25 Best Island Beaches in the World
For our 33rd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey—yes, more than three decades—our readers leaned in heavily into nostalgia. With travel largely on pause this year, it seems what they may have missed most was a coveted beach vacation where they could get away from it all. Whether you’re looking for a calm stretch of sand in the Caribbean or a family-friendly resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are enough options out there to suit every type of traveler. Here are the best island beaches in the world, the ones that Condé Nast Traveler readers thought about this year—and can’t wait to return to.
25. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
While it may be one of the most popular beaches on the island, Horseshoe Bay has a hidden secret: Port Royal Cove, which has shallow water perfect for young kids, and dramatic rock formations that complement wonderfully soft, pink sand. Nearby Spicelands Equestrian Centre even offers trail rides down to the private cove, which is located in part of South Shore Park in Southampton Parish.
24. Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Aussies and Kiwis have been surfing off Sri Lanka’s otherworldly south coast for years, but the word is starting to spread: This country may be the perfect vacation destination. Unawatuna is often considered one of the best sandy stretches on the island, located near the southern city of Galle. The water here is tranquil and warm, devoid of rocks and reefs on the ocean floor—great for families, not so great for surfers. A small road runs along the beach, with restaurants, cafes, and vendors selling jewelry.
23. Siasconset Beach, Nantucket, Massachusetts
At the eastern most flank of the island, Siasconset can be reached from town via a six-mile bike ride on the Milestone Road path (or, in the summer, on a NRTA shuttle bus). Food and restrooms can be found nearby in the adjacent historic village of ‘Sconset. Built in 1850, the Sankaty Head Light is well worth a wander to the northern tip of the beach (it’s rarely open to climb, except on specific days). Best of all, though, is the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk—with the strong Atlantic on one side and a row of multi-million-dollar homes on the other. Waves here are rough, even in summer, so bundle up for a long winter walk if you’re on the island during the off season.
22. The Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, with natural beauty covering virtually all of its 8.5 square miles. The island offers quiet beaches and coves and flora-filled national parks. Perhaps the prettiest (and most popular attraction), though, is the Baths, a seaside area where huge granite boulders form scenic saltwater pools and grottos.
21. Sunset Beach, Oahu
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, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling. After a day spent in the sand and surf, don’t towel off and head home just yet: As its name suggests, it’s the sunsets that really seal the deal for visitors.
20. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Matira is perhaps the most famous of Tahiti’s beaches, and for good reason: The mile-long stretch of silky, powder-white sand slopes gently into a shallow emerald lagoon, and is backed by a thick curtain of palms and tropical foliage. An added bonus? It’s one of the only public-access beaches in Bora Bora, so you won’t need to pay five-star resort prices to enjoy its beauty. Come early to stake out a spot.
19. Honokalani Beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Maui
With its jet-black shore, electric-blue waters, and thick, jungle-like foliage, Honokalani Beach is a photographer’s dream. Besides lying lazily on the “sand”—actually made up 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.
18. Palm Beach, Aruba
The two-mile-long strip on the northwest side of Aruba is filled with activities to keep you busy all day and night. Try your hand at parasailing or snorkeling before sitting down to enjoy a barefoot lunch at Pelican Pier Bar during the day. Then, head to the nearby casinos, restaurants, and nightclubs at night to make your lazy day a bit more lively.
17. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Located on the western shore of the 75-square-mile island, the whole stretch of this 5.5 mile-long beach (arguably one of the loveliest stretches of sand in the world) is public property, making it easy to stroll from hotel to hotel regardless of where you book an overnight. All in one afternoon, you can grab lunch at an ocean-side restaurant, stumble into a volleyball game with locals, take Jet Skis out further down the beach, and top it off with some snorkeling in Cemetery Reef, known for its rocky formations prime for sea life habitat.
16. Banana Beach, Koh Hey (Coral) Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach has a backdrop of impossibly-green jungle and looks out on crystal-clear water—all part of a national park and marine preservation area (30 minutes by boat from Chalong Pier on Phuket). Banana Boat rides are popular, hence the name, as is snorkeling, sea kayaking, and parasailing. With minimal infrastructure, and one restaurant built out of bamboo, this is a great, less-than-crowded spot to park yourself for the day in the sun.
15. Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Undeniably one of the most photographed beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, Trunk Bay sits in the northwestern corner of the Virgin Islands National Park (it was donated to the park service by Laurence S. Rockefeller more than 50 years ago). Calm, clear water, and a 225-yard-long underwater trail for snorkeling are big draws, as are hiking trails up and into the surrounding greenery, filled with the ruins of historic sugar cane plantations.
14. Fundu Lagoon, Pemba Island, Zanzibar
Zanzibar, Tanzania’s most famous tropical isle, is known for its spices and luminescent waters that lap palm-fringed beaches. Pemba Island, part of the Zanzibar archipelago, is particularly lovely, with incredible beaches located on its northwestern tip. The beach at Fundu Lagoon is one undiscovered gem worth uncovering, with clear, shallow waters lined by mangrove forests. With this much seclusion, you’ll truly feel like you were the first person to ever land on the island.
