Islands with a Difference – Part 1 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Over the years I have come across many islands for some reason I would class as different. They may be UNESCO listed dots in some of the world’s hardest to reach corners but there are also some interesting islands you’ve probably heard of but really should visit to give them a second chance.
DAHLAK ARCHIPELAGO, ERITREA
This is a Red Sea retreat that few have heard, with the main island being only 650 sq km. If you think Sharm el-Sheikh lacks status these days, then the Dahlak Archipelago is the Red Sea spot for you. It is comprised of more than 200 islands, only four of which are inhabited. The whole area is a national park, where a few locals still herd goats, rear camels and fish in the traditional ways, and where the wildlife really rules the roost. The diving is superb as a consequence of years of war with Ethiopia. This has meant that large scale fishing was halted here and a profusion of sea life remains. Also, the ships and military hardware sunk in the wake of the conflict, particularly at Nokra, on the main island of Dahlak Kebir are now teeming with marine life, from colourful corals to turtles and rays. As some of the wrecks are only a few metres deep, they’re explorable by anyone with a mask and snorkel.
The best times to visit are April till early June and September to November. The rainy season is December to March and July to August is just too hot for most people. If you want to go then the nearest mainland port to the archipelago is Massawa which is 120 km from Eritrea’s capital of Asmara. Permits are required to visit the Dahlak islands. However, these can be arranged through the tour companies that are licensed to take travellers there.
This is an island of legend and longevity with very few tourists, which is good as it is only 255 sq km. It was named after the over-ambitious Icarus according to legend. It is said that he fell nearby after flying too close to the sun. Likewise, the island of Ikaria seems a similarly unreachable target. It’s only 50 km off the Turkish coast and it was long ignored by the rest of Greece. Even now only a few ferries make it there.
However, it’s worth the effort because isolation has left the island little changed by the 21st century. The tavernas, traditions, food and overall feel remain typically Ikarian. The landscape is an undulation of richly forested mountains which peak at 1, 037m, they plunge to a 160 km long coastline that is free of any large scale development. There are just fishing villages and olive groves, Roman baths and ruined temples. There are also some interesting people; the island is one of the world’s few ‘blue zones’. These are places where the residents live astonishingly long lives. On average, Ikarians live ten years longer than people in the rest of Europe. They also have far lower rates of cancer, depression and dementia, and stay physically active into their 90s.
The best time to go is June to September which has milder temperatures and fewer tourists. Ikaria celebrates many saints’ Feast Days from April to October so it could be worth timing your visit accordingly. Ferries run to Ikaria from Samos, which the maritime hub of the eastern Aegean, these take about 5 hrs. Flights also link both Ikaria and Samos with Athens with both being around 40mins.
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