Five Idyllic Private Islands You Can Stay On
From a charming cabin in Maine to a riverfront English estate, these private-island Airbnb properties offer the ultimate escape.
By Sarah Grossbart
Just because a vacation sounds like a total fantasy — serene setting, surrounded by natural beauty, the whole place all to yourself — doesn’t mean it has to come with an unreal price tag. Turns out, you can be the sole guests at an oceanfront lodge, a rainforest retreat, or another exclusive spot without breaking the bank. The proof? These five private-island Airbnb properties, which offer your very own piece of paradise, at various price points.
“It’s completely exclusive. So if you have two people or you’re a party of ten, it’s all yours. You can get away from everyone.” — Caroline Withey
Location: Samatian Island, Lake Baringo, Kenya
Superhost + Home: Caroline Withey
Superhost Caroline Withey likes the idea of her lodge guests going wild — in a “nature immersion” sense, that is. Preserving the island’s environment is such a priority to her that she had the Lake Baringo landscape worked right into her property’s open-air thatched structures. “One room’s got fig tree roots going through it, and in another, big lava rocks that were too heavy to move are now inside the walls,” she says.
On top of that, there’s an abundance of wildlife, from warthogs and giraffes on a neighboring island to more than 450 bird species on-site, including kingfishers, African fish eagles, and a lone Verreaux’s eagle-owl that sings from the roof at night. Guests can fish for barbel or tilapia on Lake Baringo, explore by canoe (with potential to cross paths with a crocodile), or observe thousands of flamingos in nearby Lake Bogoria.
Afternoons get pretty steamy, so visitors cool off in the plunge pool — and while food and drink are strictly bring your own, cooking isn’t DIY. “We’ve got a team of about seven,” Withey says of her crew, who whip up meals, clean, offer guided tours, and play the part of animal control when necessary. “There’s a night guide around if people need help getting back to their rooms,” says Withey. “Occasionally hippos come up grazing, so he’ll make sure no one runs into one!”
Location: East Point Islet at Nelson Island, British Columbia
Superhosts + Home: Liz Kelly and Andy Wilkinson
This rainforest hideaway is entirely off-grid — it’s solar and wind powered, with rainwater showers and composting toilets — but it gets you up close and personal with the area’s friendly locals (read: seals and otters), serene waters, and snowcapped mountains. Adventures abound, with hiking on the Skookumchuck Narrows Trail, kayaking, snorkeling, and stand-up paddleboarding on offer; many guests, however, are content to just lounge, says Superhost Liz Kelly, who hung hammocks throughout the island’s three acres.
And while the waterfront tent is fully private, guests do share a kitchen in a yurt adorned with paper lanterns, vintage quilts, and driftwood accents. Come dusk, Kelly and her partner, Andy Wilkinson, who live nearby on a wooden boat, prepare a communal dinner using locally grown ingredients and fresh-caught seafood. “It’s an intimate setting, usually with like-minded types, so people get on and make friends,” says Kelly. After the meal, return to your tent for a swim or a stargazing session. “Seeing plankton glowing in the water like fireflies is a magical experience.”
“Guests love that everything here is built by us or salvaged.” — Liz Kelly
Location: Oak Island, Camden coastline, Maine
Superhost + Home: Parker Dodd
Established as an animal sanctuary in the late ’90s, this massive 23-acre island gives guests the chance to live on the wild(life) side. Stroll the grounds and you might come face-to-face with bald eagles, otters, seals, and other marine life; trek up the 60-foot Parker’s Peak knoll and you can watch the sun rise or set against a mountainous Maine backdrop.
“One of my favorite things to do is to go through the tide pools, seeing the wildlife. You’ve got to make it over some rather large rocks, so it’s kind of like a hike-slash-climb.”
— Parker Dodd
The property’s all yours, but occasional visitors do come with the territory. That’s because island-hopping “is kind of the mentality here,” explains Superhost Parker Dodd. “We go out in our little dinghy all the time. Sometimes you get off your boat on another island, and somebody will throw you the keys to their truck and say, ‘Hey, go explore!’”
And while Dodd says his family has seen all types pull up on shore — including the actor David Schwimmer — this secluded space typically draws adventurers over sybarites. Accommodations (a wooden main cottage and a sleeper cabin) are admittedly rustic, with solar electricity and a gas stove, limited plumbing, and no hot water. “We like to describe it as a step up from camping,” Dodd says. “It’s for someone who wants to enjoy nature, make a little campfire, and maybe even catch their own food.”
Location: Henley-on-Thames, England
Superhost + Home: Peter Lambert
Visitors to this bucolic hideaway can have tea within spitting distance (well, technically, a 25-minute drive) of the queen’s Windsor Castle digs. They can also live like royalty, thanks to Egyptian-cotton sheets, underfloor heating in the kitchen and bathrooms, king-size beds, and a claw-foot tub. The Henley Royal Regatta, held every year in Henley-on-Thames, is a big draw for five days in July, but all year round boating and rowing are popular activities for visitors. Following breakfast at the river’s edge (just a few short paces from the ’70s-style thatched cottage), take a ride into Henley and cross the bridge for a tour of the River & Rowing Museum or a pint at one of the many pubs that make up the Henley Ale Trail. Got a group? “Rent a boat and spend a few hours going up and down the river with a picnic, then hit the tennis court for a few sets,” suggests Superhost Peter Lambert. Afterward, you’ll want to settle in for an end-of-the-day barbecue that even comes with entertainment, he quips: “You’ll see herons and occasionally minks running up and down the banks.”
“It’s great to wake up early, watch the sun rise, and just feel the tranquility of the river and the island.” — Peter Lambert
Location: Isleta el Espino, Las Isletas de Granada, Nicaragua
Superhost + Home: Isleta El Espino with Andrew Werner and Kristin Werner
Island-buying wasn’t on the agenda when Andrew Werner and his sister Kristin Werner booked a week-long trip to Granada 13 years ago. But days in, they became enchanted by the locals’ welcoming spirit and plates of tasty Gallo Pinto (a rustic rice and beans dish). After kayaking around the isletas that sit just a ten-minute boat ride from the city of Granada and seeing for sale signs, the California-based avid travelers found themselves on the hunt for an island of their own. They chose an acre-long property and then built a five-room eco-lodge that sleeps ten. It includes two casitas, a bungalow, and a two-bedroom treehouse, all crafted with locally sourced stone, eucalyptus beams, and artisanal concrete tiles. Coconut and mango trees dot the grounds, which offer views of the Mombacho volcano from virtually every angle.
“We want people to feel the spirit of the area and the simplicity of life here; being able to turn things off, enjoy the views, and listen to all the crazy birds that live in the tropics.” — Andrew Werner
To ensure guests “never have to leave,” there’s a full-service restaurant and bar, a swimming pool, and an on-call masseuse and yoga instructor, notes Kristin — along with staffers willing to share trade secrets, like how to whip up the house-made chocolate served with sea salt and olive oil. And for those who do want to venture off-site? There’s plenty of hiking (on the volcano’s many crater rim trails) and shopping (for ceramics, handwoven hammocks, and other locally made goods in the pueblos blancos craft villages).
About the author: Sarah Grossbart is a Michigan-born, New York-based writer-editor who has written for Us Weekly, E! News, HGTV Magazine, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Glamour. When she’s not busy running or yelling at a Michigan State basketball game, she can usually be found watching bad reality TV.