It’s time: to transform your itchy feet into sandy toes. A beach vacation is the epitome of paradise for many of us: a place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, experience new cultures, and generally tap into our inner chill.
Everyone has their own idea of the perfect beach. For some, the distance between the shore and the nearest cocktail bar is the deciding factor in our destination choice. Others would much rather share a stretch of sand with a host of sea-faring wildlife than other human beings (we’re totally on board with that).
Consider yourself a thrill-seeker? Well, a beach without at least five watersports options simply isn’t worth visiting. Although, a happy medium for many is a gentle trek to a secluded bay, where you’re still within arm’s reach of a freshly-poured drink.
We’ve handpicked our favorite beaches from all four corners of the globe, with a particular focus on eco-vacations. We’ve shone the spotlight on beaches with a commitment to sustainability, a focus on conservation, and where wildlife is just as important as tourism.
So, whatever your beach style, we’ve curated the best beaches in the world to inspire your next trip.
The 21 best beaches in the world
- Sancho Bay, Brazil
- Playa del Amor, Mexico
- Praia de Salema, Portugal
- Playa Matapalo, Costa Rica
- Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Australia
- Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay South Island NZ
- Hanauma Nature Reserve, Hawaii
- Short Sands Beach, Oregon
- Gerakas Beach, Greece
- Tortuga Bay, Galapagos
- Sabang Beach, Philippines
- Nungwi Beach, Tanzania
- Clearwater Beach, Florida
- Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town
- Matira Beach, Bora Bora
- Castaway Island, Fiji
- Halfmoon Caye, Belize
- Bibione Beach, Italy
- Woolacombe Beach, England
- Levara Beach, Grenada
- Sunset Beach, Koh Kradan, Thailand
Sancho Bay, Brazil
A regular presence on ‘best beaches’ guides, one glimpse of Sancho Bay makes it easy to see why. This isolated, white-sand beach merges like a watercolor painting into emerald-green waters; you can take a dip and wash away your earthly worries.
Only accessible by foot or boat, visiting this famous beach takes dedication. Located 320 kilometers from the mainland, this hard-to-reach beach rewards those who make the effort. The lack of heavy crowds (and thus, pollution) has left this gorgeous beach absolutely pristine, with scenery that’ll have you wanting to quit your job and go full Castaway.
With rugged cliffs framing the beach and a vast expanse of open ocean stretching in front of you, you can walk, snorkel, or sunbathe to your heart’s content. And, with famously temperate weather year-round, it’s always a good time to visit.
Playa del Amor, Mexico
Can you keep a secret? Nestled in the Marieta Islands, 22 nautical miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, lies a hidden tropical beach tucked far away from the frenzy of the outside world. Its name? Playa del Amor, or Lover’s Beach.
Appearing uncannily alike to the beach from the synonymous movie, this pocket of paradise is truly worth a visit. There’s a small catch though: you must swim through a narrow tunnel to reach it, with just 6ft of space between the water and the ceiling. But hey, nothing easy is worth doing, right?
Believe us: the effort pays off. You’ll be greeted with white sand, the crystalline Pacific lapping at the shore, and most likely, not another soul in sight. Except, perhaps, a flock of rainbow birds and, if you’re really lucky, a pod of dolphins.
Praia de Salema, Portugal
We all seek authenticity when we travel, right? Step into the world of traditional Portuguese fishermen (watch them catch fish while you catch rays!) in Praia de Salema, perched on the Algarve coast of Portugal.
Stretching for 1 kilometer, this gorgeous beach is perfect for languorous walks, and the gentle tide makes it superb for swimming. If you’re a keen diver (or want to try it out), you can explore the shipwreck of L’Ocean, a French ship that met a tragic end back in 1759.
Or, simply take in the glorious view of traditional white houses, golden sands, and vibrant fishing boats bejewelling the horizon. If that’s not enough to have you booking flights pronto, check this out: there are real, fossilized dinosaur footprints on this beach.
