The 25 Best Island Beaches in the World: 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards
Check out Condé Nast Traveler’s top beaches around the world from their original post here. You can visit number six and number one on this list on our “10-Night Elite Caribbean and Golf Adventures” luxe-adventure journey.
The places that stayed with you in a year when travel may have been out of reach.
For our 33rd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey—yes, more than three decades—our readers leaned in heavily into nostalgia. With travel largely on pause this year, it seems what they may have missed most was a coveted beach vacation where they could get away from it all. Whether you’re looking for a calm stretch of sand in the Caribbean or a family-friendly resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are enough options out there to suit every type of traveler. Here are the best island beaches in the world, the ones that Condé Nast Traveler readers thought about this year—and can’t wait to return to.
25. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
While it may be one of the most popular beaches on the island, Horseshoe Bay has a hidden secret: Port Royal Cove, which has shallow water perfect for young kids, and dramatic rock formations that complement wonderfully soft, pink sand. Nearby Spicelands Equestrian Centre even offers trail rides down to the private cove, which is located in part of South Shore Park in Southampton Parish.
Where to stay: Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, ranked the tenth best Atlantic islands resort in our latest Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Many rooms have been renovated; all have modern amenities and contemporary design. Consider splurging for one of the Signature Rooms, which feature large balconies overlooking the harbor—one of the busiest waterways in Bermuda.
24. Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Aussies and Kiwis have been surfing off Sri Lanka’s otherworldly south coast for years, but the word is starting to spread: This country may be the perfect vacation destination. Unawatuna is often considered one of the best sandy stretches on the island, located near the southern city of Galle. The water here is tranquil and warm, devoid of rocks and reefs on the ocean floor—great for families, not so great for surfers. A small road runs along the beach, with restaurants, cafes, and vendors selling jewelry.
Where to stay: A 2017 Hot List winner, KK Beach is a mere 10-minute drive from Unawatuna. The laid-back ten-roomer makes up for what it lacks (spa, gym) with barefoot proximity to the beach. The rooms are decorated in whites and navies, and all are air-conditioned and have private terraces overlooking the Indian Ocean
23. Siasconset Beach, Nantucket, Massachusetts
At the eastern most flank of the island, Siasconset can be reached from town via a six-mile bike ride on the Milestone Road path (or, in the summer, on a NRTA shuttle bus). Food and restrooms can be found nearby in the adjacent historic village of ‘Sconset. Built in 1850, the Sankaty Head Light is well worth a wander to the northern tip of the beach (it’s rarely open to climb, except on specific days). Best of all, though, is the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk—with the strong Atlantic on one side and a row of multi-million-dollar homes on the other. Waves here are rough, even in summer, so bundle up for a long winter walk if you’re on the island during the off season.
Where to Stay: Your number one pick on the island in our survey was The Nantucket Hotel & Resort. Sitting within walking distance of Nantucket town’s attractions, the four-story New England pile is spanned by a front porch strewn with Adirondack chairs. Inside, the 36 rooms and suites, some with common decks, sleep from 2 to 12 people, making this—the island’s only year-round place to stay—an ideal full-service base for family vacations.
22. The Baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, with natural beauty covering virtually all of its 8.5 square miles. The island offers quiet beaches and coves and flora-filled national parks. Perhaps the prettiest (and most popular attraction), though, is the Baths, a seaside area where huge granite boulders form scenic saltwater pools and grottos.
Where to stay: Rosewood Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda is back and better than ever. Each of the 80 rooms and one- and two-bedroom suites have outdoor showers and plenty of room to actually live in (there are even larger villas tucked into the hillside). Some come with private plunge pools and all are within steps to the property’s half-mile white-sand beach. Guests are even given their own private butler to see to their needs over the course of their vacation.
21. Sunset Beach, Oahu
One of the world’s best places to watch big wave surfing in winter (the beach is home to the Vans Triple Crown), the water here becomes as calm as a lake in summer, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling. After a day spent in the sand and surf, don’t towel off and head home just yet: As its name suggests, it’s the sunsets that really seal the deal for visitors.
