Beautiful beaches come in all shapes and sizes. Find the one that suits your style with this round-up from our National Geographic book, Ultimate Journeys for Two. In each chapter, we created a top 10 list inspired by that section’s destination style (mountains, jungles, deserts, etc). For the Beaches & Islands chapter, we scoured the globe for the beaches that truly excel in their category—be it tidepooling, surfing, nude bathing, or something totally unique (DIY hot tubs in the sand? Yes, please!). Now for the world’s best-in-class beaches…
1. COLORFUL SAND: Rainbow Beach, Australia
Over 70 different colored sands make up the soaring cliffs of Queensland’s Inskip Peninsula. These rich minerals have been evolving since the last ice age, and are as vibrant as ever. Teal sea and white sand before the rainbow cliffs add an extra stunning contrast.
2. CLIFFS: Cathedrals Beach, Spain
With rock formations arcing like buttresses a hundred feet over the sea, this Galicia beach feels as grand as the Renaissance churches of Europe. The powerful Atlantic has eroded the cliffs into a series of walkways; come at low tide to explore them.
3. TIDEPOOLING: Moss Beach, USA
Along the dramatic bluffs of California’s Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, anemones, starfish, crabs, and sea urchins fill thousands of rock pools. Nearby harbor seal nurseries add a lively element to this couple-mile stretch of the Bay Area.
4. HISTORY: Ruinas de Tulum, Mexico
White sand, turquoise water, and swaying palms would be enough reasons to visit Tulum, but pre-Columbian ruins towering over the beach take it to a whole new level. The Maya picked this site for its break in the reef, making it an ideal spot for ancient trading canoes and modern-day swimmers.
5. CLOTHING OPTIONAL: Guvano Beach, Italy
A cove surrounded by steep cliffs and turquoise sea, only accessible via an old railway tunnel or boat, Guvano is not an easy place to reach, but that’s what makes it perfect for nude bathers (and first-timers). No gawking passersby to worry about, just people enjoying one of Cinque Terre’s most au naturel beaches.
6. NATURAL SPA: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
On either side of high tide, this geothermal beach becomes the grounds for a one-of-a-kind spa. Water (up to 147°F) filters up from underground fissures, so grab a shovel and dig yourself a hot tub.
Bonus Beach: The North American equivalent of this DIY Jacuzzi can be found on the Punta Banda Peninsula of Mexico. Read all about this epic soak in our Baja road trip blog
7. WILDLIFE: Española Island, Ecuador
The Galápagos archipelago is renowned for its diversity of wildlife, especially on Española. With more than a thousand giant tortoises, a waved albatross colony (the only one in the world), endemic lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and not to mention countless sea lions, it offers a truly wild day at the beach. See more of our Galapagos wildlife adventures in this HoneyTrek blog and the “On Safari” chapter of Ultimate Journeys for Two.
8. SURFING: Bells Beach, Australia
Home to the Rip Curl Pro—the world’s longest running surf competition—this Victoria state beach churns out consistently stellar waves. Large swells come from the Southern Ocean, hit this unique reef, and sculpt it to perfection.
9. SEASHELLS: Sanibel, USA
Most seashells roll right past Florida’s beaches; however, Sanibel Island’s south-facing shores
are a veritable net for coquinas, conch whelks, and treasures hailing from across the Caribbean. Every tide brings new surprises and shellers from around the world to beachcomb Blind Pass to Lighthouse Park.
10. UNLIKELY ATTRACTION: Maho Beach, St. Maarten
You’d think being directly under an airport flight path would deter sunbathers. Instead, the 747s, swooping less than 100 feet overhead, bring droves to scope the massive airliners, feel the powerful jet stream, and cheer in unison for this regularly scheduled thrill.
BONUS Best-in-Class Beaches
Camping: Playa El Requesón, Mexico
When you see those idyllic photos of Baja with turquoise waters, cactus-studded islands and white-sand beaches, it’s probably somewhere along Bahía Concepción. This stretch of the Sea of Cortez is a camping dream, with El Requesón topping the list. Low tide creates two stunning beach coves and a sand-bar bridge to let you island hop by foot to Requesón Island. Park your camper or pitch your tent anywhere along the spit for a slice of paradise. And listen for the call of the empanada man for hot breakfast at your door.
Bioluminescence: Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico
Imagine kayaking or swimming at night, and each stroke sets millions of plankton aglow, as if paddling through a galaxy. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that happens in many places around the globe (particularly when there is an algae bloom), but when the Guinness Book of World Records declared this bay on Vieques Island the brightest of them all, you know this is the one to see.
Discover More of the World’s Best Destinations
For more of the world’s best beaches, plus our favorite rainforests, deserts, mountains, and road trip destinations, pick up a copy of our book Ultimate Journeys for Two. It’s National Geographic’s bestselling couples travel guide and the more people that buy (and review) the first edition, the more likely we’ll get greenlit for a second. Thanks so much for your support and happy travels!