So, if fisherman, fossils, and foundered ships are your vibe, head to Praia de Salema and soak up some history and culture, as well as those rays.
Playa Matapalo, Costa Rica
Central America is hardly short of beautiful beaches. However, some shine brighter than the rest. Playa Matapalo, a proudly eco-friendly community, boasts a palm-lined shore, serving up that satisfying contrast of lush greenery and white sand.
If you’re on the market for sustainable holidays, head over to la playa. Bursting with exotic wildlife, conscious accommodation, and a community that takes care of the planet seriously, Playa Matapalo is the ultimate barefoot chic destination.
In fact, this idyllic beach has been awarded the Blue Ecological Flag, a tribute to the community’s commitment to sustainability and carbon-neutral living. Yep, at Playa Matapalo, the only footprints they leave are in the sand.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Australia
If we were to define true paradise, it would be Whitehaven Beach. Stretching for a vast 7 kilometers, this nirvana sits in the Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Voted the world’s best eco-friendly beach and Queensland’s cleanest beach, Whitehaven is the best place to forget your worldly troubles.
Even the sand is special: formed from 98% pure white silica, it genuinely glows with luminescence. Paired with the undulating swirls of the turquoise waters, this makes for an unforgettable aesthetic.
Swim, snorkel, hike or simply be. There’s plenty of unfamiliar wildlife to discover, both in and out of the water. You can even jump on a scenic helicopter flight over the island for out-of-this-world views.
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach is that slice of paradise we’ve all dreamed of.
Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay South Island NZ
Golden Bay, or Mohua in the local Maori language, sits on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Within Golden Bay is Wharariki Beach, a secluded shore offering the illusion of truly remote wilderness (though really, you’re never too far from a flat white!).
Reachable via a 20-minute walk down a sandy track, this untouched beach is free of any development, aside from a quaint campsite set back from the coast. Most famous for the Archway Islands, this unique beach offers second-to-none views. In fact, you might recognize it from the Windows 10 lock screen image! Yes, this beach is so pretty that it’s splashed across the laptop screens of millions.
With towering cliffs to the east and west and dunes lining the beach, plus plenty of caves and caverns to explore, you won’t be stuck for things to see and do. However, locals advise against swimming, since the beach’s remoteness and powerful tides can be a dangerous combination.
Hanauma Nature Reserve, Hawaii
Could we create a guide to the world’s best beaches without featuring Hawaii? Situated just a thirty-minute drive from Honolulu, this wine-glass-shaped bay offers up all the volcanic beauty one could wish for. Honestly, it’s as though Mother Nature created the perfect island beach, complete with an impressive mountain overlooking the bay.
Our tip? Head there early in the morning to watch the sunrise. You’ll a) witness one of the most spectacular sunrises in the world and b) avoid the crowds that head there later in the day. Hanauma Nature Reserve is a haven for the nature-loving traveler, teeming with over four hundred species of fish cruising around the waters. That’s not all: if you’re fortunate, you might spot a green turtle or two.
And, once the day is done, head to one of the beaches’ many gorgeous cafes for a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine.
Short Sands Beach, Oregon
Sure, the Pacific Northwest state is known for embracing the hippie lifestyle, with thousands of off-grid communities nestled in the interior. But what about the beaches?
Short Sands Beach (or ‘Shorty’s’ to locals) requests a Leave No Trace approach from its visitors. Meaning, of course, you should leave the beach exactly as you found it. That small ask is why this dramatic pocket of shoreline has retained its pure, unadulterated charm.
The experience begins far before you reach the beach, though. To access it, you must take a short hike through an old forest of Sitka Spruce trees, the kind of which you’ll find blanketing the coastal flanks. The soft sand is edged with volcanic basalt and craggy sandstone cliffs, giving you a healthy dose of the state’s revered wilderness.
Popular for surfers and body-boarders, the tide serves up consistent breaks further out and frothy whitewater for those wishing to dip their toes in.
