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."

A Taste of Paradise

Most real estate brokers who sell islands also rent them.

Rentals give a unmatched taste of the private island experience, but with the comforts of a well-equipped shelter -- electricity, running water and a staff.

Prices for island rental range from a mere $84 a week on Pandan Island , Philippines, to $325,000 for a week in Musha Cay , Bahamas. Musha Cay can accommodate 20 guests in its five villas, each with a private beach; it also features a live-in staff of 30.

Another option for those who want to own islands but may be intimidated by the thought of being stuck alone in a remote area are the manmade islands off the coast of Dubai.

The Palms boasts a multitude of artificial islands; when viewed from above, three developments -- Jumeriah (scheduled to be completed in December 2007), Jebel Ali (2007) and Deira (2009) -- are shaped like palm trees. These "islands" will contain hotels, apartments and luxury homes. The luxury homes on Jumeriah are rumored to have sold out just three days after being marketed, in 2004.

The Palms' other human-engineered island complex, The World is an archipelago of three hundred separate islands, shaped like a map of the world.

Prices of The World islands range from $7 million to $1.8 billion. Virgin Group owner Richard Branson recently bought Great Britain; interested investors need to apply for the opportunity to place a bid on an island.

Though perhaps more secure than natural islands, some, like Tina Butler of mongabay.com, point out these developments are wreaking havoc on the Arabian Gulf ecosystems. While the waters will eventually clear once construction is finished, Butler wonders what will remain of Dubai's natural reefs.

Location, Location, Location

From Finland to New Zealand to off the New Jersey coast, any island shopper literally has the world from which to chose.

Tropical islands and those close to temperate mainlands such as the U.S., Europe and Australia are the most expensive.

If you've got your heart set on a tropical island, though, Palawan in the Philippines has lower prices than Caribbean counterparts: one can even find a few developable islands in the $100,000 range, a rarity in the tropical island market.

According to Private Islands Online, the Central American countries of Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama are up-and-comers in the market.

Most islands in this area are under a two-hour flight from Miami -- much more accessible than the Philippines.

A Slice of Nova Scotia Heaven
Photo: Private Islands Online

"Honduras is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, including a sparkling barrier reef and fascinating ruins," says Redmond. Private Islands Online currently has nine islands for sale in Panama, eight in Honduras and five in Nicaragua.

The 30-year old Vladi Private Islands agency, however, appears less enthusiastic about the region: it has no islands listed in Nicaragua or Honduras, and just six islands for sale in Panama. The Panamanian offerings include an intimate 3.5-acre island for approximately $570,000, and the large 4,200 acre Sevilla Island for $25 million.

Browsing through any of these realtors' offerings, though, the draw of your own islands is clear. Just envision the peace you'll feel, relaxing on your own private slice of heaven, gazing out into the sea.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.
Penelope Dane is a writer and sociologist living in Baton Rouge, La. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction and conducting research on teen poetry.

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