Even if you’ve been there and done that, chilling on a Caribbean beach never gets old. Whether you like snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing, people-watching on party beaches or the sand-less-traveled, our island-by-island guide can help you find the best sandy swaths under the sun.
It’s the calm long after last year’s storms on every one of Anguilla's 33 stunning beaches that front more than 12 miles of shoreline. On a typical sunny day, Meads Bay on the northwest coast is camera-ready at sunset and where you’ll find the swanky Four Seasons Resort and Residences, reopening on March 23. “On first glance, Meads Bay looks like a quiet beach with water a million shades of blue that glisten in the sun,” says Nori Evoy, surfer and founder of the popular website anguilla-beaches.com, "but the waves can get wild with swells up to 8 feet high which makes it the best beach on the island for surfers."
Shoal Bay East is popular with day-trippers who park their towels on the 2-mile strip and then make a beeline to Gwen's Reggae Grill for a cheeseburger in paradise. Maundays Bay never gets crowded, apart from die-hard swimmers and romance walkers who enjoy the mile-long stretch in front of the elegant Belmond Cap Juluca, slated to open in November.
A breezy beach on the south coast, Rendezvous Bay hosts some of the best dunes on the island, beach bars like Garvey’s and SunShine Shack, and the top-drawer CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa. At the far western end, Merrywing Bay is the capital of calm fronting The Reef by Cuisinart, reopening on April 1. Breezes Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner on the beach. For your own secluded swath, head to Savannah Bay where you’ll find Junk's Hole on the calmer side of the bay. Powdery sand and barely a soul in sight makes the east end beach a must-go for privacy-seekers craving solitude in the sun. “Island recovery has been nothing short of remarkable,” says tourism minister Cardigan Connor. “Some of our beaches have grown post-hurricanes and all of them are open and better than ever.”
St. Maarten/St. Martin
One of the hardest hit after the hurricanes, all of the 37 beaches that ring the Dutch side of the dual-nation island are back in business. Start on the west coast at Mullet Bay Beach. Wide and flat with a palm fringe, the beach is easy to get to via one of the island’s inexpensive public buses. Never crowded, weekends are lively with barbecues on the beach and volleyball nets strung between palm trees. A few minutes from the Princess Juliana International Airport, Maho Beach is famous for watching the jets come in for a landing, early morning strolls and late-night partying at the Sunset Beach Bar. Simpson Bay Beach is a mile-long strand facing south, away from the winds blowing from the northeast. Unlike other beaches, there are no high-rises along the shoreline and not much of anything going on, making the beach the top pick for those looking for peace and quiet. A fan of the beach closest to the city, minister of tourism Cornelius de Weever gives a thumbs-up to Great Bay Beach where “the boardwalk bars host spirited happy hours, there’s a lot of shopping in adjacent Philipsburg and as the pier is at the end, it’s perfect for cruise shippers looking to spend an afternoon on the sand.”
On the French side, most of the sandy strips are clean of hurricane debris and open to sun devotees. “My mood influences which beach I go to,” said Kate Richardson, director, Office de Tourisme. “Grand Case and Friar’s Bay are great for families, Pinel Island has shallow water for kids and the sunsets over Long Bay beach are magnificent.”
A beach-lover’s favorite with no passport needed to arrive on the island, most of Puerto Rico’s beaches are open, including all of the sandy slivers in San Juan and Condado, the stylish tree-lined suburb just over the bridge from Old San Juan. “Our main task after the hurricane was to clean up the debris and fallen palm trees,” said Carla Campos, executive director, Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC). “The few beaches not yet open will be ready for sun-seekers by the end of March.”
In the metro area, Isla Verde is the most popular beach area, with many hotels dotting the shoreline and plenty of water sports in the surf. Ten minutes from baggage claim to the beach, the sandy strands are surprisingly uncrowded apart from the weekends, when locals take to early morning jogs.
Close to Isla Verde and 30 minutes from San Juan, La Posita is a long family-friendly beach on the Atlantic coast with a rock wall that creates a shallow natural pool. For the active crowd, there’s a biking trail from Isla Verde and for those who like to eat local, vendors across the street serve up hefty portions of fried fish and barbecued pork. “My favorite is Playa Flamenco on the small island of Culebra,” adds Carla Campos, PRTC’s executive director. “The beach looks better now than it did before the storms because the sand is whiter and the contrast between the blue water and the green mountains is simply spectacular.”
U. S. Virgin Islands
After months of post-hurricane cleanup, most of the beaches have been cleared on all three of the Virgin Islands. In St. Thomas, there are 53 beaches, including Magens Bay north of the capital city of Charlotte Amalie. Ideal for families who come for the calm waves and shallow water, the beach gets crowded by noon when the cruise ships are in port. The only beach on the island with an entry fee — $5 per person and $2 per car — you’ll find amenities like lounge chairs, a restaurant, paddle boats, kayaks and snorkeling gear to rent. Sundays are busy with picnics on the sand and couples saying their "I do’s" along the heart-shaped coastline. Less crowded on the east end, Sapphire Beach is aptly named for the color of the water. Also on the east coast, Secret Harbour Beach is a never-crowded spot for swimming and snorkeling in a protected bay.
