Editor’s Note: This list was first compiled and published in May 2013.
Is it possible to rank the world’s best beaches? Of course it is. This is the Internet.
Will everyone agree with our ranking, murmuring respectfully among themselves about how perfectly accurate every placement is? Maybe not. This is the Internet.
But that’s why we’ve scoured the planet, demanded answers from our most well-traveled friends, colleagues and cohorts, absorbed passionate pleas from readers, researched, investigated and examined the evidence then finally tipped the sand from our shoes, washed the brine from our eyes and put together a pretty good guide to the best beaches on the planet.
Now we turn it over to you. Consider this list a premise, a platform from which you can jump into a dazzling, turquoise ocean of “further recommendations.” Your 100 beaches await:
100. Falassarna Beach, Crete, Greece
Best thing about the sand at Falassarna? There’s so much of it there’s little chance of playing beach-mat overlap with strangers. This slice of coast takes in five consecutive beaches, the middle ones being most popular, the ones on the ends better for solitary sun lovers.
Highlight: On the first Saturday of August, thousands descend for Crete’s biggest beach party.
99. Portstewart Strand, Northern Ireland
A beach for walkers and beach athletes. The two miles of Portstewart Strand are exceptionally well maintained, perhaps a little too meticulously, with every activity (swimming, horseback riding, walking, surfing) ascribed a dedicated zone.
Highlights: Dunes, 6,000 years old and 100 feet high, dominate the area and support lots of wildlife.
98. Pigeon Point, Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago
Pigeon Point is a literal representation of the Caribbean beach ideal, right down to the charming old lady who sells sour-sop ice cream by the pound.
Highlight: The thatched-roofed jetty, possibly the most photographed jetty in the world.
97. Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, South Africa
With cliffs that plummet and green hills that roll into the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean, this is one moody beach. Hole In The Wall (five miles up the road from Coffee Bay) is a spectacular rock just out to sea at the mouth of the Mpako River.
Good to know: The best way to see this beautiful stretch of coastline is to walk it.
96. Ifaty Beach, Madagascar
This is no five-star resort beach. Shade is provided by drooping palm trees, not striped umbrellas, and fishermen’s houses, clumsily put together with natural materials, line the shore. But that’s why we love Ifaty, on the southwest coast of Madagascar. It’s flanked by a coral reef that you can snorkel around or explore from the surface in a colorful dugout canoe.
Good to know: Whales often visit in July and August.
95. Praia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Often voted Brazil’s best beach, Praia do Sancho is a bay on the island of Fernando de Noronha, facing the coast of Brazil rather than out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Highlight: Steep, rocky cliffs covered in vegetation form a backdrop to the clear waters that are accessible only via ladders attached to the cliff face or by boat.
94. Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
Volcanoes near this beach on the eastern edge of New Zealand’s North Island develop large underground reservoirs of extremely hot water. Over time, this water escapes to the surface, cooling along the way, though still emerging at temperatures as hot as 147 F (64 C).
Highlight: The hot springs are accessible only at low tide; those with shovels can create ad hoc spas in the warm sand.
93. Long Beach, Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Phu Quoc is fast becoming the most popular new island destination in Vietnam. Market traders in conical hats hawk baguettes, ducks, flying lizards and other items rarely seen on the Thai side of the Gulf, while motorcycles ply red dirt roads to pearl farms and old-style fishing ports.
Highlight: Dominated by local families who rent motorcycles for $5 a day and bungalows for $20 per night, Long Beach reminds some of Thailand in the late 1980s.
92. Meads Bay, Anguilla
Anguilla beaches don’t do average. This speck in the Caribbean was front of the queue when the beach gods were passing out idyllic places to lounge. If you tire of the sugary sands and bathtub-warm water of Meads Bay, one of the island’s longest beaches, there are several good restaurants and hotels nearby.
Highlight: Blanchards Beach Shack serves fantastic lobster rolls and a great mango colada.
91. Bottom Bay, Barbados
One of the few beautiful beaches in Barbados to have escaped development overkill, Bottom Bay is enclosed by high coral cliffs, making it an almost undiscovered pocket of paradise.
Highlight: Turtles and whales can sometimes be spotted from the tops of the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
90. Paradise Beach, Rab, Croatia
The Croatian island of Rab claims to be the birthplace of modern skinny-dipping.
