10 of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches
Few destinations soothe restless minds quite like the place where land meets sea. And while every beach worth its saltwater combines the same ingredients of sand and waves and sky, it’s the endless permutations of those constants that keep our cameras snapping—and our vacation plans in full swing. Whether it’s a golden crescent of sand backed by jade-colored waters or a swath of white shoreline at the end of the world, these beautiful beaches are worth the trip.
Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia
With its milky shoreline and gently lapping waves, this remote four-mile swath in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef–sheltered Whitsunday Islands chain is a sunbather’s dream. That’s because Whitehaven claims some of the world’s purest sand, a powder-like sediment that’s so white it doesn’t heat up and burn your toes even at the sun’s peak. The beach is backed by rainforest, but nature lovers should train their eyes on the turquoise waters and shifting shoals, where you’ll spot dolphins and lumbering sea turtles in the distance.
Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Bermuda’s most popular beach draws cruising tourists in droves for good reason: Set against aquamarine waters and a collection of dramatic rock outcroppings, Horseshoe Bay’s famous pink sands take on a postcard-worthy appearance. Feeling adventurous? Ditch the crowds and wander west to claim hidden coves for yourself, including Port Royal, in South Shore Park, a calm inlet with shallow waves where your only neighbor may be a passing angel or parrotfish, or head east for walking trails that will lead you to other beaches along the island’s coast.
Windmill Beach, South Africa
Most vacationers flock to Cape Town’s Atlantic Coast to snap pictures of the resident penguin colony at Boulders Bay, but in-the-know kayakers and divers detour to Windmill Beach next door, a secluded cove that shares the same white sands, sea-green waves, and age-old granite formations, plus two gale-protected lagoons and a reef that’s home to colorful sea pens and the elusive arminas that feed on them. Go earlier in the day to avoid late-afternoon winds, then hop in the car for the short ride north for a fresh-caught lunch at Simon’s Town’s Lighthouse Café.
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There’s no need to leave the shoreline to experience the cultural appeal of Mexico’s best boho-chic beach destination. In Tulum, on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, you can tour the ancient Mayan ruins that rise from the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, bounce around the outdoor bars and taco shacks, or simply park yourself in a hammock ideally sited for cross breezes for the rest of your trip. If you prefer some adventure, a 15-minute ride will take you to dazzling cenotes, limestone sinkholes where you’ll do some of your best snorkeling.
Matira Beach, Bora Bora
Though blissful relaxation is its calling card, Bora Bora’s palm-fringed Matira Beach holds something for everyone. Thrill seekers can snorkel among sharks and rays (or dive to feed them) in the azure lagoon that’s bordered by the island’s diverse barrier reef; less intense plunges include diving for pearls at a local oyster farm. Meanwhile, history fanatics can tour the World War II canons that were installed throughout Bora Bora’s interior when it served as a U.S. military base. But adventure lovers might prefer a hike to volcanic peaks that dominate Matira’s backdrop.
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Ipanema Beach, Brazil
Tall and tan and young and lovely, the sunbathers who recline on the shores of Ipanema are almost as beautiful as the beach itself, a two-mile stretch that’s backed by jungle-covered Sugarloaf Mountain and some of Rio de Janeiro’s toniest boutiques, hotels, and restaurants. If the party vibe is too raucous, wander next door past posto seven (the beaches in Rio are divided into 12 sections) to family-friendly Arpoador Beach, where the surfers and sunsets dominate the scene, or venture slightly farther afield to posto six for volleyball on Copacabana Beach.
Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles
With its dramatic granite boulder formations, swaying palm trees, and crystal-clear waters, the Seychelles’ most famous beach has become a frequent backdrop for film and fashion photo shoots. But Anse Source d’Argent, on La Digue, offers more than just a screensaver-worthy view. An offshore reef lures snorkelers with its diversity of aquatic life (you’ll see butterflyfish, porcupinefish, and moray eels) and protects a quiet inlet that draws swimmers for its gently lapping waves. Nature lovers will want to visit the 19th-century coconut plantation just off its shores: It’s a giant tortoise sanctuary.
El Nido, Philippines
The jade-hued waters and powdery sands of Palawan, the Philippines most scenic tropical island, are home to nearly 50 different types of coral, all of which lure visiting whale sharks, purple crabs, and sea turtles and make it a world-class scuba destination. The northern town of El Nido also has more than 50 beaches, but there’s more to this prototypical paradise than underwater kicks. Limestone karsts and marble cliffs rise from untouched lagoons, primeval jungles, caves, and waterfalls dot the landscape, and quaint fishing villages dole out surprisingly authentic takes on international cuisines. And don’t miss seeing the spectacular sunset on Los Cabanas Beach.
Tunnels Beach, Kauai
It’s no wonder the producers of the 1958 musical South Pacific chose Tunnels, backed by exceedingly green palm and ironwood trees, as the film’s backdrop. Named for the underwater lava tubes that serve as a paradise for tropical fish, the beach is a haven for snorkelers and divers as well as swimmers thanks to the gentle crests that crash on its golden crescent of shoreline. It’s rarely crowded, but Kauai’s northern shore is home to a host of other worthy beach destinations within driving distance, including Hanalei Bay, where surfers may find more hospitable waves.
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Tonnara di Scopello, Italy
Equal parts peaceful retreat and cultural lesson, the tiny fishing village of Scopello sits on Sicily’s northwestern coast, on a crystalline shoreline punctuated with stoic faraglioni that look out on boulders (not sand) strewn with lively sunbathers. You’ll also see the ruins of two historic fortresses and the remains of a crumbling tonnara, or tuna fishery. Get there before the crowds descend, then venture nearby to Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve to spot the eagles, falcons, and owls that scan these waters. If an Italian Riviera experience is more your speed, head over to the umbrella-lined beach at San Vito Lo Capo.
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