The 10 Best Beaches to Visit This Year

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Joyce Carol Oates, the celebrated American author, once said, “I never visit beaches except to walk or run.” And we totally get it—public beaches can be crowded, noisy, dirty, unpleasant places, and even the best ones, in the U.S. at least, overcharge you for parking, snacks, and drinks. These beaches can be more like salty public pools than the gorgeous shorelines we like to imagine.

But some beaches have stayed wild and retained their magic. Their pristine white sand, their immaculate biodiversity, their local color. Some of these beaches don’t even have sand, and they’re still worth the trip.

Some of these locales are deep in the Caribbean, tucked away between some small fishing villages or in the shadow of a titanic mountain. One of them is teeming with kangaroos, another with crocodiles. And one of them is so far north and so isolated that you can only access it by boat or by helicopter (we’d pick the latter any day of the week).

If your beach vacations feel lacking, hit up some of these undeveloped, off-the-grid seaside retreats. Plan carefully, though—they’re honestly tough to get to, and totally worth the effort.

Channel Islands National Park Is an Adventure Paradise Hiding in Plain Sight

Isla Holbox: Mexico

Sure, you can fly into Cancún and explore the now-overdone beaches of Tulum. Or you can take a two-and-a-half-hour ride up a two-lane highway through the jungle, followed by a 25-minute ferry trip across a pale-green lagoon, and find yourself on a spit of an island that feels like the last undeveloped coastline in Mexico.

And to experience Isla Holbox (pronounced Holebosch) is to experience something real: There’s a village with a downtown plaza and a single basketball court, where the local boys play hoops and the girls practice soccer drills. There is a colorful profusion of restaurants, shops, and hotels, but almost none of them are over two stories tall. Hell, this island didn’t even get electricity until the late ’80s. The roads are hard-packed sand, and there are virtually no cars—transportation is either by bicycle or by golf carts that you can hail for 30 pesos a ride (about $2). Not that you have to move around a lot. Most of the island’s hotels face Playa Grande, a massive expanse of soft white-coral sand.

It’s still blissfully uncrowded, and the vibe is decidedly mellow, with sea and sky stretching out in seemingly infinite horizontal planes—so much so that the simple act of lying on the beach feels more like floating. The best of the hotels is CasaSandra, an airy, Zen-like boutique experience created by the Cuban artist Sandra Pérez, with rooms for less than the equivalent in Tulum or Cancún.

Twenty minutes outside of town via a rented bike is the less-developed Playa Coco. There you can stow the bike by any palm tree and walk south down a mostly deserted stretch of beach toward Punta Ciricote, where you’ll find flamingos, egrets, and pelicans sunning themselves in a cove across a bay that’s not more than a foot and a half deep.

When I described that scene to a local, I learned there had been at least one crocodile attack in those waters. “You have to remember,” he told me, “this is still a wild place.” Wild indeed. 

–Joseph Hooper

Photograph by Alicia Vera

Baia Do Sancho: Brazil

Baia do Sancho, a crest of white sand tucked below onyx cliffs on the island of Fernando de Noronha, might be Brazil’s finest beach—and that’s saying something.

To get there, though, is an ordeal: After snagging one of the 246 daily travel permits to the island, which heaves out of the Atlantic 200 miles off the northeast coast of Brazil, you’ll need to hire one of the island’s “boogies”—dune-buggy cars—to drop you off at a trail that descends a series of dubious-looking ladders. The reward is a remote cove in the Atlantic’s version of the Galápagos, with plant and bird species found nowhere else in the world.

The first time I climbed down to the beach, there were only a few people lounging in palm shade. The water, rich with sea life, was luxuriously warm, and in 20 minutes of snorkeling, I bumped into a sea turtle and a whitetip shark. I spent the rest of the day alternating between the surf and napping in a hammock. I even wheedled my way into a game of futevôlei, a Brazilian version of volleyball played with your feet.

Despite my inexperience, the Brazilians laughed and slapped me on the back and, when I was winded, handed me a fresh coconut to quench my thirst, then pushed me toward the sea.

–Aaron Gulley

Marcelo Alex / Shutterstock

Moheli: Comoros

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Comoros. The country, a tiny group of islands off Africa’s eastern coast, between Mozambique and Madagascar, has a small population and a turbulent history. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the archipelago was a pirate haven, thanks to its remoteness and easy access to spice-trade sailing routes in the Indian Ocean. Then, following independence from France in 1975, the country gained the dubious distinction of “coup capital of the world,” with 30 such attempts in roughly three decades. Which understandably kept tourists (and development money) away. 

