Great beaches aren’t all the same. You might dream of sifting your toes in soft white sand with just a hint of warmth, or you may love to walk along a virgin beach lined with nothing but 20-foot palm trees. You may value remote little crescents reachable only via precipitous climbs down an almost sheer rock cliff, or you may want to be surrounded by a hundred pairs of beautiful limbs, all smelling slightly of coconut oil.
The Caribbean can give you all these. Our favorite beaches aren’t always the most famous ones, but part of the fun of taking a tropical vacation is discovering your own favorites, which are sometimes the ones you’d least suspect.
What do you like in a beach?
Adventure and a High Difficulty Factor
These beaches all require a little effort to find. The payoff? Uncrowded beaches, a sense of accomplishment, and permission to recover whilst stretched out on a towel.
Half Moon Bay, Antigua
This 3/4-mi (1-km) ivory crescent is a prime snorkeling and windsurfing area. On the Atlantic side of the island, the water can be quite rough at times, attracting a few intrepid hard-core surfers and wakeboarders. The northeastern end, where a protective reef offers spectacular snorkeling, is much calmer. A tiny bar has restrooms, snacks, and beach chairs. Vendors wander by intermittently; signs of life are few. Half Moon is a real trek (you might end up asking locals directions several times) but one of Antigua’s showcase beaches. Follow signs for the villages of St. Philips or Freetown, and pray: all roads are unmarked, and the island’s hinterland has no landmarks to guide you. Rate this beach
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Anse Cochon, St. Lucia
This remote black-sand beach is reached only by boat or via Ti Kaye Village’s mile-long access road. The water and adjacent reef are superb for swimming, diving, and snorkeling. Moorings are free, and boaters can enjoy lunch or dinner at Ti Kaye — if you’re willing to climb the 166 steps up the hillside. Rate this beach
Long and Longer
Whether you like people watching on foot or not seeing a soul, there are plenty of opportunities for long walks on seemingly never-ending beaches.
Pink Beach, Barbuda
This practically deserted 8-mi (13-km) stretch reaches from Spanish Point to Palmetto Point: you can sometimes walk miles without encountering another footprint. This classic strand is champagne-hued and with sand soft as silk; crushed coral often imparts a rosy glint in the sun, hence its (unofficial) name. The only signs of life are Barbuda’s three posh resorts, of which only the Beach House really offers meals (Barbudan lobster is a must), drinks, and chairs. The water can be rough with a strongish undertow in spots, though protected by the reefs that make the island a diving mecca. If you’re coming for the day, hire a taxi to take you here, since none of the roads are well marked. Rate this beach
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman’s west coast is dominated by the famous Seven Mile Beach — actually a 5 1/2-mi-long (9-km-long) expanse of powdery white sand. The width of the beach varies with the season; toward the south end it narrows and disappears altogether south of the Marriott, leaving only rock and ironshore. It starts to widen into its normal silky softness anywhere between Tarquyn Manor and the Reef Grill at Royal Palms. Free of litter and peddlers, it’s an unspoiled (though sometimes crowded) environment. Most of the island’s resorts, restaurants, and shopping centers are along this strip. At the public beach toward the north end you can find chairs for rent ($10 for the day, including a beverage) and plenty of water toys, two beach bars, restrooms, and showers. Rate this beach
Crowded and Congenial
Bustling beaches mean good people watching. Whether you like mixes with the locals or meeting other vacationers, you have plenty of options.
Eagle Beach, Aruba
On the southwestern coast, across the highway from what is quickly becoming known as Time-Share Lane, is what is rightfully considered one of the best beaches in the world. Not long ago Eagle Beach was a nearly deserted stretch of pristine sand dotted with the occasional thatched picnic hut. Now that the resorts are completed, this mile-plus-long beach is always hopping. Rate this beach
Negril Beach, Jamaica
Stretching for 7 mi (11 km), the long, white-sand beach in Negril is arguably Jamaica’s finest. It starts with the white sands of Bloody Bay north of town and continues along Long Bay all the way to the cliffs on the southern edge of town. Some stretches remain undeveloped, but there are increasingly few. Along the main stretch of beach, the sand is public to the high-water mark, so a nonstop line of visitors and vendors parade from end to end. The walk is sprinkled with many good beach bars and open-air restaurants, some which charge a small fee to use their beach facilities. Bloody Bay is lined with large all-inclusive resorts, and these sections are mostly private. Jamaica’s best-known nude beach, at Hedonism II, is always among the busiest; only resort guests or day-pass holders may sun here. Rate this beach
If you want to go home with that perfect photo worthy of a postcard, check out some of these Caribbean gems.
