Related: Audley Travel
Everyone has an idea of their fantasy beach. It might be teeming with wildlife, hidden away on a secluded peninsula, or possess the softest sand. Audley beach specialist Vicky has journeyed from sandbars to far-flung coves looking for the standout streaks of sand that offer something special. Here she shares her top finds.
The best beach for wildlife? Hawksbill Beach, The Seychelles
When I landed on Bird Island’s tiny airstrip, I truly felt like one of the first explorers to step foot onto this rugged, unspoilt island (it helps that Bird Island Lodge is discreetly hidden from view amongst the tropical undergrowth). To the northwest of the island is Hawksbill Beach, a wide stretch of sand that’s edged with frothy, parakeet-green perennials and little else.
Walk along the coast and you’ll hear nothing but the yelps and squawks of the resident birds, including thousands of sooty terns that nest on the island each year. Hawksbill gains its name from the eponymous turtles which arrive each October to lay their eggs. You can join the staff on the Turtle Monitoring program to watch the eggs hatch and the hatchlings begin their haphazard race to the water’s edge.
This is the blindingly white sand of honeymoon brochures. You can often see bird footprints imprinted on its surface, and long scrapes left by turtles retreating back into the ocean.
The beach with the best views? Koh Lao Lading, Thailand
Small but perfectly formed, Koh Lao Lading Beach is flanked by two cliffs that rise straight from the azure waters of the Andaman Sea. The cliffs frame a view out to Phang Na Bay, where huge limestone karsts loom out of the ocean. At the shore side, traditional long-tail boats are moored, their wooden hulls brightly painted and with swathes of fabric tied to the bows for luck.
Nicknamed ‘Paradise Island’, Koh Lao Lading is a tiny limestone island in the southern waters of Phang Na Bay. In order to have its beach to yourself, stay at the Six Senses Yao Noi, located just across the bay on the island of Ko Yao Noi. You can then charter an early morning boat to get there before anyone else arrives: the hotel can even arrange a picnic breakfast.
The flaxen-shaded beach is often spangled with tiny purple ipomoea flowers, and the sand is so fine that it sinks away as you walk over it.
The best beach for culture? Ha My Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
You don’t have to eschew civilization to seek out a good-looking beach. Ha My Beach is a long, pristine sweep of sand on Vietnam’s central coast, just ten minutes away from the UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An. Days can be spent wandering the historic trading port’s lantern-lit streets and merchant houses before retreating back to a nearby luxury resort: Four Seasons’ The Nam Hai sits on a particularly peaceful section of sand.
As I lay languidly on the beach, I couldn’t forget I was in Vietnam. On the horizon you can watch the traditional wooden fishing boats pass by, as well as an occasional ‘thuyen thung’ — a round, floating basket boat that bobs alarmingly in the waves. Local Vietnamese will walk past wearing palm-leaf conical hats and if you wander to the southern end of the beach you’ll find stalls selling freshly grilled prawns or chopped pineapple.
The fine white sand is so pure that it squeaks when you walk over it.
The best beach for unusual sand? Northern Indonesia’s black-sand beaches
Do a little research and you’ll find a rainbow of sandy beaches, from the green beaches of Hawaii to the pink sands of the Bahamas. For me, the most dramatic are Indonesia’s black-sand beaches. Bali may conjure images of golden sands, but I headed to the little-visited north, where the coast is trimmed with a ribbon of volcanic sand.
The silvery-black sand sits starkly against the vivid coastal greenery, making it almost luminous, while the sea itself has an ethereal mirror-like quality. The best way to explore is to gallop along the coast on the back of a Sumba pony, athletic horses bred on the next-door island of Sumba. Stay at the Spa Village Resort and you can start your day with yoga on the beach as the sun rises.
Surprisingly soft, the sand is flecked with silver, giving it a glimmer when the light catches it.
The best beach for snorkelling? Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The aquamarine waters off Matira Beach are so clear that you don’t really need to don a snorkeling mask to see the fish below. But when you do, it’s like slipping into an aquarium. Schools of butterflyfish glitter past, while parrotfish and angel fish dart about in bright polychrome swirls. I swam alongside slowly gliding reef sharks and stingrays.
From the water, you’ll see the craggy peak of Mount Otemanu rising up behind the narrow beachfront. A series of motu (islets) curve round the coast protecting a huge, shallow lagoon from the steep drop-off into the South Pacific. The Bora Bora Pearl Resort and Spa is built in a motu overlooking the lagoon and Matira Beach.
The honey-toned sand is soft between your toes but with plenty of coral along the coast, water shoes are recommended.
The best beach for dramatic scenery? Zighy Bay, the Musandam Peninsula, Oman
If white sands and aquamarine oceans feels a little clichéd, try Oman. The Musandam Peninsula juts out into the Strait of Hormuz and its coastline has a jagged edge of khors (rocky, fiord-like inlets). In most places the Western Hajar Mountains’ steep sides dive straight into the ocean, but at Zighy Bay, there’s a wide band of sand between the mountains and water.
Six Senses Zighy Bay has been designed in the style of an Omani village (albeit an opulent one) with 82 natural stone villas built into the bay. From here you can walk along the 1.6 km (1 mile) of beach that’s backed by nothing but yellow-gold limestone mountains. The waters of the Gulf of Oman are a rich, emerald green and often spiked with the fins of dolphins or whales (21 species have been spotted in the area).
A little coarser than a traditional white-sand beach, the sand here is a deep, exotic golden-yellow.
The best offbeat beach destination? Bwejuu Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tanzania may not be an obvious sea-and-sand destination, but the Zanzibar Archipelago is trimmed with arcs of dazzlingly white sand. I’d say Bwejuu is its finest stretch, with 19 km (12 miles) of palm-fringed beach and dhows (a traditional fishing vessel) sailing across the horizon. Toward the north of the beach, the Baraza Resort and Spa offers a sultanate level of luxury.
To learn more about the island’s trading history you can tour a spice plantation or wander through Stone Town, a UNESCO-protected part of Zanzibar City. Back at the beach, you can snorkel in the clear waters or, as the tide recedes in the late afternoon, try to spot tiny octopus or crab in the rock pools that are unveiled.
This most blinding of blindingly white sand tops the ratings, while it’s also the softest sand I’ve ever encountered.
At Audley Travel all of their country specialists have travelled extensively or lived in the areas they specialise and continue to visit regularly as part of their role. They will not only show you the highlights but include many of the lesser-known, authentic experiences on offer. Audley care deeply about the places they travel to and work hard to ensure they have a positive impact on the wildlife and communities. All trips are carefully built based around your specific interests, tastes and budget with first-hand recommendations.
Disclosure: Our property, service and product reviews are sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own and are in no way influenced by the sponsor.