Gerakas Beach, Greece
Gerakas Beach, situated on the south-eastern side of Zakynthos, is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the Greek Islands (and that’s saying something). If you’ve got a soft spot for conservation, this is truly the destination dreams are made of. Early risers, rejoice: before dawn from May to October, you have the chance of seeing baby turtles hatching and tottling off on their first journey towards the ocean. Now, that’s a sight you’ll never forget.
Part of the Zakynthos Marine Park, this protected beach is closed to tourists from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise. This is to ensure the Loggerhead turtles enjoy a safe space to lay their eggs. But hey, aside from this small but necessary stipulation, the gorgeous peninsula paradise is all yours (well, nearly). But no fear: the turtles are happy to share, and you might even encounter a grown-up Loggerhead meandering the waters during the day.
Tortuga Bay, Galapagos
What would you rather: a cruise in a taxi boat or an hour-long jaunt along a cacti-lined trail? Whichever mode of transport you choose, know that paradisiacal sights await you at Tortuga Bay, Galapagos.
Named after the black sea turtles that nest there, this stretch of luminous white sand is about as far away from your nine-to-five grind as it gets. Of course, the Galapagos Islands are known for their unique array of wildlife, and it doesn’t stop at Darwin’s finches.
You’ll share the area with marine iguanas, brown pelicans, and even flamingos, who love to cool off in the turquoise lagoon that’s nestled behind the beach. Here, you’ll relax among fascinating creatures, with soft sand under your feet and swathes of blue ocean sparkling before your eyes. Adventure-seekers can rent kayaks, but be aware that swimming is prohibited on the main beach due to the strong currents.
Sabang Beach, Philippines
Sabang Beach in Palawan, Philippines, is revered as a nirvana on Earth. And, boy, does it live up to the hype. Offering affordable barefoot luxury, this slice of paradise is home to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Underground River. And yes, that’s as breathtaking as it sounds. Simply take a tiny boat from Sabang’s lovely pier, soaking up the jade-green waters and jungled coastline as you go.
However, the beach itself is certainly one for the photo album. Dotted with those ubiquitous rainbow-hued catamarans, the shoreline is enveloped by dense rainforest, part of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
Plus, if festivals of feathered friends take your fancy, you can enjoy delightful birdwatching at Sabang Beach. Complete with friendly locals, a traditional feel, and plenty of mouthwatering Phillipino eateries, you’ll truly get what you came for at Sabang.
Nungwi Beach, Tanzania
If there’s ever a destination that’ll transcend your expectations, it’s Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar.
Picture-postcard-perfect, this pristine beach boasts powdery, white sand, crystalline waters, and more intriguing wildlife than you can imagine.
Since it’s situated along the western coastline, Nungwi Beach is a must-visit for sunset chasers. Nothing beats an African sunset, with that glorious blood-red sun sinking deep into the horizon. It doesn’t get more #Insta-worthy than that. You can even take a lazy sunset cruise with the locals, a favorite activity of the many loved-up couples who visit.
You’re only a stone’s throw away from the wonderful Mnarani Natural Aquarium, too. Managed by locals, this conservation project’s raison d’etre is rescuing green and hawksbill turtles, releasing them back into the wild when they’re ready.
But, it’s not all peace and quiet: after sunset, the surrounding village plays host to vibrant nightlife, with a terrific choice of atmospheric bars and lively events to burn some energy (especially after a taxing day sunbathing—life is tough, we know).
Clearwater Beach, Florida
If you’re a thrill-seeker at heart, you’ll find a home at Clearwater Beach, Florida. Jam-packed with exhilarating watersport options, you can jet-ski, parasail, and SUP until the sun goes down.
One of Florida’s most popular beaches, Clearwater enjoys gorgeously sultry summer temperatures of around 32℃. So, you can see why locals and tourists flock there; that summer glow is yours for the taking.
