Consider this list as a love letter to all the places we want to visit once international travel is back on the docket. While we’re currently staying close to home and investing in adult-size backyard blow-up pools, nothing can stop us from dreaming about these long-haul destinations that deliver maximum beach time with plentiful side servings of distinctive culture and natural wonder.
1. The Maldives
Apparently, it’s not just us dreaming of the Maldives. Online searches for this archipelago of islands are on the up and up since mid-April, when Coronavirus quarantine fatigue was settling in. Who could blame us (all)? The pristine white sand beaches are made of coralline—not quartz like the majority of beaches in the world—making this small South Asian nation in the Indian Ocean a part of an exclusive 5% of all beaches. Repeat: 5% of all beaches, everywhere, have sand this. If you think you might grow tired of the beach (truth: you won’t), know that there’s also incredible wildlife here, particularly marine turtles and dolphins, which make snorkeling and scuba diving top activities. If you’d rather keep your head above water, you can apparently still get cozy with this island nation’s dolphins, because they’re known to swim right up to boats in order to make the tourists’ acquaintance!
A Caribbean location with French flair, this island in the Lesser Antilles is actually an outpost of the European Union—though Martinique is clearly closer to St. Lucia and Barbados than it is to Paris or Rome. Full of soft, sandy beaches and surrounded by crystalline waters, this island offers more to do than just lazing around by the shore, although it’s perfectly fine to do that, too! Hiking enthusiasts will go wild for a jaunt up Mount Pelée, a still-active volcano on the north end of the island, through well-maintained jungle paths—ripe for your own personal re-enactment of Raiders of Lost Ark. Alternatively, get your fill of local flora in a more accessible way at the Jardin de Balata, a private botanical garden with a tree canopy walk. Don’t forget to take advantage of long lunches (also a well-loved tradition in France) complete with afternoon “sieste” afterwards, just like local residents.
3. Tulum, Mexico
Tulum is a Millennial-friendly mash-up of Mexican culture, Mayan ruins, hipster attitude, and (duh) beautiful beaches. Located on the Yucatán Peninsula, this hotspot is rife with cool things to do: take a dive into one of the popular cenotes (a sunken swimmable cave), ride bikes everywhere, visit the Archeological Zone’s ancient stone structures, and float through mangrove forests. With so many activities, you might have to actually “schedule in” a few days to relax on the beach. This chilled-out town is perfect for a reset and recharge and makes a low-key alternative to the hardcore bustling happening in nearby Cancun. The food and drink scene here is no joke—restaurants and bars here are destinations in and of themselves, with prices to match. Prepare to be wowed by the sophistication of Tulum’s offerings once travel starts back up between the U.S. and our neighbor to the south.
4. Lagoa, Portugal
Wishing for a European vacation and a beach trip that’s affordable to boot? It’s possible (that is, when we’re able to travel again) in Lagao, part of Portugal’s southern Algarve region. In a sleepy beach hamlet on the outskirts of this town lies Praia da Marinha (Navy Beach), one of the top 10 beaches in all of Europe according to the famed Michelin Guide and basically everyone who’s been there. The postcard-perfect view includes dramatic limestone rock formations jutting out of the sea and practically erupting from the sand in ochre and sienna hues. If you can tear yourself away from the clear turquoise waters for a while, you can actually take a climb atop these massive cliffs. One direction takes off on a short walk to the nearby town of Praia de Benagil, while the other direction features a more substantial hike all the way to Senhora da Rocha, where you’ll overlook million-dollar views of this iconic locale. Afterwards, treat yourself to fresh clams (a specialty of the Algarve) and a cold bottle of cerveja—we bet you can guess what that is!
5. The French Riviera
The French Riviera...the words themselves conjure up a vision of sophistication and glamour, replete with marinas full of yachts, tuxedos-required casinos, and celebrities galore. If you’re (jet)set on visiting one of the more popular locations, you’ll want to think more along the lines of Saint-Tropez, Nice, or Cannes, where the famous film festival takes place every May. But it’s also worth considering other quieter spots on the Côte d'Azur (the French-language name for this region) that might receive less international fanfare but offer a chance to spend your dream vacation in a more quaint and distinctly European way. Charming towns like Eze, which sits high on cliffs above the sea, or Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat, with its 14-kilometer-long coastal pathway, allow visitors a glimpse of the “real” French Riviera. Little villages like these are where you’ll find all the cobblestones and Medieval passageways you could ever want, plus the added bonus of Mediterranean beaches. Don’t forget the chilled rosé, array of regional cheeses, and baguettes, ma chérie!
