Kefalonia Island, the picture of a Greek island. Community

Most Beautiful Beaches: 8 Sands-sational Destinations

Hop the ferry to really, really get away from it all at these eight beaches in Greece, Thailand, Brazil, and five other slices of paradise.

Photo Caption: Kefalonia Island, the picture of a Greek island. Photo by Mary Beth Charles/ Community.
Barbuda, the Pink Pearl. Community
From above, Barbuda looks like nothing so much as a pink pearl dropped into a rippling green sea. It's small (just 176 sq. km/68 sq. miles), a mere dot in the ocean compared with its sister island, Antigua , 48km (30 miles) due north. It's sparsely populated, with only 1,200 inhabitants, most of whom live in the island's only village, Codrington. It's sparsely visited: slightly off the beaten path and not easy to reach. The landscape is flat and scrubby, and most roads are unpaved. You can count the lodging options on one hand.

That's the iffy news. The good -- no, great -- news is that Barbuda has some of the most breathtaking beaches in the entire Caribbean. Blushing pink-sand beaches and sugary white-sand beaches, take your pick -- all lapped by gentle, azure seas. And, even better: The island is the ideal getaway for those looking for peace, quiet, and a lovely beach to call their own. It's the kind of place where having nothing to do isn't a complaint; it's a blessing.

The island's 27km (17 miles) of soft-sand beaches are protected by barrier reefs. Beaches on the southwestern shore rimming the Caribbean Sea stretch to the horizon for 16km (10 miles) and are best for swimming. Among them, the picture-perfect sand of Pink Sand Beach owes its blushing pink hues to crushed coral. Beaches on the island's eastern shore fronting the Atlantic, such as Hog Bay and Rubbish Bay, are good for strolling and shell collecting.

If you want to see more of the island beyond the beaches, you can rent a four-wheel-drive or have a taxi driver give you a tour. In the 18th century, the island served as a breadbasket for the workers on Antigua's sugar plantations and also supplied slave labor to work the sugar cane fields (all slaves were freed in 1834). The Codringtons, the family who leased much of Barbuda back in high colonial days, remain a ghostly presence on the island. The ruins of the 1720 Codrington estate, Highland House, are located on the highest point on the island. Other places to visit include the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, located in the island's northwestern lagoon and accessible only by boat. The sanctuary contains more than 170 species of birds and is home to some 5,000 frigate birds.

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Photo Caption: Barbuda, the Pink Pearl. Photo by Rob788/ Community
Morro de Sao Paulo in Tinhare.
Jesus Abizanda
Morro de Sao Paulo in Salvador, Brazil
No wonder so many honeymooners choose this tropical island as their getaway; it's as remote as you can get. Morro de São Paulo boasts four beaches facing the open sea, with turquoise waters, natural swimming pools, and coral reefs. Inland, you'll find lush vegetation along with exotic birds and monkeys. There are no cars and few street lights on the island. Once you land you'll be greeted by locals offering to take your bags by wheelbarrow up the steep uphill trail from the docks to the main village. On the winding path, you'll see small stores selling native wares, along with little restaurants and bars. After you are settled in your pousada, you can get around like the natives do: by horse, donkey, tractor, or foot.

Morro de São Paulo is the largest town on the historic island of Tinharé, located in the region known as the Dende Coast. The true attractions here, though, are the beaches, all beautiful, and each with its own personality -- all are named in reference to their distance from the main settlement. First Beach attracts surfers during the winter months, when the waves are at their most challenging. During the summer, visitors enjoy this beach's crystal-clear waters and seaside restaurants, serving up spicy fare. Second Beach draws the young and young at heart with nightly luaus and music. Spirited parties are known to go on here until morning. Third Beach offers a more placid experience, drawing divers and snorkelers with its large barrier reef. Those who truly want to get away from it all can choose peaceful Fourth Beach, also known as the enchanted beach. If your ideal soundtrack is a light breeze stirring a palm tree, this is the island for you.

