My 10 Favorite Beaches in the World

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I love beaches—what’s not to love, after all? There’s sand (or rocks), blue skies, and the sound of lapping water. What’s not in the picture for me though, are overcrowded—those places with a Hard Rock Cafe across the street and heaving thongs of half-naked beachgoers piled onto the sand. Those beaches may be beautiful, but they don’t rank as the best beaches in the world simply because it’s impossible to fully enjoy them with those level of crowds.

Hence, you won’t find Waikiki or other overly popular beaches on this list of my favorite beaches in the world. There’s a good chance that most of the beaches here are places you’ve never heard of—these “undiscovered” beaches aren’t on the radar for a lot of travelers, but they are beautiful, restful, and a lot of them are remote. Many are hard to find, let alone get to, so if you’re one of the intrepid travelers truly looking for the world’s most off-the-beaten path beaches—those places where you arrive and you’re the only person there to soak in the good vibes—then know that this is my kind of beach, too.

Beach in Benidorm, Spain
A beautiful beach in in Benidorm, Spain (gorgeous, but not one of the best in the world)

10 Best Beaches in the World

Remember, some of the most iconic beaches you may see on other top 10 lists likely won’t make it here. Because I’ve traveled the world for more than a decade, I’ve not only seen far more beaches than most travelers, but I have high expectations for a beach—it should be beautiful (or course), but also feature something else that makes it special. Let’s dive into a countdown of my 10 favorite beaches in the world.

10. Shipwreck Beach, Lanai, Hawaii

10th favorite beach in the world: Shipwreck Beach, Lanai, Hawaii
Shipwreck Beach on Lanai island in Hawaii is not easily visited—it will take some planning to catch a jeep heading that way and then walk to the beach, but it’s a memorable spot in a U.S. state that has some truly beautiful beaches.

Take a hard to reach beach on an island with few inhabitants and few visitors and you have yourself a winner in my book. Getting to Shipwreck Beach in Lanai, Hawaii requires a jeep and a fair amount of walking on foot.

Once you get there, there is indeed a shipwreck. You can also see three Hawaiian islands from the beach: Lanai, Molokai, and Maui. When I was there it was raining (as you can see in the photo), but I also was able to see a whale giving birth not too far from the shipwreck, which made this a truly incredible experience and easily one of the best beach experiences on the list, all things considered.

9. Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

9th favorite beach in the world: Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico
To visit Flamenco Beach on Culebra island of the coast of Puerto Rico you’ll need a ferry or a flight, but the powdery sand makes the journey well worth the payoff. 

The thing that struck me when I visited Flamenco Beach was the sand—it might have been the finest grained sand I have ever seen in all of my beachy wanders. If you didn’t know any better, you might think it was sugar given its color and consistency.

Flamenco Beach is popular with Puerto Ricans, but rather unknown to the rest of the world. To get there, you first have to visit the island of Culebra which is either a short flight or ferry ride from the main island of Puerto Rico. The island offers cabins, camping, and picnic facilities available near the beach for visitors. There are also some rusted out tanks on the beach from when it was used as a training site by the U.S. military.

Unlike some of the truly remote beaches on this list, Flamenco Beach is visitable with planning, and once you get there you’ll find basic amenities and a handful of locals also enjoying the powdery sand and gently lapping Caribbean waves.

8. Manase Village and Beach, Savai’i, Samoa

8th favorite beach in the world: Manase Beach in Savai'i, Samoa
Sunset views of Manase, a small and truly beautiful beachside village in Savai’i, Samoa that has great facilities, beachside bungalows, and a chance to learn about the rich Samoan culture and history.

Manase has been called the most beautiful village in Samoa, and I have no reason to doubt it. In addition to having one of the best beaches in Samoa, the village offers several opportunities to rent bungalows (called fales in Samoan) right on the beach.

If you’re scouring the world in search of a beach that offers beachside bungalows on a budget—we’re talking just $20-30/day—then Manase Beach and Village might be the place for you.

Another reason to love this beach? Samoans are great people, and Samoa is an incredible and often underappreciated country well worth visiting.

7. Rarotonga, Cook Islands

7th favorite beach in the world: Beach on Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The west side of Rarotonga definitely offers the best beach in the area, so leave behind the swimmers in the southern parts and enjoy Cook Islands from an uncrowded and peaceful beach with a gorgeous lagoon nearby.