In St. Croix, the beaches are the star attractions with Turtle Beach on the northeast side aces with snorkelers and Chenay Bay popular with families. In St. John, Trunk Bay on the northwestern corner of the Virgin Islands National Park is one of the most photographed in the Caribbean. The tranquil surf and Underwater Snorkel Trail keep the beach busy with swimmers, divers and sailors who pay a $4 admission fee to hang out all day. Less crowded, seven beaches at Caneel Bay are worth a visit; however, as Caneel Bay Resort is closed, the beaches are accessible only by water or land via the Lind Point trail behind the National Park Service Visitor Center. “With the reopening of the beaches and the majority of our attractions and activities, our islands are, indeed, getting back on track,” said Beverly Nicholson-Doty of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
The best beaches on the sister island across the channel from St. Kitts are on the northern and western shores. Three miles long and covering the distance between the capital city of Charlestown and the Sea Bridge Ferry Dock, Pinney’s on the west coast is the one you see in the travel brochures. The beguiling blue-water beach on the Caribbean Sea side is carpeted in sand the color of saffron and a sandy stroll from the island’s luxe resorts like Four Seasons Resort Nevis and Paradise Beach Nevis.
For a quieter day on a beach chair, Lover’s Beach is hidden from the road on the northern shore. "This is a lesser-known beach known for its seclusion and tranquility,” said Greg Phillip, CEO, Nevis Tourism Board, “and a popular beach to watch the sea turtles nesting.” For tranquil tides, Herbert’s Beach is where the Atlantic Ocean starts on the windward side and where marine life is abundant in the many undisturbed reefs.
On the south coast away from the big resorts in Montego Bay, Treasure Beach is a collection of smaller spots with names like Jack Sprat and Calabash Bay that are more popular with the local artsy community than with tourists. Stretching for 6 miles, the beaches host ragtag fishing boats and dive bars stocked with coolers of Red Stripe beer. For a party vibe, head to Negril where you’ll find Seven Mile Beach, the island’s longest strip. Coming in closer to 6 miles, the boho beach is a true original that gets crowded with sun-seekers, aloe masseuses, hair-braiders and vendors hawking everything from cold drinks and jerk chicken to reggae CDs, Bob Marley keychains and snorkel gear. Another good-time beach is Doctor’s Cave in Montego Bay, where you’ll find plenty of family-friendly conveniences like beach umbrellas, boat tours, showers and a seaside food court. A favorite of locals on a Sunday afternoon, the beach is a seashell away from the shops on the Hip Strip and favorite haunts like the Groovy Grouper Grill.
Laughing Waters in Ocho Rios is the beach made famous in the first James Bond thriller Dr. No and the hands-down go-to for shallow water, rock pools and bowing palms. Find more movie history in Port Antonio and Frenchman’s Cove Beach, the set for the movie Cocktail and the beach of choice for Hollywood glitterati like Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Errol Flynn. Also in Port Antonio, fans of unflustered beaches like Boston Bay, where a sunny afternoon means surfer-ready waves, smooth sand and chefs grilling the island’s spiciest jerk chicken, fish and pork.
Turks and Caicos Islands
Grace Bay Beach lives up to the hype. Twelve miles of beach perfection on the eastern crook of Providenciales (or Provo), Grace Bay is the Louboutin of beaches and the recipient of umpteen “best beach” awards. Breathtaking from end to end with soft ashen sand and wide-open Tiffany blue waters, the busiest beach on the island is also the backyard of a slew of resorts and Blanchard’s Beach Shack, where you can rent a beach chair. Part of the Princess Alexandra National Park, nature-friendly water sports like sailing and snorkeling are popular, while water skis and jet skis are strictly off-limits. To see the most dramatic underwater life, snorkeling is best at Smith’s Reef and Bight Reef.
Fashionable with kite-boarders and blissfully devoid of everyone else, Long Bay Beach on Provo’s southeast coast is 3 miles of delicious solitude. Four-foot water depths going out thousands of feet are ideal for languid swims and the beach is so wide open, you may not see another soul. What you will see is the blue sea meeting the blue sky. Stop at the chic Shore Club, which so far is the only resort even close to the beach (the easiest access is the north entrance next to the resort, where a boardwalk leads to the sand). On the northwest shoreline, wild and windswept Malcolm’s is the quietest beach on the island, accessible only with a four-wheel-drive but well worth the trip for the superb snorkeling.
British Virgin Islands
Most of the beaches are open after post-storm cleanups. Named for the sugar mills that used to be there, Cane Garden Bay is where surfers rule the waves, paddle-boarders work the smooth water and everyone else claims their spot in the sun. On the northwest shore of Tortola, the largest of the BVIs, the busiest and biggest beach on the island is a long curved bay that rates high with swimmers, windsurfers, paddle-boarders and everyone else who covets the local vibe. Much quieter on the western tip, Smuggler’s Cove, once frequented by pirates, is still without too many tourists but with plenty of white sand and palm trees that keep a beat with the trade winds. Sunsets are spellbinding. On the north side of Tortola, Apple Bay has some of the best surf in the BVIs.
