Cape Verde, West Africa is 570 kilometers (350 miles) away.
Brava is a Portuguese word meaning “wild,” a fitting name for the smallest inhabited island of the Cape Verde archipelago. It is a lush place discovered by Portugal in 1462 and settled in the 1540s. It was a whaling center in the 1900s.
Like all the islands in its chain, it is a volcano. Although dwarfed by the nearby Fogo volcano on the island of Fogo, it became a safe haven for the residents of Fogo in 1680 then Mount Fogo erupted.
And yes, we love the word Fogo, which means “fire” in Portuguese, and is also a fitting name.
Brava had an airport once, but it was too windy to use safely so the only way to and from the island is once again by boat.
Easter Island, Chile
Nearest populated region: Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Mainland Chile is 3,512 kilometers (2,182 miles) away.
The Rapa Nui was a Polynesian society that came to the remote island on wooden canoes, then built some of the world’s most famous (and mysterious) monuments: the moai statues.
These colossal heads were hewn from solid stone blocks an average of four meters (13 feet) tall and weighing 14 tons. There are about 900 of them spread across the island’s 163 square kilometers (63 square miles).
It is thought that people came to the island between 800 and 1200 AD, but by the time Europeans found the place there were very few Rapa Nui left.
The island’s ecosystem had been ruined by the destruction of the native palm trees, either by people or rats, which lead to widespread erosion.
The island itself is not the only victim of erosion, the moai are made from soft volcanic rock that is suffering from weathering, slowly turning back into rough stone blocks.
Raoul Island, New Zealand
Nearest populated region: New Zealand, 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) away.
Sometimes called Sunday Island, Raoul Island is known for its frequent volcanic activity. In case cascading lava isn’t enough of a deterrent for brave souls who chose to explore the place, it packs an additional punch with earthquakes.
Volcanoes understandably get all the attention on land, but humpback whales make it a stopover location during the months of September and October.
On the unfortunate side of the volcanic equation, in 2006 a team of three researchers was set up at a crater lake taking water temperatures when an eruption took place.
The 40-second-long eruption emitted over 200 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air and lake. Two of the researchers were forced to turn back and ultimately evacuate the island along with several other members of their scientific expedition despite one of their colleagues last being seen heading to the exact epicenter of the devastation moments before the eruption.
It is estimated upwards of six meters (20 feet) of ash fell on the location 33-year-old Mark Kearney was scheduled to go. A search and rescue team returned to Raoul Island once the area was deemed stable enough, but his body has never been found.
In 2016 Kearney’s family, friends and co-workers dedicated a hiking trail, Kearney’s Crossing, in Mark’s memory.
Trindade Island, Brazil
Nearest populated region: Brazil, 1,170 kilometers (730 miles) away.
This barren, rocky Atlantic Ocean island was discovered by Portuguese navigator and nobleman Estêvão da Gama (junior, not senior) in 1502.
In 1822, it fell under the rule of Brazil, and with the exception of a brief two-year British occupation in 1895 (when it was also temporarily called South Trindade), the island has been administered by the First Naval District of the Brazilian Navy.
Trindade’s lone occupants over the last 100 years have been Brazilian Navy personnel along with oceanographic and meteorological scientists. Oh, and possibly aliens.
The island and Navy base became a national fixation on January 16th, 1958, when a civilian photographer named Almiro Baraúna snapped six mid-day pictures of what was reported to be a UFO off of Trindade’s coast.
Baraúna was stationed on board a boat named Almirante Saldanha with a crew of 48 naval officers, all of whom witnessed a disc-like object approximately 37 meters (120 feet) in diameter with a green, phosphorescent haze surrounding it. It is also claimed the craft was zipping along at nearly 1000 kilometers (621 miles) per hour.
It became a sensation in Brazil, with the government requesting an inquest into the story and the Brazilian Navy conducting numerous tests on Baraúna’s photos.
Their conclusion? The photos were not doctored, and appear to show an alien object of some sort. Third-party investigators? A complete hoax.
Tristan da Cunha, United Kingdom
Nearest populated region: South Africa, 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) away.
Named after the Portuguese explorer who discovered the island in 1506, Tristan da Cunha is technically an active volcano and also the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world.
If you’re ever thinking about making the trip there, prepare yourself for the choppy 7-day boat ride it takes from the closest port, and make sure you pack a raincoat.
You can expect to see at two weeks of rain every month, usually more. There is no airport, and the 70 families (all farmers) that call it home have to place their food orders with the only grocery store months in advance.
In 1961 the eruption of Queen Mary’s Peak forced the entire island population of 264 to evacuate. People took to the water in open boats and sailed to Nightingale Island where they were picked up by a ship and taken to Britain (via Cape Town).