What I loved about Rarotonga in the Cook Islands was the lagoon. The Rarotonga reef is located only about 200 meters away from the beach, which means you have a nice area of calm, shallow water for swimming. The beach on the western side of Rarotonga island is long and wide.

Like many of my favorite beaches in the world, the places is uncrowded enough that you can still find affordable accommodation right on the water. I stayed at a budget place with bungalows rooms right on the beach, so I could wake to the sound of waves beckoning me to the beach.

What’s more, this is a pretty easy area of Rarotonga to visit, but I saw more people snorkeling and swimming on the southern part of the island than the west side of the island, even though the beach wasn’t quite as grand. The west side of Rarotonga is definitely the better beach! If you visit the Cook Islands, make sure to get a Cook Island drivers license. It is one of the best souvenirs you can get in the world and it is a real license!

6. Yasawa Islands, Fiji

6th favorite beach in the world: Beach and hammock in Yasawa Islands, Fiji
A hammock on the beach was just beckoning me to take a rest and enjoy the breeze on the Yasawa Islands in Fiji.

It is hard to pick just one beach to stand out as my favorite in all of Fiji. In fact, it’s impossible, so I can only share a truly memorable beach.

When I first visited in 2007, I found a white sand beach that I had all to myself. I was literally alone on a beach on tropical island.

It was an incredible feeling.

There are numerous beaches on the islands in the Yasawa chain that have few, if any, people. Many of the small resorts have hammocks strung between palm trees where you can sleep or read a book just a few feet from the ocean. I have found places where I could have spent the entire day sleeping and swimming and never have been bothered by another human being—if this is your idea of paradise, then book some time on the Yasawa Islands of Fiji, then go for a wander and you’ll uncover your own slice of heaven on Earth.

5. Playa en Pie de la Cuesta, Mexico

5th favorite beach in the world: Beach near Pie de la Cuesta, Mexico
This beach near Pie de la Cuesta—just north of Acapulco, Mexico—offers a laid back experience among mostly Mexican families and locals since the tourists stay further south. (Check Acapulco safety advisories, however, before planning a trip to this region).

I first visited Acapulco on a cruise ship heading to Los Angeles. I arrived several days early to experience Acapulco, Mexico and ended up booking a place online that was “north” of town, near the town of Pie de la Cuesta.

Well it turned out it was quite a bit north of town and I really wasn’t near anything in Acapulco! (It also was just a spare room at some family’s house). The big upside? The house was located right on this fantastic beach. It was huge both in terms of width and length, and I could hear the winter waves of the Pacific hammering the beach every few seconds.

If you look at a map of Acapulco, you’ll see a large lagoon just north a of town and a small strip of land between the lagoon and the ocean—that’s where this beach is located. If you’re keen to have the amenities of a nearby tourist town (Acapulco) but the empty beauty of a beach shared with just a few others, than Pie de la Cuesta is your best option!

4. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

4th favorite beach in the world: Black Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Head to Black Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii for the chance to see turtles resting and suning along the shoreline.

All volcanic islands are made up of an igneous rock called basalt. Black sand is nothing more than this black volcanic rock pulverized into sand-sized grains. That means that black sand beaches are not really rare, per se—you can visit them in Costa Rica, among other places in the world. What makes the beach at Punalu’u in Hawaii special are the sea turtles, which come there to bask in the sun.

The chance to sunbathe among majestic sea turtles makes for an experience unlike any others I’ve found in the world. These gentle giants mind their own business while you enjoy one of the the best beaches the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer. You can go independently or find day tours and such of the region.

The beach is also very close to the Green Sand Beach on the Big Island—more on that in a moment!

3. Unknown Name Beach, Rennell Island, Solomon Islands

3rd favorite beach in the world: Beach on Rennell Island, Solomon Island
This remote beach on Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands will take some negotiating with local guides if you want to visit, but once you’re there, even your guides will be glad for the peaceful and lazy beach day where your only chore is to leisurely sip coconut water.

As you can tell from some of the above entries, I like remote beaches. This beach I visited in the Solomon Islands wins the remote beach award.