Grace Bay, Provo
Grace Bay, a 12-mi (18-km) sweeping stretch of ivory-white, powder-soft sand on Provo’s north coast is simply breathtaking and home to migrating starfish as well as shallow snorkeling trails. The majority of Provo’s beachfront resorts are along this shore. Rate this beach
Playa Flamenco, Puerto Rico
On the island’s north coast is an amazingly lovely stretch of white sand. This beach, with its almost perfect half-moon shape, is consistently ranked as one of the two or three best in the world. Once you see it, you’ll know why. Mountains rise up on all sides, making it feel miles away from civilization. It’s only when the propeller planes fly low over the beach that you remember that the airport in just over the ridge. During the week Playa Flamenco is pleasantly uncrowded; on the weekend, though, it fills up fast with day-trippers. This is the only beach on Culebra with amenities such as restrooms, showers, and kiosks selling simple fare. Rate this beach
Magens Bay, St. Thomas
Deeded to the island as a public park, this 1/2-mi (3/4-km) heart-shape stretch of white sand is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The bottom of the bay here is flat and sandy, so this is a place for sunning and swimming rather than snorkeling. On weekends and holidays the sounds of music from groups partying under the sheds fill the air. There’s a bar, snack bar, and beachwear boutique; bathhouses with restrooms, changing rooms, and saltwater showers are also here. Sunfish and paddleboats are the most popular rentals at the water-sports-equipment kiosk. East of the beach is Udder Delight, a one-room shop at St. Thomas Dairies that serves a Virgin Islands tradition — a milk shake with a splash of Cruzan rum. Kids can enjoy virgin versions, which have a touch of soursop, mango, or banana flavoring. If you arrive between 8 AM and 5 PM, you have to pay an entrance fee of $3 per person, $1 per vehicle, and 25Â¢ per child under age 12. Rate this beach
Want to be alone? Some of these may take some effort to get to, but you’re guaranteed to see very few other travelers.
Treasure Beach, Jamaica
The most atmospheric beach in the southwest is in the community of Treasure Beach, which comprises four long stretches of sand as well as many small coves. Though it isn’t as pretty as those to the west or north — it has more rocks and darker sand — the idea that you might be discovering a bit of the “real” Jamaica more than makes up for the small negatives. Both locals and visitors use the beaches here, though you’re just as likely to find it completely deserted save a friendly beach dog. Rate this beach
Anse du Gouverneur, St. Barthélemy
Because it’s so secluded, nude sunbathing is popular here; the beach is truly beautiful, with blissful swimming and views of St. Kitts, Saba, and St. Eustatius. Venture here at the end of the day, and watch the sun set behind the hills. The road here from Gustavia also offers spectacular vistas. Legend has it that pirates’ treasure is buried in the vicinity. Rate this beach
Malcolm’s Beach, Provo
Malcolm’s Beach is one of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever see, but it requires a high-clearance vehicle to reach it. Bring your own food and drinks since there are no facilities or food service unless you have made an arrangement with Amanyara to eat at the resort. Rate this beach
Nothing can beat these choices on safety, convenience, and most importantly– fun.
Balneario de Luquillo, Puerto Rico
Just off Route 3, gentle, shallow waters lap the edges of palm-lined Balneario de Luquillo, which is a magnet for families. It’s well equipped with dressing rooms and restrooms, lifeguards, guarded parking, food stands, picnic areas, and even cocktail kiosks. Its most distinctive facility, though, is the Mar Sin Barreras (Sea Without Barriers), a low-sloped ramp leading into the water that allows wheelchair users to take a dip. The beach is open every day but Monday from 9 to 5. Admission is $2 per car. Rate this beach
Baie de Friars, St. Martin
If it’s solitude you want, this is the place. Popular with locals, Europeans, and shellers, this white stretch of sand has a couple of simple good-food restaurants, calm waters, and a lovely view of Anguilla. To get to the beach take National Road 7 from Marigot, go toward Grand Case to the Morne Valois hill, and turn left on the dead-end road; it’s signposted. From Baie de Friars, you can climb the hill and walk on a trail about Â¼ mi ( 1/2 km) through an abandoned resort to reach secluded Happy Bay. Rate this beach
Ilet Pinel, St. Martin
A protected nature reserve, this kid-friendly island is a five-minute ferry ride from French Cul de Sac ($5 per person round-trip). The water is clear and shallow, and the shore is sheltered. If you like snorkeling, don your gear and swim along both sides of the coasts of this pencil-shape speck in the ocean. Food is available at the isle’s two restaurants. Rate this beach