Bathsheba Beach, Barbados
Rugged, wild, and untouched are just some of the words used to describe this shoreline, where both photographers and surfers flock to catch the best waves and watch the “Soup Bowl,” a name for when the waves crash into the white sand and huge boulders to create a scenic (and foamy) natural phenomenon. It’s less of a swimming locale, but you’ll have plenty of shots to post on Instagram.
Courtesy Cayman Islands
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Located on the western shore of the 75-square-mile island, the whole stretch of this 5.5 mile-long beach is public property, making it easy to stroll from hotel to hotel regardless of where you book an overnight. All in one afternoon, you can grab lunch at an ocean-side restaurant, stumble into a volleyball game with locals, take Jet Skis out further down the beach, and top it off with some snorkeling in Cemetery Reef, known for its rocky formations prime for sea life habitat
Harbour Island, Bahamas
Located off the northeast coast of Eleuthera Island and away from the buzz of other Bahamian beaches, families and couples alike can spend the day on pink sands only seeing a handful of other people. After basking in the sun and getting serenaded by the breeze rustling through the palm trees, visitors can pop into the town to roam down quaint Dunmore Street, dine on the fresh catch of the day at The Landing, and grab a sunset cocktail at Beyond the Reef.
Where to stay: Pink Sand
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Blue Beach (La Chiva), Vieques, Puerto Rico
A long, thin stretch of perfect sand and clear water in a thousand shades of blue make this one of the Caribbean’s top beaches. Since it’s accessed only by parking in one of 21 tiny turn-offs along a bumpy, unpaved road in the middle of the island’s western National Wildlife Refuge (formerly off-limits as a U.S. Navy training base), getting there is part of the adventure. Snorkel on your own around a small cay, or book a trip with one of the island’s operators for a trip to its secret underwater spots.
Where to stay: W Retreat & Spa, Vieques.
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Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Undeniably one of the most photographed beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, Trunk Bay sits in the northwestern corner of the Virgin Islands National Park (it was donated to the park service by Laurence S. Rockefeller more than 50 years ago). Calm, clear water, and a 225-yard-long Underwater Trail for superb snorkeling are big draws, as are hiking trails up and into the surrounding greenery filled with the ruins of historic sugar cane plantations.
Where to stay: Caneel Bay.
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Waipio Valley Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
This beach in Waipio Valley is one of the hardest to get to in Hawaii—you must hike or drive down a treacherously narrow, steep road to reach your destination. But it’s well worth the trek: At the bottom, you’re rewarded with a mile-long black volcanic sand beach bordered by 2,000-foot cliff walls and backed by thick rainforest. If that weren’t scenic enough, the Kaluahine and Waiulili waterfalls cut into the cliffs at the south end of the beach, and are accessible via a boulder-strewn trail along the surf.
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Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos
There’s a reason stars like Bruce Willis and Donna Karan built their vacation homes here: This 1,000-acre private island is only accessible by a 35-minute boat ride from Providenciales, and is home to one luxury resort—see below—and a few private villas. Yes, your entire vacation could be spent without seeing another soul.
Where to stay: COMO Parrot Cay
Lindquist Beach, St. Thomas
Part of a protected 21-acre area called Smith Bay Park, this white-sand beach has shallow, calm turquoise water ideal for everyone in the family to enjoy a swim. After a dip, head to either the right or left side of the shore, where you can enjoy a packed picnic of conch chowder in the coconut grove or under the sea grape trees. Typically quiet during the week, the beach becomes livelier on weekends, as locals tend to throw small parties.
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas.
Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Matira is perhaps the most famous of Tahiti’s beaches, and for good reason: The mile-long stretch of silky, powder-white sand slopes gently into a shallow emerald lagoon, and is backed by a thick curtain of palms and tropical foliage. Added bonus: It’s one of the only public-access beaches in Bora Bora, so you won’t need to pay five-star resort prices to enjoy its beauty. Come early to stake out a spot.
Where to stay: St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
Palm Beach, Aruba
The two-mile-long strip on the northwest side of the island is filled with activities to keep you busy all day and night. Try your hand at parasailing or snorkeling before sitting down to enjoy a barefoot lunch at Pelican Pier Bar during the day; then, head to the nearby casinos, restaurants, and nightclubs at night to make your lazy day a bit more lively.
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba
Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Well-known as one of the world’s best places to watch big wave surfing in winter (the beach is home to the Vans Triple Crown), the water here becomes as calm as a lake in summer, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling. After a day spent in the sand and surf, don’t towel off and head home just yet: Above all, as its name suggests, it’s the sunsets that really seal the deal for visitors.
Where to stay: Turtle Bay Resort
Honopu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Also known as Cathedral Beach, Honopu—like Waipio Valley—is quite difficult to reach. For starters, it’s not accessible except by water, so to get there, you must swim from an offshore boat, or from neighboring Kalalau Beach (a quarter-mile swim). But the trouble is worth it: Think cumin-colored sand bordered by soaring, vegetation-cloaked cliffs—and, most times, not a soul in sight. Fun fact: It’s served as a location on such films as Six Days, Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and King Kong.
Where to stay: Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu Beach