For starters, the Solomon Islands doesn’t get a lot of tourism—about 10,000 people a year visit (according to sources when I visited in 2007). Second, the island of Rennell is outside the main archipelago, and the island only gets about dozen tourists a year. That means even the busiest beach is going to have … no one on it. There’s only a slim chance your travels there will overlap with any other travelers.

Locals told me that an old beach on the other side of the island was where the ships used to land years ago, so I headed there. You have to go down a 300 foot cliff to get there (there were old stairs), and no one had been down there in years. Locals only begrudgingly honored my request to see it—my guides and I were the first people to visit this beach in years.

It’s amazing how cluttered a beach can be with driftwood and shells when there are no people around to pick things up. My guides brought a machete to cut down some coconuts and we spent two hours napping and drinking coconut milk on this beach, surrounded by 300 foot sea cliffs that hadn’t seen a human in years.

It was a great afternoon.

2. Red Sand Beach, Maui, Hawaii

2nd favorite beach in the world: Red Sand Beach, Hana, Maui
Driving the road to Hana is one of the highlights that makes visiting the Red Sand Beach on Maui even better.

I had heard about the Red Sand Beach in Maui for years before I finally got a chance to go there myself. The beach isn’t on the list because it is red—although that does probably give it a few extra points—but rather because it is a great hidden beach. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this beach so special.

First, the red sand is caused by the oxidation of the iron in the basalt. Long ago, it was probably a black sand beach.

Second, there is no path to the beach, and there are no signs pointing to the beach. You have to know how to know where it is and know how to find it.

Third, as you can see in the photo, the rocks form a natural tiny harbor where the water is calm and you can swim without worrying about the surf.

Finally, to even get to Hana you have to drive the Hana Highway, which was listed as one of my favorite drives in the world.

1. Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

My favorite beach in the world: Green Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Head to Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii for not only a stunning hike in route, but a secluded bay with great body surfing and unique vibes.

To reach the fabled Green Sand Beach, you have to go to the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii (which is also the southernmost point in the United States). From there, you either have to hike or drive off-road for a mile or two to reach the beach. From there, you will have to climb down into the bowl to get to the actual green sand. All of that work will be worth the payoff once you get to Papakolea Green Sand Beach!

The reason why the sand is green (and it’s really a combination of green and amber) is because it a mineral called olivine. If you look at the volcanic rock around the big island you’ll see flecks of green in the rocks. That’s olivine (or in gemstone quality, it is known as Peridot). An ancient cinder cone containing ash and olivine eroded, once the ash was washed away the heavier olivine dropped out to form the beach. Because of the shape of the inlet with the beach, it’s a great spot for body surfing—the waves are big and there are no sharp rocks.

The other Hawaii beaches, although uncrowded are easier to get to and thus will usually have other intrepid travelers. Green Sand Beach (Papakolea), however, is worth the extra trek for the extra beautiful views and the chance to see what is—in my humble estimation—the best beach in the world!

28 thoughts on “My 10 Favorite Beaches in the World”

  1. These are all amazing places. Shipwreck Beach, Lanai, Hawaii would be one of my top picks. I have traveled to Honolulu a few times but never left the tourist areas. It would be fun to fly back to Hawaii and see the places you listed. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love the beaches in Hawaii. The black sand beach in the Waipio Valley is really nice. I heard the green sand beach was cool but I didn’t have a chance to get out there. Great list.

  3. Hi Gary,
    Some fabulous beaches but Whitehaven Beach in The Whitsundays is the tops. You must have missed it on your trip to Oz.
    Tenerife brought back happy memories with your favourite hotel report.

  4. Have you traveled much around the Central Americas? Costa Rica has some amazing beaches. And the Caribbean has some stunning beach views with the crystal clear waters. Loved Red and Black sand beach in Hawaii as well. Great beach feature. Added a few to the bucket list to visit.

    • Hey, Horizon Pacific, your list of the top 10 Beaches in Guanacaste has some real stunners in it too. – I loooove Tamarindo, Langosta and Avellanas.

  5. The Green Sand Beach in Hawaii is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been! Now I hunger to see the others in person. Thanks!

  6. I haven’t been to any of these beaches, but know i must, as i am definitely a beach person. There are obviously many to be had in Australia with places like Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. I love Perth beach though, as it is so long and very easy to find a spot away from people.

