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Made up of about 71 percent water, 96.5 percent of which is held in its oceans, our planet is home to thousands upon thousands of drop dead gorgeous beaches. So choosing the very best piece of sandy real estate in the world is slightly subjective.
For this article we went with beaches in beautiful locations that are relatively accessible to travelers-there is an amazing beach in Kauai for instance that involves swimming in a rough current to reach, so we left that one off this list but included one you can drive to, with amazing sunset views.
We also chose a mix of urban and island beach destinations. And we tried to spread the love for our top beaches across the continents. From South Africa to Bora Bora, Thailand to Turks and Caicos, discover the most beautiful stretches of soft sand and blue waters with our list of the best beaches in the world.
Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The French Polynesian isle of Bora Bora, floating in an archipelago in the South Pacific, is as close to tropical paradise perfection as you can get. Surrounded by a crystal-clear and super calm lagoon that boasts one of the world’s most brilliant turquoise and marbled azure water, the island is home to white-sand beaches and a lush interior of pointy volcanic peaks.
The best public beach on Bora Bora is Matira Beach. Here, the sand is white and powdery soft, and while it is popular with locals on weekends, unless a cruise ship is docked, it never gets too packed. The sunsets over the brilliant turquoise lagoon are legendary and should not be skipped.
There are numerous other beaches on Bora Bora and also the small islets (known as motus) surrounding it. On these, you’ll find some of the island’s most posh resorts, many of which feature the overwater bungalows that French Polynesia is best known for-they were actually invented on the neighboring island of Ra’iatea.
Bora Bora is the ultimate honeymoon destination, and if you can afford the splurge and the time it takes to get here (it’s an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles), it is well worth the effort.
Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos
Located just southeast of The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos are a group of some 40 islands that remain a British Overseas Territory. World renowned Grace Bay Beach, on its main island of Providenciales, is one of the world’s most exquisite stretches of white sand. Running for eight kilometers in a half crescent shape, it is backed by crystal-clear turquoise water, where one of the world’s largest coral reef systems still thrives just offshore.
Grace Bay Beach is part of the Princess Alexandra Marine Park, and there are two excellent snorkeling spots that can be accessed from the beach. The Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef are both filled with living coral and tropical fish, and you can follow a marked snorkeling trail around them.
Also keep an eye out for JoJo. A wild bottlenose dolphin, he calls this area his playground, and has been known to interact with humans swimming in the sea. He’s been declared a national treasure on the island, and the last time we visited, we saw him with a lady dolphin friend.
Speaking of animal friends, if you miss your dog, you can sign up to take a homeless puppy to the beach with Potcake Place. The animal shelter works to get local stray dogs, known as “potcakes” adopted, and one of their most popular programs involves spending a morning at the beach with a potcake puppy, which is just about one of the cutest things on the planet. The dogs are all available for adoption.
Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Cape Town in South Africa, Camps Bay Beach is simply stunning when it comes to scenery. The water here is of the turquoise and emerald streaked variety, backed by darker blues and dependent on the seasons, but it is deceptively cold. Still, in summertime, the public beach draws hordes of swimsuit clad sun worshippers, and many locals brave the waves long enough to at least cool off-the current here comes straight from Antarctica.
That said, Camps Bay makes our list because the beach itself is beautiful, with scenery not like anywhere else on Earth. On one side, you see the sand and waves; on the other, the Twelve Apostles rock formations tower over the coastline.
Camps Bay is actually just one of a number of gorgeous beaches within a 20-minute drive of Cape Town. The Clifton Beaches are equally popular and can only be accessed by climbing down a very steep set of steps from the road.
Railay Beach, Thailand
One of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches, gorgeous Railay Beach sits isolated on a small peninsula that can only be reached by longtail boat-a journey that is well worth taking. Upon arrival, you’ll find shimmering, powdery, soft white sand, and a picture-perfect turquoise lagoon, all surrounded by giant limestone monoliths (both in and out of the water), dense jungle, and cliffs and caves.