Where to stay: Turtle Bay Resort—closest to the beach, one of few along the north shore, and ranked one of the best resorts in Hawaii in our annual survey. (It has also served as a filming location for Lost and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.) Turtle Bay recently unveiled a $45 million renovation, refurbishing 410 of its rooms and opening a new 11,000-square-foot spa, two restaurants, and a bar. The five-mile beach is ideal for snorkeling.
20. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Matira is perhaps the most famous of Tahiti’s beaches, and for good reason: The mile-long stretch of silky, powder-white sand slopes gently into a shallow emerald lagoon, and is backed by a thick curtain of palms and tropical foliage. An added bonus? It’s one of the only public-access beaches in Bora Bora, so you won’t need to pay five-star resort prices to enjoy its beauty. Come early to stake out a spot.
Where to stay: The Conrad Bora Bora Nui ranked the highest of all the resorts on Bora Bora in our Readers’ Choice Awards survey. What you’ll love about the resort is the way Polynesian culture is all around—in the greetings and traditional tattoos of the local staff, the food, even the names of hotel landmarks: Hina spa is named for the moon goddess, the Tamure grill pays homage to the hip-shaking local dance moves, the Upa Upa means “music” (and is the name of the sunset bar and lounge) and the Iriatai restaurant comes from the word for “horizon.”
19. Honokalani Beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Maui
With its jet-black shore, electric-blue waters, and thick, jungle-like foliage, Honokalani Beach is a photographer’s dream. Besides lying lazily on the “sand”—actually made up of tiny lava pebbles—there’s plenty to do: you’ll find seaside lava tubes and sea caves carved into the lava cliffs along the shore. It’s wild, unspoiled Hawaii at its best, and a necessary stop en route to Hana.
Where to stay: Our readers dubbed Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort the number one resort in Hawaii this year, and it’s easy to see why. With a design that makes you feel like you’re in a rich relative’s modernist beach house, complete with light-colored furniture and check-in done on tablets. Guest rooms are simple and modern, with white plantation-style shutters, linens, gray area rugs, and teak furniture—but you won’t be spending too much time in there. The $45 daily resort fee includes cultural lessons like lei-making and coconut husking, along with a photography session, fitness classes, GoPro camera rentals, and more.
18. Palm Beach, Aruba
The two-mile-long strip on the northwest side of Aruba is filled with activities to keep you busy all day and night. Try your hand at parasailing or snorkeling before sitting down to enjoy a barefoot lunch at Pelican Pier Bar during the day. Then, head to the nearby casinos, restaurants, and nightclubs at night to make your lazy day a bit more lively.
Where to stay: The adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort was a favorite among our readers this year. Much of that has to do with the location—on Eagle Beach, located right next to Palm Beach. Signal for a piña colada by putting a red flag in the sand, and let the very accommodating staff take care of you. As for the property itself, the Spanish colonial exterior is offset by more contemporary interiors. Suites in the Tara Wing have oceanfront views, king-size beds, and separate living areas. Elements Restaurant, which opened in 2013, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though don’t shy away from exploring the island for a more memorable dining experience.
17. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Located on the western shore of the 75-square-mile island, the whole stretch of this 5.5 mile-long beach (arguably one of the loveliest stretches of sand in the world) is public property, making it easy to stroll from hotel to hotel regardless of where you book an overnight. All in one afternoon, you can grab lunch at an ocean-side restaurant, stumble into a volleyball game with locals, take Jet Skis out further down the beach, and top it off with some snorkeling in Cemetery Reef, known for its rocky formations prime for sea life habitat.
Where to stay: The newest opening on the island’s Seven Mile Beach is the 266-room Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, whose colorful, boutique atmosphere manages to be both child-friendly (two pools, a kids’ club) and hip (colorful, contemporary design and a lobby scene replete with pool table, library, and daily happy hour). You can always snorkel and parasail right off the hotel’s beach, but you’re also a short ride from Stingray City where you can stand on a sandbar and touch giant rays as they swim by.
16. Banana Beach, Koh Hey (Coral) Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach has a backdrop of impossibly-green jungle and looks out on crystal-clear water—all part of a national park and marine preservation area (30 minutes by boat from Chalong Pier on Phuket). Banana Boat rides are popular, hence the name, as is snorkeling, sea kayaking, and parasailing. With minimal infrastructure, and one restaurant built out of bamboo, this is a great, less-than-crowded spot to park yourself for the day in the sun.
