Picking the world’s best beach is a bit like arguing why your favourite colour should dominate the rainbow. Everyone’s going to have an opinion. Do you go with the golden sands of the Med? Zanzibar’s ramshackle fishing villages? The karst-studded bays of the Andaman Sea that actually outshine the postcards and have the added advantage of pad thai? It’s harder than comparing apples and oranges; this is sand vs sand, wave vs wave.
There are official lists of course. Tripadvisor picked Brazil’s Baia do Sancho as their number 1; for Travel Channel it was the exclusive island of Tavarua in Fiji. Fraser Island, Zakynthos, Anse Source d’Argent in the Seychelles – they’ve all got their fans. And with good reason. So we thought we’d throw our own Top 7 into the mix. A few crowd favourites, and a few little surprises (just the way we like it).
7. Matemwe, Zanzibar
The phrase ‘Zanzibar beach’ sounds so ludicrously exotic and beautiful that the photos are hardly necessary. Let me guess: you’re picturing a long, unbroken strip of chalk-white sand, swaying palm trees and shallow water as far as the eye can see, yes? Well Matemwe, a little beach on the island’s north-east coast, delivers on the fantasy in a big way. At low tide, the beach becomes a vast expanse of solid white sand (perfect for a spot of beach soccer). At high tide, it’s an aquamarine paradise. Hang around all day and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
6. Playa Paraiso, Cuba
Playa Paraiso translates as, basically, paradise beach. Unoriginal maybe, but accurate. The Cubans know their beaches. But unlike the more popular coastal strips around Trinidad, Playa Paraiso has the advantage of sitting on the beautiful island of Cayo Largo del Sur. Cayo Largo has some of the calmest and shallowest waters in Cuba, so not only do you get mile upon mile of delicious white sand, you get smooth, waste-high water stretching 50 metres out to sea. There are a few resorts servicing Playa Paraiso, as well as a simple beach bar, so a few mojitos at sunset shouldn’t be too much of a problem. You have been warned.
5. Plage de l’Estagnol, France
France’s Cote d’Azur has a charm all of its own. The Med might not always feature the classic turquoise water the world’s best beaches seem to require by law, but it more than makes up for it in sophistication and drama. A few miles south of Bormes-les-Mimosas you’ll find Plage de l’Estagnol, one of the French Riviera’s less well known hotspots. It’s a favourite haunt of the Sarkozys and other social heavyweights, but you won’t find it as jammed as St Tropez or Cannes in the summertime. Relax beneath a beach umbrella, try your hand at petanque under the pine trees or chill out in the deep blue waters of the Med. Just try to keep the Facebook bragging to a minimum.
4. Cable Beach, Australia
Broome’s Cable Beach is the stuff good sunsets are made of. Even though Queensland steals a lot of the headlines when it comes to Australian beaches, the white sands of Western Australia take a backseat to no one. Cable Beach is a 22 km stretch of pure white sand sandwiched between a sweeping series of red ochre cliffs and the pure blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Try and stick around ‘til sunset (like we need to twist your arm). The sun melts over the waves, camel tours and horse riders take to the sands and the whole strip turns into one of those beautiful scenes usually reserved for soft drink commercials.
3. Bottle Beach, Thailand
As your longtail boat rounds the headland and you catch your first glimpse of Bottle Beach, you’ll understand why you made the effort. Tucked out of the way in the more remote northern corner of Ko Phangan, Bottle Beach really does live up to the Thai beach-postcard hype. The sand here is chalk white, the water shallow, warm and a vivid aquamarine. You could easily laze away a few days, rotating between the sand and the waves whenever you can be bothered moving. But try to make the effort to hike up to the lookout on the neighbouring cliffs – the views over the ocean are worth it.
2. Red Beach, Greece
This one deserves a mention on drama alone. Red Beach does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a beach with a massive red lava cliff looming over the sands of Santorini. The water is cool and gorgeous, attracting a steady stream of beachgoers even in the shoulder seasons. Although not as isolated as some of the other sands on our list, it wins out in sheer spectacle. If you approach from along the coast, there’s a great photo opportunity from the headland overlooking the beach. We recommend a) kicking back on the white sands with a handful of Grecian olives and b) pinching yourself repeatedly to remind yourself that, yes, this is all real.
1. Modriki Island, Fiji
If there’s a reason Modriki looks familiar, it’s because Tom Hanks spent a good year or so here as a castaway. Modriki is tiny, mountainous, uninhabited, covered in jungle and – most importantly – home to one of the most idyllic beaches in Fiji (which is saying a lot). It’s part of the Mamanuca island chain and only accessible by boat on a day trip from nearby Mana Island. But trust us, it’s worth the journey. It’s rare to step on a beach where there are no other footprints but yours, where there’s not a single wire or telephone pole in sight and the only company is a volleyball named Wilson.
Want to find the beaches only locals know? You’ll need an Intrepid small group tour.
Feature image c/o Alfredo, Flickr