If you’re searching for Southeast Asian beach bliss, super-mellow Saud Beach on the island of Luzon is a sure thing. Its white sand pitches gradually into the clear-as-glass water, like a real-world example of a zero-entry swimming pool. Swim in the peaceful waves, lunch under a thatch-roof cabana under the palms, or hire an outrigger for excursions on the water.
Elafonissi Beach, Crete, Greece
Elafonissi Beach’s immense popularity comes from its pretty pinkish sand, warm lagoon-like waters, and very wild feel. Elafonissi Beach is actually an island, separated from the mainland by the shallow water and sandbars that only disappear under about three feet of water at high tide. Facilities are limited to palapa-covered sun loungers and a handful of tavernas for fresh seafood. If Elafonissi is too packed, try Balos Lagoon in the north.
Nungwi Beach, Tanzania
Located in a buzzing fishing village of the same name on Zanzibar Island, Nungwi Beach is one of Tanzania’s most-hyped attractions. A big part of the appeal is Nungwi’s fantastic coral sand, which seems to emit a pale, otherworldly glow. Pristine, easy-swimming water, craggy rocks, and lovely sunsets dipping below the dhow-dotted sea complete the picture. With hype comes commerce: The area has a heavy concentration of restaurants, beach vendors, bars, resorts, and outfitters for water sports and excursions (deep-sea fishing, sunset cruises, and trips to the incredible Nakupenda Beach sandbank off of Stone Town are especially popular).
Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Long before Hollywood put it on the tourist map (first with “South Pacific” in 1958, then “The Descendants” half a century later), Hanalei Bay attracted locals for its near-mystical beauty. Its string of beaches — Wai’oli, Hanalei Pavilion, and Black Pot — is framed by jade-colored mountains hurtling 4,000 feet high. The area is popular with surfers in the winter, when the waves pick up size and speed.
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Perhaps the most famous beach in the world, glam Copacabana Beach has just about everything going for it: three miles of glorious golden sand, a party-like vibe, and a dazzling skyline of jagged mountains and Art Deco and modernist architecture. Even the beach boulevard, a swirly black-and-white mosaic design by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, is a visual knockout. The beach acts as the city’s social hub (especially on weekends), with locals sunbathing, promenading, and playing volleyball, and vendors selling everything from popsicles and shrimp skewers to caipirinhas and ice-cold beer. Copa’s glory days may be behind it (Leblon and Ipanema are chicer “it spots”), but the vintage appeal is part of its charm.
Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia
Cape Le Grand National Park is home to several distinct beaches and bays, each one beautiful and quintessentially Australian. Le Grand Coastal Trail winds through scrubby heath and rocky bluffs, visiting Hellfire Bay (where granite boulders, clear blue water, and an arcing beach form fantastic scenery) and Lucky Bay (the site of some of the world’s whitest sand). For a bird’s-eye view, hike the 1.5-mile, wildflower-strewn Frenchman Peak Trail.
Clearwater Beach, Florida
A whopping 1,350 miles of coastline grant Florida some of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., if not the world. Clearwater Beach is enormously popular for its headlining virtue, but powdery white sands, flame-colored sunsets, and sensational weather year-round are other big perks. It’s not out of the ordinary to spot dolphins leaping over the water and pelicans hanging out with the fishermen on Pier 60. If a break from all that Florida sunshine is in order, visit the sea turtles, stingrays, and penguins at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Sotavento Beach, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
While Fuerteventura is wildly overdeveloped in parts, Sotavento is the antidote to the island’s brassy, built-up beach resorts. Its 17-mile span contains little but golden dunes, immense sandy beach, and rolling teal waves. Reliable trade winds dimple the desert-meets-ocean landscape with vast tidepools and low-tide lagoons. The windy conditions plus year-round warm water make Sotavento heaven for swimming, surfing, kiteboarding, and Hobie Cat sailing.
Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Truly beautiful beaches tend to be remote-island destinations far from urban buzz. A big exception is Camps Bay Beach, right in vibrant Cape Town. Backed by iconic Table Mountain, the beach offers a huge expanse of feathery sand and beautiful blue water. There’s plenty on tap in the Mother City beyond sun and surf: exploring the cobbled streets and colorful facades in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, hiking or riding the aerial cableway to the top of Cape Town’s famous flat-topped mountain, and braving Chapman’s Peak, the hair-raising ocean drive through rocky cliffs tumbling into the South Atlantic. Safaris, famous vineyards, whale-watching, and shark-diving all make easy day trips.
Anse Source D’Agent, La Digue Island, Seychelles
The word “Seychelles” conjures the very image of a dreamy, far-flung paradise. Luckily, the Seychelles reality every bit measures up to the fantasy, with exquisite beaches, intensely green nature reserves, and majestic wildlife at every turn. Anse Source D’Agent exemplifies the unique Seychellois beach formula, defined by a translucent lagoon perfect for snorkeling and wavy granite boulders that seem tossed onto the shore by ancient giants.
Praia de Santa Monica, Boa Vista, Cape Verde
Saharan Desert and untouched beaches make Boa Vista a must-visit for beach lovers with an adventurous streak. Praia de Santa Monica serenely rolls along nearly 14 miles of the island’s southwest coast — an astonishing scene of billowing dunes, rocky cliffs, and wild ocean flashing deep blue and green. Though the current is often too strong for swimming, the beach is perfect for long, enchanting walks and whale-watching.
Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Balearic Islands
Set on a narrow whisp of land in northern Formentera, Playa de Ses Illetes’s gleaming gold sand is washed by turquoise shallows on both sides. Nature-preserve status keeps crowds in check, and visitors can walk along the headland for even more secluded beaches. A half-hour stroll north takes you to the tip of the island, with views of S’Espalmador across the channel.
Shark Creek Beach, Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, The Bahamas
The majority of Bahamian beaches are safely in “paradise on Earth” territory. If you’re looking for a quiet, isolated experience, Shark Creek Beach is as good as it gets. It’s a short flight or boat ride from Nassau, yet feels utterly secluded from the rest of the world. On the usually empty beach, silky sand quietly dips into aquamarine waters, whose shallows stretch about half a mile offshore.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays Island, Australia
In terms of must-visit sites in Australia, Whitehaven Beach is up there with Sydney Opera House and Noosa National Park. From above, the destination’s ever-shifting swirl of salt-white sand and brilliant blue water resemble a precious marbled jewel. (Hike to the panoramic Hill Inlet Lookout for one of the best views of your life.) Made of extremely fine, silica-rich quartz, the squeaky-soft sand is some of the smoothest and whitest in the world.
Le Morne, Mauritius
Go to just about any shore in Mauritius, and you’ll find a reef-protected beach with calm, clear water ideal for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling. Le Morne is particularly noteworthy for its two-and-a-half miles of sugar-soft sand (beaches in Mauritius are often rough with broken-up coral) densely lined with palm and pine-like filao trees. The sheltered lagoon waters stretch to the horizon and the kitesurfing conditions are perhaps the best in the world. For dramatic effect, the nearby Le Morne Mountain looms large.
Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Of the 500-some islands floating in India’s Bay of Bengal, Havelock’s spectacular beaches and diving makes it far and away the most sought-after. Despite the island’s well-deserved popularity, Radhanagar Beach feels every bit a remote escape. Save a handful of thatch-roof structures, development has been kept entirely at bay; instead of high-rise hotels or even water-sports kiosks, there’s nothing but thick tropical mahua trees and other endemic greenery rushing right up to the shoreline. At night, the blazing sunsets are intensified by their reflection in the ripply, receded tide.
Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
About 220 miles off the coast of Brazil, Baia do Sancho is regularly deemed the world’s very best beach. UNESCO designation and careful government protections (including daily preservation fees and visitor cap) keep it and the entire Fernando de Noronha archipelago pristine. Access to Baia do Sancho is by boat or a series of slightly unnerving stone steps or steel ladders built into the cliffs. Those who go are rewarded with a sheltered C-shaped beach with smooth, soft sand and abundant sea life — fish, dolphins, sharks, and rays can all be seen swimming in the teal bay.
