From deserted white sand lapped by turquiose water to waves crashing against rugged shores, Gavin McOwan tips 10 dream destinations for every beach bum
1. Las Islas Cies, Galicia, Spain
Mention Spanish beaches and most people instinctively think of the Mediterranean. Yet the wilder, stunning Atlantic coastline of Galicia, just north of Portugal, has far more dramatic praias – with far fewer people on them. One of the jewels of this coast is on Las Islas Cies, a 40-minute boat trip from the pretty town of Baiona. Once a pirates’ haunt, Cies is now an uninhabited and pristine national park, open to the public only in summer.
2. Tayrona national park, Colombia
I’ve never been as instantly impressed by a beach as I was the moment I set eyes on Tayrona. After a 40-minute hike through the forest, I was expecting to see a classic Caribbean beach, all white sand and calm turquoise water, perhaps a few cabanas for the tourists. Instead I was greeted with a wild sea crashing on to rocks the size of houses that are dotted along the untamed and semi-deserted beach. In a country with a “healthier” tourist industry Tayrona would undoubtedly be a major resort, but as it’s in Colombia the virgin rainforest cascades down the mountainside right on to the sand. And there was no one on it save a small community of backpackers who sleep in open-air hammocks.
3. Porto da Barra, Salvador, Brazil
Sydney has Bondi, LA has Venice, Rio has Copacabana and Ipanema – town beaches that are both world famous and a microcosm of their city itself. I lived in Salvador, Brazil’s oldest city, for several years and Porto da Barra was where I would come for an early morning swim or a cold beer in the late afternoon. The location is stunning, at the entrance of the magnificent Bahia de Todos os Santos, with a small, white colonial fort at one end and a whitewashed church sitting up on a hill at the other. There’s always something going on here: small fishing boats unloading their catch, young lads diving into the sea off the old stone harbour walls, older boys eyeing up girls, beach volleyball, football and tennis.
4. Anywhere on Palawan, the Philippines
Although Alex Garland’s backpacker odyssey The Beach is set in Thailand, he took much of the inspiration for the location from the Philippines. The reason? As anyone who has been to Thailand in the last decade will tell you, the chances of founding your very own deserted island paradise in a country that has become synonymous with the backpacker superhighway are close to nil. The Philippines, on the other hand has over 7,000 islands, a fraction of the tourists and so many deserted beaches that it’s easy to hire a fishing boat, sail off into the sun and create your very own “Beach”.
5. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania
The beaches of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are the only ones I’ve ever walked on where the powder-white sand is so fine it literally squeaks between your toes. The island of Zanzibar is the jewel of the east-African coast, with its spice trade, labyrinthine old Stone Town and, of course, around 30 beaches, nearly all of which are to die for. One of the best is Nungwi, near the northern tip of the island. The coastline has a shallow slope so the sapphire water, white sand and coral build-ups forming a calm sea which stretches for miles and is home to thousands of marine animals. Dotted with tiny fishing villages that have barely changed in centuries, the Zanzibar coastline has a dreamy timeless air.
6. Arambol, Goa, India
“There ain’t nothing worse than some fool lying on some third world beach wearing spandex, psychedelic trousers, smoking damn dope pretending he’s gettin’ consciousness expansion,” sang Alabama 3 on their hilarious Ain’t Going to Goa. Indeed Goa certainly divides opinion. For some it is the holy grail of hippy hedonism for others it represents the worst excesses of modern travel. Arambol, the state’s northernmost beach has its share of ageing hippies and seasonal expats, but the spectacular, sweeping stretch of sand is so beautiful it wins over even the most jaded and cynical of travellers.
7. Whitehaven, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia
There are dozens of candidates for the mantle of Australia´s best beach, but for picture-postcard, sheer drop-dead gorgeousness Whitehaven is pretty special. Imagine super-fine, white silica sand surrounded by warm, clear, azure waters sandwiched between tropical forest with various islands dotted around in the distance. Just make sure you come for longer than a day (the preferred option) as once the day cruisers have left you can walk around here or curl up under the shade of the forest and feel like you have this uninhabited piece of paradise all to yourself. It´s quite a trek getting to Whitehaven, the surf isn´t up to much and for half the year you have to wear a stinger suit to swim in the sea – but these are small prices to pay for such beauty.
8. Shell Beach, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
This probably isn´t the most beautiful beach in the UK, but it´s my favourite. There’s something about getting on the old chain ferry at the brash millionaires’ playground of Sandbanks and jumping off, just three minutes later, directly on to the sand of a completely unspoilt beach (thank you the National Trust). Although the Isle is actually a peninsula, there is a real feeling you have left the mainland.
9. Sinclair´s Bay, Caithness
Just eight miles south of John O’Groats in Scotland but – when the sun comes out – the white sand and sparkling blue sea of Sinclair’s Bay look more like the Caribbean than Caithness. Framed by a 16th-century castle at each end and with a spectacular array of wildlife including plovers, dunlins, porpoises and occasionally orca – both on and off shore, Sinclair´s Bay has the lot.
10. Aroa, Aitutaki, One Foot Island, Cook Islands
It takes forever to get to this coral atoll necklaced by an azure lagoon, but the snorkelling, fishing and scuba-diving make this hidden paradise one of the best beaches in the south Pacific.