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.
Area: 2,130,800 sq km (822,700 sq miles)
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 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.
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.
Area: 743,330 sq km (288,869 sq miles)
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.
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.
Area: 587,713 sq km (226,917 sq miles)
Population density: 33/km2 (85/sq miles)
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.
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 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.
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).
Area: 443,066 sq km (171,069 sq miles)
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.
At sea level, picturesque beaches challenging surf make for fantastic diving and watersports.
Area: 225,800 sq km (87,200 sq miles)
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.