Talk a stroll along the winding promenade, lined with delectable eateries and charming cafes. Sure, it’s not the most isolated of beaches. But with the flawless beach ahead and the bustling town behind, Clearwater Beach makes for a perfect sweet spot (especially if you prefer to be mere seconds from an ice-cold cocktail).
Since it’s watched by lifeguards 365 days a year, this beach makes a wonderful, family-friendly destination. The kids will adore splashing around in the ocean, and you’re never far from the vibrant downtown bars.
Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town
Overlooked by the imposing (but oh-so-beautiful) Twelve Apostles Mountains, Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town is one for the bucket list—particularly if you enjoy a late night or two. The characters that frequent Camps Bay are as diverse as the continent itself, so you’re sure to leave with countless memories from your encounters!
And the beach? Only as blessed as it gets. Bright white sand meets an icy-cold, crystal-clear ocean. The water is, by all accounts, a ‘look but don’t touch’ situation. Unless, of course, you enjoy reducing your body temperature to the minuses. However, it certainly makes for a refreshing paddle after a long hot day soaking up the African sun.
Take your pick of lively bars, restaurants, and live music events to keep you entertained post-sunset, or grab a drink and take a few sandy steps back to the beach to watch the swell.
Matira Beach, Bora Bora
Just one of the 118 islands of French Polynesia, Bora Bora is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world. Our (and everyone else’s) favorite? Matira Beach.
Offering spa-like warm waters, you could spend weeks or even months here. Time seems to stand still on this pristine beach, in the very best of ways. The sapphire-blue lagoon is lined by luscious coconut palms, creating a natural shade for the skin-conscious sun-worshipper (mind those falling coconuts, though).
The definition of idyllic, the views of Matira Beach beat any travel-agent advert you’ve ever seen. The lazy vibe of this beach is perfect for laid-back travelers seeking the quieter side of life.
That said, you’re only a short walk away from bars, cafes, and restaurants spanning the waterfront. So, keep yourself to yourself, or head to the bars and make some new friends; the choice is yours.
Castaway Island, Fiji
The pinnacle of Southern Pacific laid-back lifestyle, Castaway Island resort in tropical Fiji is a must-visit for slow travel enthusiasts. Trust us: a week is not enough here. Visit once, and you’ll want to remain forever.
The stunning island offers a picturesque landscape of vast white-sand shoreline, dense, teeming jungle, and a smattering of thatched huts dotted about. Lookout to the ocean, and take in the gloriously vibrant coral reefs and endless stretch of the azure Pacific. You’ll feel small, in the most freeing of ways: truly, if anywhere will help you gain perspective, it’s Castaway Island.
What’s more, you’re sure to fall deeply in love with the locals. Famed for their warm hospitality, Fijians adore nothing more than to share their piece of paradise with visitors. So, for an escape that may just have you canceling your return flight, head to Castaway Island.
Halfmoon Caye, Belize
Belize is often eclipsed by its infamous Blue Hole. Of course, this phenomenon is a sight to behold, but there’s plenty more to the country than scarily deep ocean sinkholes. Located on the southwesterly corner of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Halfmoon Caye attracts divers, who come to observe the cornucopia of fascinating marine wildlife resident in the crystal-clear waters.
Nested safely in a national park, Halfmoon Caye has thankfully avoided the ruination we so often see in formerly untouched destinations. So, don your diving gear, and get ready to witness snappers, hogfish, groupers, and even stingrays in these heavily-populated waters.
And, there’s something extra special at Halfmoon Caye: keep an eye out for the endemic Island Leaf-Toed Gecko, found nowhere else in the world.
Bear in mind, this magical crescent of sand is 52 miles from the mainland, so you’ll have to take a boat across the open ocean to reach it.
Bibione Beach, Italy
While the tropics often steal the gold for the best beaches in the world, it’s wise to remember Europe has its fair share, too. Bibione Beach, Italy, is a must-visit for the eco-chic traveler. This eco-friendly destination offers a generous helping of la dolce vita, with no less than 11 kilometers of flawless shoreline stretching as far as the eye can see.
