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
9 Monomoy Islands, Massachusetts
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.
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.
6 Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
5 Cala Luna, Golfi di Orosei: Italy
4 Milolii Beach, Napali Coast: Hawaii
3 Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island: Australia
2 Koufonissi Island, Crete
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.
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