Bai Dam Trau, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Trying to select Vietnam’s most beautiful beach is tough, but Bai Dam Trau in the Con Dao islands is certainly a top contender. With distinct golden sand, soft swells, and shady groves of bamboo and evergreen trees, it’s the kind of place to spend the day gently swinging in a hammock with a beach read and walking in the surf with a freshly hacked coconut. The island’s nearby airport means commercial jets fly thrillingly close, bringing momentary excitement (or disruption, to some) to the otherwise idyllic spot.
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Sand as soft as talcum; turquoise water as calm as a lake; water sports, beach bars, and luxury resorts: World-renowned Seven Mile Beach has it all. The beauty in a miles-long beach (albeit not quite seven miles — it’s closer to five and a half) is that everyone’s happy. Travelers looking for a social atmosphere and high-octane fun can find it in a snap, while those just wanting to plop under an umbrella with a good book have no shortage of quiet hideouts on the sand.
La Pelosa Beach, Sardinia, Italy
Here’s a beach that’s beautiful and knows it. Prospective beachgoers must pay an entry fee online and, once there, use beach mats under their towels, refrain from smoking, and wear a bracelet signaling payment. Of course, these efforts prevent overcrowding so everyone can enjoy La Pelosa’s sands, baked bone-white by the Mediterranean sun, and shimmering clear shallows. An Aragonese stone watchtower on neighboring Asinara island completes the scene. Other must-see Sardinian beaches include Porto Giunco, Spiaggia La Cinta, Cala Mariolu, and Spiaggia di Cala Coticcio.
Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
French Polynesia is associated with beachy, tropical splendor. Matira Beach gets an honorable mention for its size, cleanliness, easy access, and incredible beauty — picture fluffy white sand, calm turquoise water as far as the eye can see, and lush volcanic hills peaking in the distance. Matira is Bora Bora’s biggest public beach, yet its scene is mellow and subdued. Beachgoers are usually napping on towels, wading in the knee-deep water, or visiting the beach’s boutiques and affordable cafes.
Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos’ Grace Bay Beach is consistently rated one of the top beaches in the world, and really, it’s no wonder. This magnificent beach has the sublime combo of white sand and warm azure sea. Topping it off is Princess Alexandra Marine Park just offshore, where snorkelers can peer in on the underwater world. (Residents include majestic rays, green and hawksbill turtles, and dazzling fish all colors of the rainbow.) This may be one of the most popular beaches in the world, but there’s plenty of room for everyone — between Grace Bay and neighboring Leeward and Bight beaches, visitors have seven continuous miles of beach to explore.
Scala dei Turchi, Sicily
Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks) is the breathtaking confluence of water and time. Located on the west coast of Sicily, a blindingly white marlstone cliff marches toward the sea like a staircase, leading to an isolated beach below. The contrast of the snow-white stone plus the blue-green Mediterranean is a photographer’s dream.
Railay West, Krabi, Thailand
Soaring cliffs covered in dense jungle cut off the Railay peninsula from the southern Thailand mainland. The isolated location and boat-only access dial up Railay’s unique beauty to an insane degree. The curving beach is punctuated by towering creviced karsts — the limestone formations that have made Railay a world-class destination for rock-climbing — and the emerald lagoon is a paradise for kayaking and SUP-boarding. Neighboring Phra Nang beach is pocked with caves, including a fertility shrine. Head to the other side of the isthmus (Railay East) for a rockin’ bar scene.
Praia de Marinha, The Algarve, Portugal
Golden sand and striking limestone cliffs are calling cards for beaches in Portugal’s southern Algarve region. Picking the most beautiful is like splitting hairs, but special honors go to Praia de Marinha for its rustic, end-of-the-world appeal and lack of commercial build-up. Other quintessential Algarve must-visit beaches include Praia dos Três Irmãos, Praia de Benagil, Praia da Falésia, and the super-sheltered Carvalho Beach.