And, check this out: Bibione Beach is smoke-free. Yep, nobody is allowed to puff away on this idyllic beach (cigarettes make up one-third of beach litter, you know), making it perfect for families and non-smoking travelers.
Unsurprisingly, Bibione is a certified Green Destination, highlighting the area’s unwavering commitment to clean air, clean living, and eco-conscious practice. In fact, Bibione is still relatively undiscovered by the masses. Though, judging by the pick of bars, seafood restaurants, watersports, and activities available, it may not stay that way for long.
Woolacombe Beach, England
Recognized as one of the best beaches in the UK, Woolacombe beach on the North Devon coast is a surfer’s paradise. In fact, the village becomes a hub for surf-seeking travelers over the summer months, making for a vibrant, lively, and energetic atmosphere (by night, at least).
By day, one can laze in the golden sands, watching the crashing waves of the Atlantic throw ill-prepared frolickers off their feet. The 3-mile stretch of yellow sand means there’s ample space to find your own secluded spot, and, if you are surfing, you can enjoy far less crowded waves than neighboring beaches.
This resplendent coastline is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), thanks to its unspoiled views and ample wildlife. And the best part (for eco-travelers, at least): Woolacombe is proudly part of #plasticfreedevon, with a local group, Surfers Against Sewage regularly hosting beach cleanups to keep their corner of the world pristine.
Levara Beach, Grenada
Step barefoot onto Levara Beach, Grenada, and you might just find you’re the only one there. A destination for the more intrepid among us, Levara is relatively remote and peppered with lush greenery and golden sands. This picture-postcard beach perches amid the wild Atlantic, offering a pocket of paradise not easily rivaled.
You’ll forget time exists; the daily worries of everyday life will be swept away by the lapping waves. Gaze out to the forested (and charmingly named) Sugar Loaf Island just offshore, and truly feel at one with the world. In the far-off distance, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Grenadine islands dotting the horizon, too.
Thankfully, the area is protected by Grenada’s national park system, largely because the vast coastline attracts nesting sea turtles. For calm and quiet and a feeling of true peace eclipsing even your post-yoga glow, head to Levara—trust us: you won’t regret it.
Sunset Beach, Koh Kradan, Thailand
Granted, it’s fair to say many of Thailand’s formerly idyllic beaches have been spoilt by tourism. However, a few hidden gems remain if you know where to look (we’ve got your back). Sunset Beach on Koh Kradan is one such destination.
Easily reached by the 15-minute jungle trail (an experience in itself!), Sunset Beach offers a much-needed patch of seclusion. Gold star for whoever can guess the prime time to visit? Sunset, of course. Observe the glorious Thai sun sinking over the twinkling waters, ideal for taking a sunset swim or making the most of that Golden Hour glow.
The warm, shallow waters are perfect for wading, and you might catch a glimpse of some ultra-cool tropical fish who favor the well-preserved reefs just offshore. There’s no village, bars, or infrastructure on the island, so it’s perfect for those seeking true solitude (make sure you bring plenty of water!). Simply catch a longtail boat from the mainland, taking around an hour.
Frequently asked questions about the best beaches in the world
Of course, each to their own. However, Sancho Bay, Brazil, is regularly voted one of the world’s best beaches. It’s easy to see why, given its stunning scenery, remote location, and abundance of wildlife.
Tripadvisor has named Whitehaven Beach on the Whitsunday Islands of Australia as the best beach of the year. Offering everything you could want from a beach vacation, we’re sure it wasn’t a tough choice. Check our roundup of the world’s best beaches to find the perfect beach for you.
Now, that’s a tough call. We’d say it’s a fair game between Sancho Bay, Brazil, Whitehaven Beach, Australia, and Nungwi Beach, Tanzania. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so check our list of the world’s best beaches to find the perfect one for you.
Again, there’s no single answer here. Of course, Australia is packed with gorgeous beaches—as is Fiji (trip to Castaway Island, anyone?), Thailand, and essentially every coastal nation in South America.