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So many beaches, so little vacation time: here’s where to leave your footprints in the sand this year.

Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece

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The classic Greek color palette of deep blue (sea) and white (cliffs) is on fine display at Navagio Beach. But it has an edgier side. Nicknamed Smuggler’s Cove, the beach is the site of a wrecked smuggler’s ship that provides a bit of welcome, if rusty, shade. Access is primarily by boat; hop on a smaller vessel from Porto Vromi either in early morning or after 3 p.m. to avoid the busy tourist ships. If you find yourself tantalizingly close after happening upon the bay by road, you’ll have to be content with views of rock formations, glittering sea, and the odd splash of a dolphin far below. The only other way down isn’t for the faint of heart; Navagio Beach has recently become a favorite spot for experienced BASE jumpers, who get their adrenaline rush from the 656-foot cliff-top free fall.

Best time to visit: May to late September

Beautiful Beaches to Visit in 2014

Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece

The classic Greek color palette of deep blue (sea) and white (cliffs) is on fine display at Navagio Beach. But it has an edgier side. Nicknamed Smuggler’s Cove, the beach is the site of a wrecked smuggler’s ship that provides a bit of welcome, if rusty, shade. Access is primarily by boat; hop on a smaller vessel from Porto Vromi either in early morning or after 3 p.m. to avoid the busy tourist ships. If you find yourself tantalizingly close after happening upon the bay by road, you’ll have to be content with views of rock formations, glittering sea, and the odd splash of a dolphin far below. The only other way down isn’t for the faint of heart; Navagio Beach has recently become a favorite spot for experienced BASE jumpers, who get their adrenaline rush from the 656-foot cliff-top free fall.

Best time to visit: May to late September

© travelstock44 / Alamy

Beautiful Beaches to Visit in 2014

If you’ve suffered the indignity of squeezing onto a little patch of sand between sweaty sun worshippers, you know not all beaches are created equal—and that it’s worth an extra effort to avoid a bad day at the beach.

We went in search of rarefied beaches that are especially attractive this year. Some are hosting special events and others have welcomed cool hotels a shell’s throw away, or are more easily accessible thanks to new nonstop flights.

The collection of bungalows at Puerto Escondido, for instance, has us eyeing the tranquil cove of Playa Carrizalillo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. In the Caribbean Sea, meanwhile, the island of Bequia unveils a renovated cliff-side trail in 2014. And Oregon’s Cannon Beach celebrates the 50th anniversary of the artiest sandcastle competition you’re likely to ever witness.

We were also swayed by spectacular views, the quality of sand, and translucent waters, whether at Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo or by the coral reefs of the Tetiaroa atoll in Tahiti. And for any travelers who think all beautiful beaches look alike, let us draw your attention to the rugged rocks of Playa de las Catedrales in Spain or the unexpectedly white sands amid the dune pastures of western Scotland.

Many of our picks are under the radar or substantial enough to feel uncrowded. But since some of these beaches do heat up come summer, we’ve noted the best times to appreciate their loveliness undisturbed. Read on, and then get packing.

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