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Fodor’s Choice Caribbean: Best Beaches

seven_mile_beachF.JPGAnse de Grande Saline
St. Barts
Secluded, with its sandy ocean bottom, this is just about everyone’s favorite beach and great for swimmers, too. Without any major development, it’s an ideal Caribbean strand, though it can be a bit windy here, so go on a calm day. In spite of the prohibition, young and old alike go nude.

Baie Orientale
St. Martin
Many consider this the best beach on the island, but it might also be the most popular. The conservative north end is more family-oriented while the liberal south end is clothing-optional. To get to Baie Orientale from Marigot, take National Road 7 past Grand Case, past the Aéroport de L’Espérance toward the Atlantic side of the island.

Balneario de Luquillo
Puerto Rico
A magnet for families, this government-maintained beach is well equipped with changing areas and restrooms, lifeguards, food stands, and picnic areas, and even stands where you can order a cocktail. It’s 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 off Route 3 as you head toward Fajardo.

Eagle Beach
On the southwestern coast, across the highway from what is quickly becoming known as Time-Share Lane, is one of the Caribbean’s — if not the world’s — best beaches. Not long ago it 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.

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Negril Beach
Negril, Jamaica
This is arguably Jamaica’s finest beach. 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. 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.

Pink Beach
This nearly deserted stretch of beach 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. 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.

Playa Bahoruco
Dominican Republic
This isolated, gorgeous stretch of virgin beach goes on for miles in either direction, with rugged cliffs dropping to golden sand and warm, blue water. It’s the ideal wild, undeveloped Caribbean beach, but many sections are pebbly, so you need surf shoes for swimming. Just a little to the south, on the stretch of beach called San Rafael, are beach shacks where you can buy meals of fresh fish.

Playa Flamenco
Puerto Rico
On Culebra’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 the airport is just over the ridge.

Playa Sun Bay
Puerto Rico
East of Esperanza this is easily the most popular of the dozens of beaches that ring Vieques.
Of Vieques’s more than three dozen beaches, on Route 997 is one of the most popular. Its white sands skirt a mile-long, crescent-shape bay. You’ll find food kiosks, picnic tables, and changing facilities. On weekdays, when the crowds are thin, you might also find wild horses grazing among the palm trees.

Seven Mile Beach
Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman’s west coast is dominated by the famous Seven Mile Beach—actually a 5 1/2-mile-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, leaving only rock and ironshore. Free of litter and peddlers, it’s an unspoiled (though sometimes crowded) environment.

Shoal Bay
Anchored by coconut trees and covered in the most exquisite powdery-white coral sand, Shoal Bay — not to be confused with Shoal Bay West at the other end of the island — is one of the Caribbean’s prettiest beaches. Restaurants like Gwen’s Reggae Grill, Kú, and Madeariman Beach Club offer seafood and tropical drinks; shops sell T-shirts and sunscreen. You can even enjoy a beachside massage. The quieter east end has excellent snorkeling.

Treasure Beach
The most atmospheric beach in the southwest is in the community of Treasure Beach. It comprises four long stretches of sand as well as many small coves, and 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.

Photo credit: ©Istockphoto/bunnylady, Seven Mile Beach

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