Best Caribbean beaches
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 where you draw your own private line in the sand, our island-by-island guide can help you find the best sandy swaths under the sun.
On a typical sunny day, which is virtually every day, Merrywing Bay is the capital of calm. Unless Sports Illustrated is there photographing the 2017 swimsuit issue at The Reef resort, the only resort on the out-of-the-way beach. “When you’re shooting body paint you need to be, well, secluded,” said MJ Day, Sports Illustrated swimsuit editor. Apart from those 10 days in January, the beach at the far western end of Rendezvous Bay is delightfully uncrowded.
Shoal Bay East, not to be confused with Upper Shoal Bay or Shoal Bay West, is the busiest beach on the island. Day-trippers from next-door St. Maarten park their towels on the 2-mile strip. Surfers prefer Meads Bay on the northwest coast, where you’ll also find the Four Seasons Anguilla and a sprinkling of restaurants and small hotels. “On first glance, Meads Bay looks like a calm beach,” says Nori Evoy, surfer and founder of 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.
Rendezvous Bay is one of the breeziest beaches on the south coast. With views of St. Martin in the distance, you’ll find some of the best dunes on the island, plus Dune Preserve, presided over by local reggae legend Bankie Banx, and CuisinArt Golf Resort where non-guests are welcome to stop by for lunch, cocktails and dinner.
Caribbean luxury: CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa in Anguilla
For your own secluded swath, head to Savannah Bay where you’ll find Junk’s Hole on the calmer, eastern 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.
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 is the one photographed for the travel brochures. The beguiling blue water beach on the Caribbean side of the island is carpeted in sand the color of saffron and a sandy stroll from the island’s luxe resorts like the Four Seasons Nevis and Paradise Beach Villas. 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 of the Nevis Tourism Board, “but 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 spectacular in the many undisturbed reefs.
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 beach 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 local 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 ship, 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 popular with windsurfers who head out beyond the reef.
On the sister island of Barbuda (a 15-minute flight to the north), beaches breathe privacy as only a handful of tourists make the trip and the population of locals is small. Long and wide with nary more than seagrape trees and 3 miles of sand, Princess Diana Beach at the southern tip was one of the few places on the planet where she vacationed with the two young princes and wasn’t followed. At the other end of the island near the Barbuda Belle Resort, the 15-mile strand between Cedar Tree Point and Billy Point has no official name and may be the best off-the-beaten-track beach in the Caribbean.
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 as it is known, Grace Bay is the Louboutin of beaches and one of the top beaches in the world, according to TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for 2017. Spectacular from end to end with soft ashen sand and wide-open Tiffany blue box waves, the busiest beach on the island is also the backyard of a slew of resorts. 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.
Popular 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 stunning 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.
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 they are with tourists. Stretching for 6 miles, the beaches host colorful ragtag fishing boats and dive bars stocked with coolers of Red Stripe. For a party vibe and plenty of Red Stripe, 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 icy beer and jerk chicken to reggae CDs 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.
On the beach bucket list, 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. More movie history in Port Antonio and Frenchman’s Cove Beach that was the set for the movie Cocktail and also 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.
British Virgin Islands
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 and famous full-moon parties at Bomba’s Shack.
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.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Chances are your hotel in St. Thomas will be on or close enough to one of the 40 public beaches that circle the island. Three miles north of the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, Magens Bay on the north coast is the buzziest, smack between two mountains. Ideal for families who come for the calm waves and shallow water, the beach gets overcrowded when the cruise ships are in port. The only beach on the island with an entry fee — $1 per person and $1 per car — you’ll find amenities like lounge chairs, a restaurant, paddle boats, kayaks and snorkeling gear. Sundays are when you’ll find the locals setting up 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 in the east end, 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, Chenay Bay popular with families and at the southwest tip; Sandy Point is a 3-mile beach and the nesting area for Leatherback turtles. 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. The most crowded of the pack is Hawksnest Beach close to Cruz Bay where the ferries dock.
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 range from $5-$7, depending on the size of your car. 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 framed by rugged cliffs where the adventurous entertain onlookers as they plunge 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 Sunday afternoon 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 his favorite beach, Andre Rojer, Curacao’s marketing manager, called out “Playa Porto Mari on the west side of the island. It’s a quintessential Curaçaoan beach, uncrowded, with stunning views and a great spot for snorkeling.
St. Maarten/St. Martin
With 37 beaches that ring the island, you’re bound to find one that floats your boat. Start on the west coast for your place in the sun at Mullet Bay Beach. Wide and flat with a palm fringe, the beach is close to the shops and restaurants in Maho Village and next to the island’s only golf course. The beach is never crowded apart from weekends, when the locals set up barbecues on the beach and nets for volleyball.
A few minutes away yet a world apart, Maho Beach fronting the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is the go-to to watch the jets come in for a landing or take off at the adjacent Princess Juliana International Airport and popular for early morning strolls. Frequented by only a few, Simpson Bay Beach is a mile long facing south sheltering it from the winds blowing from the northeast. Unlike other beaches, there are no high-rise buildings along the shoreline and not much of anything going on, making the beach the top pick for those looking for no-frills peace and quiet.
On the French side of the dual-nation island, Orient Beach is the quintessential party beach with plenty of bars, clubs and an au natural section at the southern end of the stretch. Also on the French side, Petite Plage on the edge of the Grand Case Beach Club fronts water so clear you can always see your toes.
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 big hotels like Atlantis and Riu Palace, the 2-mile long marquee beach on prime real estate gets crowded at the western end while at the other end is often empty.
When Baha Mar Beach Resort opens next year with more than 2,000 rooms, Cable Beach on the resort strip will get buzzier than it is now. The spunky beach is 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.
Of the 14 beaches on the French island, Gouverneur Beach is the most exclusive and where yachts lay anchor while their passengers top off their tan on the white sand. Never crowded, the beach on the southern coast is serene enough for kids who like to snorkel and quiet enough for their parents who aim to finish the novel they brought from home. Be aware: The beach gets its fair share of sunbathers who prefer their birthday suit to a bathing suit. St. Jean Beach is really two beaches split by the high-end Eden Rock hotel. Fronting a shallow lagoon, the beach gets busy with hotel guests and diners checking out the restaurants that also line the stretch of sand. The most popular beach on the island, the airport is close by, there’s plenty of watersports and shops and boutiques are within walking distance.
Stretching along the southern coast, Anse de Grande Saline is one of those beaches hard to get to but well worth the effort for the shallow smooth ocean floor. Popular with sunbathers who pack little more than sunscreen, sunglasses and a smile, the discreet beach is also big with surfers. A short walk from harbor in the capital city of Gustavia, Shell Beach is a sight to behold with thousands of seashells or pieces of shells blanketing the sand. Rarely crowded, the water is unruffled, the bay perfectly frames the sunset and leaping from the cliffs is a rite of passage for school kids who happily pose for snaps with awestruck tourists.