Where to Stay: You picked The Nai Harn Phuket as your favorite resort on the island this year. Located just off Nai Harn Beach (another one of the best in Phuket), it is everyone you could possibly want from a 5-star Thai resort. Built almost like a Greek hotel, with white exteriors and climbing pink bougainvillea, the property’s guest rooms are plush and luxurious, and most of them offer panoramic views over the bay from a private terrace. The oversized king-size beds are impossibly comfortable, but you’ll definitely want to rise early to take advantage of the resort’s menu of activities.
15. Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Undeniably one of the most photographed beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, Trunk Bay sits in the northwestern corner of the Virgin Islands National Park (it was donated to the park service by Laurence S. Rockefeller more than 50 years ago). Calm, clear water, and a 225-yard-long underwater trail for snorkeling are big draws, as are hiking trails up and into the surrounding greenery, filled with the ruins of historic sugar cane plantations.
Where to stay: St. John has had a long road to recovery from the hurricanes of 2017, but the good news is that the National Park is back in full bloom, its beaches are in perfect shape, Cruz Bay is bustling with shops and restaurants, and The Westin St. John Resort Villas is finally back in operation, offering accommodations from studios to three-bedroom villas.
14. Fundu Lagoon, Pemba Island, Zanzibar
Zanzibar, Tanzania’s most famous tropical isle, is known for its spices and luminescent waters that lap palm-fringed beaches. Pemba Island, part of the Zanzibar archipelago, is particularly lovely, with incredible beaches located on its northwestern tip. The beach at Fundu Lagoon is one undiscovered gem worth uncovering, with clear, shallow waters lined by mangrove forests. With this much seclusion, you’ll truly feel like you were the first person to ever land on the island.
Where to stay: The Fundu Lagoon resort is an exclusive, 18-bungalow escape reachable only by boat and one of just a handful of lodgings on the Pemba Island. The resort features safari-style tented rooms and suites, some of which come with private plunge pools. Spend the day at the outdoor infinity pool to get sweeping views of the ocean, then cool off at the poolside bar.
13. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Rated the best island in the United States in our most recent Readers’ Choice Awards survey, Hilton Head—40 miles from Savannah/Hilton Head Airport—is a firm family favorite, with a full 12 miles of wide, empty beach (perfect for long bike rides). Coligny Beach is a full-service place, with food and activities for both adults and kids; mid-island Driessen Beach—also known as Bradley Beach—is quieter, but still has a boardwalk, playground, and grills for al fresco picnics.
Where to Stay: The Inn & Club at Harbour Town ranked the highest of the island’s many properties. Palm tree-lined gardens give way to this modern-looking country club-hotel hybrid, where marina-chic guests kitted out in their best golf attire hit each of the three on-site courses. Take advantage of the complimentary bubbly at check-in, along with the shoe-shining and pant-pressing services.
12. Seagrass Bay, Laucala Island, Fiji
Covered in tropical jungle (reached via guided walking tours or horseback rides), Laucala is home to some of the archipelago’s rarest birds and animals, pristine beaches, and spellbinding marine life. Seagrass Bay is the quietest of the resort beaches, and a perfect spot to play at being Crusoe—albeit with a fabulous, open-air dining room nearby.
Where to Stay: Your only option—Laucala Island Resort—is far from shabby. In 1972, Malcolm Forbes bought this luscious green morsel as his private refuge; its current owner, Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, has spared no expense to create a spectacular hideaway. The high price tag gets you over-the-top luxury and total privacy in one of the 25 villas—all glamorous versions of traditional Fijian dwellings. Each opens onto its own private pool, and a handful of villas are set directly above Seagrass Bay.
11. Blue Beach (La Chiva), Vieques, Puerto Rico
A long, thin stretch of white sand and clear water makes this one of the Caribbean’s top beaches. Getting there is part of the adventure: It can only be accessed by parking in one of 21 tiny turn-offs along a bumpy, unpaved road in the middle of the island’s western National Wildlife Refuge (formerly off-limits as a U.S. Navy training base). Snorkel on your own around a small cay, or book a trip with one of the island’s operators to check out its secret underwater spots.