In 1936, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson obtained permission from city authorities to bathe naked in the inlet of Kandalora, and people have been doing the same on the island’s beaches ever since.
Highlight: The sea remains shallow even half a kilometer out, making it an ideal place for novice swimmers.
89. Lover’s Beach, Baja California Sur, Mexico
A semi-hidden cove best accessed by boat, Lover’s Beach was once popular with pirates, now with photographers.
Be aware: The beach is small and the sea can get rough, so this isn’t a place to stay for long. You should pre-arrange return transport to town, as come 4 p.m., boats are scarce.
88. Byron Bay, Australia
Pubs, cafes and bookshops host buskers, musicians, artists and drift-ins who walk the streets barefoot and bleary eyed. There’s a lingering scent of the Flower Power generation, while surfers wait for perfect waves.
Highlight: Every year, the Byron Bay Bluesfest attracts some of the biggest names in world music, and with it, thousands of Sydneysiders.
87. Arashi Beach, Aruba
The California Lighthouse keeps ships away from this northwestern tip of Aruba, but it also acts as a beacon for beach bums looking for natural shores. Head for it, and you’ll hit Arashi Beach’s unspoiled sands (there are only a few palapas).
Highlight: Snorkeling. A 400-foot German freighter wreck lies just offshore.
86. An Bang Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
Gentle waves, soft white sand. Recently An Bang Beach has picked up among expat tourists, which explains the Western-managed bars and restaurants.
Highlight: Many restaurants in the town specialize in the Viet imperial cuisine Hoi An is known for around the country.
85. Bandon, Oregon, United States
It’s got beauty – the sun sets over the striking rock formations – it’s got good food – a long growing season and influx of ambitious chefs. It also has a safari game park to the south and spectacular, seaside Bandon Dunes Golf Resort to the north.
Trivia: According to Native American folklore, the unusual formation of Face Rock represents the face of a princess who was drowned by an evil sea spirit.
84. Puka Beach, Boracay, Philippines
Making a respectable claim to its “tropical paradise” reputation, Boracay has powdery beaches, water sports and spas. Puka Beach is named for its Puka shells, meaning the sand here is coarse.
Highlight: Puka is the second-longest beach on Boracay and relatively empty most times, with no resorts and a limited number of restaurants.
83. Ffryes Beach, Antigua
Most of the time this place is empty, so those who come often have it to themselves. The beach livens up with locals on the weekends or when a cruise ship is in town.
Highlight: There’s not much to do except enjoy the view (superb sunsets) and a drink at one of a handful of shack bars.
82. La Concha, Spain
For a city beach, La Concha is lovely. It comes with a promenade, easy access, great restaurants and other city perks. It also has swimmable water.
Highlight: Tapas. Cafes and restaurants behind the sand offer some of the best small eats on this northern coast.
81. Las Salinas, Ibiza, Spain
Las Salinas, an iconic crescent of sand, is the most happening beach on the island. Music blasts from bars morning till night, attracting A-list celebs.
Highlight: The beach is also a magnet for nude sunbathers.
80. Cape Maclear, Malawi
Cape Maclear sits on the edge of Lake Malawi, a lake so large it feels like an ocean. It is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beach, something of a hippie hangout, is linked to the town via a single dirt road lined with a handful of hostels and dive shops.
Highlight: Diving, snorkeling, kayaking – the water is free from brine, and there are no sharks or jellyfish.
79. Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
It can’t be easy being a standout beach in a country of awesome beaches, but Unawatuna does it. Hanging off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, it stretches for more than a mile, and is marked by palm trees, thatch huts and a languid pace. Unfortunately, the area was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, and the place hasn’t yet returned to its pre-tsunami beauty.
Highlight: The laid-back, young-traveler atmosphere.
78. Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Jeffreys Bay’s legendary breaks attract top surfers to the annual Billabong Pro ASP World Tour surfing event. Nearby lagoons make ideal venues for boardsailing and canoeing. The Seekoei River Nature Reserve, a haven for rare birds, is nearby.
Highlight: Migrating whales pass by the bay to give birth every season.
77. Vilanculos Beach, Mozambique
Lazy. Friendly. Scenic. Great swimming. Vilanculos is also one of the best diving destinations in the West Indian Ocean.
Highlight: The small coastal town of Vilanculos has thatched huts lining the streets, a friendly population and a plethora of laid-back bars and restaurants.
76. Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico
Many of Puerto Rico’s beaches suffer from garbage-disposal problems. Not this one (though a rusting tank does make for one eye-catching piece of litter). Flamenco is a natural crescent of unblemished sand, with a camping site behind.
Highlight: A quarter-mile offshore a reef offers great diving and snorkeling sights.
75. Oludeniz Beach, Turkey
The name translates to “Dead Sea,” but it’s not the one you’re thinking of. This beach’s sheltered location amid mountain scenery keeps the water calm even during storms; cafes, shops and restaurants provide sustenance.
Highlight: Paragliding tours over wooded areas and mountains.
74. Capo Sant’Andrea, Elba, Italy
It’s hard to imagine why Napoleon ever wanted to leave. At this inlet, the water is clear enough to see the seabed even in the deepest sections. Chestnut trees sweep right down to the coastline.
Highlight: The inlet’s golden beaches are framed by softly sloping granite blocks – natural sun beds that are taken over by sunbathers during summer.
73. Venice Beach, California, United States
This beachfront district is a SoCal institution and a freak show free-for-all. Qi gong masseurs, hair braiders, fortune-tellers and artists jostle along the 2½-mile Venice Boardwalk.
Highlight: Beachfront outdoor basketball courts – competition can be fierce on weekends and early evenings.
72. Plage de Piémanson, France
For sheer scale, gloriously unspoiled wilderness and nude bathing, Plage de Piémanson ranks among the finest. Part of Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, the obscure beach has tawny sand that stretches forever.
Highlight: To get here, you drive through colonies of pink flamingos and might spot Camargue horses, an ancient breed of white horse that roams wild in the reserve.
71. Laughing Bird Caye, Belize
Reaching barely a meter above sea level, this protected isle is less than a hectare in size, but offers one of the best day trips off the Belize coast. A huge amount of coral, bird and marine life call this place home, which is why so many visitors call it perfect.
Highlight: The laughing gulls after which the isle is named have moved on, but herons, blackbirds and pelicans can often be seen.
70. Punalu’u, Hawaii, United States
No sugary sands and idyllic swimming conditions, but you will find a dramatic black basalt shore and might spot green and hawksbill turtles, as well as dolphins and whale sharks, if you snorkel off this Big Island beach.
Highlight: Getting here involves a 20-minute trek through a wooded dirt trail, underlining the remote and undeveloped beach.
69. Los Roques, Venezuela
OK, this isn’t one beach, more like several hundred, but it’s impossible to pick from the more than 350 islands in the Los Roques archipelago. Whichever island you’re on, from the large Cayo Grande to the diminutive Gran Roque, you’ll have blinding white sand and shallow, tropical waters just a few powdery footsteps away.
Highlight: The entire area is basically an enormous water sports arena – divers, snorkelers, fishermen and shallow-water splashers will all find it hard to leave.
68. Kaiteriteri Beach, Nelson, New Zealand
With golden sand and the most sunshine hours in New Zealand, Kaiteriteri Beach is at the top of New Zealand’s South Island and the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park.
Highlights: Penguins, seals and dolphins are common.
67. Belle Mare, Mauritius
The sunrise from the quiet beach of Belle Mare, on the east coast of Mauritius, is worth the wake-up call. Although known for its fine white sand, you’re likely to find a secluded space along this barely developed stretch of beach.
Good to know: To turn the excitement levels up, Waterpark Leisure Village near Belle Mare offers giant chutes and slides.
66. Skagen Beach, Denmark
The shore at Skagen, an artists’ colony in the 19th century, is a 40-mile-long sand ribbon within a landscape of milky white dunes, fairytale forests and wind-blown beaches.
Highlight: If Skagen’s waters are too cold for swimming there are other attractions – an annual midsummer’s eve bonfire on Skagen Sonderstrand, the Bolcheriet candy factory and Råbjerg Mile, the largest sand dune in northern Europe.
65. Isshiki Beach, Hayama, Japan
During the peak of summer, the beach’s two crescents of sand buzz with windsurfers, kayakers and swimmers. Vendors erect wooden shacks housing bars, restaurants and shower units. The Blue Moon is a well known beach shack – it hosts concerts on weekend evenings.
Highlight: Hayama’s Imperial Villa, which faces Isshiki Beach, has been used by Japanese emperors since 1894 as a winter holiday house.
