Top beaches of the world

BIG BREAKS


*Las Islas Cies, Galicia, Spain

Mention Spanish beaches and most people instinctively think of the Mediterranean. Yet the wilder, stunning Atlantic coastline of Galicia, just north of Portugal, has far more dramatic praias — with far fewer people on them. One of the jewels of this coast is on Las Islas Cies, a 40-minute boat trip from the pretty town of Baiona. Once a pirates’ haunt, Cies is now an uninhabited and pristine national park, open to the public only in summer. Galegos come here to spend long, lazy summer days on the Praia das Rodas, a perfect crescent of soft, pale sand backed by small dunes sheltering a calm lagoon of crystal-clear sea. Where to stay: Camping Islas Cies is open Easter week and June-September.

*Tayrona national park, Colombia

In a country with a “healthier” tourist industry, Tayrona would undoubtedly be a major resort, but as it’s in Colombia the virgin rainforest cascades down the mountainside right on to the sand. And there was no one on it save a small community of backpackers who sleep in open-air hammocks.

It was the unlikeliest spot for a “you’ll never guess who I bumped into” travel story, and made for the best beach holiday. Where to stay: Under the stars in a hammock strung between two palm trees.

*Porto da Barra, Salvador, Brazil

Sydney has Bondi, LA has Venice, Rio has Copacabana and Ipanema — town beaches that are both world famous and a microcosm of their city itself. Here the location is stunning, at the entrance of the magnificent Bahia de Todos os Santos, with a small, white colonial fort at one end and a whitewashed church sitting up on a hill at the other.  And in a country with over 7,000km of east-facing coastline, the Porto is one of the few facing west, so you can watch some fabulous sunsets. Where to stay: Pousada Estrela do Mar

*Anywhere on Palawan, the Philippines
Palawan in Philippines.
Although Alex Garland’s backpacker odyssey ‘The Beach’ is set in Thailand, he took much of the inspiration for the location from the Philippines. The reason? As anyone who has been to Thailand in the last decade will tell you, the chances of founding your very own deserted island paradise in a country that has become synonymous with the backpacker superhighway are close to nil. Where to stay: For isolation and some of the best wreck-diving in the world, Sangat Island Reserve. For luxury, El Nido resorts.

*Arambol, Goa, India

Arambol, Goa’s northernmost beach has its share of ageing hippies and seasonal expats, but the spectacular, sweeping stretch of sand is so beautiful it wins over even the most jaded and cynical of travellers. It is so vast that it’s easy to find your own private corner of sand. Around the rocky headland there is another beach where you can walk for miles without coming across a soul, or hang out at the freshwater lake backed by a small jungle.

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