1. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Shockingly, Palawan remains steadily under the radar, even though this is the second year it has ranked #1. El Nido alone is home to around 50 white sand beaches—it’s impossible to choose just one—all of which are set around dramatic limestone formations and boast the finest and whitest sand you’ll ever see. The water is so blindingly blue it makes the Caribbean Sea look murky in comparison, and the sunsets? Well, they’ll ruin you for life. Consider yourself warned.
Where to stay: El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island
2. Honokalani Beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Maui, HI
With its jet-black shore, lapis lazuli waters and thick, jungle-like foliage, Honokalani Beach is a photographer’s dream. Besides lying lazily on the “sand”—actually made up of of tiny lava pebbles—there’s plenty to do: you’ll find seaside lava tubes and sea caves carved into the lava cliffs along the shore. It’s wild, unspoiled Hawaii at its best, and a necessary stop en route to Hana.
Where to stay: Montage Kaplua Bay
3. Pansy Island, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
A group of six islands that remain under the radar, despite their increasing popularity among those in the know (divers especially). Only four are inhabited, with Pansy Island being but a sandbar on which resorts like the Anantara can arrange for private lunch excursions. Known collectively as “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” Bazaruto is most easily reached by air from Johannesburg to Vilanculos, and then onward by small aircraft or boat.
Where to stay: Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort
4. Anse Lazio, Praslin, Seychelles
Anse Lazio, on the northwest tip of Praslin island, is known widely as the most beautiful beach in the Seychelles and is by far the most photographed. It’s no wonder: The beach is long and broad with velvety sand and shocking blue water, and it’s fringed with swaying palms and leafy takamaka trees. To add to the drama, it’s also framed by enormous granite boulders on either side.
Where to stay: Raffles Praslin
5. Honopu Beach, Kauai, HI
Also known as Cathedral Beach, Honopu—like Waipio Valley—is quite difficult to reach. For starters, it’s not accessible except by water, so to get there you must swim from an offshore boat, or from neighboring Kalalau Beach (a quarter-mile swim). But the trouble is worth it: Think cumin-colored sand bordered by soaring, vegetation-cloaked cliffs—and, most times, not a soul in sight. Fun fact: It’s served as a location on such films as Six Days, Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and King Kong.
Where to stay: Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu Beach
6. Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI
Well-known for one of the world’s best places to watch big wave surfing in winter (the beach is home to the Vans Triple Crown), the water here becomes as calm as a lake in summer and is a great place for snorkeling. Above all, as its name suggests, it’s the sunsets that really seal the deal for visitors.
Where to stay: Turtle Bay Resort – closest to the beach, and one of few along the north shore
7. Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The beach scene is a bustling one year-round on the mile-long stretch of sea and sand that inspired one of the most famous bossa nova ditties of all time. The lively area is no doubt fueled by the parade of beautiful beachgoers; the majestic views of the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountains to the west; the nonstop hive of game-playing in the form of football, volleyball, and the hybrid footvolley; and the seemingly never-ending supply of beer and cachaça.
Where to stay: Caesar Park Rio de Janeiro Ipanema, now managed by Sofitel.
8. Blue Beach (La Chiva), Vieques, Puerto Rico
A long, thin stretch of perfect sand and crystal clear water in a thousand shades of blue, make this one of the Caribbean’s top beaches. Accessed by parking in one of 21 tiny turn-offs along a bumpy, unpaved road in the middle of the island’s western National Wildlife Refuge (formerly off-limits as a U.S. Navy training base).
Where to stay: W Retreat & Spa, Vieques.
9. Praia Mole, Florianopolis, Brazil
Young, attractive surfers and paragliders make this one of the coolest beaches in all of Brazil, the beach is only 16kms east of the attractive town of Florianopolis. Numerous beach bars, restaurants, and cafes are filled with an “in-crowd” make this an excellent people-watching day by the sea, and one that’s refreshingly welcoming of LGBT travelers.
Where to stay: Ponta dos Ganchos, on the mainland
10. Waipio Valley Beach, Big Island, HI
This beach in Waipio Valley is one of the hardest to get to in Hawaii—you must hike or drive down a treacherously narrow, steep road to reach your destination. But it’s well worth the trek: At the bottom, you’re rewarded with a mile-long black volcanic sand beach bordered by 2000-foot cliff walls and backed by thick rainforest. If that weren’t scenic enough, the Kaluahine and Waiulili waterfalls cut into the cliffs at the south end of the beach, and are accessible via a boulder-strewn trail along the surf.
Where to stay: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel