No two beaches are the same. What makes a beach good or bad depends on one’s sensibility. For some beachgoers, palm trees rustling in the trades, gentle waves lapping against the shore and idyllic stretches of champagne-colored sand are all that’s needed for perfect bliss. But for others, a bustling boardwalk with hawkers selling fried dough and frozen Cokes, the bleep of arcade games and carnival rides are the main attractions.
In describing the beaches around the world, guidebooks and travel magazines use phrases like hidden gem and off-the-beaten-path, but in reality there’s no hidden gems left in the world; all the best ribbons of sand have been claimed, our beach umbrellas hoisted like country flags from coast to coast, continent to continent. Nevertheless, while there may no longer be any undiscovered strands of virgin shore, there are still beaches that are challenging and difficult to access, veiled coves and grottoes whose admittance is sure to tax the patience of most travelers -unless, of course, those travelers have a seaplane or a boat…or both.
10. Caladesi Beach, Caladesi Island: Florida
Situated on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Caladesi Beach was rated America’s Best Beach in 2008. Worlds apart from the glitz and glamour of Miami’s South Beach, Caladesi Island is a tranquil retreat filled with meandering mangroves, easy hiking trails, and miles of tourist-free beach. However, it’s still a good idea to make reservations to dock your craft, as boats dock on a first-come, first-serve basis. And remember: if you ever get tired of swimming, fishing and sunbathing –or spending lazy days on the hammock with a rum runner in hand –the Tampa/Clearwater/St. Petersburg metro-area is just a couple of nautical knots away.
9. Monomoy Islands, Massachusetts
If you want to get far from the maddening crowd on the Cape, you need to take to the water. The 2,500-acre Monomoy Islands –also known as Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge –is a 9-mile barrier reef south of Chatham. The Monomoy Islands are a chief stop along the North Atlantic Flyway for migratory shorebirds, so the secluded spit of sand is a haven for bird-watchers during peak migration times.
8. Navagio Beach, Greece
Located on the northwest coast of Zakynthos, the third largest of Greece’s Ionian Islands, Navagio Beach is an exposed cove of silvery-white sand framed by towering limestone cliffs and clear-blue water. The area is better known as The Shipwreck or Smugglers Cove, as it’s also the location of a famous wreck; the Panagiotis, an alleged smuggling ship, ran aground in shallow waters as it was making its way from Turkey with a freight of contraband cigarettes for the Italian mafia.
Navagio Beach is accessed by boat from Porto Vromi, the Harbor of Saint Nikolas, and Zakynthos harbor, which operates daily tours and sunset cruises of the area. Despite its secluded location, the area is a popular tourist destination. It’s also one of the most famous BASE jumping locations in the world.
7. Dry Tortugas, Florida
Located 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are a remote, seven-island cluster in the Gulf of Mexico. The islands were first discovered in 1513 by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon. The Dry Tortugas are accessible by either private boat or seaplane; however, several catamaran operators make the 5-hour round trip from Key West, so if you find yourself on Duval St., your Sea Ray Sundancer in storage for the winter, head over to the Key West Marina as chances are there will be an old salt rounding up tourists for a Dry Tortugas run.
The Dry Tortugas National Park is 100-square miles of open water and picturesque beaches. Remote and crowd-free, Dingy Beach, Seaplane Beach, and North and South Beaches all have powdery white sand and gently swaying palms. Popular activities include swimming, reef snorkeling, bird watching, and deep-sea fishing. The Stream surrounding the Dry Tortugas was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing spots, and Billy Bones, a character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” recounts adventures on the Dry Tortugas in his drunken tales. When you tire of the sand and surf, take a tour of Fort Jefferson, an unfinished 1846 fortress with 50-foot walls.
6. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
Guana Island is one of the few remaining private islands in the Caribbean. In order to get there, you need to fly to BVI’s Beef Island via San Juan, St. Thomas, or Antigua. Boatmen will be waiting to take you the rest of the way to Guana Island. Once you see an iguana-shaped rock outcropping, you’ve reached your destination. Guana Island has 850-acres of raw, natural beauty. From tropical forests and mountains to clear water and white coral sand beaches, the island is a premier location for low-key luxury. In fact, if you can convince 35 of your closest friends to chip in for a holiday, you can rent the entire island; if not, then get an exclusive room at the North Beach Villa. It comes with a private beach.
5. Cala Luna, Golfi di Orosei: Italy
As its name suggests, Cala Luna is a crescent shaped beach. While the Golfi di Orosei boasts some of Europe’s most amazing (and hidden) beaches, Cala Luna is -how do you say- Bellissima! The beach is 700-meters longs and surrounded by cliffs, caves, and secret grottoes. The Mediterranean’s calm, crystal-blue waters and abundant marine life make it the perfect place for swimming or diving. If you’re in the area without a boat, there are affordable rides from the nearby town of La Caletta.
4. Milolii Beach, Napali Coast: Hawaii
Milolii Beach is only accessible by small boat or kayak, and when the trade winds blow navigating the narrow reef channel to the beach is a challenge. The Na Pali Coast is “old” Hawaii and nothing like what you find on the Big Island. Cliffs, waterfalls, mossy springs, feral goats, and air that’s tinged with the faint smell of sage –that’s what you’ll discover after you sail through the channel. Camping ($10 per/night) is allowed in Milolii Beach State Park, so be sure to pack plenty of gear because there isn’t a store around for miles. Milolii Beach is a shell-hunters wonderland, and the ideal place to fish, hike, explore, stargaze, and watch the sunset.
3. Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island: Australia
Whitehaven Beach, located on the southeast coast of Whitsunday Island, has over 4 miles of pearly white sand and cerulean waves. More importantly, Whitehaven is known for its cleanliness; pristine and unspoiled, the remote swath of sand earned a spot on CNN’s list of the World’s Best Eco-Friendly Beaches. Whitsunday Island is a paradise for snorkelers and divers; there are over 20 reefs and countless forested coves. Whitsunday is accessible by boat from Hamilton Island or one of the tourist hubs on the mainland.
2. Koufonissi Island, Crete
There are 36 remote and untouched beaches on the small island of Koufonissi, including Asproulas, Faros, and Hiliaderfia. The turquoise water surrounding the island is shallow, and the sand is a pale, red color. Koufonissi is separated from Crete by a narrow strip of rough sea, so accessing the island is difficult. The name Koufonissi mean “hollow island,” and its geography has more in common with an African desert than a traditional island. However, Koufonissi has a strange, alien beauty; it’s barren and waterless, spotted with limestone, fossils, and white rocks with markings dating to the Roman period. All of this gives the 3.8 km island the feel of an exotic, open-air museum.
1. Marieta Islands, Mexico
Formed by volcanic activity, the Marieta Island archipelago was pronounced a national park and bird sanctuary in 2005. However, it took years of international outcry (started by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s) for the Mexican government to label the Marieta Islands a national park, a title that protects them from fishing and hunting, as well as a heavy influx of tourists. Located in the mouth of Banderas Bay, the islands are 22 miles west of Puerto Vallarta.
Fittingly, one of the Marieta Islands is named Hidden Beach, otherwise known as Playa de Amor. When Lonely Planet talks about hidden gems, this secluded stretch of sand, long protected from the intrusion of the outside world, is probably what it has in mind. Visitors not only need to take a boat to the uninhibited islands (it’s a two-hour trip from Puerto Vallarta), but in order to reach Hidden Beach, they also need to swim through a short, rocky tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel there’s a secret sweep of sand cut off from the rest of the islands. The area is known for its unique ecosystem and abundant marine life, which includes whales, sea turtles, manta rays, and over 100 different species of fish.