Source d’Argent, Seychelles
As if a beach like this needed any enhancement, pink-hued sand ups the ante in the picture-postcard stakes at Source d’Argent, a secluded cove on La Digue, the Seychelles’ third-largest island (in an archipelago of 115). Huge, weathered granite boulders bookend the shore, and there are nearby restaurants for sampling Creole-inspired cuisine.
Dune du Pyla, France
This beach is Europe’s tallest dune at over 100 metres. It’s an hour’s drive from Bordeaux and is literally dazzling. You will shield your eyes as much from the shimmering heat haze as the pristine sand. After you’ve taken in the panoramic views over the Atlantic and pine forests behind, there are miles of beaches to explore along the Bassin d’Arcachon. Take a ferry from Arcachon pier to Cap Ferret for the best view of the dune. To eat, head to the oyster cabanes, where fishermen set up tables and serve oysters, prawns, paté, bread and rosé wine.
Shoal Bay, Antigua
Icing-sugar sand, 3km of it, crystal-clear Caribbean water, off-shore coral reef with spectacular snorkelling or diving, a smattering of bars and open-air restaurants … job done! This stretch on the east of the fun yachtie island, near Dickenson Bay town, is quieter than nearby Jabberwock beach.
Cala Saona, Formentera
There is no shortage of beautiful beaches on the smallest of the Balearics but everybody seems to want to cram on to Illetes and Espalmador. Much better to hire a bike or moped in the main port, La Savina, and head a few kilometres across the island to Cala Saona. It has perfectly clear water, white sand and dramatic red cliffs on both sides. It faces west, so is the ideal spot for a sundowner at, say, the charmingly simple Cala Saona chiringuito.
Glass Beach, California
A beach made from years of dumped litter sounds like a hellhole but, at Glass beach, on the Mendocino coast in California, the result is quite beautiful. From 1906 to 1967, glass, appliances and even vehicles were chucked into the sea. A clean-up programme removed all the metal and non-biodegradable waste, and the waves broke down the glass and pottery, which washed up as jewel-like, translucent stones. Nowadays, the beach is part of MacKerricher state park, and visitors are forbidden for removing the sea-glass baubles.
Starfish Beach, Panama
Panama has three archipelagos: San Blas is pricey to get to, the Pearl Islands are pricey to stay on, but Bocas del Toro, just south of Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, puts virgin beach utopia within a backpacker budget. From the funky town hub of Bocas on Isla Colón, boat taxis cross between the 10 inhabited islands and some 300 islands and islets, although this protected beach, gloriously decorated with a liberal smattering of starfish, is on Colón itself.
More of a cove than a beach, backed by cliffs and dense woods, with white sands and pebbles and clear blue waters – is Fakistra on the Pelion peninsula (mainland Greece), below Tsagarada village. It’s a steep walk down but it’s the sort of place that, apart from in July and August, you may well have to yourself.
Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico
If asked to design the perfect tropical beach, Playa Flamenco on Culebra island, off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is probably what you would come up with. It’s a U-shaped cove with white sand, warm turquoise water, palm trees, lush vegetation and a peaceful lagoon. The island’s undeveloped state is partly thanks to the US military, which used to use it as a gunnery range – a rusting Sherman tank remains in the middle of the sand. It makes a day trip by ferry from Fajardo on the Puerto Rico mainland ($4.50 return): a shuttle bus runs from the ferry port. Culebra has an excellent government-run campsite right on the sand at the western side of the bay. It’s quite basic, with showers open only three hours a day, but pitch your tent under mangroves ($20 for up to six people), stock up on water, pina coladas and local snacks (comida criolla) and you may never want to leave. If you do, though, there are bikes to hire.
Koh Kradan, Thailand
Choosing the best beach in Thailand is a near impossible task. But one Thai island that’s still relatively peaceful is Koh Kradan, near busier Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea. With powdery sand, excellent snorkelling on a reef just off the beach, hammocks and crystal-clear water, it would suit those who don’t want to drink buckets of spirits under a full moon. You can kayak round the whole island – 90% of which is part of Hat Chao Mai national park – in three hours to more isolated spots, and take longtail boat trips to Ko Waen, Ko Chueak and Ko Muk’s Emerald Cave.
Playa del Amor (Hidden Beach), Mexico
An underground beach sounds like the stuff of legend, but the Marietas Islands, where Hidden Beach lies, were used as a military testing ground by the Mexican government in the early 1900s, and it’s suspected that a bomb may have created the crater in which it sits. Access to this crescent within a gaping circular hole in the landscape, is by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel. Many operators run boat trips here from Puerto Vallarta ($76 with ecotoursvallarta.com), but the sea is rough and you have to swim in beside treacherous rocks. But it’s stunning – Jacques Cousteau was a fan – with the bonus of possibly spotting a humpback whale on the way.
Greenfield Beach, Australia
A three-hour drive from Sydney, Greenfield beach sits next to Jervis Bay’s calm waters and blindingly white sand. It is about 500m north of the more famous Hyams beach, so crowds tend to gravitate away from it and framed by a dense forest of gum trees and a small sandstone cliff. It’s a walk from Vincentia town, from where you can easily drive into the Booderee national park to meet a kangaroos or visit other spectacular beaches.