  7. Hi Gary, I live in Townsville, North Qld, Australia. If you have a boat (we do), it is very easy to find an empty beach up here. I have been dropped off on random beaches when I start feeling sea sick. Just myself the course sand, coconut palms, rocks and tiny crabs. After it has rained we sometimes go to a deserted beach on Magnetic Island and sit under a freshwater mini waterfall. I am currently at Coolum Beach on the sunshine coast of Queensland. Not a deserted beach, but it has waves to body surf on (we don’t have them at home because of the reef). Loving it! Jan.

  8. You have obviously never been to Cow Wreck Beach on the island of Anegada in the BVI. Think 10 people and its crowded. I have done a bit of travelling, and this beach is truly awsome. Don’t tell anyone, though. Won’t want it spoiled!

  9. I haven’t been to any of these beaches on your list, but it looks like Hawaii is a good spot for them (cue the “duhhh” comment). Not sure if you’ve been to St. Martin/St. Maarten but those are some of the best beaches I’ve seen. I highly recommend them, especially because they’re a bit more secluded (and there’s sooo many of them!)

  10. Hey, im currently serving in afghanistan with the british army, im a keen traveller myself, im only 21 an have only been travelling for the last 3 years but have already experianced some amazing places such as canoeing down the kootney river in canada, Exploring old Rome, Germany to name a few. I have a request if you have time could you email me some must see places in far east asia..cambodia, thailand, vietnam etc an maybe a travel route to take. Youve been to alot of these places an know the ins an outs of some amazing spots. Any response would be greatly apreciated.

  11. Awesome that you have Savaii Samoa on there! My mother is from Savaii, and you’re right. Not many people travel out that way, but sometimes I prefer that so it remains untouched and remote. Thank you for your great post!

  12. Great call on Rarotonga – although I prefer Aitutaki.
    My Cook Islands license was indeed the greatest souvenier I got (as well as my awesome scooter driving skills!)

  13. You’ve missed the boat– how come no beaches in Australia are mentioned? Whitehaven anyone? Mission or Coolangatta? what about the gold coast, surfers paradise and what happend to Brazil- Queen of all beaches– she reins and has something for everyone, some hard to get to, others wide open and full of beautiful eye candy, take your pick…. BTW The Greek islands have some great beaches too, some with different colored sands I see you like… also not mentioned…

  14. Spain has some of the top beaches in Europe, and one of my favorites is Playa de Rodas on las Islas Ciés, just off the coast of vigo, in the north. Only 2200 allowed in each day and no garbage cans on the island makes for pristine beaches!

    • I haven’t been to any Spanish beaches yet except for Benidorm, which is actually the photo I used at the top of the page. Benidorm was just too crowded and touristy for me to be put on the list.

  15. I’m guessing you like Hawaii. Haha
    There are so many beautiful beaches in the world. I’d like to visit Shipwreck Beach though -it looks bad ass.

  16. My favorite place in the world is on a beach. Great post! Now I can’t wait to be in Miami in 5 days!!!

    • I’ve been to Palawan but didn’t make it to El Nido. I’ve heard great things about it however.

  17. Amazing places and fab pics!

    My favourite beaches are not so remote but stunning anyway:
    Cala Mariolu bay and Masua beach both in Sardinia – Italy.

    The first one is very difficult to reach and normally people get there by boat. The scenery with its mix of mountains and sea, and the pretty pebbles of the beach make it so special.

    The second, Masua, is a little bay with a surreal islet emerging from the cobalt sea (Pan di Zucchero) and the colourful rocks at the back that perfectly frame of the cosy beach.
    A little corner of paradise.

    Manu

  18. I love how you’ve included some not well known beaches (I haven’t heard of any of these). I’m especially into the black sand beach with the sea turtles. Those turtles know what’s up!

  19. While your beaches are amazing, my favorite is in my backyard in Marquette, Mich. on lake Superior. It’s my favorite because of all the activities it offers- fishing, laying out, beach volleyball, cliff diving and most importantly for the scenic views along the rocky coast. It’s not tropical, but it’s definitely my favorite spot to get a tan.

  20. Beautiful. My favorite is Isla Verde, Puerto Rico and there is also a pool carved into one of the mountains that has a natural river flows through (not a beach but still awesome!).

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