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.
1. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Highlights: Powdery white sand meets one of the planet’s most beautiful turquoise lagoons
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.
2. Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos
Highlight: Crystal-clear turquoise water and great snorkeling just offshore
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.
3. Reethi Rah, Maldives
Highlights: Private white sand beach on a turquoise lagoon, open only to resort guests
A nation comprised of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are home to some of the most stunning beaches on the planet. Most of these islands, including Reethi Rah, are home to only one or two resorts and as such, you’ll have a whole lot of pristine white sand meets turquoise lagoon shoreline to just a select few people.
Although there are not really any bad beaches in the Maldives — this is one of the world’s most romantic destinations, a favorite with honeymooners from around the planet; the beaches on Reethi Rah are especially spectacular.
4. Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Highlights: One of the world’s most scenically stunning beaches; features Cape Town’s Twelve Apostles rock formations on one side
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 the 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.
5. Railay Beach, Thailand
Highlights: Railay Beach can only be reached by longtail boat; giant limestone monoliths rise out of the turquoise sea
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.
6. Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia
Highlight: Going to Hill Inlet on the northern end of the beach when the tide is changing
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.
7. Miami Beach, Florida
Highlights: One of the trendiest beaches in the U.S., it has powdery white sand and clear turquoise water
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.
8. Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos, Greece
Highlights: A crescent-shaped cove surrounded by cliffs; the beach is only accessible by boat
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 coast. 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 All Day Tour Shipwreck Beach.
9. Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, The Bahamas
Highlight: Visiting at sunrise or sunset when the pink sand looks especially stunning
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. This is one of the top pink sand beaches in the world.
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.
10. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Highlight: Grabbing a bite to eat at one of the beachfront restaurants strung along Playa Los Muertos
One of Mexico’s most popular beach tourist destinations, Puerto Vallarta on the country’s Pacific Coastline is home to a number of majestic beaches along its Bay of Banderas.
While the Hotel Zone and the Centro districts are home to attractive gold-sand beaches where the water is deep blue and the sunsets stretch on forever, the very best beaches are located at the historic Zona Romantica and then south from it on Highway 200.
Playa Los Muertos is one of the most popular beaches and has a super lively vibe. There are dozens of lounges and restaurants on the sand for dining, listening to music, and making new friends.
11. La Jolla, San Diego, CA
Highlight: Snorkeling through the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve
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.
12. Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Highlights: A 17-mile stretch of white sand beach; come for a sunset picnic
At the end of Highway 50, on the far western end of the rugged Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Polihale Beach is the perfect place to head for a romantic picnic at sunset. Running for 17 miles, the wide white-sand beach, protected by Polihale State Park, is the longest in Hawaii.
Backed by 100-foot-high sand dunes and cacti, the western-facing location makes it the ideal spot to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. And while the beach is great for watching the sunset and walking along, swimming is not recommended, as the current here is dangerously strong.
13. Petite Anse, Mahe, Seychelles
Highlights: One of the Seychelle’s most beautiful beaches, it has silver-tinged sand and turquoise sea
In the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles from Africa’s east coast, the Seychelles are one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos. There are dozens of serenely beautiful beaches scattered about these islands, but Petite Anse is arguably the most gorgeous of all.
It is set against a backdrop of granite cliffs and thick forest on the southwest coast of Mahe, the Seychelle’s main island. Staying at the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles grants you direct access to the silver-tinged sands of Petite Anse.
14. Da Nang Beach, Vietnam
Highlight: One of Vietnam’s prettiest beaches, it’s home to beach resorts and restaurants
Midway down Vietnam’s coastline, Da Nang (also called Danang) has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Here, you will find 28 kilometers of white-sand beaches, blue ocean, and dark green jungle that combines into a visually stunning backdrop.
There are a number of beach resorts along this strip and restaurants serving up local fare clustered around the most popular beaches like My Khe and Non Nuch.
15. Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand
Highlights: One of Thailand’s most famous beaches, Haad Rin has great energy and lodging options for all budgets
On the island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, Haad Rin Beach is the most famous of the nearly three dozen beaches scattered around this lush isle. Koh Phangan and neighboring Koh Tao and Koh Samui Islands are three of Thailand’s most popular island-hopping destinations.
Haad Rin Beach is home to numerous restaurants on the sand and plentiful accommodation options from budget to luxury. It has a buzzy young vibe and attracts backpackers and tourists from around the world who come to laze on the long white-sand beach or swim in the calm turquoise sea. The water is warm and water sports also abound.
16. Amed, Bali
Highlight: Diving or snorkeling in the thriving coral just offshore from this black-sand beach
Indonesia’s most captivating island, beautiful Bali is home to numerous beaches. But Amed, on the northeastern coast, is not only gorgeous from above, it boasts much beauty on the ocean floor beneath.
Dive into the translucent sea, and you’ll find thriving coral with schools of bright-colored fish, sea turtles, and other marine life darting about. There is even a shipwreck to explore. The beach itself is a black-sand beauty, set against a turquoise sea, with a backdrop of volcanic peaks and green jungle.
17. Tulum, Mexico
Highlights: The prettiest beaches along the Mayan Riviera; white sand backed by the Caribbean Sea’s warm turquoise waters
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.
18. Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania
Highlight: Floating in the calm, clear turquoise sea when the tides are high enough to swim
Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island is one of the most intriguing beach destinations in Africa. Nungwi Beach, on the island’s northern tip, fronts a fishing village with a serious buzz these days. The beach here is comprised of pale coral sand, and the turquoise and aquamarine water beyond it is as beautiful as it gets. The sea here is warm and perfect for swimming.
The vibe is mellow but buzzy, and you’ll find a number of restaurants, vendors, resorts, and water sports outfitters on the strip facing the sand. The sunsets are stellar, and Arab dhows traverse the waterfront all day long.
19. Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Highlight: One of the world’s most famous beaches, Copacabana has gold sand on one side and a modern skyline and mountains on the other
One of the world’s most famed beaches is surely Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stretching for three miles, the gold-sand beach is fronted by the ocean on one side and a modern skyline and craggy peaks on the other.
The glamorous beach isn’t quite as chic as it was during its 20th-century heyday, but it still holds its own as Rio’s social hub. On weekends especially, it is packed with sunbathing locals, vendors selling all sorts of food and beverages, and beach volleyball players.
20. Saud Beach, Luzon Island, Philippines
Highlights: Translucent turquoise-hued sea, white sand, and swaying palms
The islands of the Philippines in Southeast Asia are also home to some of the world’s most spectacular beaches. Head to Luzon Island and Saud Beach for translucent water and pristine white sand with swaying palms. The beach here slopes gently into the sea, creating easy entry into the water, which is warm as a bath and perfect for swimming and lazy float sessions.
Although there is a resort on this picture-perfect beach, it doesn’t get the best reviews, so we recommend visiting on a day trip from Ilocos.
21. Naama Bay, Egypt
Highlights: Great diving and snorkeling in the coral reefs offshore
On the Sinai Peninsula, Naama Bay is one of the best beaches in Egypt and attracts beach lovers from across northern and eastern Europe in winter. The beach also serves as the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh’s epicenter. The beach features gold sand, a cerulean blue sea, and even views of Saudi Arabia’s coastline in the distance.
Naama Bay is also famed for the excellent diving and snorkeling found in the offshore coral reefs. Some of the best dive sites are found in Ras Mohammed National Park. You can also go snorkeling just off Naama Bay, but you won’t see as much marine life as you will when you take a boat trip.