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.
Related: Best Places to Travel in 2014
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.
Taipu de Fora, Bahia, Brazil
Presenting an antidote to this year's World Cup craziness: Taipu de Fora, a near-five-mile beauty with golden sands and swaying coconut palms on the Maraú peninsula. Natural swimming pools form among the coral reefs at low tide and teem with colorful sea life—making this a snorkeler’s paradise. Back on land, you’ll want to check in to the rustic-chic Butterfly House, a recently opened eight-villa eco-resort topped with a traditional thatch roof. It’s well positioned, with the beach on one side and Camamu Bay, Brazil’s third largest lake, on the other. butterflyhousebahia.com
Best time to go: September through mid-May
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
Princess Margaret Beach, Bequia
This honeyed beach shaded by palms, cedar, and almond trees is named after Queen Elizabeth II’s jet-setting younger sister, who was known to take a dip in its calm waters. The lovely shoreline is on the Caribbean side of Bequia. The island is less accessible than most Caribbean destinations, but the payoff is fewer crowds. Plus, its southern location means Bequia is less likely to be hit in hurricane season. This year sees the completion of a picturesque coastal trail called Princess Point, which connects to Belmont Walkway (destroyed by heavy swells seven years ago and rebuilt in 2012), meaning you can now walk approximately three miles from the fort at Hamilton right around to the prime beaches of Princess Margaret and Lower Bay.
Best time to visit: January through April
Ke’e Beach, Kauai, HI
Ke’e Beach is a gateway to Kauai’s wild side; the rugged Na Pali coast continues westward, offering amazing views and dense jungle paths should you wish to explore further. Soaring above it all is the emerald 1,115-foot-high Makana Mountain. A reef shelters the shore so you can snorkel and swim in calm waters during summer. These are the last sands reachable by car on the north shore, so you may find there are a few too many other beachgoers at Ke’e. For some blissful solitude, drive the winding coastal road in the early morning. Circle back in the late afternoon for a sunset you won’t forget—and one that’s getting more accessible. In June 2014, Hawaiian Airlines launches its first (seasonal) nonstop service between the U.S. mainland and Kauai. Flights will depart Oakland, CA, four times a week through mid-August.
Best time to visit: mid-March through mid-November
Luskentyre Bay, Isle of Harris, Scotland
Powdery sand that appears silver or pale gold depending on the light; waters that run from green to indigo; and views of the rugged North Harris mountains conspire to make Luskentyre Bay feel downright bewitching. If it’s sunny, consider yourself lucky, though even the rain can’t dampen these unspoiled sands, with only a few roaming horses and the odd kite-surfer for company (and that’s a busy day). Another treat is accessing the beach through the machair—a rare dune pasture found only in northwest Scotland and Ireland that bursts into bloom each spring. If you time your visit to July, you can experience music from local and international artists in a big blue and yellow tent in the grounds of Lews Castle as well as other satellite venues in the Outer Hebrides during the Isle of Lewis’s Hebridean Celtic Festival. hebceltfest.com
Best time to go: April through August
The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI
The Baths on the British Virgin Island of Gorda deviates from the typical beautiful beach model of mile after mile of unimpeded powdery shoreline. Here, huge granite monoliths rise from the sand, creating a captivating, one-of-a-kind landscape. The beach is part of a national park on the island’s southern coast. It’s a geological wonder, formed by the weathering of volcanic layers that left smooth boulders reaching up to 40 feet in diameter. The rocks create sheltered sea pools and grottoes accessible just off shore. This year also happens to be the 60th anniversary of BVI’s Emancipation Festival (July 28–August 9, 2014), also known as the Tortola Carnival—a great time to experience island culture with music, food fairs, parades, and j’ouvert (street jamming). bvitourism.com
Best time to visit: mid-December through mid-April
Playa Nacascolo, Peninsula Papagayo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
You can take your pick among this peninsula’s sands; even if their proximity to glitzy resorts suggests otherwise, all beaches in Costa Rica are public. Playa Nacascolo offers calm waters and shade from the tropical trees that border the long beach, accessed from a wooden boardwalk. As one of the few not connected directly to a resort, it has retained a more natural feel, without lounge chairs and waiter service. Just east of Playa Nacascolo, on Culebra Bay, you’ll find the recently opened 153-room Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. Fittingly, architect Ronald Zürcher’s design was inspired by the shapes of cocoons and seashells. papagayo.andaz.hyatt.com
Best time to visit: December through April
Cannon Beach, OR