Two years later, most families returned to Tristan da Cunha’s only city, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas — after geologists had given the okay.
Big city living wasn’t for them, so back they came to life with one road and diesel generators.
Île de la Possession, France
Nearest populated region: Madagascar, 2,370 kilometers (1,472 miles) away.
The Crozet Islands are part of a French-owned archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, of which Île de la Possession (Possession Island) is the largest.
Since 1938, the 20 islands that make up the archipelago have been classified as a National Park, with abundant sea elephants and royal penguins lazing around on black volcanic sand beaches. Being as remote as it has also landed Île de la Possession in the books as part of sea-faring folklore.
In September of 1887 a man walking on a beach in Fremantle, Australia, discovered a dead albatross with a rusty tin can wrapped around its neck.
Pinned to the tin-can neckless was a note that read “13 shipwrecked refugees are on the Crozet islands, 4 August, 1887.” In 48 days the bird had flown 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles).
The note started a search with a French boat called La Meurthe from Madagascar looking for the survivors. The Meurthe scoured the islands and found a letter on the uninhabited Pig Island.
The letter stated that 13 shipwrecked men from the ship Tamaris, having exhausted their provisions, left the smaller island on September 13 to head to Possession Island in a man-made boat.
No trace was ever found of them on Possession, with the presumption made they drowned en route.
Laurie Islands, Antarctica
Nearest populated region: The Falkland Islands 1,280 kilometers (795 miles) away.
This remote island that lies 1,502 kilometers (933 miles) from the nearest port at Ushuaia, Argentina, is home to the world’s oldest continuously run Antarctic weather and research station.
The Orcadas Weather station (officially named in 1951) was constructed in 1903 by explorer William Speirs Bruce while he lead the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (SNAE), and has documented the extreme temperature shifts on Laurie that can see jumps in winter months from -40 °C (-40 °F) up to 8 °C (46 °F).
Orcadas was set up during what is referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The station sits in the shadows of Mount Ramsay (164 meters, or 537 feet in height) which was named after Allan George Ramsay, the chief engineer of the SNAE.
On the outward voyage from Scotland, Ramsay began to show symptoms of heart disease but made no mention of it for fear he would be left off the ship at the next port of call. It was his dream to see the ice of Antarctica, but upon landing in Laurie Island his condition worsened.
Within a few months, Ramsay was dead from a heart attack. He was buried on the north side of Laurie Island in 1903.
St. Kilda, Scotland
Population: Used to be 200 but now 0, except military and scientists
Nearest populated region: North Uist, Scotland is 64 kilometers (40 miles) away.
St. Kilda is the farthest western reach of the Outer Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland. It is an archipelago of four islands, the largest of which is Hirta, whose imposing sea cliffs are the highest in the UK.
Its name is a bit of a mystery, since there was no saint named Kilda, but is most likely a derivation from an Old Norse name. There have been people living there for at least two thousand years, and had a population of 180 around 1700.
Settlement almost ended in the 18th century when smallpox and cholera were introduced to the island but new settlers were also introduced, bringing the population back up to around 100. In the mid-1800s half the people emigrated to Australia, and the islands never really recovered.
World War I saw a little action after the British built a signal tower there, which was later blown up by a German submarine. After that, things went downhill.
Most of the men left the island after the war, then a cascade of bad luck including an outbreak of the flu and a decline in crops due to lead pollution from the use of dead seabirds and peat ash as fertilizer forced the residents to abandon their island.
In 1930, the remaining 36 citizens of St. George evacuated, and no permanent residents have lived there since, apart from a small military detachment and various scientists.
Source: St. Kilda
St. George Island, United States
Nearest populated region: Unalaska is 320 kilometers (200 miles) away.
This is one of the Pribilof Islands that are part of Alaska and was discovered in 1786 on a search for northern fur seal breeding grounds.
It is only 91 square kilometers (35 square miles) in size, in addition to being home to a declining population of descendants of Aleut hunters who were enslaved by the Russians to hunt seals.
After the United States bought Alaska in 1867, they continued to force the people to process seals. It was a good deal for the U.S. at the time, if not for the Aleuts, because the money brought in by the lucrative seal trade would have more than covered the $7.2 million they paid for the entire state of Alaska.
Over a hundred years later, the United States made reparations to the Aleuts on St. George, paying them $8.5 million in compensation for the way they and their ancestors had been treated.
The seal trade ended in 1983, and since then the few Aleuts left are finding new ways to make a living.
Deception Island, Antarctica
Population: Officially 0, but there is a scientific station and oodles of tourists
Nearest populated region: Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, is about 1,000 km (620 miles) away.
When this horseshoe-shaped land mass was found in the South Shetland Islands above the Antarctic Peninsula, it looked like a normal island.