For a sip of cocktail history, take the ferry from West End Tortola to Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the BVIs. On the southern coast, White Bay Beach is a perfect stretch of sand with sailboats docked in the bay, snorkelers in the water and regulars chilling at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where sailors pay in soggy dollars for the Painkiller shaken with Pusser’s rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream and orange juice.
Dickenson Bay on the north coast is the island’s most popular beach, where a slew of hotels, water sports kiosks and watering holes keep the stretch busy even on a cloudy day. To the south, Runaway Bay is a much quieter wide strip of powdery sand and just as nice for an afternoon siesta or a day with the kids. Busy on the weekends and when a cruise ship is in port, Pigeon Point at Falmouth Harbour is the main attraction on the south coast. Weekdays are peaceful with just a sprinkling of swimmers from the nearby hotels. With calm shallow water, the beach is the go-to for families who stop by on the weekends with picnic baskets and snorkel gear.
On the southwest corner, a trio of sandy stretches — Ffrye’s Bay, Darkwood Beach and Crab Hill Bay— come with white sand, small hotels and groovy beach bars where liming with the locals is the real deal. Privacy-seekers will have the beach to themselves on weekday afternoons when the cruise shippers are back on the big boats, while weekends are lively with locals. Often deserted, Half Moon Bay east of English Harbour is a palm-tree lined spit of smooth sand. Protected from the Atlantic winds by a reef, the 1-mile stretch is aces with windsurfers who head out beyond the reef.
If you're looking for a great beach, you're in business in the Bahamas. Although the Out Islands like Exuma and Abaco are circled by some of the most magnificent sandy swaths in the Caribbean, Nassau and Paradise Island also invite with endless stretches. Astronaut Chris Hadfield said it best when asked about the views from the International Space Station: "The most beautiful to me are the Bahamas, the vast glowing reefs of every shade of blue that exists.”
A few minutes from downtown Nassau, Paradise Beach on Paradise Island, aka Cabbage Beach, lives up to its name with manicured white sand and unflustered water that hosts the impressive Lost Blue Hole dive site. Fronting a few hotels like the megaresort Atlantis Paradise Island, the 2-mile long marquee beach on prime real estate gets crowded at the western end while at the other end is often empty. Cable Beach, on the strip which now includes the Baha Mar Resort complex, is a spunky beach 3 miles west of downtown Nassau and where tourists in search of fine white sand and gem-toned blue water arrive early to snag a spot. West of Cable, the scene is less crowded at Sandyport Beach and also at the east end Goodman's Bay Beach. Known as “Spring Break Beach,” Junkanoo Beach gets rowdy and, as it’s close to the cruise ship pier, is easy to find.
On the west coast in the parish of St. Peter, Mullins Beach is accessorized with sun beds, shady palms and gentle sand shelves that keep beginners in the shallow water all day. Less crowded than many of the 60 slivers that span the 70-square-mile island, the beach sports the bright and breezy Mullins Beach Bar, where chatty bartenders keep thirst at bay with Mount Gay cocktails and frosty cups of Banks beer. South coast beaches include Dover Beach offering a variety of water sports, from Hobie Cat sailing to windsurfing.
Looking up at the Crane Resort, Crane Beach is a twosome favorite with pink-tinged sand soft enough for an early morning stroll and waves ideal for boogie boarding. At the eastern end of the St. Lawrence Gap, Turtle Beach is an all-purpose swath perfectly safe for swimming and courtesy of the breezy breezes; the beach is also popular with stand-up paddle boarders, jet skiers and windsurfers. Rockley Beach, also known as Accra Beach, is ideal for young swimmers in the pool-like part of the beach that is protected by wave-breaking rocks. Older kids safely play in the water while grown-ups watch the action on a chaise lounge shaded by sea-grape trees.
On the northwest coast, Cas Abao is what beach connoisseurs like to call full-service. The sand is soft, the water is shallow, rafts invite sunbathers, bartenders at the Daiquiri Bar excel at the fine art of blending a strawberry cocktail and a masseuse sets up shop under a shady gazebo. Perfect for families, you’ll find a water trampoline, beach chairs, kayaks and banana boats. Entrance fees for a carload of four ranges from $5.50 to $7, depending on the day of the week. On the west side, Playa Knip is the most popular of the Westpunt beaches, with a shallow reef just a short swim from shore. Other Westpunt beaches worthy of a sunny afternoon include Playa Porto Mari with a double-reef that is eye candy for divers and snorkelers, and Playa Lagun where the adventurous entertain onlookers as they plunge from the rugged cliffs into the water below.
Northwest of the capital city of Willemstad, Blue Bay is a wide beach with lots of add-ons like a children’s playground and barbecues on the sand. Way off the grid, it doesn’t get more secluded than Klein Curacao, 8 miles from the southeast coast. Hop a small boat to the big volcanic rock to dive, take a dip in the cool water and dig into a picnic on the beach. Asked to name her favorite beach, Gianina Atalita, Curacao’s marketing coordinator, called out “Groot Knip as a favorite among locals who like to cliff jump and Porto Mari because you get to hang out with their friendly house pets, two pigs named Willy and Woody.“