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On Island Time

Scipio Caye, Belize
Photo: Private Islands Online
We've all had that moment when a tropical vacation turns sour.

There's the waiting with the hordes to be seated for dinner, getting a faceful of sand from unleashed dogs on the beach and competing for prime lounge chairs at the pool.

If you're tired of the routine at the same old crowded getaways, there is another option.

Join the ranks of Marlon Brando, Ted Turner and the Du Pont family and vacation on your own private island.

Island ownership offers an unparalleled experience: "One feels a sense of independence and the ability to create his or her own reality," says Renee Redmond, director of operations at Private Islands Online .

Since 1990, Private Islands Online has catered to both those looking for exclusive retreats and others seeking to fulfill the dream of island ownership. The three hundred islands the company currently has available range from just $25,000 in Nova Scotia to $45 million in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the most part, private islands are used either as a deluxe haven for family and close friends, or developed into resorts. In either case, they offer potentially good investment returns.

While those who sell islands offer no guarantees on long-term returns, Redmond notes that natural islands are a limited, finite resource.

According to Cheyenne Morrison of Offshore Real Estate and Investments Quarterly, prices on some Caribbean islands increased by 300% between 1990 and 2000.

Before You Buy

While some islands are sold with homes -- and amenities like electricity and running water already in place -- be prepared to work to make your personal kingdom habitable.

Redmond notes that an average home will cost $150,000 to build (offshore construction costs are higher than those on the mainland); securing a septic system, water and electricity will be at least another $100,000.

Expect to shell out about $10,000 for yearly maintenance, Redmond cautions the potential island buyer. Though the exclusive $39.7 million Ilsa de sa Ferradura (listed with Vladi Private Islands ) off the coast of Spain comes with a private access road and luxury home, most islands are only accessible by boat, helicopter or seaplane.

Furthermore, Redmond recommends potential island owners consider three factors when purchasing an island: access, security and communication.

Docks and landing strips will cost additional money to build.

If you won't be living on your island full time, security is an important consideration -- you may want a caretaker for international properties, in order to guard your investment from thieves and vandals.

And although people retreat to private islands to escape the outside world, in the case of an emergency, ensuring outside communication is essential.

Photo: Private Islands Online

Not surprisingly, those who own private islands tend to be adventurous individuals who enjoy privacy and don't mind getting their hands dirty. Not sure if you fit the bill? Try this quiz .

Life on an island can be lonely, but the joy of undisturbed time with family, friends and yourself rewards in ways a traditional vacation just can't.

Chris Krolow, executive director of Private Islands Online, says of his island near Toronto, Ontario, "When I spend a weekend there, it feels like I've been gone an entire week ... islands buy time. And with my busy schedule, that's priceless."

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