Although most pousadas and restaurants on the island accept credit cards, there's no bank and just one ATM -- so it's best to bring some extra cash. If you're getting to the island by water, your best bet is to go by catamaran, leaving from behind the Mercado Modelo in downtown Salvador. As you approach, you'll see the remains of the fort that once protected this island paradise.

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Photo Caption: Morro de Sao Paulo in Tinhare. Photo by Jesus Abizanda/
View from Mt Enos - Kefalonia
Sam Piper
Kefalonia Island in Greece
When people think of a Greek island, most conjure up an image that is tidily fulfilled by the beautiful island of Kefalonia. This place has it all, including breathtaking mountains, forests bejeweled with tropical flowers, beaches with sparkling blue water, historic landmarks juxtaposed with new architecture, and a lively nightlife. As a sailing and trading capital in the region, it also has a cosmopolitan gloss that many of the other Greek islands don't -- but it's nicely tempered by the down-to-earth beauty of its many beaches.

Myrtos, the island's most famous beach, is located just north of Argostoli, its capital city, located on the southern part of the island. It is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, surrounded by striking vertical cliffs. Visitors flock to enjoy its crystal-clear waters, or lounge on the beach looking out on passing boats. You'll find other beautiful, but less crowded, beaches scattered throughout the island, many of them winners of The Blue Flag Award, Europe's gold standard for clean, environmentally sound beaches and marinas. It's easy to visit a different beach every day; just rent a car, moped, or motorcycle and be on your way.

Away from the beaches, the island boasts many attractions. Assos Castle, just outside of Argostoli, stands as an excellent example of a 16th-century Venetian fortress. The castle includes a domed building intended for convicts, and the prison yard and cells are still intact. You can drive part of the way there, but be prepared for a long walk up the hill to see the castle up close. Another popular spot for a day trip is Spili Melissani, a small enclosed lake known for its deep-blue color. You can take a guided rowboat and marvel at the sun playing off the brilliant hue of the water, creating a kaleidoscope of colors. Kefalonia is also known for its excellent wines, and a visit wouldn't be complete without your sipping one of its excellent vintages. A laid-back afternoon could include a trip to Calliga Vineyard or Gentilini Vineyard, both near Argostoli. You can arrange a tour through the tourist office (see below for info).

Although Kefalonia is not known as a party island, there are plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy after the sun goes down, many of them located in Argostoli or on private resorts. If you go during summer, you may also be able to find a party on the beach. When all is said and done, perhaps the greatest gift that the island has to offer is relaxation. However you choose to spend your day, you definitely won't need a watch to enjoy this island getaway.

More Information: Argostoli Tourism Office,

Photo Caption: View from Mt. Enos in Kefalonia, Greece.
Usedom Island
German National Merten, Hans PeterTourism Board
Usedom on Germany and Poland's Baltic Coast
On the map, it looks like a curve of Baltic coast that somehow broke loose from Western Pomerania, with the Achterwasser and Stettiner Haff lakes rushing in to fill the gap. Though anchored to the German coast with bridges at both north and south ends (and a railway over the northern bridge), Usedom lies so far east that the eastern tip is actually part of Poland -- you can walk down the beach from Ahlberg to the large commercial port of Swinoujscie. But it's the German side that's the tourist magnet, a beloved getaway since the early 19th century. Only 250km (155 miles) from the German capital, Usedom has been nicknamed the "Bathtub of Berlin."

I prefer Usedom's other nickname, though -- "the singing island," so called because the white sand of its 40km-long (25-mile) strand is so fine, it squeaks when you walk on it. The most popular section is southeast, from Bansin through Heringsdorf to Ahlberg -- you can hardly tell when you're leaving one town and entering the next -- known collectively as the Dreikaiserbäder, or "three imperial spas." (A fourth resort, Zinnowitz, lies up the coast to the northwest.) The architecture of these towns is enchanting -- elegant pale hotels and brightly painted villas, in the historicist or Art Nouveau styles of the late 19th century. A handful of "wellness hotels" and thermal baths preserve old-world spa traditions. Landscaped garden promenades, open-air concert pavilions, and tree-lined side streets hark back to genteel seaside holiday traditions; note the canopied chairs lined up for rent on the beaches. Each resort town also has a long pleasure pier extending into the Baltic, where you can still envision a parade of ladies with parasols and bustled dresses and gents in well-cut linen suits.

