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Revealed: The World’s Best Beach Destinations

From pearly crescents of pristine water made for lazing to surf-pounded adventure islands, not every beach escape is created equal.

Whether you’re looking for an isolated stretch of white Thai sand, a family-friendly retreat on Bali’s golden shores, sun-drenched activities on Hawaii’s sugar-fine sands or a secluded patch of magic in the Maldives, our favourite beach destinations all have something that makes them unique. Here’s our expert take on the world’s best sun-and-sand destinations to next spread your towel on.

Thailand: perfect for culture-seekers

Saying that beach-lovers are spoiled for choice when it comes to Thailand is an understatement. With 1,400 islands and islets, and no shortage of stunning coastline along the Andaman Sea and Gulf Coast, every sort of beach under the sun can be found here. Think azure ocean and karst islets with crystal-clear water and white sand, rolling mountains serving as the backdrop.

Few places fulfil the beach idyll like Koh Samui and Khao Lak. Continually rising to the top of Koh Samui’s most popular beach lists, Chaweng is the ultimate 7km stretch of pristine sand with a swathe of incredible restaurants and nightlife, but it’s really the hidden paradise of the immensely beautiful Lipa Noi Beach that sets our gold standard for the pinnacle of beach luxury, with a serene atmosphere and incredible sunsets to boot.

Just an hour outside of Phuket, Koh Lak’s peaceful sandy beaches with coconut palms and casuarina-fringed inlets and its spectacular offshore islands rimmed with crystal waters and dense marine life (the impossibly photogenic Phang Nga topping the list) are what sets it apart and earns it a top place on our list.

But Thailand is so much more than just perfect beaches. Koh Lak is the ultimate beach destination for culture seekers with a plethora of incredible temples, cuisine and serenity. It has become renowned for its incredible dining, offering everything from traditional Thai dishes to scorching regional curries and plates hopping with flavour on seaside tables, while Koh Samui pairs its beachy delights with cultural highlights and incredible temples, such as the 12m Big Buddha and the 100-year-old Wat Plai Laem.

Maldives: perfect for romance

If you’re looking for the quintessential honeymoon destination, look no further than the Maldives, a bucket-list experience and one of the most indulgent vacations you’ll ever take. Made up of a constellation of over 1,000 coral islands, this lover’s retreat is your gateway to some of the most breathtaking marine and coral life in the world, not to mention luxurious resorts perched over the luminous Indian Ocean.

Perhaps its most magnificent corner, and one of the most exquisitely beautiful destinations on the planet, is the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. One of just 26 natural atolls in the Indian Ocean, its crystal-clear waters are protected from fishing and development, meaning snorkelling and scuba diving open up a vibrant underwater ecosystem bursting with stunning coral, multi-coloured fish and teeming sea life.

Hawaii: perfect for adventure

It’s the ultimate too-good-to-believe travel cliché: with crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches, volcanic peaks and picturesque bays, this stunning archipelago in the middle of the Pacific often graces the world’s top beach lists for a good reason. But for our money, it’s the pristine wilderness and opportunities for outdoor adventure that really set it apart.

The majestic waters of Waimea Bay in a quiet corner of Haleʻiwa in Oahu are revered for their ethereal beauty, as they change mood with the seasons: a languid, translucent Instagrammer’s dream in summer; a torrent of unrelenting, immense swells that create some of the best surf breaks on the planet in winter. This is also the home of the annual Quiksilver Eddie Aikau memorial surf competition and Waimea Rock, the ultimate 30-foot plunge into the ocean for adrenaline junkies.

Any beach list would be remiss not to mention Maui’s coast, but perhaps one of the most stunning and underappreciated beaches is Pa’ilo Beach. Found on the final section on the road to Hāna, this mesmerising curved patch of black beachfront is framed by an almost unbelievable backdrop of onyx lava outcrops, freshwater caverns, mysterious sea caves and the 120-acre Wai’anapanapa State Park –an ideal destination for sand loungers who take their lazing with a side of natural exploration.

Bali: the perfect all-rounder

Bali’s beachside scene is a quintessential part of what makes this ‘Island of the Gods’ such a beloved destination, with a partying paradise of clubs where beach days never seem to end, such as the acclaimed Potato Head and Cocoon Beach Club. But this incredible island is so much more than just a nirvana for hedonists – it offers the perfect setting for any kind of beach vacation.

Located outside of the main hustle and bustle, approximately 30-minutes from Denpasar Airport, Sanur is the ultimate family-friendly paradise with an uncrowded beachfront and a tranquil east-facing coast. Life moves at a slower pace in this charming seaside town, with the waves shielded by a reef and breakwaters, creating ideal conditions for kayaking across the glistening water, snorkelling and playing beach volleyball. Hop on a bike and immerse yourself in local culture with a visit to the Stone Pillar, Bali’s oldest dated artefact, or get amongst the bounty of seaside restaurants, animal sanctuaries and resorts.

If beachside clubbing is on your agenda, Seminyak is our top pick (though easy relaxation is also an option). Kuta’s more upscale sister with the golden trifecta of fine dining, fashion boutiques and luxury resorts, Seminyak is your good times HQ. Petitenget beachfront is your go-to for world-class restaurants, clubs and cocktail bars that pump late into the night: swim, sip and relax in the perfect sunset spot with great music and island vibes, before devouring the street hawker-style energy of the bustling Eat Street 2.0.

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