There aren't many affordable island paradises left in the world that have been minimally impacted by tourism while maintaining the original mystique that led travellers there in the first place. I've been fortunate to experience a few: Malaysia's Perhentian Islands, Nicaragua's Corn Islands and Bali in the 90s pre-Eat Pray Love and expat overload.
In some cases, it's happenstance or a lucky accident. A missed flight, washed-out road or recommendation from a local. Sometimes it's the difficulty in which to reach these places that deters the crowds, for a while anyway. But as digital media continues to blow open visual access to the world's hidden gems, it's only a matter of time before they land among a list of most instagrammable places in a dust-covered coffee table book. So, the trick is to get there first.
I'm not suggesting you spin your desk globe and pinpoint the most obscure, desolate place you can find. Instead, point your compass towards Colombia and spend some time on Isla Coralina.
Representing a tiny piece of an expansive puzzle of islands, Coralina is part of the Islas del Rosario archipelago, 100 kilometers from Cartagena. Made up entirely of coral and mangroves, its delicate appearance compelled me to tiptoe gently upon it, as if to prevent a piece of this paradise from breaking away and slipping into the sea. A living and breathing land mass with a flurry of birds, butterflies and sea life to engage and entertain its guests.
While you can arrange to visit Isla Coralina for the day, you'll wish you had booked to stay longer. Hotel Coralina, the island's sole accommodation, has well appointed thatched roof huts that feel more like a modern hotel room from the inside. All your meals and private boat ride from Cartagena are included (alcoholic beverages are extra).
If you're not a fan of seafood, you can stop reading right here. Each morning, I would watch young fisherman haul thirty-pound fish out of their boats and gut the beasts in the lagoon out back. Massive Caribbean lobster pulled from the water mere moments before being cooked and aesthetically arranged on my plate. Each meal is elevated with fresh fruit, local ingredients and traditional Colombian cooking techniques. I could literally eat like this for the rest of my days.
There's plenty of ways to stay active on the island, if that's your jam. Scuba diving can easily be arranged through the hotel and snorkelling around the island is excellent. Kayaks are available for exploring nearby shores and the warm Caribbean water is perfect for swimming or floating listlessly atop a pool noodle. If you'd prefer to remain horizontal and completely unwind, lounge on one of the private docks or sway the day away in a hammock.
I tried my best to meditate each morning on our little dock over hanging the sea, but was so distracted by the island's natural beauty I couldn't stand to keep my eyes shut. Watching schools of fish sparkle like hundreds of tiny diamonds, I couldn't help but wonder what life is like among the lowest link of the oceanic food chain. These little wonders must have inspired the saying "safety in numbers."
Given its west-facing locale, sunsets are superb and the stargazing is comparable to a California desert night. The only disturbances, if you could call them that, are the nocturnal noises from the species that call the mangroves home.
Service is what I would call island white glove and guests dine in a candlelit, jungle-like setting. On our last night, my husband and I asked if we could have dinner on one of the more secluded docks. The attentive staff quickly set up our table for two beneath a million brilliant stars -- Venus and Mars aptly visible -- the warm breeze off the ocean and gentle sounds from the surrounding jungle our soundtrack. As we savoured those final fleeting moments, we agreed -- it doesn't get more idyllic than this.
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