Photo: Visit Greenland

Colossal Coasts: 10 Largest Islands in the World

Insider Guides
by Atlas & Boots Jun 3, 2017

I was raised by the sea and naturally find myself gravitating towards it again and again. At the same time, I enjoy sprawling lands that offer anonymity. The best of both worlds can be found on some of the biggest islands in the world.

1. Greenland

Area: 2,130,800 sq km (822,700 sq miles)
Population: 56,483
Population density: 0.028/km2 (0.1/sq miles)
Location: North America (Denmark)

Discounting continental landmasses such as Afro-Eurasia, Americas, Antarctica and Australia, Greenland is the largest island in the world — and the least densely populated territory. Sandwiched between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, Greenland has often been seen as an inhospitable land amid even more inhospitable waters, but is now known to be an adventure tourism destination.

The state-owned tourism agency Visit Greenland promotes whale watching, local culture, winter sports and hiking for visitors.

2. New Guinea

Area: 785,753 sq km (303,381 sq miles)
Population: 11,306,940
Population density: 14/km2 (36/sq miles)
Location: Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Oceania

The coasts on both sides of the island contain world-famous diving destinations with excellent conditions throughout most of the year, with colorful coral and fish. There are also World War II plane wrecks and shipwrecks to dive and explore.

Photo: Wayne Via/Shutterstock

The highest mountain of Oceania and a member of the seven summits, Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid), is located just inside the Indonesian border on the island. It’s a popular challenge for climbers and many outfitters are in the area.

3. Borneo

Area: 743,330 sq km (288,869 sq miles)
Population: 19,804,064
Population density: 21.52/km2 (55.74/sq miles)
Location: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, Asia

The third largest island in the world comprises three countries, although approximately 73% of Borneo is Indonesian territory. The sovereign state of Brunei makes up just one 1% of the island and the remaining territory is Malaysian.

Photo: Kjersti Joergensen/Shutterstock

Borneo is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world and is antipodal to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The island is also home to exotic and rare wildlife in its interior jungles and surrounding waters. Wild orangutans swing through the jungle canopy while Irrawaddy dolphins swim and saltwater crocodiles lurk in the waters of the South China Sea.

4. Madagascar

Area: 587,713 sq km (226,917 sq miles)
Population: 22,005,222
Population density: 33/km2 (85/sq miles)
Location: Africa

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, the largest island in the Indian Ocean, and an incredibly diverse island with huge swathes of virtually uninhabited land. It is also home to some stunning scenery and unusual wildlife. 5% of all known animal and plant species can be found on Madagascar.

Photo: Michail_Vorobyev/Shutterstock

There are 5,000km (3,100mi) of coastline. The Indian Ocean’s calm and idyllic waters gently lap at sandy beaches while violent and dangerous waves batter rocky cliffs elsewhere.

5. Baffin Island

Area: 507,451 sq km (195,928 sq miles)
Population: 10,745
Population density: 0.02/km2 (0.05/sq miles)
Location: Canada, North America

Canada has the longest coastline in the world and an unknown number of islands. It is estimated that there are over 30,000 islands along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay alone. Thirty Thousand Islands is the world’s largest freshwater archipelago.

Photo: Ed Dods/Shutterstock

The peaks of Mount Asgard and Mount Thor are breath-taking, with the latter featuring Earth’s greatest vertical drop at 1,250m (4,101ft).

6. Sumatra

Area: 443,066 sq km (171,069 sq miles)
Population: 50,000,000
Population density: 106/km2 (275/sq miles)
Location: Indonesia, Asia

Indonesia has Sumatra all to itself, the island straddling the equator, with equatorial nature and geography. Eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are typical across Sumatra, while rare and endangered wildlife fills the jungles within. Orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants stalk the tangled forests.

Photo: FootageLab/Shutterstock

At sea level, picturesque beaches challenging surf make for fantastic diving and watersports.

7. Honshu

Area: 225,800 sq km (87,200 sq miles)
Population: 103,000,000
Population density: 447/km2 (1,158/sq miles)
Location: Japan, Asia

Honshu is the Japanese mainland and the largest of the four main islands of Japan. It is the most populated (and densely populated) island on this list and is the second-most populated island in the world. The megacity of Tokyo is home to nearly 38 million residents.

Ameyoko Street at night

Photo: PixHound/Shutterstock

There is world-class skiing, hiking and mountaineering on the island’s eye-catching alpine uplands – all of Japan’s 30 highest peaks are on Honshu (including Mount Fuji) as well as its largest lake, Lake Biwa.

8. Victoria Island

Area: 217,291 sq km (83,897 sq miles)
Population: 1,875
Population density: 0.009/km2 (0.02/sq miles)
Location: Canada, North America

Victoria Island is the largest island in the world to lie entirely within the Arctic Circle – and it contains the world’s largest island within an island within an island. Victoria Island, though bigger than 36 of the 50 US states, has a population fewer than 2,000. Instead of people, there are tens of thousands of caribou and musk-ox, which are both endemic to Canada. The Victoria Island caribou seasonally cross the sea ice to graze on the Canadian mainland.

9. Great Britain

Area: 209,331 sq km (80,823 sq miles)
Population: 60,800,000
Population density: 302/km2 (782/sq miles)
Location: United Kingdom, Europe

The island of Great Britain is the largest island in Europe, ninth largest in the world and the largest island in the United Kingdom. It includes the countries of England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland.

The Stone Circle at Stonehenge with the Heel Stone in the foreground

Photo: Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock

Great Britain might seem to be less dramatic than most of the islands on this list. There are no active volcanoes, Arctic mountain systems or ferocious animals, but there are rolling hills, craggy coastlines, quaint villages and the best cream teas in the world.

10. Ellesmere Island

Area: 183,965 sq km (71,029 sq miles)
Population: 146
Population density: 0.000744/km2 (0.0019/sq miles)
Location: Canada, North America

Like Victoria Island, Ellesmere also lies entirely within the Arctic Circle. Only 146 people live here. The Arctic Cordillera mountain system covers much of Ellesmere Island, making it the most mountainous island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

So inhospitable in fact, that it wasn’t until 2011 that the first known circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island was completed. Jon Turk and Erik Boomer completed the 2,400km (1,500mi) trip by sea kayak.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the first known circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island was completed. Jon Turk and Erik Boomer completed the 2,400km (1,500mi) trip by sea kayak. The journey took the two men 104 days and at one point they had to fend off a “breaching 3,000-pound walrus from the cockpit of a small sea kayak.”

This article originally appeared on Atlas & Boots and is republished here with permission.

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