64. Radhanagar Beach, Andaman Islands, India
This popular but spacious beach largely escaped the effects of the 2004 tsunami that ruined many other beaches in the Indian Ocean. A tropical forest leans into crunchy sand, which slopes seamlessly into warm, calm water.
Highlight: At the western edge of the beach you’ll find find a lagoon, often devoid of people.
63. Pulau Derawan, Indonesia
Tourist accommodations are no-frills here, and that’s what makes the place special. Most visitors will be able to spot turtles wading about on the island’s spotless silvery beaches.
Highlight: The waters surrounding Derawan are known to be a home to manta rays and green turtles.
62. Haad Rin, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
Haad Rin’s infamous full moon parties are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Mostly because once is enough.
Good to know: Outside the drunken, chemical-fueled parties, the place has cheap alcohol, great food and a fun-loving crowd.
61. Essaouira, Morocco
The sprawling beach of Essaouira is like a spacious chill-out lounge for this laid-back Moroccan town. It attracts wind- and kite-surfers in summer, and surfers in winter. Around the bay away from the harbor is a castle that’s said to have been the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand.”
Good to know: Essaouira is beautiful at dusk. The harbor offers great snapshots looking back toward the old town.
60. Beidaihe, China
Beidaihe has been pleasing China’s upper crust for decades. A few hours from Beijing, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping hashed out national policies in private villas here. The area remains popular among Russian tourists – a reminder of erstwhile Sino-Soviet ties.
Highlight: Beidaihe’s restaurants offer simple pleasures, mostly good seafood and cold beer.
59. Na’ama Bay, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
In the middle of Egypt’s Red Sea coast, Na’ama Bay has diverse marine life, colorful corals visible from the surface of the water and great snorkeling from the beach in front of the Jolie Ville Hotel.
Highlight: With temperatures in the high 70s F (23-27 C) during November and December, and 10 hours of sunshine a day, this is the ideal place to take advantage of one of the many winter travel deals to Egypt on offer.
58. Akajima, Okinawa, Japan
The islet of Akajima is popular among Japanese day-trippers during summer, but foreign travelers are a rare sight. It retains a sequestered charm even during peak season. The beaches are spotless, usually dotted with just a handful of surfers.
Highlight: Further inland, a quaint Ryukyuan heritage house is open to visitors.
57. Abaka Bay, Haiti
The island of Ile a Vache in Haiti punches above its weight in the beach class division – the eight-by-two-mile island is home to Akaba Bay, boasting some of the best photo ops in the Caribbean. Quality and good value accommodation line the sands.
Highlight: Abaka Bay Resort provides great views of the ocean, is one step from the beach and serves a mean conch dinner.
56. Diani Beach, Kenya
Twelve-plus miles of palm-fringed beach is kept pristine and clear of seaweed by the coral reef just offshore. It has become one of Kenya’s most popular beaches. Supermarkets, hotels and monkeys have all become part of the experience.
Good to know: Want to learn to kite surf? Lessons are available here.
55. Phra Nang Beach, Railay, Thailand
With Dali-esque limestone structures, hundreds of cliff-climbing routes and Tiffany-blue waters, Railay is the seasoned rock climber’s dream. Stalactite-rimmed cliffs that tourists can jump from flank Phra Nang, the area’s main beach.
Worth knowing: Although Railay is accessible only by longtail boat from Krabi and Ao Nang, it can get crowded during tourist seasons.
54. Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island, Canada
If perfection unnerves you, avoid Prince Edward Island. The island’s most idyllic feature, Cavendish Beach has creamy sands flanked by sandstone cliffs and dunes, and has captured the imagination of writers and tourists alike.
Trivia: The area is famous for inspiring scenes in “Anne of Green Gables.”
53. Little Corn beaches, Nicaragua
Low key, undeveloped and languid, Little Corn Island was, sometimes still is, a stop for pirates. These days it’s more frequently used as a vacation spot for those looking for a few days of rustic, five-star-free living.
Worth knowing: A great spot for diving and snorkeling.
52. Southwestern Beach, Koh Rong, Cambodia
Koh Rong is one of the Gulf of Thailand’s most gorgeous islands, and on its southwestern side there’s a stretch of nearly three miles of untouched white sand that invariably seduces any who venture this way.
Highlight: The southernmost end of this beach features perfect snorkeling rocks with colorful rabbitfish, sergeant fish and parrot fish.