13. Seagrass Bay, Laucala Island, Fiji
Covered in tropical jungle (reached via guided walking tours or horseback rides), Laucala is home to some of the archipelago’s rarest birds and animals, pristine beaches, and spellbinding marine life. Seagrass Bay is the quietest of the resort beaches, and a perfect spot to play at being Crusoe—albeit with a fabulous, open-air dining room nearby.
12. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Rated the best island in the United States in our most recent Readers’ Choice Awards survey, Hilton Head—40 miles from Savannah/Hilton Head Airport—is a firm family favorite, with a full 12 miles of wide, empty beach (perfect for long bike rides). Coligny Beach is a full-service place, with food and activities for both adults and kids; mid-island Driessen Beach—also known as Bradley Beach—is quieter, but still has a boardwalk, playground, and grills for al fresco picnics.
11. Seger Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
Often considered to be Bali’s subdued neighbor, Lombok has tons of great beaches on both the main island and surrounding islands. But be sure to spend at least one day on Lombok proper before venturing off shore. Make the town of Kuta your home base, then venture out to nearby Seger Beach. It’s a strip of sand sheltered by a headland that offers epic views of the Indian Ocean. Quench your thirst with a cold Bintang or some coconut water from one of the makeshift warungs set up on the sand.
10. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Shockingly, Palawan remains steadily under the radar, even though it continues to rank highly in our Readers’ Choice Awards. 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 have 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.
09. Maundays Bay, Anguilla
It’s hard to debate this one. Anguilla is blessed with many stunning beaches, but Maundays Bay—on the skinny island’s southwesterly tip—wins for crystal-clear water, a gradual slope, pristine sand, and a perfect half moon arc. Technically a public beach, it is rarely crowded and populated predominantly by guests at the Belmond Cap Juluca—recently reborn after a glorious heyday in the ’90s. Of note, Maundays is ideal for families with kids, as sight lines are uninterrupted, there are rarely any waves, and the beach is neatly bookended by two small breakwaters.
08. Blue Beach (La Chiva), Vieques, Puerto Rico
A long, thin stretch of white sand and clear water makes this one of the Caribbean’s top beaches. Getting there is part of the adventure: It can only be 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). Snorkel on your own around a small cay, or book a trip with one of the island’s operators to check out its secret underwater spots.
07. Reethi Rah, North Malé Atoll, Maldives
It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite beach in the Maldives—what with over 1,200 to choose from—but we’re drawn to the North Malé Atoll, and Reethi Rah in particular. Eight perfect strands of sand circle this larger-than-average island, each seemingly better than the next—and with only one resort here, it never feels crowded.
06. North Island, Seychelles
Otherwise known as “Sunset Beach,” North Island in Seychelles is where giant tortoises graze in the grass, the sea turns pink as the sun sets, and the West Beach Bar buzzes with the low hum of famous voices. Celebrities like George and Amal Clooney, and Prince William and Kate Middleton have honeymooned here, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
05. White Beach, Boracay, Philippines
Boracay is a screensaver brought to life, with dazzling white sand, so-clear-you-can-see-your-toes water, and a lush jungle backdrop, available to anyone willing to make the journey. The island used to fly under the radar with one of the most beautiful beaches in the world — but the secret’s out. Now the three-mile White Beach, with its grottos and beachside dining (and nightlife), is its busiest swath of sand. Start your evening at Restaurant Sirena, Shangri-La Boracay; the food is excellent.
04. Gouverneur, St. Barts
Sitting at the bottom of a steep, sparsely populated road—Gouverneur is remote and pristine. A small, well-maintained parking lot comes courtesy of the privately owned land (none other than Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich). Access to the sand is through a small, shady grove of trees—a popular spot for picnics at the eastern end of the beach. The farther west you walk, the fewer people you’ll find. Expect to encounter wild goats on occasion and keep a lookout for traces of buried treasure belonging to the notorious French pirate, Montbars ‘The Exterminator.’
03. Marco Island, Florida
Voted one of the best islands in the U.S., Marco Island makes up part of Florida’s Paradise Coast, which has a tropical feel thanks to the mangroves and mangoes everywhere. The Gulf Coast island is the perfect place for a weekend getaway, with beautiful beaches and parks, tons of outdoor activities, and great hotels.
02. Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos
There’s a reason stars like Bruce Willis and Donna Karan built their vacation homes here: This 1,000-acre private island is only accessible by a 35-minute boat ride from Providenciales, and is home to one luxury resort and a few private villas. Yes, your entire vacation could really be spent without seeing another soul.
01. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Island, a mostly private, gated community, less than a hours drive from Charleston International Airport, is a low-country winner. East and West Beach, combined, stretch for 10 miles along the Atlantic. Public beach access is at Beachwalker County Park at the island’s far southern end. The sand is flat, the water is shallow, there are lifeguards on duty, and you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas rentals.