If you’re dreaming of getting away from it all, the archipelago known as Seychelles definitely fits the bill. This cluster of 115 islands is not at all easy to reach—it’s far, far out into the Indian Ocean off of East Africa—you’ll really need to make the effort if you want to get there. That said, the three main islands of Seychelles, Mahe, Praslin, and La Digue are connected by ferry, so you can hop around a bit once you’ve arrived. Another thing: these islands are a vision of paradise, with powdery white beaches on Mahe and Praslin, and pink sand (you heard it: pink!!!) beaches on La Digue. Pristine coastlines are certainly the main draw for most visitors, but a location this far out into the ocean also means there is an incredible array of flora and fauna to observe. From sea life (we’re talking everything from giant tortoises to hammerhead sharks) to unique plants (there is something called a “jellyfish tree” here, for goodness sake), you simply won’t see this stuff anywhere else!
7. Turks & Caicos
For an archipelago that’s easier to get to from the United States—even if it’s still out of reach right now—look to Turks & Caicos in the tropical part of the Atlantic Ocean. These 40-odd coral islands are actually closer to the U.S. mainland than Puerto Rico. Something that’s less surprising: these islands have plenty of luxurious places to stay, with seriously plush all-inclusive resorts where you won’t need to lift a finger...and after months of cooking, cleaning, and all-things-quarantining, that sounds pretty amazing right now. Besides an ideal beachfront getaway, Turks & Caicos is also a mecca for scuba divers. This is due to a 14-mile barrier reef off the main island of Providenciales (called Provo for short) and a number of uninhabited cays that offer the chance to disconnect with humans and plug into a school of parrotfish or a bale of hawksbill turtles.
8. Koh Samui, Thailand
Asian travel might be on hold right now, but you can bet we’ll be ready to pack our bags and venture off to Thailand’s Koh Samui when we get the go-ahead. The combination of tropical beaches, unique cultural attractions, and unspoiled rainforests is a magical mix that you’ll find on this second-largest Thai island. Oh, don’t forget the food! Specifically, make a beeline to the Friday night Hawker’s market at Fisherman's Village for local specialties. If you’re not convinced by the sparkling water and pillowy beaches here, perhaps you’ll reconsider when you realize that you can have all that and tour the lush, green interior part of the island, complete with dazzling waterfalls, too. There’s also the draw of Wat Phra Yai, aka: "Big Buddha Temple," a stunning multi-part religious structure set on a lake shore. Yes, you’ll want to take pictures until your phone freezes.
9. Crete, Greece
While we’ll always be curious about Mykonos (former home of both Lindsay Lohan’s eponymous beach club and her, ahem...unique new accent), when it comes to the islands of Greece, we’re heading straight to Crete when it’s time to travel again. As the largest of the Greek isles, Crete has a substantial amount of shoreline that’s home to multiple world-class beaches. Elafonisi on the southwestern end is renowned for its pink sand and translucent water, while Vai Beach on the northeastern portion of the island is home to palm trees galore, much like closer-to-home Caribbean islands. If you like your sand to be secluded, visit Glyka Nera, aka: Sweetwater Beach, which is accessible only by an hour-long walk or by boat. Fresh spring water from the mountains above flows underneath this pebbled beach, allowing shady trees to grow and then keep you cool when the Mediterranean sun is at its peak.
10. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The grand poohbah of all tropical getaways, Bora Bora is synonymous with honeymoons and remote locales. Technically a small group of islands including a lagoon, Bora Bora is what people think of when they say they want to get away from it all and escape to paradise. While you might think that the only thing to do here is lie on the sand and stare at the tranquil waters with a frozen drink in hand (which doesn’t sound bad, by the way), this spot is also ideal for daring folks and scuba aficionados who want to swim with the sharks and see copious squadrons of manta rays. If you’re less inclined to go face-to-face with marine life, visit a pearl farm and pick out something special to take home as a souvenir. An important thing to know about Bora Bora: it has consistent (and consistently awesome) temperatures. The highs are in the mid-80s and lows are in the mid-70s all year long, so there will be perfect weather whether we’re cleared to travel again in August or February.
Now that you’ve picked a new destination to dream about, how about starting on your beach trip packing list? We’ve got plenty of bikinis, monokinis, swim separates, and one-piece swimsuits for every type of vacation (or staycation), with new styles arriving all the time!