51. Panama City Beach, Florida, United States
It’s not the spring break capital of the world for no reason. Each year, more than 6 million college kids and sun seekers pour into Panama City Beach, lured by emerald waters, blinding white sand, colorful reefs, fishing and hard-core people-watching. And, OK, maybe a drink or two.
Highlights: Historic wrecks off Panama City Beach’s shores make this a superb dive site. Goofy Golf, a mini-golf institution since 1959, has a kitschy, retro charm.
50. Porto da Barra, Salvador, Brazil
In many ways, Porto da Barra is to Salvador what Bondi is to Sydney and Venice Beach is to Los Angeles. Tiny fishing boats bring in the day’s catch, there’s beach volleyball and plenty to see at the Fisherman Colony Manguinhos, a traditional fish market in Buizos.
Highlight: It’s one of the few beaches in Salvador that faces west, so you can catch great sunsets.
49. Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi, Malaysia
Most tourists on Langkawi flock to Pantai Cenang beach, but the quieter Tanjung Rhu has an earthy beauty and serene atmosphere. The long beach area is surrounded by ancient limestone caves, rippling waterways and dense mangroves.
Highlight: The Four Seasons Resort offers boat tours around the mangrove forests.
48. Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
You have to pay a fee to get into this stunning beach, but boy is it worth it. Imagine a postcard of pure beach beauty, then Photoshop the blues to be even bluer and the yellow-white sand to be even softer and you have Trunk Bay.
Highlight: Snorkelers get a little treat with plaques embedded into the sea floor with information about what they’re looking at.
47. Placencia Beach, Belize
Placencia has great beaches, but it’s the adventures to be had that make this a top 100 beach destination. Jungle rivers, Mayan ruins and fantastic wildlife make this one a beach trip with various purposes.
Highlight: Monkeys, iguanas and the chance to kayak in a lagoon with manatees.
46. Natadola Beach, Fiji
Probably Fiji’s finest beach, Natadola Beach is one of the few places in the country that’s good for swimming 24 hours a day. A luxury resort backs onto the beach and attracts vendors selling coconuts and beach fashion accessories, so you’ll need to put distance between you and the resort if you like solitude.
Highlight: Horseback rides at sunset.
45. Patnem Beach, Goa, India
If the cacophony of flea markets and tourist raves at Anjuna beach aren’t your thing, smaller neighbor Patnem is less claustrophobic, with cheaper beach huts.
Highlight: It’s the perfect place to enjoy the sunset while congratulating yourself on ducking the Goan tourist radar.
44. Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia
For an iconic all-round great city beach you can’t miss with Bondi. The wide curving crescent of white sand can get incredibly busy, but that’s only because the surfing is gnarly, the sands are clean and the nearby eateries are fantastic.
Highlight: After a day in the sun you can chase down the day with a meal at Bondi Trattoria, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
43. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Previously: a simple fishing village and dhow-building center. Now: one of Africa’s most picturesque lines of coast, where palms amble onto a beach that dissolves gradually from spearmint blue into shades of deep turquoise.
Highlight: At sunset, white-sailed dhows leave from the boatyard, making for a great photo op.
42. D-Day beaches, Normandy, France
On the morning of June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious operation in history took place on the beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Normandy landings and subsequent Battle of Normandy eventually helped free Europe from Nazi occupation.
Highlight: In Caen, a nearby city that was heavily bombed during the D-Day invasion, a large museum commemorates peace.
41. Negril Beach, Jamaica
It’s not as pristine as it was before the resort developers rolled in, but Negril’s yawning expanse of shoreline, featured in “The Man With The Golden Gun,” is a lively magnet for party-happy spring breakers as well as convenience-seeking families.
Highlight: Luxury resorts and beach sports.
40. Dominical Beach, Costa Rica
Monster waves and lush forests, warm waters ideal for long, lazy swims – people often stay longer at Domincal than they intended.
Highlight: Tortilla Flats offers great food and company. It’s a surfer hotel, seaside restaurant and happening night spot rolled into one.
39. Canggu Beach, Bali, Indonesia
This surf-perfect coastline has everything from easy waves to serious breaks. The scene is unpretentious and the mood laid-back. The crowd is heavy with adventurous people who know Asia well.
Worth knowing: There’s little nightlife here; instead, travelers kick back with themselves and locals.