Where to stay: One of our all-time favorites—and Hot List 2014 winner—is El Blok. In a nod to 1950’s tropical modernism, the 22-room inn has a curvaceous exterior with intricately carved louvers that prompt the bright Caribbean sun to cast dramatic shadows. Interiors have a restful vibe, thanks to clean-lined wooden furnishings and strategically placed sculptures.
10. Seger Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
Often considered to be Bali’s subdued neighbor, Lombok has tons of great beaches on both the main island and surrounding islands. But be sure to spend at least one day on Lombok proper before venturing off shore. Make the town of Kuta your home base, then venture out to nearby Seger Beach. It’s a strip of sand sheltered by a headland that offers epic views of the Indian Ocean. Quench your thirst with a cold Bintang or some coconut water from one of the makeshift warungs set up on the sand.
Where to stay: Our readers love Hotel Tugu Lombok, with its Malay, Chinese, and colonial influences shown throughout the property. Spacious bungalows nestle around shaded walkways and brilliant tropical gardens, giving the place the tranquil atmosphere of a secluded compound. The feeling of isolation is maximized by Tugu’s surroundings—farming villages and virgin wilderness—with the only other modern note an adjacent 18-hole golf course.
9. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Shockingly, Palawan remains steadily under the radar, even though it continues to rank highly in our Readers’ Choice Awards. El Nido alone is home to around 50 white sand beaches—it’s impossible to choose just one—all of which are set around dramatic limestone formations and have the finest and whitest sand you’ll ever see. The water is so blindingly blue it makes the Caribbean Sea look murky in comparison. And the sunsets? Well, they’ll ruin you for life. Consider yourself warned.
Where to stay: El Nido Resorts – Pangulasian Island, which was ranked eighteen out of Top 45 Resorts in Asia in our latest survey. With scuba courses and access to plentiful dive sites, as well as boat tours of mangroves and secret lagoons, you could spend all your time exploring, but the resort makes it equally tempting to stay put.
8. Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Island, a mostly private, gated community, less than a hours drive from Charleston International Airport, is a low-country winner. East and West Beach, combined, stretch for 10 miles along the Atlantic. Public beach access is at Beachwalker County Park at the island’s far southern end. The sand is flat, the water is shallow, there are lifeguards on duty, and you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas rentals.
Where to Stay: One of the best places for an active vacation is The Sanctuary Hotel, ranked third in the Top 30 Resorts in the American South. With 24 tennis courts, five golf courses, and six pools, this four-story oceanfront resort is 30 minutes from Charleston and has a great combination of accommodations, service, food, and golf. Rooms come with custom-made furniture, and have shuttered bathroom windows and ocean view balconies.
7. Marco Island, Florida
Voted one of the best islands in the U.S., Marco Island makes up part of Florida’s Paradise Coast, which has a tropical feel thanks to the mangroves and mangoes everywhere. The Gulf Coast island is the perfect place for a weekend getaway, with beautiful beaches and parks, tons of outdoor activities, and great hotels.
Where to stay: JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is a Balinese-style beach property that recently underwent a $320 million renovation project. It easily competes with the larger resorts on the island with its sleek, clean-lined interiors, four lounger-lined swimming pools, a full-service spa, and a beachfront tiki bar. The reimagined Lanai Tower is a particular standout, with a celebrity chef-led restaurant, private pool deck, and 12,000-square-foot entertainment center.
6. Maundays Bay, Anguilla
It’s hard to debate this one. Anguilla is blessed with many stunning beaches, but Maundays Bay—on the skinny island’s southwesterly tip—wins for crystal-clear water, a gradual slope, pristine sand, and a perfect half moon arc. Technically a public beach, it is rarely crowded and populated predominantly by guests at the Belmond Cap Juluca—recently reborn after a glorious heyday in the ’90s. Of note, Maundays is ideal for families with kids, as sight lines are uninterrupted, there are rarely any waves, and the beach is neatly bookended by two small breakwaters.
Where to Stay: Without a doubt, the highly-rated Belmond Cap Juluca. The Morocco-meets-Mykonos property sits on a white-sand beach on a Caribbean island known as much for its welcoming people as its haute resorts. Large enough to keep a couple or a family busy for days, but small enough to feel like home, the whitewashed island enclave has reopened after a $121 million renovation by new owner Belmond, emphasizing chic, natural materials and local Anguillan heritage.
5. Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos
There’s a reason stars like Bruce Willis and Donna Karan built their vacation homes here: This 1,000-acre private island is only accessible by a 35-minute boat ride from Providenciales, and is home to one luxury resort and a few private villas. Yes, your entire vacation could really be spent without seeing another soul.
Where to stay: COMO Parrot Cay is consistently rated highly on our survey. There are plenty of wellness-focused hotels out there nowadays, but this private island hotel has been around longer and does it better than most. Just ask its fan club, who travel from far and wide for the daily yoga sessions, early morning meditations on the pristine beach, healing massages, and Ayurvedic consultations with Dr. Parth, who hails from Goa.
4. Reethi Rah, North Malé Atoll, Maldives
It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite beach in the Maldives—what with over 1,200 to choose from—but we’re drawn to the North Malé Atoll, and Reethi Rah in particular. Eight perfect strands of sand circle this larger-than-average island, each seemingly better than the next—and with only one resort here, it never feels crowded.
Where to stay: The One&Only Reethi Rah, obviously. Aforementioned beaches aside, it’s beach club scene is hopping, and all accommodations are in villas. Last year, the resort welcomed internationally renowned figurative painter, Henri Lamy, and portrait painter, DJ and photographer, Ruddy Candillon, as part of an Artist in Residence program. Family-friendly, yet great for honeymoons, this spot has it all.
3. North Island, Seychelles
Otherwise known as “Sunset Beach,” North Island in Seychelles is where giant tortoises graze in the grass, the sea turns pink as the sun sets, and the West Beach Bar buzzes with the low hum of famous voices. Celebrities like George and Amal Clooney, and Prince William and Kate Middleton have honeymooned here, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Where to stay: North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, is a beach-breaker of hearts. Just 11 fantasy villas here are set along a sensational lick of white sand splendor. Each thatched villa has been crafted from local stone, glass, and rescued wood into 5,000 square feet of Robinson Crusoe luxe that includes marble baths, writing nooks, indoor and outdoor showers, plunge pools, Internet access, and en-suite kitchens (a chef comes to you).
2. White Beach, Boracay, Philippines
Boracay is a screensaver brought to life, with dazzling white sand, so-clear-you-can-see-your-toes water, and a lush jungle backdrop, available to anyone willing to make the journey. The island used to fly under the radar with one of the most beautiful beaches in the world—but the secret’s out. Now the three-mile White Beach, with its grottos and beachside dining (and nightlife), is its busiest swath of sand. Start your evening at Restaurant Sirena, Shangri-La Boracay; the food is excellent.
Where to stay: Sitting pretty on a 30-acre property, Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa opened its doors in 2009. The main building is an open pavilion with a pitched roof and an exterior of local coral stone. Public areas create a sense of place with ten-foot-high tribal drums, carved wooden sculptures, and local art. Room interiors showcase handwoven textiles, sconces made of local capiz shells, and oars framed as art. The beautiful sunsets are eclipsed only by the great personal service.
1. Gouverneur, St. Barts
Sitting at the bottom of a steep, sparsely populated road—Gouverneur is remote and pristine. A small, well-maintained parking lot comes courtesy of the privately owned land (none other than Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich). Access to the sand is through a small, shady grove of trees—a popular spot for picnics at the eastern end of the beach. The farther west you walk, the fewer people you’ll find. Expect to encounter wild goats on occasion and keep a lookout for traces of buried treasure belonging to the notorious French pirate, Montbars ‘The Exterminator.’
Where to Stay: Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa ranked the best in all of the Caribbean this year. The latest addition to St. Barts’ luxury hotel scene, and in keeping with the island’s low-rise sensibility, this is a sophisticated winner. Set between a lagoon and Grand Cul-de-Sac beach along the island’s northeastern shore (with jaw-dropping views of offshore islets and distant St. Maarten/St. Martin), the hotel is an education in understated elegance. Rooms are spare, and enormous, with lots of wood and one or two pops of bright color—some even have small, rectangular plunge pools for mini-laps.