By David Jefferys and Jordi Lippe-McGraw, Feb 19, 2019 (Conde Nast Traveler)
Whether you’re looking for an isolated stretch of sand in the Caribbean or a family-friendly resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are enough options out there to suit every type of traveler. Scroll down for the 24 best island beachs in the world, according to Condé Nast Traveler readers in the Readers Choice Awards.
24. Blue Beach (La Chiva), Vieques, Puerto Rico
A long, thin stretch of white sand and clear water makes this one of the Caribbean’s top beaches. Getting there is part of the adventure: It can only be accessed 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). Snorkel on your own around a small cay, or book a trip with one of the island’s operators to check out its secret underwater spots.
Where to stay: The W on Vieques was nearly completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. However, other properties on the island survived, and one of our all-time favorites—and Hot List 2014 winner—is El Blok. In a nod to 1950’s tropical modernism, the 22-room inn has a curvaceous exterior with intricately carved louvers that prompt the bright Caribbean sun to cast dramatic shadows. Interiors have a restful vibe, thanks to clean-lined wooden furnishings and strategically placed sculptures.
Courtesy Laucala Island
23. Seagrass Bay, Laucala Island, Fiji
This 7.5-square-mile private island paradise is a 50-minute charter flight from Nadi and worlds away from everyday life. Covered in tropical jungle (reached via guided walking tours or horseback rides), Laucala is home to some of the archipelago’s rarest birds and animals, pristine beaches, and spellbinding marine life. Seagrass Bay is the quietest of the resort beaches, and a perfect spot to play at being Crusoe—albeit with a fabulous, open-air dining room nearby.
Where to Stay: Your only option—Laucala Island Resort—is far from shabby. In 1972, Malcolm Forbes bought this luscious green morsel as his private refuge; its current owner, Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, has spared no expense to create a spectacular hideaway. The high price tag gets you over-the-top luxury and total privacy in one of the 25 villas—all glamorous versions of traditional Fijian dwellings. Each opens onto its own private pool, and a handful of villas are set directly above Seagrass Bay.
22. Bathsheba Beach, Barbados
Rugged, wild, and untouched are just some of the words used to describe this shoreline, where 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 mesmerizing natural phenomenon. It’s less of a swimming locale, but you’ll have plenty of shots to post on Instagram.
Where to stay: Your top pick for Barbados in our annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey is Sandy Lane. This landmark resort is something of a Bajan institution, with elegant interiors and an impressively beautiful setting. This splendor runs through everything, including the hotel’s Treehouse Club for little ones: They’ll be kept busy from morning until sunset with sailing, outdoor movie nights and even themed dinner parties on the itinerary. Teenagers are catered for with a special Den fitted out with pool tables, table football and a jukebox, plus a mocktail bar.
21. Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
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: As its name suggests, it’s the sunsets that really seal the deal for visitors.
Where to stay: Turtle Bay Resort—closest to the beach, one of few along the north shore, and ranked third best in Hawaii in our annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey. (It has also served as a filming location for Lost and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.) Turtle Bay is fresh off a $45 million renovation, refurbishing 410 of its rooms and opening a new 11,000-square-foot spa, two restaurants and a bar. The five-mile beach is ideal for snorkeling.
20. Banana Beach, Koh Hey (Coral) Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach has a backdrop of impossibly-green jungle and looks out on crystal-clear water—all part of a national park and marine preservation area (30 minutes by boat from Chalong Pier on Phuket). Banana Boat rides are popular, hence the name, as is snorkeling, sea kayaking, and parasailing. With minimal infrastructure, and one restaurant built out of bamboo, this is a great, less-than-crowded spot to park yourself for the day in the sun.
Where to Stay: You picked the Iniala Beach House as your favorite place to stay on Phuket in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. The design credentials are incredible at this collection of three villas and a penthouse, back on Phuket at Natai Beach. No matter where you stay, you’ll have a butler, driver, chef, spa therapist, and housekeeper to attend to your every need. American chef Tim Butler heads up two restaurants: Iniala Dining, which dishes up Mediterranean-inflected meals and whose menu rotates daily, and Esenzi, which focuses on sustainably sourced seafood.
19. Siasconset Beach, Nantucket, MA
At the eastern most flank of the island, Siasconset can be reached from town via a six-mile bike ride on the Milestone Road path (or, in the summer, on a NRTA shuttle bus). Food and restrooms can be found nearby in the adjacent historic village of ‘Sconset. Built in 1850, the Sankaty Head Light is well worth a wander to the northern tip of the beach (it’s rarely open to climb, except on specific days—the next one being Sunday, June 16, 201`9). Best of all, though, is the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk—with the strong Atlantic on one side and a row of multi-million-dollar homes on the other. Waves here are rough, even in summer, so bundle up for a long winter walk if you’re on the island during the off season.