38. Karekare, West Auckland, New Zealand
Karekare was immortalized in the 1993 film “The Piano.” A grandiose sweep of black sand stretches before bush-clad hills. Karekare tends to be less touristy than nearby Piha. If you prefer a quieter beach, this is the one.
Highlight: Karekare is popular for its annual beach race day, in which local ponies and horses race to raise money for charity. Beach race day is usually held in early April.
37. West Bay Beach, Roatan, Honduras
The largest of the Honduran Bay Islands sits close to the world’s second largest reef system – the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. That means diverse marine life for snorkelers and divers, and diverse party life for after.
Highlight: The reef offers the chance to spot various species of turtles, fish, crocodiles and the world’s largest population of manatees – estimated at 1,000-1,500.
36. Bahia Solano, Colombia
Immobile boats rust where the river meets the ocean. Fishermen languidly cast nets over a huge bay. Fashion shops, vegetable markets, cafes and bars line a vibrant main street.
Highlight: Cheap hotels near the beach are a boon for budget travelers.
35. Balos Beach, Greece
Cameras compulsory. Near Kissamos on Crete, Balos Beach is a lagoon of swirling colors – pastel pinks, blues and turquoise. It can get crowded and microorganisms in the muddy shallows can cause unpleasant smells, but for postcard pictures it’s one of Greece’s best.
Highlight: For “dark tourists” there’s a cave here that was the scene of a massacre in the 19th century.
34. Cayo Paraiso, Dominican Republic
If an Evian factory had been used to fill the ocean around this tiny island, the water wouldn’t be any clearer.
Highlight: The sand bank is encircled and protected by a coral reef providing great snorkeling; the island has a few basic thatch huts for shade.
33. Margaret River, Australia
This western Australian town is blessed with a mild climate, baby powder beaches and gorgeous scenery. It also produces some of the country’s finest wines. The surf at Margaret River attracts serious boarders.
Highlight: Wine-tasting at Margaret River’s 60-plus wineries is a favorite tourist activity.
32. Navagio Beach, Greece
Navagio Beach, or Zakynthos Cove, or Smuggler’s Bay, or Shipwreck Cove – many names exist for this small inlet on the island of Zakynthos. All you need to know is it’s gorgeous and the remains of an old ship, reportedly used to smuggle cigarettes before it met its briny demise in 1983, emerge zombie-like from the sand.
Worth knowing: To get here you need to get a taxi-boat from Porto Vromi, leaving every hour.
31. Playa Paraiso, Cayo Largo, Cuba
Cuba’s finest beach island goes overkill on clear. Water like crystal, sand like sugar, most days there’s barely a cloud to disrupt the electric smoothness of the sky.
Worth knowing: This “paradise beach” isn’t as exposed as other beaches on the island. The weather is usually calm and the sea shallow.
30. Grand Anse, Grenada
Possibly Grenada’s finest family beach – foot-soothing sands, skin-comforting waters and soul-calming breezes – Grand Anse is big enough to never get crowded and intimate enough to feel like your own.
Highlight: It’s less than a 15-minute drive from the airport – the perfect post-flight remedy.
29. Warwick Long Bay, Bermuda
You can spend hours here just watching the waves froth under the horizon over the coral-pink sand. If that gets irritatingly blissful there are great walking routes from here to Bermuda’s southern beaches, offering secluded coves.
Worth knowing: It gets crowded in high season, so if your ideal beach experience is solitary and tranquil, it’s best visited outside of May-September.
28. Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe, Thailand
Despite a buildup of accommodations in recent years, this is still arguably one of the most stunning beaches in Thailand. The range of rooms (from luxury to backpacker) and meal options add to the comfort factor.
Highlight: The whole island is small enough to circumnavigate on foot.
27. Hanalei Bay, Hawaii, United States
Mountains in the background, ocean in front and three miles of sand underfoot, Hanalei Bay on Kauai is a surfer’s and paddle boarder’s dream, with a reef to the right-hand side of the bay looking out to sea.
Worth knowing: Storms and poor weather can turn the strip into a formidable beast, with choppy ocean conditions and beach runoff that’s best avoided.
26. Long Bay, Saint-Martin
Long Bay is a gentle giant, one of the longest beaches on the island. Though luxury villas and one luxury hotel sit close to the sand, they’re unobtrusive.
Highlight: Near the La Samana hotel there’s a great snorkeling spot, in a cove with a reef.
