Top 10 Beaches of the World
From Guardian Unlimited Friday February 16 2007
(with a few replacements)
I love beaches and this is itching me for a holiday!
1. Las Islas Cies, Galicia, Spain
Mention Spanish beaches and most people instinctively think of the Mediterranean. Yet the wilder, stunning Atlantic coastline of Galicia, just north of Portugal, has far more dramatic praias – with far fewer people on them. One of the jewels of this coast is on Las Islas Cies, a 40-minute boat trip from the pretty town of Baiona. Once a pirates’ haunt, Cies is now an uninhabited and pristine national park, open to the public only in summer. Galegos come here to spend long, lazy summer days on the Praia das Rodas, a perfect crescent of soft, pale sand backed by small dunes sheltering a calm lagoon of crystal-clear sea.
Locals call this their “Caribbean beach”, and the water is turquoise enough, the sand white enough to believe the comparison … until you dip your toe in the water. Then it feels more like Skegness. You can sleep in an idyllic campsite, shaded by tall pine trees, with a view over the ocean. And, this being Spain, there’s even a proper restaurant serving great seafood.
2. Tayrona national park, Colombia
I’ve never been as instantly impressed by a beach as I was the moment I set eyes on Tayrona. After a 40-minute hike through the forest, I was expecting to see a classic Caribbean beach, all white sand and calm turquoise water, perhaps a few cabanas for the tourists. Instead I was greeted with a wild sea crashing on to rocks the size of houses that are dotted along the untamed and semi-deserted beach. In a country with a “healthier” tourist industry Tayrona would undoubtedly be a major resort, but as it’s in Colombia the virgin rainforest cascades down the mountainside right on to the sand. And there was no one on it save a small community of backpackers who sleep in open-air hammocks.
On arrival I wandered along it, marvelling at the raw beauty and remoteness of the place but after just 10 minutes I quite literally walked into my friend Jim! It was the unlikeliest spot for a “you’ll never guess who I bumped into” travel story, and made for the best beach holiday I’ve ever had. I gather it’s become more popular in the ten years since I was there, but thanks to its national park status the developers have been kept at bay.
3. Porto da Barra, Salvador, Brazil
Sydney has Bondi, LA has Venice, Rio has Copacabana and Ipanema – town beaches that are both world famous and a microcosm of their city itself. I lived in Salvador, Brazil’s oldest city, for several years and Porto da Barra was where I would come for an early morning swim or a cold beer in the late afternoon. The location is stunning, at the entrance of the magnificent Bahia de Todos os Santos, with a small, white colonial fort at one end and a whitewashed church sitting up on a hill at the other. There’s always something going on here: small fishing boats unloading their catch, young lads diving into the sea off the old stone harbour walls, older boys eyeing up girls, beach volleyball, football and tennis. As the beach is in a bay the water is calm and also (given that it is right in the heart of Brazil’s third-largest city) incredibly clean and clear, so it’s perfect for swimming. And in a country with over 7,000km of east-facing coastline, the Porto is one of the few facing west, so you can watch some fabulous sunsets.
4. Anywhere on Palawan, the Philippines
Although Alex Garland’s backpacker odyssey The Beach is set in Thailand, he took much of the inspiration for the location from the Philippines. The reason? As anyone who has been to Thailand in the last decade will tell you, the chances of founding your very own deserted island paradise in a country that has become synonymous with the backpacker superhighway are close to nil. The Philippines, on the other hand has over 7,000 islands, a fraction of the tourists and so many deserted beaches that it’s easy to hire a fishing boat, sail off into the sun and create your very own “Beach”.
The western island group of Palawan, which even Filipinos describe as their country’s last frontier, is inconceivably exotic and tropical. It’s an archipelago of jagged limestone islands with underground rivers, rocky coves, virgin rainforest and, of course, sugar-white sandy beaches. Honda Bay, which has several islets including Cannon Island, Bat Island and Starfish Island, is one of the most popular but the fun in Palawan is in discovering your own deserted stretch of sand.
5. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania
The beaches of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are the only ones I’ve ever walked on where the powder-white sand is so fine it literally squeaks between your toes. The island of Zanzibar is the jewel of the east-African coast, with its spice trade, labyrinthine old Stone Town and, of course, around 30 beaches, nearly all of which are to die for. One of the best is Nungwi, near the northern tip of the island. The coastline has a shallow slope so the sapphire water, white sand and coral build-ups forming a calm sea which stretches for miles and is home to thousands of marine animals. Dotted with tiny fishing villages that have barely changed in centuries, the Zanzibar coastline has a dreamy timeless air.
6. Maldives Replacing Arambol, Goa, India
7. Whitehaven, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
There are dozens of candidates for the mantle of Australia´s best beach, but for picture-postcard, sheer drop-dead gorgeousness Whitehaven is pretty special. Imagine super-fine, white silica sand surrounded by warm, clear, azure waters sandwiched between tropical forest with various islands dotted around in the distance. Just make sure you come for longer than a day (the preferred option) as once the day cruisers have left you can walk around here or curl up under the shade of the forest and feel like you have this uninhabited piece of paradise all to yourself. It´s quite a trek getting to Whitehaven, the surf isn´t up to much and for half the year you have to wear a stinger suit to swim in the sea – but these are small prices to pay for such beauty.
8. Shell Beach Western Australia replacing Shell Beach, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
The hypersalinated water of L’Haridon Bight in Shark Bay are home to billions of tiny coquina bivalve shells. These shells form a 60km long beach aptly named Shell Beach. The deposits are seven to ten metres deep and go right out into the calm bay.The effect is brilliant; a long, snow-white beach bordered by aqua blue ocean waters. Shell Beach is one of only two shell beaches like it in the world.
9. Sinclair´s Bay, Caithness
Just eight miles south of John O’Groats in Scotland but – when the sun comes out – the white sand and sparkling blue sea of Sinclair’s Bay look more like the Caribbean than Caithness. Framed by a 16th-century castle at each end and with a spectacular array of wildlife including plovers, dunlins, porpoises and occasionally orca – both on and off shore, Sinclair´s Bay has the lot.
10. Aroa, Aitutaki, One Foot Island, Cook Islands
It takes forever to get to this coral atoll necklaced by an azure lagoon, but the snorkelling, fishing and scuba-diving make this hidden paradise one of the best beaches in the south Pacific.