Where to Stay: Your number one pick on the island in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey was venerable Wauwinet. Just nine miles from downtown ACK, the three-story gray-shingled cottage not only has unbeatable views of the Bay and the Atlantic, but a boat—the Wauwinet Lady—where you can sip a glass of Chardonnay as you crest the waves. For an extraordinary dining experience, try Topper’s, where the modern American menu includes Hudson Valley foie gras and locally harvested Retsyo oysters on the half shell, cultivated 300 yards away, and paired with one of the restaurant’s more than 1,450 wines.
18. Honopu Beach, Kauai, HI
Also known as Cathedral Beach, Honopu—like Waipio Valley—is quite difficult to reach. For starters, it’s only accessible by water; 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, usually, 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—rated the number 10 resort in all of Hawaii in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. With just 121 rooms—all with balconies or lanais and within earshot of the waves—the resort is considerably smaller than its brand-name neighbors on the sunny south coast. Eschewing waterslides and swim-up bars, Ko‘a Kea has more sedate pleasures: an unadorned swimming pool tiled in deep blue, a sophisticated restaurant/lounge with a sashimi tasting menu, and an expansive lawn overlooking a cove where guests (mostly honeymooners) can take in the sunset.
17. Temae Plage Publique, Moorea, French Polynesia
The ocean is clear enough here to see straight to the bottom and Temae’s coral reef is home to thousands of sea creatures. This is a public beach, on the northeastern shores of lush Moorea, but it rarely gets crowded (except occasionally for a fever of sting rays—harmless and mesmerizing). Views across the Sea of the Moon to the island of Tahiti are splendid, and those with surfboards flock to a challenging surf break. Easiest access is via the Sofitel (see below) for snorkeling and sun bathing—but watch out for wild roosters!
Where to Stay: The Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort was your favorite on the island in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey and it sits at the very southern edge of Temae Plage Publique with 60 roof overwater bungalows (35 are beachside or have garden views). This is an excellent choice for exploring Moorea’s lagoons and mountainous interior.
16. Psarou Beach, Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos isn’t lacking in beaches—especially those that appeal to just about any taste. Psarou might not be one of the largest, but its bling factor is undeniable and its position at the head of a perfect, horseshoe bay, is unbeatable. Scores of restaurants (reservations are recommended in high season, especially somewhere like Nammos, which reopens April 25) and bars back the sandy beach. There are plenty of water sports to take advantage of, too. Seating is tight—and chic—on the beach, but there are nice walks to be had to nearby Platis Gialos for the more active beachgoers.
Where to Stay: The Santa Marina, A Luxury Collection Resort is one of our favorites—and yours too according to our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. If you’re looking for a respite from Mykonos’s party-till-dawn ethos, bed down at Santa Marina, which is set on Ornos Bay and offers everything from partial-sea-view suites to 7,578-square-foot villas. Sporting the island’s only private sandy beach, Santa Marina also has an infinity pool with panoramic views of the Aegean Sea, which means no one will fault you for sticking close to home base.
15. English Harbour Beach, Antigua
Overlooking Captain Horatio Nelson’s vast Georgian-era warehouse complex in English Harbour—named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016—this beach, also known as Galleon Beach—backed by verdant hills—is historically and aesthetically pleasing. The waters are calm and perfect for sunfish sailing between anchored boats and out to Fort Berkeley, constructed in 1704 by the English Royal Navy.
Where to Stay: Hermitage Bay was your top pick on Antigua in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Down a long dirt road, this secluded resort stands between a steep slope and a small bay. Its 30 individual suites—each a spacious contemporary cottage of dark wood and white linens—stand in lush foliage rich with birdlife and come with an outdoor shower and day bed; ceiling fans twirl above mosquito-netted beds. All this is the ideal setting in which to decompress fully while lounging by your plunge pool with a glass of wine from the restaurant’s well-chosen cellar.
14. Elafonísi, Crete, Greece,
A gorgeous spit of sand connected to an island nature reserve on the southwestern coast of Greece’s largest island, this beach was one of the last best-kept secrets in the Mediterranean. Now, in high season it can be mobbed—but pitch up in shoulder season (spring and fall) and you might find yourself alone on the pink sand, surrounded by wildflowers (there are over one hundred rare plants, some that bloom only in winter) and strange rock formations. Being rather remote, consider an overnight or two at the Elafonísi Resort by the Kalomirakis Family.