25. Sun Island Beach, Maldives
This diamond in the Indian Ocean is a favorite with celebrities and rich honeymooners drawn by the idea of sleeping over the water – nearby resorts offer luxury bungalows on stilts.
Highlight: Nearby coral reefs attract thousands of tropical fish, snorkelers and divers.
24. Egremni Beach, Greece
Dramatic sunsets, electric-blue water, enough room for everyone: This long stretch of sand on the island of Lefkada has become one of Greece’s most popular beach retreats since a road was built in the 1990s.
Worth knowing: Nudists often use the central stretch of beach.
23. Crane Beach, Barbados
Pinkish sands, no rocks or other feet-slicing things in the shallows – this stretch of sunny Barbadian serenity can be accessed by a staircase or beachfront elevator from The Crane resort, making it as novel as it is beautiful.
Highlight: Gentle waves, perfect for boogie boarding.
22. Boulders Beach, Cape Town
Boulders Beach is home to 3,000 jackass penguins, which are often spotted waddling in and out of the sea.
Tip: The best place to see the penguins is from a viewing boardwalk constructed on nearby Foxy Beach.
21. Juara Beach, Tioman Island, Malaysia
Less developed and less polished than Thailand, Tioman Island’s Juara Beach brings an all-natural, quiet vibe to the beach experience. This isn’t the place for parties or nightlife, unless you like your parties hushed and your nightlife nonhuman.
Worth knowing: Various travelers report sand flies on the beach.
20. Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Rarotonga is the youngest of the 15 islands in the Cook Islands chain, and hasn’t eroded as much as its siblings. Its lush green center is encircled by a 20-mile shoreline of perfect white sand.
Highlight: The laid-back, musical culture of the islanders. What the place lacks in traffic lights (it has none) it makes up for in dancing and singing.
19. Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Yes, “The Beach” was filmed here and it gets packed with tourists. But Maya Bay is too perfect to pass up. A white sand beach hugs steep limestone cliffs and coral reefs make it an excellent spot for snorkeling.
Worth knowing: To avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning or after 5 p.m.
18. Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, Ecuador
You’ll have to share this shoreline in the Galapagos Islands with nonhumans. Manta rays in the water, sea lions on the sand, albatross and blue-footed boobies all make the 10-12 hour boat trip here worthwhile.
Highlight: As fans of Darwin know, many species in the Galapagos are unique to the islands, such as the lava lizard, a red marine iguana found here on Espanola.
17. Nihiwatu Beach, Sumba, Indonesia
In some ways, the perfect beach. It’s remote (an hour’s flight from Bali then a 90-minute drive) with fine, clean sand, clear water, almost no people and amazing sunsets. It is home to the impressive Nihiwatu resort and is best outside wet season.
Highlight: For surfers, the incredible left-hand break. For everyone else, as dusk approaches, a chance to join local villagers as they scour a section of a nearby reef at low tide for octopus, crabs and seaweed.
16. Luskentyre Beach, Scotland
You won’t get much of a tan on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, but you’ll get a memorable beach walk and lungs full of fresh air. The sand stretches long and wide, and the place is popular with hikers and nature lovers.
Highlights: Ponies may join you for a shoreline amble, while otters, seals, dolphins and eagles can be spotted in the area.
15. The Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Huge boulders, some as long as 40 feet, give away the island’s volcanic origins. There’s a small fee to enter the beach – it’s part of the BVI’s National Park – but it’s worth it once you’re soaking up the sun on these naturally heated sun loungers.
Highlight: A rope and step trail leads through the boulders at The Baths to Devil’s Bay.
14. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
El Nido is the gateway to adventure, “the last frontier” of the Philippines, as it has been dubbed. Powder-fine beaches and gin-clear waters complement the stunning views of karst limestone formations, empty lagoons, marble cliffs, prehistoric caves and waterfalls.
Highlight: Surrounding waters contain more than 50 species of coral and attract whales, whale sharks, sea cows, manta rays, dolphins and endangered turtles.
13. Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands are to beach bums what Kobe beef is to carnivores; once you’ve experienced it, nothing else quite matches up.
The two main islands are the backpacker-happy Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian Island), and Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian Island), which has slightly more expensive accommodations.
Highlight: The blue waters off Pulau Perhentian Kecil invariably contain turtles and small sharks.
12. Tulum, Mexico
At Tulum, you can swim in the shadow of ancient Mayan ruins. The area is home to a Mayan archeological ruin that teeters on the edge of a cliff. Beneath it, sand and jade green waters glisten.
