Swim with the inhabitants of Pig Island in the Bahamas. (©Bahamas Tourism)
Covered in a variety of animals and oddities, these islands beg exploring.
Islands take many shapes and forms, from desert beach paradises to tree-covered, remote locales ideal for camping, but these are the most unusual we've uncovered.
From a story about a lost little girl to places that encourage you to take home a new canine companion and islands overrun with cats to those where mutineers have hidden away from the world, these islands are known for their strange environs.
Aoshima and Tashirojima: It's Raining Cats
Cats really are revered in Japan; they're thought to bring luck and good fortune to those who love and take care of them. On Tashirojima, cats were originally brought in to eliminate the rats who plagued the island but now the cats outnumber residents four to one. It takes an hour-long ferry ride to get to this southern Japanese island, but while you're there you can visit the cat shrine and the manga hotel that are also on the island—if you can tear yourself away from the cats.
But Japan doesn't have just one cat island: cats also outnumber humans by a stunning margin—six to one—on Aoshima. Some reports estimate that there are around one dozen cat islands near Japan.
Okunishima: Those Wascally Wabbits
The Japanese don't just have a penchant for cats. Okunishima earned the title of "rabbit island" after a group of domesticated bunnies were left behind decades ago; and, given how fast rabbits multiply, that number is now more than 300. Bring your own food—or buy some from the visitor center. The cuddly creatures are said to hop right up to you after you depart the ferry.
And to offer up some additional—and disparate—weirdness, the island is also home to Poison Gas Museum, a defunct World War II factory.
Sable Island: Where the Wild Horses Roam
Sable Island is a tiny island off the coast of Halifax, Canada, known for its pack of wild horses. But the horses weren't always untamed; they're descendants of animals seized by the British in the 18th century and entrusted to Thomas Hancock to bring them to the American colonies. It's unclear if Hancock did, but the horses made their way to Sable Island and thrived thanks to the moderate climate of the area. The island is an incubator of animal life: it's also home to the Earth's largest breeding colony of grey seals, and is the only known breeding location for the Ipswitch sparrow.
While it's a great climate for animal life, shipping history on the island is different. Sable Island sits off the edge of the Continental Shelf, on a 15-mile long sandbar of ever-shifting dunes: no wonder it's also been called "the graveyard of the Atlantic" for the some 350 shipwrecks that dot its waters.
Island of the Dolls: Little Girl Lost
The legend of Isla de las Munecas is a sad one: island caretaker Don Julian Santana Barrera was unable to resuscitate a young girl drowned in one of the island's canals. He later saw a doll floating by, presumed it to be the girl's and hung it in a tree to honor her. Barrera was haunted by the spirit, however, and kept hanging dolls to try and release it. He was discovered 50 years later, drowned in the same spot as the girl.
Just south of Mexico City, the island has become an unlikely tourist attraction; people bring dolls to hang alongside those rigged up by Barrera. Some say they feel like the dolls are watching—many of which are in disrepair and are missing their eyes. To be sure, this isn't an island for those with weak constitutions.
Pig Beach: Swim With Swine
As if the clear blue waters and pristine beaches of the Bahamas weren't amazing enough, you can make a trip here even more unforgettable when you swim with a colony of feral pigs; day trips are available from Nassau and The Exumas.
The pigs aren't native to the islands, but are believed to have been brought over by sailors who thought pork would be a good food source. The sailors never returned, but the pigs survived thanks to sheer ingenuity—and cuteness—scavenging food from passing boats and tourists.
The sociable creatures are strong swimmers who think nothing of paddling right up to you. If you're in a boat in shallow water, they've been known to jump right in.
Socotra: Flora Power
A modern-day Garden of Eden, the Socotra archipelago in Yemen is a World Heritage Site for its rich and distinctive animal and plant life: 37 percent of its plant species and 90 percent of its reptile species cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
Socotra's otherworldly landscape is marked by an abundance of dragon's blood trees—with red sap—desert roses and bottle trees; some of the flora and fauna is more than 20 million years old.
Naoshima: Surrounded by Surrealism
It's back to Japan for the most mind-bending island: Naoshima. Since 1987, this island in the Seto Inland Sea has seen installations from the Benesse Corporation and is often referred to as "Ando Island," since most of the structures there are the brainchild of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, many of which can be found in the Chichu Museum designed by Ando himself.
Among the installations that greet visitors are the "Red Pumpkin" and "Yellow Pumpkin," by Yayoi Kusama, "Three Vertical Squares Diagonal," by George Ricky, and the colorful "Frog and Cat" by Karel Appel. There's something more wild and wonderful around every corner.
For those who want to go beyond the typical museum (although nothing is typical in Naoshima), the Art House Project is a collection of abandoned houses and temples that have been turned into art installations. And the unconventional I Love Yu is part art exhibit, part bathhouse.
Pitcairn Islands: Give Me Sanctuary
The Pitcairn Islands have always been a haven for those looking for the most remote of escapes: the small volcanic outcrop in the South Pacific is more than 4,000 miles outside of Panama and 1,350 miles from Tahiti. What makes this island unusual is its history: once a home to a Polynesian tribe that harvested its obsidian glass, it later became home to the mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty looking to avoid the arm of the law.
The island group was named after Robert Pitcairn, the crew member who spotted it. Robert was the son of John Pitcairn, the commander who led and died in the Revolutionary War's Battle of Bunker Hill. Today, the majority of. Pitcairn's population is comprised of the mutineers' descendants. The islands, which have been gaining popularity with cruise ships, offer great vantage points for sighting humpback whales.
Isle of Wight: Positively Jurassic
The U.K. is absolutely wild for dinosaurs. Less than two hours from London by ferry, the Isle of Wight is affectionately called "Dinosaur Island" after the area's rich dinosaur heritage; dinosaur fossils are so prevalent here, new discoveries are consistently being revealed. The latest is the Eotryrannus, a small, agile meat-eater related to the Tyrannosaurus rex.
Thus far, 25 species of dinosaurs are said to have lived on the Isle of Wight. Dinosaur enthusiasts can literally walk in their tracks on a fossil walk led by dinosaur experts; casts of footprints line Compton and Brook beaches during low tide.
The Isle of Wight is also home to St. Catherine's Oratory, the only surviving medieval lighthouse in England, and the Tennyson Monument, a love letter to poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson who described the island's air as being worth "sixpence a pint."
Vulcan Point: Riddle Me This
Reading about Vulcan Point's makeup may feel like you're unearthing a series of nesting dolls. Lake Taal lies on the Philippine island of Luzon. On that lake lies the Taal Volcano. One thousand feet above sea level, at the top of the volcano is a basin filled with water, the largest crater lake in the world. At the center of that lake lies a tiny island, Vulcan Point, which in actuality is one of the volcano's cones.
Can you describe that really fast? No matter, all you really need to know is that this is one of the finest examples of island beauty the world has ever carved out. Given that Vulcan Point is located within an active volcano, a helicopter tour is probably the best bet.
Potcake Place: Gone to the Dogs
Potcake is a term given to mixed-breed, homeless dogs found in droves on the Caribbean islands; the name refers to the rice-and-pea mixture fed to them by local residents.
Potcake Place, located on the Turks and Caicos, is a haven for the in-need canines: Its volunteers help to socialize, foster and adopt out man's best friends with the goal of reducing the homeless potcake population.
People who aren't in the market for a new dog can still spend quality time with these adorable creatures during a walk on the beach. Just try and resist those puppy eyes.