For more rural atmosphere, try Koelpinsee, located on the narrow strip of land dividing Achterwasser from the Baltic shore; it's only a short walk from tree-covered dunes to serene panoramas of wooded lakeshore and gliding swans. For a break from the beach, investigate the hilly wooded interior -- easily explored, with more than 400km (249 miles) of hiking trails and 100km (62 miles) of bike paths. To find picturesque sleepy villages with tiny medieval churches, check out the 16th-century castle in Stolpe and the medieval town gate in Usedom, the southern gateway to the island. Don't expect charm, though, at the infamous town of Peenemünde, on the northwestern tip -- the top-secret World War II research center here produced the deadly V2 missile, a high-tech history now explored in several museums in town.

Tourist office:

Photo Caption: Usedom Island, Germany.
Caladesi Island. Community
Caladesi Island on Florida's Gulf Coast
Every year, Florida geologist Stephen Leatherman -- aka Dr. Beach -- publishes a list of America's top beaches. Every year, Caladesi Island is right up there in the top 10 -- or at least it was until 2008, when Caladesi was named the number-one beach in America. After that, it's now officially retired from competition.

Considering how many fine beaches there are along this Tampa-St. Petersburg coast, what makes Caladesi so special? For one thing, it's uninhabited and undeveloped -- a breath of fresh air among the densely built-up string of barrier islands fringing the St. Pete peninsula. Its calm, shallow waters are extraordinarily clear, much clearer than those of the next island to the south, the one actually named Clearwater. Its 4-mile-long (6.4km) gulfside beach is dazzling white sand that's remarkably pristine -- and because it isn't raked daily like so many resort beaches are, you can find all sorts of unusual shells.

As for sun-worshiping hordes, you won't find them on Caladesi, despite all Dr. Beach's accolades -- you can't get here except by boat, and the number of visitors is purposely kept low. Only 62 passengers at a time can come over on the small ferry from neighboring Honeymoon Island, and they are allowed to stay only 4 hours; if you arrive on your own boat, you can moor at the marina at the island's north end, but with only 108 slips, it tends to fill up in high season. There's no hotel or campground (although many boat owners sleep overnight on their boats). Come here at the right time and you may well feel as if you have the island to yourself. Now a state park, Caladesi has been provided with a few useful amenities, clustered near the marina -- picnic tables, showers and restrooms, a playground, a cafe, and a beach concession, where you can rent kayaks and canoes for exploring the mangrove forest on the other side of the island.

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Photo Caption: Caladesi Island. Photo by Iowanda/ Community
Platja Trucadors on the Spanish island of Formentera.
Formentera in the Spanish Mediterranean
For the young and style-conscious of Italy, there is no summer escape with more cachet than the Spanish island of Formentera. Trendy Romans and Milanese come here in droves every July and August to soak up the island's laid-back hippie vibe and pristine, sun-drenched, nudist-friendly beaches. The smallest of the Balearic islands, and only a 3km (1.8 miles) ferry ride from the legendary party isle of Ibiza, Formentera offers a different kind of hedonism for vacationers who prefer intimate bonfires over a raging club scene and Moroccan-motif boutique hotels to big, splashy resorts. Though package tours are an increasingly popular way of getting to Formentera, there are still no high-rise condos, and no tacky all-inclusive "tourist villages." Accommodations are independently run, small, and low-key, and the same is true of the dining and entertainment options on Formentera. The price tag for almost everything on the island is still fairly low by Mediterranean island standards.

