Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
While its beautiful, paradise-like beaches are newsworthy enough, Ko Pha Nagn – and more specifically, Sunrise Beach, on the island’s peninsula Hat Rin – has become globally notorious for its raucous drink- and drug-fuelled Full Moon parties, which take place on the night of a full moon each month.
Rainbow Beach, Queensland
Enormous Rainbow Beach, in southeastern Queensland, gets its name from its surrounding colourful sand dunes – a mixture of browns, blacks, oranges, yellows and reds – that are said to have been formed by a rainbow-coloured spirit plunging into the cliffs following a battle with a wicked tribesman. In actual fact, the sand is simply rich in vibrant minerals like ilmenite, zircon and rutile.
Ko Phi Phi Don
Sitting pretty about 40km south of Krabi, the island of Ko Phi Phi Don (almost split into two islands joined by a strand of flat land) looks extraordinarily enticing as you approach from the sea, its classic arcs of pure white sand framed by dramatic cliffs and licked by azure-coloured water.
Aharen Beach, Tokashiki Island, Japan
Although most of the islands in the Okinawa chain, south of the Japanese mainland, have magnificent beaches, Aharen is particularly special for its extraordinarily clear waters sheltering a rich marine life, including over 400 types of coral, majestic humpback whales, manta rays, five types of sea turtles and huge army of colourful tropical fish.
Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
The smaller of the two Perhentian islands, Kecil is home to two dazzling beaches – Coral Beach and Long Beach – both of which are lined with friendly guesthouses and relaxed shack eateries. Off Kecil is some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Phra Nang Beach, Thailand
Accessible by longboat only, this secluded beach is backed by the cavernous Tham Phra Nang Nok, or “Princess Cave”, believed by fishermen to be the home of a mythical sea princess. There are no restaurants on the beach – instead, look out for the longboats selling juices and snacks.
Cayo Largo, Cuba
The highlights on Cuba’s Cayo Largo (Large Island) are its two western beaches, Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso, where warm shallow waters lap ribbons of pale, downy sand. Sirena is more geared up to tourism, with a café and watersports, while Paraiso is quieter and more private.
Pantai Tanjung Rhu, Malaysia
If you take only one day-trip while on Langkawi island, make it the secluded beach at Tanjung Ru, with its stunning aquamarine water and breathtaking white sand fringed by a green shock of casuarina trees. The water is so transparent that the fish are clearly visible swimming near to shore.
Tulum is one of the most picturesque of all Maya sites, an ancient and ruined walled city sitting on rocky cliffs overlooking a stretch of beautiful beach. With hordes of tourists visiting every day, the area is not exactly private, but the broad white-sand beach and mesmerising turquoise Caribbean waters more than make up for it.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia
The largest and finest island in the Whitsundays, National Parks-run Whitsunday Island is home to Whitehaven Beach, with its startling – almost blinding – white sand. It handles plenty of day-trippers and campers (there’s a campsite at the southern end of the beach) but it’s still admirably clean for it.
Patnem Beach, Goa, India
Curving for roughly a kilometre to a steep bluff, Patnem beach is the quieter alternative to its more party-focused neighbour, Palolem. At the far north end of the beach is Harmonic, an eco-friendly retreat offering daily yoga, Pilates and Thai massage classes. You’ll have to dodge the slumbering cows to get there, though.
Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Small, at just half a kilometre long, Lanikai Beach has clear waters perfect for snorkelling and panoramic views out over the bay. It’s accessed by foot only, through upmarket Lanikai, a residential cluster of outrageously expensive homes.