It is an adventure beach playground that is very popular with active honeymooners and couples in general for its mix of romance and adrenaline-you can rock climb the cliffs here or swim through underground caves to find secret lagoons. And there is also the ultra luxe Rayavadee, which is the perfect place to spend at least a few nights of your honeymoon.
Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia
Consistently rated one of the best beaches in Australia and the world, Whitehaven Beach is a beauty on an island off the Queensland coast at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Accessible only by boat, seaplane, or helicopter, it serves up seven-kilometers of glittering white silica sand backed by turquoise water.
The beach is on Whitsunday Island, which is the largest of the 74 islands that make up the group by the same name. Head to Hill Inlet, at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach when the tides are changing for an Instagram-worthy photoshoot. When the water shifts its depth, the colors of blue change and swirl around the sand. It is a stunning sight. Tongue Point is another excellent lookout area.
Most people access Whitehaven on a day trip from Airlie Beach on the mainland. The island can be reached via ferry, yacht, or powerboat and is included on a lot of day trip group itineraries from Airlie Beach that may include snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.
Whitehaven is also usually included as a stop on multi-day sailing charter trips. Airlie Beach itself is a proper beach town with numerous lodging and dining options, as well as a pretty strip of sand.
Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach is the name for the 2.5-mile beach and city located on the barrier island between Miami and Biscayne Bay, and one of the most beautiful beaches in America.
At its southern end is South Beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the mainland U.S., with powdery white sand, clear turquoise water, and an ultra hot social scene.
On the beach itself, you can spend a day just sunbathing and swimming, or partake in any manner of water sports, from jet skiing to wakeboarding.
The South Beach neighborhood is a dining, shopping, and entertainment hot spot. Most of the action is centered along Ocean Drive, which is filled with beautiful Art Deco buildings housing glamorous boutiques, chef-driven restaurants, and sidewalk cafés made for people watching-don’t be surprised if you see a celebrity or two.
Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos, Greece
Only accessible from the sea, Shipwreck Beach on the island of Zakynthos is one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Greece. Set in a crescent-shaped cove, surrounded by towering cliffs that extend outward into the sparkling azure sea where you’ll find sea caves, the beach is comprised from fine white pebbles and is truly a stunning work of nature.
Named for the wreck of a ship smuggling contraband cigarettes that washed ashore here in 1980, Shipwreck Beach is in Smuggler’s Cove on the island’s west coat. You’ll need to catch a taxi-boat from the harbor at Agios Nikolaos on Zakynthos’ northeast coast to access it. Or you can join organized day trips like the Zakynthos Shipwreck Beach Excursion.
Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, The Bahamas
Unlike any other beach in the Caribbean, Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island in the Bahamas is actually made up of pale pink sand that looks particularly surreal at sunrise and sunset-you can really say #NoFilter when posting on Instagram.
The beach runs for almost five kilometers and is, at points, as wide as 30 meters. The color of the sand comes from the ocean-crushed bodies of microscopic coral insects, called foraminifera, that live on the underside of reefs. The turquoise water here tends to be quite calm and shallow thanks to outlying reef protection, which makes swimming quite safe.
On the Riviera Maya, about a two-hour drive from the chaos that is Cancun, Tulum boasts a beautiful white-sand beach; clear turquoise water; and a backdrop of ancient Mayan ruins, which is what sets it apart from other beaches in Mexico.
A UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, Tulum also hosts a number of hotels and resorts along its coastline. Also in the area is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which protects a half million acres of reefs, rainforest, dunes, and caves.
La Jolla, San Diego, CA
The community of La Jolla, just north of San Diego proper, has some beautiful beaches. La Jolla Cove is a picture-perfect gold-sand beach sandwiched between sandstone cliffs and fronted by a deep blue bay.
The bay here is part of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which prohibits fishing. As a result, the underwater marine life is prolific. The water is also very clear, with visibility at times greater than 30 feet. These factors combine to make this a great spot to try snorkeling or diving.
Also in the area is La Jolla Shores (about a 10-minute drive north), which is another beach area. It has really gentle surf that is great if you want to try your hand at the sport. It is also a popular beach with families because the current is not strong, and kids can frolic around in the small waves.
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