Where to Stay: You voted Blue Palace, A Luxury Collection Resort and Spa as your favorite resort on Crete in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Many of the rooms have private, heated plunge pools (especially nice in off-season) and there are lovely biking and hiking trails through a private nature reserve. Note that it’s a good four-hour drive to Elafonísi from here.
13. Gouverneur, St. Barts
Sitting at the bottom of a steep, sparsely populated road—Gouverneur is remote and pristine. A small, well-maintained parking lot comes courtesy of the privately owned land (none other than Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich). Access to the sand is through a small, shady grove of trees—a popular spot for picnics at the eastern end of the beach. The farther west you walk, the fewer people you’ll find. Expect to encounter wild goats on occasion and keep a lookout for traces of buried treasure belonging to the notorious French pirate, Montbars ‘The Exterminator.’
Where to Stay: Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa ranked the best in all of the Caribbean in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey. The latest addition to St. Barts’ luxury hotel scene, and in keeping with the island’s low-rise sensibility, this is a sophisticated winner. Set between a lagoon and Grand Cul-de-Sac beach along the island’s northeastern shore (with jaw-dropping views of offshore islets and distant St. Maarten/St. Martin), the hotel is an education in understated elegance. Rooms are spare, and enormous, with lots of wood and one or two pops of bright color—some even have small, rectangular plunge pools for mini-laps.
12. 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 is a perennial favorite on our annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Much of that has to do with the location—on a pristine stretch of white sand called Palm Beach, where you’ll find the Caribbean’s most exceptional windsurfing. It’s also a perfect place to bring the kids: The sea remains calm and shallow for about a half mile out, so conditions are always right for kayaking and paddle boarding. There’s a huge children’s pool (couples and singles can head to the adults-only one) and a slew of activities at the kids’ club, from arts and crafts to movie nights.
Courtesy Cayman Islands
11. 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.
Where to stay: The Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa claimed the top spot for resorts in the Cayman Islands in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. The newest opening on the island’s Seven Mile Beach—one of the loveliest stretches of sand in the world—is the 266-room Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, whose colorful, boutique atmosphere manages to be both child-friendly (two pools, a kids’ club) and hip (colorful, contemporary design and a lobby scene replete with pool table, library, and daily happy hour). You can always snorkel and parasail right off the hotel’s beach, but you’re also a short ride from Stingray City where you can stand on a sandbar and touch giant rays as they swim by.
10. Honokalani Beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
With its jet-black shore, electric-blue waters, and thick, jungle-like foliage, Honokalani Beach is a photographer’s dream. Besides lying lazily on the “sand”—actually made up of of tiny lava pebbles—there’s plenty to do: you’ll find seaside lava tubes and sea caves carved into the lava cliffs along the shore. It’s wild, unspoiled Hawaii at its best, and a necessary stop en route to Hana.
Where to stay: The Hotel Wailea ranked the number one resort in Hawaii in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. It isn’t beachfront, but that’s actually a positive at Hawaii’s only luxury adults-only resort, which is spread over 15 acres with 180-degree views of neighboring Lanai and Kaho‘olawe. Though there’s a shuttle to the beach (and attendants to help you with umbrellas, towels, and the like once you hit the sand), be sure to put your vacation in the hands of the incredible staff. They’ll organize a beach picnic—a gourmet spread to be enjoyed at sunset. You can also arrange kiteboarding lessons, sunset sailing, and aerial yoga.
9. 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. An 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: The Conrad Bora Bora Nui ranked the highest of all the resorts on Bora Bora in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey. What you’ll love about the resort is the way Polynesian culture is all around—in the greetings and traditional tattoos of the local staff, the food, even the names of hotel landmarks: Hina spa is named for the moon goddess, the Tamure grill pays homage to the hip-shaking local dance moves, the Upa Upa means “music” (and is the name of the sunset bar and lounge) and the Iriatai restaurant comes from the word for “horizon.”
8. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
While it may be one of the most popular beaches on the island, Horseshoe Bay has a hidden secret: Port Royal Cove (pictured), which has shallow water perfect for young kids, and dramatic rock formations that complement wonderfully soft, pink sand. Nearby Spicelands Equestrian Centre even offers trail rides down to the private cove, which is located in part of South Shore Park in Southampton Parish.
Where to stay: The Reefs Resort & Club, ranked the tenth best Atlantic islands resort in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. There’s a smattering of cottages, rooms, and suites to choose from, but we personally love the Point suites: Decked out with warm tropical wood, cream-colored linens, and coral accents, they also feature their own private balcony—with a hot tub—overlooking the beach.