But when you sail through the opening known as Neptune’s Bellows, you discover that you are actually in the flooded caldera of a volcano. Deceptive!
The one thing that used to be nearby was whales. Lots of them. So in 1906 whalers took over the island with a fleet of ships for processing blubber while workers onshore jammed whale carcasses into huge iron boilers to extract oil.
You can still find the rusted husks of these boilers on Deception Island near the cemetery honoring 45 whalers who died there, along with all the other detritus of the whaling operation that shut down in 1931 when whale oil ceased to be profitable.
Pitcairn Island, United Kingdom
Nearest populated region: Tahiti, 2,120 kilometers (1,317 miles) away.
This remote island is most famous for being the home of Fletcher Christian and the rest of the Bounty mutineers. After a successful mutiny on board the HMS Bounty in 1789, Christian, eight other male shipmates and 18 Tahitians settled on Pitcairn Island.
They burned the ship in what went on to be called Bounty Bay and set out to create a new civilization on the then-inhabited island.
It would be 18 years (1808) before they would receive their first visitor, American sealing captain Mayhew Folger aboard the Topaz. It would be six more years (1814) before the British would arrive.
By this time there as only one man still alive, along with thirty other women and children. It was learned that the initial settlement was marked by serious tensions among the group; alcoholism, murder, disease and other ills took the lives of most mutineers and Tahitian men.
The last remaining mutineer, John Adams, was granted amnesty for his part in the Bounty’s demise in 1814. The mutineers’ legacy is still seen today on the island with many residents still bearing their surnames: Christian, Adams, Quintal and Young.
Source: Pitcairn’s History
Nearest populated region: Banaba, 300 kilometers (200 miles) east.
Nauru, all 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) of it, was once a tropical paradise, a place that upon its discovery 1798 was called Pleasant Island.
The pleasantness began to abandon ship by the time the early 20th century rolled around and strip mining for phosphate decimated the island’s natural resources and beauty.
In 2018 and despite its small size, Nauru celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country.
The mining had a positive economic effect for the island, and when Nauru took control of it in the 1980s from a jointly run company backed by New Zealand, Australia and Britain it became one of the richest countries in the world as measured by gross domestic product per capita.
The bottom of the mining industry fell out by the 2000s, Nauru went bankrupt as unemployment jumped to 90%.
Today it is known more for the deal it made with Australia to house that country’s immigrants-in-waiting in penal colonies while they go through a lengthy immigration process that has been under intense scrutiny by the United Nations for its alleged mistreatment of the refugees housed there.
Diego Garcia, United Kingdom
Population: 4,239 (mainly British and American military personnel)
Nearest populated region: India, 1,796 kilometers (1,116 miles) away.
Diego Garcia is a coral atoll near the equator situated in the Indian Ocean. For centuries after its 16th-century discovery by the Portuguese, locals relied on the harvesting of the meat of the coconut, known as copra, as its main economic source.
By the 1960s Diego Garcia was home to over 1,500 Chagossians, people who lived on the island since the 1700s and had come from French African colonies.
They brought with them a unique speaking tongue called Chagossian Creole, a French-based language that incorporates various African and Asian languages.
In 1968 the British forcibly evicted all of the Chagossians so the island could serve as a United States military base which was agreed upon by the two countries in 1966.
A 45-year legal dispute was finally settled in 2016 with the British courts denying the rights of the Chagossians to return, with the British courts at least conceding the situation with the Chagossians could have been handled better.
Ironically, the US military base on Diego Garcia is named Camp Justice, and several air operations during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 and the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003 were launched from there.
Tikopia, Solomon Islands
Nearest populated region: Tikopia is halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica
Tikopia is a small volcanic island located north of Vanuatu and east of the Solomons. Its people are Polynesian, but the island is outside the area usually defined as Polynesia.
It is a little less than five square kilometers (1.8 square miles in size) and is considered a good example of sustained conservationism in how the local population lives.
The methods used to live on Tikopia were developed over the past three thousand years, where by trial and error the Islanders have figured out what works for them.
It was often a hard lesson. Slash-and-burn agriculture was practiced and abandoned, bird and marine life over-exploited, and pigs were raised until they realized the animals ate more food than they produced, so all the pigs were slaughtered.
Perhaps the harder lessons were in population control. Various methods have been used to keep the number of people manageable, including infanticide, abortion, controlling who can get jiggy with whom and when, as well as suicide and good old-fashioned deadly conflict.
Well-meaning Westerners introduced “progress reforms” which lead to a population boom, which then lead to starvation. Traditional methods were re-applied, and a stable population of 1200 has been happily maintained since then.
Source: The Progress Trap