Ask true beach lovers to name a favorite swath of surf and sand, and the answer changes with the tides. Luckily our planet is covered in oceans, seas, and lakes, which means there’s a beach to indulge any whim. From pearly crescents covered in shells to turquoise bays teeming with Skittles-colored fish, they’re not all created equal.
So, here are 15 of the best beaches in the World:
1. Shell Beach, Shark Bay (Western Australia)
On the edge of the continent, and part of the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage site, countless white cockleshells, up to 30 feet deep in some parts, spread for miles. Take nothing but pictures.
2. Cathedrals Beach, Ribadeo (Spain)
For a church visit like no other, head to Ribadeo, on Spain’s northwest Galician coast, where wave-carved, hundred-foot rock arches resembling flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals line the sand. Walk among them at low tide, but beware, when the Bay of Biscay rises, the beach quickly succumbs to the surf.
3. Vik Beach, Iceland
On sunny days on Iceland’s south coast, Reynisfjara Beach’s ink black sand and basalt sea stacks are absolutely stunning. But don’t be lulled: «Powerful waves are known to knock people off their feet» says Katie Hammel, who has worked at Iceland-based TripCreator.
4. Cannon Beach, Oregon (United States)
Rover is welcome on most of Oregon’s 400 miles of public beaches, including this wide ribbon of hard-packed sand that has the added eye candy of Haystack Rock looming offshore. An annual dog show unfurls in front of the Surfsand Resort each October.
5. 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.
6. One Foot Island, Aitutaki (Cook Islands)
The marooned vibe is so palpable here it lured hit show Survivor to this 15-island atoll. Tapuaetai, “one footprint” in the local Maori dialect, is a short hop across the translucent lagoon, with a coconut palm-fringed shoreline you can trace in 15 minutes, but don’t rush, and don’t forget a footprint-shaped passport stamp from the hut turned post office.
7. Pelican Beach, South Water Caye (Belize)
«It’s the only place in Belize where you can swim safely to the reef within minutes and explore the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, full of colorful coral, angelfish, blue tang, sea turtles, all in less than 20 feet of water» says guidebook author Lebawit Lily Girma.
8. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Although 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.
9. 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.
10. Honopu Beach, Kauai (Hawaii)
Also known as Cathedral Beach, Honopu 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. It’s served as a location on such films as Six Days, Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and King Kong.
11. Sarakiniko Beach, Milos Island (Greece)
It’s a small beach and at peak season it can be quite busy with swimmers, because of its natural beauty and good accessibility. The beach is squeezed between magnificent almost polished white rocks and cliffs originating presumably from calcium minerals. As you watch the sea, on the right side of the beach, you’ll want to walk around these milky rocks that form some sort of small labyrinth, giving you a special feeling that you are walking on the moon. On the left side of the beach you can explore a few tunnels carved into the cliff.
12. 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 boast 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.
13. Tikehau Island, Tuamotu Archipelago (French Polynesia)
Can’t decide whether you want white or pink-sand beaches? You don’t have to at this postcard-worthy stretch of beach and that may actually be all you see, because the island is so small. The pristine shore’s beauty is only matched by the bright blue waters, which are prime for snorkeling and scuba diving. In fact, Jacques Cousteau’s research group asserts that this remote spot (about a 55-minute flight from Tahiti Island) contained the highest concentration of fish among any other atolls in the world.
14. Trunk Bay, St. John (United States Virgin Islands)
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.
15. Playa del Amor, Marietas Islands (Mexico)
A swim through an opening nearly invisible from the sea reveals what locals call the “hidden beach”, encircled by an impressive rock ring forming a natural oculus for the sun and sky. Only six visitors at a time can visit “Love Beach” via approved tour operators such as Punta Mita Adventures.