7. Hilton Head Island, SC
Rated the best island in the United States in our most recent Readers’ Choice Awards survey, Hilton Head Island—40 miles from Savannah/Hilton Head Airport—is a firm family favorite, with a full 12 miles of wide, empty beach (perfect for long bike rides). Coligny Beach is a full-service place, with food and activities for both adults and kids; mid-island Driessen Beach—also known as Bradley Beach—is quieter, but still has a boardwalk, playground, and grills for al fresco picnics.
Where to Stay: The Inn & Club at Harbour Town ranked the highest of the island’s many properties in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Palm tree-lined gardens give way to this modern-looking country club-hotel hybrid, where marina-chic guests kitted out in their best golf attire hit each of the three on-site courses. Take advantage of the complimentary bubbly at check-in, along with the shoe-shining and pant-pressing services.
Courtesy One&Only Resorts
6. Reethi Rah, North Malé Atoll, Maldives
It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite beach in the Maldives—what with over 1,200 to choose from—but we’re drawn to the North Malé Atoll, and Reethi Rah in particular. Eight perfect strands of sand circle this larger-than-average island, each seemingly better than the next—and with only one resort here, it never feels crowded.
Where to stay: The One&Only Reethi Rah, obviously. Aforementioned beaches aside, it’s beach club scene is hopping, and all accommodations are in villas. This year, the resort welcomes internationally renowned figurative painter, Henri Lamy, and portrait painter, DJ and photographer, Ruddy Candillon, as part of a new Artist in Residence program. Family-friendly, yet great for honeymoons, this spot has it all.
5. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Shockingly, Palawan remains steadily under the radar, even though it continues to rank highly in our Readers’ Choice Awards. El Nido alone is home to around 50 white sand beaches—it’s impossible to choose just one—all of which are set around dramatic limestone formations and have the finest and whitest sand you’ll ever see. The water is so blindingly blue it makes the Caribbean Sea look murky in comparison. And the sunsets? Well, they’ll ruin you for life. Consider yourself warned.
Where to stay: El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island, which was ranked nine out of Top 45 Resorts in Asia in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. With scuba courses and access to plentiful dive sites, as well as boat tours of mangroves and secret lagoons, you could spend all your time exploring, but the resort makes it equally tempting to stay put.
4. 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 and a few private villas. Yes, your entire vacation could really be spent without seeing another soul.
Where to stay: COMO Parrot Cay is consistently rated highly on our annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey. There are plenty of wellness-focused hotels out there nowadays, but this private island hotel has been around longer and does it better than most. Just ask its fan club, who travel from far and wide for the daily yoga sessions, early morning meditations on the pristine beach, healing massages, and Ayurvedic consultations with Dr. Parth, who hails from Goa.
3. 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 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: St. John has had a long road to recovery from the hurricanes of 2017, but the good news is that the National Park is back in full bloom, its beaches are in perfect shape, Cruz Bay is bustling with shops and restaurants, and The Westin St. John Resort Villas is finally back in operation, offering accommodations from studios to three-bedroom villas.
2. Kiawah Island, SC
Kiawah Island, a mostly private, gated community, less than a hours drive from Charleston International Airport (which is about to receive nonstop flights to London this year), is a low-country winner. East and West Beach, combined, stretch for 10 miles along the Atlantic. Public beach access is at Beachwalker County Park at the island’s far southern end. The sand is flat, the water is shallow, there are lifeguards on duty, and you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas rentals.
Where to Stay: One of the best places for an active vacation is The Sanctuary Hotel, ranked number 18 of Top 30 Resorts in the American South in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. With 24 tennis courts, five golf courses, and six pools, this four-story oceanfront resort is 30 minutes from Charleston and has a great combination of accommodations, service, food, and golf. Rooms come with custom-made furniture, and have shuttered bathroom windows and ocean view balconies.
1. Maundays Bay, Anguilla
It’s hard to debate this one. Anguilla is blessed with many a stunning beach, but Maundays Bay—on this skinny island’s southwesterly tip—wins for crystal-clear water, a gradual slope, pristine sand, and a perfect half moon arc. Technically a public beach, it is rarely crowded and populated predominantly by guests at the Belmond Cap Juluca—recently reborn after a glorious heyday in the ’90s. Of note, Maundays is ideal for families with kids, as sight lines are uninterrupted, there are rarely any waves, and the beach is neatly bookended by two small breakwaters.
Where to Stay: Without a doubt, the highly-rated Belmond Cap Juluca. The Morocco-meets-Mykonos property sits on a white-sand beach on a Caribbean island known as much for its welcoming people as its haute resorts. Large enough to keep a couple or a family busy for days, but small enough to feel like home, the whitewashed island enclave has just reopened after a $121 million renovation by new owner Belmond, emphasizing chic, natural materials and local Anguillan heritage.