This 83-sq.-km (52-sq.-mile) island is stretched out along three axes like an upside-down Y, and the best way to get around is on a moped, available for rent near the ferry dock in La Savina. The shoreline of Formentera is mostly rugged, with rocky coves and cliffs, but there are some truly beautiful beaches, where the sugary sand is blindingly white, and the crystal-clear water is a sublime shade of stony light green and perfect for snorkeling. Just off the northern tip of Formentera is the islet of Espalmador; the two are connected by a sandbar that you can walk across when the tide is low.

The busiest and best-equipped beach is Platja de ses Illetes, near La Savina; it's a bathtub-like bay where yachts bob at anchor, their millionaire owners trolling the sands for younger babes. At Formentera's other beaches, you'll find none of that kind of atmosphere -- just near-empty sands and idyllic spots for swimming. Almost all sunbathing here involves nudity of some kind -- women tend to go without their bikini tops and men often sport "The Full Monty."

Other than relaxing on the beach and swimming, however, there isn't a whole lot to do on Formentera: The island has no centralized "scene" to speak of, and anyone with an appetite for culture would actually do better wandering the old streets of Ibiza. For shoppers, Formentera's boutiques, proffering ethno-chic woven items, are concentrated in the hamlet of Sant Ferran de Ses Roques. But the island's slow pace and lack of drama (though there is a fair amount of posturing among the beautiful people who escape their stresses here, and among the yacht set at Platja Illetes) makes Formentera perfect if you need to catch up on sleep, or reading, or writing your own novel. And of course that blistering Mediterranean sun will send you home enviably bronzed.

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Photo Caption: Platja Trucadors on the Spanish island of Formentera. Photo by Vriullop/Wikimedia Commons.
Koh Phi Phi
Jackie Golledge
Koh Phi Phi in Thailand
Endowed with the kind of preposterous natural beauty that tropical dreams are made of, Thailand's Phi Phi islands are a classic side trip from the larger resorts of Phuket, 48km (30 miles) away, and Krabi, 42km (26 miles) away. Phi Phi Don is the larger of the two islands, and the one where all the facilities are, while the nearby, uninhabited Phi Phi Leh is an excursion destination for snorkeling and one jaw-dropping sandy bay made famous by the film The Beach. Phi Phi Don's infrastructure was all but wiped out by the tsunami that swept across the Andaman Sea in December 2004; much has been rebuilt (if irresponsibly so), and the waves of day-trippers and backpackers continue to wash in as before.

Given its magazine-cover good looks, you might think Koh Phi Phi would be an exclusive, luxury destination -- something along the lines of French Polynesia's Bora Bora. However, as with Thailand's other resort islands, development here has lacked stewardship, and the result has been a hodgepodge of hotels and services accessible to all budgets, but not the most careful protection of the environment.

A profusion of wallet-friendly guesthouses in Tonsai Village, along Phi Phi Don's iconic hair-thin isthmus, has made the island a haven for backpackers who don't seem to mind the maintenance issues of those accommodations. (The island's laid-back and permissive attitude, though it's not nearly as wild as Phuket, is another boon for the shoestring set.) A few luxury resorts -- appreciably removed from the hubbub of the backpacker strip -- provide the total escape package for families and couples looking to splurge a bit, with pampering facilities, spas, and private beaches in what is undeniably one of the most awesome natural locations in Southeast Asia.

The clear water and rich marine life around the Phi Phi islands attract divers and snorkelers, and there are plenty of operators on Phi Phi Don that will rent you equipment and shuttle you out to the area's coral wonderlands. For an up-close-and-personal encounter with the islands' trademark limestone cliffs, seek out Cat's Climbing Shop in Tonsai Bay for rock-climbing trips. Daredevils can also embark on exhilarating cliff jumps of up to 16m (52 ft.) over Tonsai Bay (book tours in Tonsai Village).

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Photo Caption: Koh Phi Phi