Highlight: The Yucatan’s turquoise cenotes and excellent diving are tourist draws. Everything from mega-resorts to thatched cabanas offering boutique accommodations are available.
11. Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia
Whitehaven Beach is part of the Whitsunday Islands National Park and has more than 2½ miles of sand that’s 98% pure silica – so clean it squeaks. Visitors have to register with a tour guide for access, and can stay only for a few hours.
Worth knowing: In 2010, the beach won CNN’s Most Eco Friendly Beach award.
Watch out for jellyfish in summer.
10. Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley, Philippines
Glorious white sands meet volcanic rocks and blue-green waters topside, while coral gardens and a rich marine reserve meet divers under the surface. Palaui is all about raw beauty. Treks to get there require battling thorny grass, muddy ground and a mangrove forest.
Good to know: With no resorts or hotels, Palaui has only two real options: camping under the stars or home stays.
9. Champagne Beach, Vanuatu
The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu broke into the headlines a few years ago when the Happy Planet Index ranked it the happiest nation on Earth. With beaches like this, how could locals not be euphoric?
Highlight: The beach gets its name from a phenomenon witnessed by the first travelers to the region – the shallow waters appear to fizz at low tide, as if the beach is swimming in bubbly. The effect is caused by gas escaping from volcanic rocks on the seafloor.
8. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, Tahiti
Bora Bora is like the Gwyneth Paltrow of beaches: a little too perfect to be believable. But the spell that this small island in French Polynesia has cast on probably every traveler ever to dip a toe into its soft sands or calm waters has yet to be broken. Bora Bora is a heavy tourist destination – luxury resorts and budget bungalows dapple the white sand perimeter. But its best spot, Matira Beach, reminds you why places like this become popular in the first place.
Highlight: Visitors can feed sharks, hunt for black pearls, look through World War II memorabilia or just laze on the sand.
7. Wineglass Bay, Tasmania
White sands, pink granite rock formations and green peaks make for one of Tasmania’s most stunning coastal scenes. It’s part of Freycinet National Park, northeast of Hobart.
Highlights: Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and boating are popular pastimes, but so is lying on the beach admiring the scenery.
6. Cabbage Beach, Paradise Island, Bahamas
An inappropriate name does nothing to spoil the flawless aesthetics of this lengthy strip of sand. The chair, umbrella, bracelet and Jet Ski touts might be a challenge to your good mood, but if you walk eastward away from the busy section you’ll be able to take in one of the world’s best beaches uninterrupted.
Worth knowing: There are strong undercurrents in the waters offshore.
5. Anse de Grande Saline, St. Barths
Though nudity is technically banned on St. Barths, this is one of two beaches on the French Leeward Island that attracts naturists (perhaps due to its distance from developed areas). It can get windy and there’s little shade, but the photo ops are magnificent.
Highlight: A marsh area behind the beach is a habitat for tropical birds.
4. Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles
This ribbon of sand on the Seychelles’ third-largest island, La Dique, mixes salt-white and flamingo-pink sands to create one of the most photographed beaches in the world. A reef keeps the water calm for good snorkeling.
Highlight: Nearby restaurant Lanbousir offers local Creole dishes, including a tempting fruit-bat curry. DIY eaters can fix their own picnic with food from a supermarket just five minutes from the beach.
3. Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands
You need only hear the name of this beach to feel a little calmer. The pride of Provo Island is tourist heavy, but that’s because it’s one of the best (third best, we say) beaches in the world. Just offshore, a coral reef protects the beach and harbors marine life normally seen in Jacques Cousteau documentaries.
Highlight: This perfect, tranquil beach destination has few touts to disturb your lazing and abundant restaurants and resorts.
2. Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
With blinding white cliffs, fluorescent blue waters, warm temperatures and dry-desert land, it’s little wonder this place frequently tops favorite beach lists. Protected turtles lay eggs here and dolphins can be seen in the water.
Highlight: The nearby volcanic isle of Linosa, featuring a spectacular black and red Mars-like beach.
1. Grande Anse Beach, La Digue Island, Seychelles
Secluded and easy to skip because it takes some effort to get here, Grand Anse on La Digue is the archetypal beach, the benchmark against which others must be judged. It’s a must, especially if you’re a surfer.
Worth knowing: The waves can be boisterous and there’s not much shade.