These days, though, the islands are peaceful, blending Indian Ocean waters with warm Arab and African hospitality and a hint of French flair. The result is a relaxed culture set in an archipelago full of clear water, with empty beaches and volcanic peaks perfumed by clove, vanilla, and ylang-ylang, a tree now trendy in aromatherapy. 

The least-developed of Comoros’ four islands is Mohéli. At just 112 square miles, Mohéli is home to a scattering of traditional villages that fully embrace the few tourists ambitious enough to come. (You must first fly to the capital, Moroni, then take a boat across a 10-mile strait.) The island’s crown jewel is its namesake national marine park, a 155-square-mile refuge, home to reef sharks, giant manta rays, dugongs (cousins of the manatee), and the legendary coelacanth, a critically endangered, 400-million-year-old fish that was thought to be extinct until it was discovered here in 1938. You can spend your days exploring the park’s beaches and rugged islands by kayak or outrigger canoe, or diving pristine reefs. On land, there’s a jungle hike to Boudouni Lake, a small, sulphurous body of water formed in an ancient volcanic crater, and bird-watchers can hunt for a glimpse of the endemic blue vanga or giant Livingstone’s fruit bat, which has a wingspan of up to four feet. 

You won’t find nightclubs, shopping, or all the other tourist trappings. (The best place to stay is the 15-room Mohéli Laka Lodge.) What you will find is a beach destination that’s unlike any other. 

–Diane Selkirk

Rostasedlacek / Shutterstock

Rosario Islands: Colombia

THE PLACE: The Rosario Islands and the 46,000-square-mile national park that surrounds them are just 30 miles out of Cartagena, making the 28-island archipelago popular with daytripping Colombians.

THE APPEAL: The main island, Isla Grande, has wide, glorious stretches of white sand, with cabanas and umbrellas for sun seekers. But walk or kayak around and you can find your own hidden cove. You’ll also be able to see abandoned palaces dotting the islands—houses once owned by Pablo Escobar’s drug lords. 

THE DETAILS: To get there, you’ll need to take a boat from Cartagena. Stay the night at one of the island’s boutique hotels, like Coralina Island, which has thatched-roof bungalows right on the water. You can hire a boat or canoe at sunset and make your way over to Laguna Encantada, a lagoon famous for its bioluminescent plankton. At first glance it may look unimpressive under a dark sky, but once you dive into the water, it’s like immersing yourself in the universe, with stars clinging to your skin and flickering across the water. It may be as close to the heavens as you’re going to get. 


Venturelli Luca / Shutterstock

Lucky Bay: Australia

Australia has no shortage of gorgeous beaches—10,685 at last count, including famous spots like Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

But few travelers venture to the country’s southwest coast, where you can road trip for days and hit a string of dazzling spots, including Chapmans Point, Blue Haven, and a protected cove called Lucky Bay, which has a colony of resident kangaroos that often venture onto the sand.

To get there, fly to Perth, rent a car, and drive seven hours east to the country’s most under-the-radar beach town, Esperance, which has a Montauk-meets-Aussie vibe. From there, it’s another hour to reach Cape le Grand National Park and Lucky Bay. Scientists declared this isolated spot the whitest beach in Australia, with sand so fine it squeaks beneath your feet.

For now, there are only camping sites that overlook the gleaming bay (though glamping tents with private decks, kitchens, and bathrooms are being considered). In other words, you’ll be on your own for lodging, but the blindingly white beach, as well as its tranquil waters, will be all yours.

–Jen Murphy 

anek.soowannaphoom / Shutterstock

St. Helena: The Atlantic

THE PLACE: This subtropical island in the middle of the South Atlantic is famous for being the place where, in 1815, the British stashed Napoleon, sure he could never escape. In 2017, the island opened an airport, basically ending 500 years of isolation.

THE APPEAL: This is not your standard beach destination. In fact, one of its best beaches, complete with shells and golden sand, lies 150 feet above sea level, thanks to the island’s past volcanic activity. But what the rugged outpost (below) lacks in sand it makes up for in inthe-water experiences: warm, clear seas with just-below-thesurface historic shipwrecks; a large resident whale-shark population; and a host of endemic reef species. On land, there are numerous rugged hikes up the hills, including to the top of High Knoll Fort, a stone redoubt with a circular tower straight out of Harry Potter that looms over the island’s main town, Jamestown.

THE DETAILS: Flights to the island depart only from South Africa, and lodging is limited, but there is the Mantis St. Helena, which has 30 stunning rooms in the old East India Company Officers Barracks building. 


rosn123 / Shutterstock

Nels Bight: British Columbia

THE PLACE: Nels Bight is on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, in Cape Scott Provincial Park, making it one of the most secluded beaches in North America. 