Conifer forests meet the Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, where colossal rocks add a primal touch to the seascape. This nine-mile stretch of sand is known for Haystack Rock, a hefty 235-foot-high landmark that has caves you can explore at low tide. (It also attracts around 2,000 seabirds, including puffins and oystercatchers.) A pair of neighboring sea stacks is called The Needles. The 50th anniversary of Cannon Beach’s annual Sandcastle Contest takes place June 21, 2014, but that goes nowhere near to explaining how creative these sand sculptures can get. Try envisioning a fairy-tale turret complete with Rapunzel lowering her hair or a group of sharks and seals hanging out at a sand bar. cannonbeach.org
Best time to visit: June through September
This Polynesian atoll has all the ingredients of a castaway fantasy: a talcum-powder beach dotted with driftwood, palm trees for shade, and gently lapping translucent water. Marlon Brando spotted the 12 islets around a turquoise lagoon from his plane while on location to film Mutiny on the Bounty in the 1960s. The star bought the atoll, building a simple resort (using only indigenous materials) and establishing a center to protect its birds and turtles. The Brando is now owned by the Pacific Beachcomber hotel group, which will open a luxury eco-resort of 35 villas on the islet of Onetahi in July 2014. In a nod to the actor’s conservation focus, the resort will feature sustainable energy systems and an organic orchard. thebrando.com
Best time to go: April through October
Playa de las Catedrales, Galicia, Spain
Centuries of crashing waves and merciless winds off the coast of northwest Spain have sculpted beautiful rock formations at Playa de las Catedrales, so named for the soaring arches visible only at low tide. This mile-long butterscotch beach in Galicia also has 105-foot-high cliffs, sea caves, and rock pools eroded into weird and wonderful shapes. Come summer, when the dramatic weather dissipates, the Cantabrian Sea is as turquoise as the Caribbean. It’s especially enchanting on the Noche de San Juan in June, which coincides with the summer solstice, with thousands of bonfires lit along the coast and parties on the beach. Head west from Las Catedrales to Riazor beach in La Coruña for the region’s most spectacular San Juan fiesta.
Best time to visit: June through August
Playa Morón, Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic
On the Samaná Peninsula’s north shore awaits a fine golden beach with few footprints. Tall coconut trees border Playa Morón, and the sand continues far out into the water, whose waves are just fine for bodysurfing back into shore. Show up here between January and March to witness the spectacle of posturing male humpbacks during whale mating season in the bay of Santa Bárbara de Samaná. It made quite an impression on Christopher Columbus, who wrote about it back in 1493. Samaná has become increasingly accessible in recent years with nonstop flights to the peninsula’s international airport, El Catey, launched at the end of 2012, while a new highway connecting the peninsula to Santo Domingo’s Las Américas Airport greatly reduced the drive time. In May 2014, JetBlue added nonstop flights between Newark, NJ, and Santiago Airport.
Best time to visit: December through April
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CA
The sand along this strange beach turns purple from time to time (credit the manganese garnet fragments that wash off the hills). And Keyhole Rock, which sits just offshore, only adds to its eerie beauty. In winter, time your visit right and you’ll witness a shaft of light shine through the arch at sunset as if it were created for that very purpose. Strong currents mean this isn’t the best swimming beach—no matter how inviting that cobalt ocean looks on a sunny day—but it’s Pfeiffer’s beautiful ruggedness that will leave you breathless. Either that, or the windy conditions.
Best time to visit: April through June; September and October
Playa Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Unlike the many surfer beaches of Oaxaca, this small but perfectly formed cove is tranquil. But it requires a little exertion to reach those gentle waves—150 steps, to be exact. Thankfully, there are a few beach shacks serving food, so you don’t have to face those steps again until you leave. Hotel Escondido is a recent opening along the Oaxaca coast with 16 hip palapa-roofed beach bungalows, a restaurant, and a small club. hotelescondido.com
Best time to visit: November through April
Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, Cape Cod, MA
This rugged New England beauty attracts weekenders for its expansive views of the Atlantic as well as tide pools, walking trails, and dunes worth exploring. Take your binoculars for an eyeful of wildlife: dolphins, birds (including endangered plovers and terns), and bobbing seals. Waves here get big—all the better to surf or bodyboard—but water temperatures can be bracing, even in midsummer. Coast Guard also has historical significance, as the first beach the Pilgrims spotted in 1620 from The Mayflower. In more recent news, the fresh air along this shore may soon be even cleaner; a smoking ban along Cape Cod National Seashore’s guarded beaches is under consideration.
Best time to visit: mid-June through early September
Chaweng Noi Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand
Not to be confused with the more raucous Chaweng Beach, Chaweng Noi Beach—further south on Koh Samui’s east coast—is a sedate white-sand cove fringed with lush foliage. A coral reef keeps things calm, so it’s a lovely spot for a leisurely swim or snorkel. For those who prefer to be near the beach but not on it, the new 80-suite hotel Vana Belle obliges with a freshwater infinity pool facing the Gulf of Thailand. vanabellekohsamui.com
Best time to visit: mid-December to March and July to September.