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, Mexico

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.

Margaret River, Australia

The Margaret River Region in western Australia is known not only for its superb wines but also its exquisite coastline peppered with broad beaches. While there are plenty of calmer, friendly family spots, the area also attracts crowds of surfers; the Salomon Masters, part of the mens’s World Qualifying series, takes place here.

Matemwe, Zanzibar

The traditional, palm-thatched fishing village of Matemwe, on the northeastern coast of Zanzibar, has a large, palm-fringed beach lined with a few quiet resorts. Just off shore is the Mnemba Atoll, home to some of the best scuba diving in East Africa. Sadly, the bucolic charm of the village and beach might not last much longer, as the walled enclosures of the larger resorts are beginning to intrude.

Hemmick Beach, Cornwall, England

Sandy Hemmick beach lies west of Dodman Point, a protruding headland off Cornwall’s southern coast. A small, secluded cove with no facilities and parking a ten-minute walk away, Hemmick is an excellent swimming spot, with rocky outcrops giving a modicum of privacy.

Morro de Sao Paulo, Brazil

The island of Tinhare, about 75km southwest of Salvador, has a handful of famous beaches at Morro de Sao Paulo, where there’s always a vibrant atmosphere thanks to the reggae bars, hippy dives, crowds of surfers and terrific seafood restaurants. At weekends between December and March, vast crowds descend, so you won’t be alone in appreciating its beauty.

Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia

Subject of many an iconic photograph, Myrtos Beach is regarded as the most dramatic beach in the Ionian islands – a splendid strip of dazzling, pure-white pebbles, laced by calm, turquoise water. Unsurprisingly, it attracts a fair number of visitors each day, and there’s no shade to speak of, so bring a sun umbrella and a hat.

Navagio Beach, Greece

Navagio beach, on the Ionian island of Zante, is also known as “Shipwreck Beach” or “Smuggler’s Cove”, on account of the rusty wreck adorning its sandy cove. Mistaken for a drug-running vessel, the Panagiotis was actually an innocent cargo ship, run aground by the coastguard in 1960.

El Cabo, Colombia

Tayrona National Park spreads over 150km of jungle-clad land and includes some spectacular beaches, of which four – Cañaveral, Arrecifes, La Piscina and El Cabo – are the most popular. While Arrecifes is notorious for its dangerous riptides, La Piscina’s crystal clear waters are the best for swimming, and El Cabo’s swinging hammocks make it the perfect place to relax.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Frequented by impossibly toned and beautiful people playing volleyball, sunbathing and socialising, world-famous Ipanema is the most fashionable beach in Brazil. When darkness falls, locals head into the barrio of Ipanema itself, to their luxurious apartments, chic sushi bars, swanky gyms and sophisticated restaurants.

Kuta, Bali

Kuta Beach stretches for 8km, from the Balinese towns of Tuban to Petitenget, its huge and powerful waves thrashing onto its glorious white sand. Surfers are drawn here for the sport, while evenings are slightly more serene; the sunsets here are incredible – at their blood-red best in April, but streaky-pink at any time of year.

El Nido, Philippines

The small but booming resort town of El Nido, on the idyllic tropical island of Palawan, has its own rather scruffy beach but a short walk north along the coastal path is the attractive (and aptly-named) Sunset Lover’s Beach. An even better option lies a 30–40min tricycle ride north of El Nido: Napsan Beach is a perfect swathe of usually empty white sand.

Grace Bay, Providenciales Island

The Turks and Caicos, off the east coast of the US, comprise 40 islands and cays, of which Providenciales is the main tourist centre. It’s here, on the northern shore of “Provo”, that you’ll find Grace Bay, a paradise-perfect mix of sugary sand and transparent water. A short boat trip from Provo is Little Water Clay nature reserve, home to several thousand rock iguanas.

Half Moon Bay, Jamaica

With its net hammocks strung between palm trees and curve of perfect, caramel-coloured sand, Half Moon Bay is an intimate and idyllic little beach on Jamaica’s northern coast. There’s no tourist tat here – just a rustic shack selling tasty seafood – both camping and nudity is allowed and the snorkelling is top-notch.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai

The waves at Hanalei Bay, on the northern shore of Kauai, can be big and fearsome in the winter months – the perfect oceanic playground for courageous surfers, who flock here in their droves. In summer, there’s a slightly more sedate beach-going crowd, and there’s more than enough space to stretch out along the wide, 3km-long bay.

Playa Uvita, Costa Rica

Situated in the protected Marino Ballena National Park, where sightings of humpback whales are thrillingly common, the gorgeous Playa Uvita is well-known for its “whale tail” formation, a kilometre-long sand bar that can be accessed during low tide. At the end of this striking walkway is a sprawl of coral rocks and the remains of an old lighthouse, which you can clamber onto for great views across the beach.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town

It might have tempting little coves and clear, cool water, but the main reason to visit Boulders Beach is to see its growing colony of endangered African penguins. The penguins rule the roost here – you’ll be sharing the waves and the sand with them – but to get really close, follow the undulating boardwalk that leads to the penguin colony itself, a noisy, flapping mass of black and white.

Head of the Meadow Beach, USA.

Forming part of Cape Cod’s breathtaking National Seashore, Head of the Meadow Beach near Truro is an enormous swathe of glorious, undisturbed and undeveloped sand. Its ever-changing sandbars attract energetic swimmers and body-surfers, and at low tide it’s possible to catch a glimpse of one of Cape Cod’s numerous shipwrecks.

Omaha Beach, France

Omaha is the code name for a flat and sandy 8km stretch of beach involved in the Allied invasion of German-occupied France on June 6, 1944. Of all the D-Day Landings, the Battle of Omaha was most of the costliest in terms of loss of life. There is a memorial to the dead on the sand named Les Braves.

Eagle Beach, Aruba

With its clear and sparkling turquoise water and powder-soft white sand, it’s no surprise that Eagle Beach on Aruba wins the prize for the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. Watersports, swaying hammocks and luxury beachfront resorts complete the picture – it’s the definition of paradise.

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