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These beach hideaways are understated, unexpected, and—at least for now—under the radar.
Best Secret Beaches on Earth
Brazil may be blessed with more than 4,600 miles of coastline—but finding untouched sands is harder than it seems. Yet a few rustic beach towns in the northeastern state of Alagoas remain relatively unknown. Once considered a backwater and long overshadowed by Bahia to the south, this small, laid-back region is finally on the map. In Barra de São Miguel, Kenoa—Exclusive Beach Spa & Resort (011-55-82-3272-1285; doubles from $617) is a high-design retreat that blends seamlessly into the landscape. Portuguese owner Pedro Marques brought his eco-conscious vision to life by enlisting the help of local architect Osvaldo Tenório. Rooms are adorned with contemporary art; faucets are refashioned from old iron pipes; and recycled railway trestles are used as coffee tables. You may just want to gaze at the turquoise sea from your villa’s floor-to-ceiling windows, but there’s plenty to keep you busy, from sampling Portuguese cataplanas (rich seafood stews served in traditional copper pots) at the hotel’s restaurant to visiting the nearby oyster-farming community of Vila Palateia, where you can try bivalves plucked straight from the mangrove lagoon. Seventy miles to the north, the white-sand beaches around São Miguel dos Milagres are just as secluded and are dotted with crystalline tide pools. A handful of forward-thinking pousada owners invested here over the past decade—and sophisticated travelers are finally taking notice. At the stylish Pousada do Toque (doubles from $375), imbuia-wood chairs from Brazilian Modernist Sergio Rodrigues and daybeds by Carlos Motta help set the scene in the spacious lounge, while the 17 bungalows have bathrooms with Japanese-style tubs looking out onto private gardens. In nearby Porto de Pedras, the light-filled Pousada Patacho (doubles from $190) has five intimate, white-washed rooms surrounded by towering coconut palms and vine-draped terraces.
Even for die-hard swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers, sometimes a day at the beach is anything but. You know the drill: too many people, too much noise, not nearly enough serenity to enjoy the majesty of blue skies and white-crested waves.
The good news is that there are still undiscovered beaches out there—blissful hideaways where tourism hasn’t yet eclipsed the local culture and there’s more to do, for those so inspired, than loll on the sand. T+L went scouting for such secret beaches and turned up everything from a quaint, affordable fishing village in Portugal to world-class surfing waves in Todos Santos, a cliff-side artist colony in Mexico.
Related: Best Beach Weekend Getaways
If you prefer diving to surfing, opt for the abundant displays of marine life around Ibo Island in Mozambique, known for mangrove forests and pristine sandbank beaches accessed by traditional African dhow sailboats. It’s just the kind of secret beach for travelers who want to return home with got-there-first bragging rights.
Related: America’s Best Little Beach Towns
Cultural tourists will be drawn to Cirali, a protected village on the turquoise Turkish Mediterranean, where the beach leads to nature preserves and ancient ruins. The endangered loggerhead sea turtles that nest on these pebbly sands have helped Cirali fend off developers.
But you don’t have to cross the ocean to find a slice of beachy paradise. The tiny surf town of Cayucos—210 miles north of Los Angeles—is dotted with 19th-century western buildings, vintage shops, and a pier that stretches nearly 1,000 feet into the ocean. While Cayucos’s Ocean Avenue is chockablock with antique boutiques, other sleepy American beach towns have boardwalks that take a kid-friendly approach.
Related: America's Best Beach Hotels
Of course, for some stressed-out folks, just finding a beach with lounge chair cocktail service is enough to revive the spirit. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith nailed it when he wrote this assessment of a day by the sea. “Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable...a beach not only permits such inertia, but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does.”
So look no further than our slideshow to find the guilt-free beach that’s right for you.