THE APPEAL: It’s a wide-open, sand dollar–dotted beach with bald eagles soaring overhead, the occasional bear track on the sand, and seals frolicking in the water. The hike in is part of a network of almost 50 miles of trails, and you can day hike from Nels to the Cape Scott Lighthouse, where the friendly keepers may help you spot orcas off the coast, or wander south to the driftwood-lined Guise Bay.

THE DETAILS: Getting there requires an 11-mile hike through old-growth rainforest from the Cape Scott trailhead, itself a two-hour drive on logging roads from the remote outpost of Port Hardy. (Nearby Nimmo Bay Resort flies its guests in via helicopter .) There are no lodging options, so you’ll need a tent, but there are fire pits, food caches to keep the bears away, and a rope. The days are frequently fogged in—this is the Pacific Northwest, after all—so bring a full flask and a few lighters to start a roaring fire. It’s the little luxuries that go a long way when you’re this far off the grid. 


Jeremy Koreski

Ham Tin: China

Wild, tropical beaches aren’t exactly what springs to mind when you think of Hong Kong. But that’s exactly what’s on offer on the Chinese mainland.

The closest ones are just a 40-minute cab ride north from the city’s high-rises. It does take some effort to get to the best one, Ham Tin—a remote, whitesand cove surrounded by thousand-foot peaks.

The beach is at the end of a roughly 11-mile trek on MacLehose Trail, a 60-mile ribbon tying together the hills and fishing villages of the mainland New Territories, far afield of downtown but still part of the Hong Kong territory. The trail was the brainchild of a former Scottish governor of the city who, back in the 1970s, wanted to give claustrophobic residents some breathing room.

When I visited last summer, a friend assured me that it was worth the trek, and so I took her up on the challenge. We got out of the cab at the Kei Ling Ha bus stop, easily found the well-marked trailhead, and began marching toward Ham Tin, pretty much straight uphill. But the views from the top of the two peaks you cross on your way are outrageous: the green expanse of the South China Sea dotted with small islands wreathed in clouds. 

By the time we reached the ocean, we were shuffling like zombies, thanks to the summer heat, across the mile-long fan of white sand, where we shucked off our hiking boots and submerged our overheated bodies in the shallow water. Save for some local schoolkids on a hike, we were pretty much the only people on the beach. 

Afterward, we sank into the plastic chairs of the only restaurant there, drank oversize bottles of Tsingtao beer, and plowed through plates of curried noodles and roasted fish. We weren’t even done when the restaurant owner saw that the one fisherman in evidence was about to take off and gave him and us the nod.

So we sprinted and leaped into his twin-engined boat, which in a few seconds was crashing over the swells and zipping around islands. He let us off at a fishing village about 20 minutes away, which, unlike Ham Tin, is connected to the road system. We hailed a taxi for the ride back to the city, and that night, falling asleep in my hotel room, exhausted, with 7.3 million Hong Kongers for company, I dreamed about a perfect beach that was ours for a day.


K.C. Hung / Shutterstock

Trincomalee: Sri Lanka

In a country littered with fantastic beaches, the east coast town of Trincomalee (Trinco to locals) hits the seaside sweet spot—long swaths of empty white sand scattered with just enough infrastructure to ensure you can order a margarita.

The former British colony, off the south coast of India, was largely shut off from the rest of the world during a 30-year civil war that ended in the late 2000s, leaving it mostly untouched by tourist development.

There are a few low-key hotels—like Amaranthé Bay and Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, both right on the beach and offering great access to diving, fishing, and whale watching—but the beaches at Trinco are still mostly empty. Sure, there are Jet Ski rentals and banana-boat rides, but you’re more likely to encounter a herd of cows or even the occasional Asian elephant coming from the forest for a bath than a parasailer. (Two elephants were rescued from the water by the Sri Lankan military early last year.)

You can check out nearby Pigeon Island National Park or the colorful cliff-top Koneswaram temple, which is thought to date to 500 B.C., and the waters offshore are a kaleidoscopic dream for snorkelers and divers, who can explore the remains of the original Hindu temple, which was pushed into the sea by the invading Portuguese in 1622.

With its mix of palm trees, offshore reefs, and Hindu and colonial architecture, Trincomalee has a sort of Aladdin meets The Little Mermaid vibe, so you’ll be forgiven if you mistake it for the setting of a Disney flick. But go now: The islands around Trinco have recently been greenlighted for tourism growth, which means there are going to be a few more people who want to be part of that fantasy. 


Ana Flasker / Shutterstock

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