Whether You Like Thrills or to Chill, Check Our List of the World’s Best Beach Vacations

Written by | Travel

Beach in Cartagena

Cartagena—All images courtesy their respective destinations.

While winter weather seems to get wilder every year — with polar vortices and bomb cyclones bearing down on much of the country in recent months — the good news is that there are more, and more extraordinary, beaches than ever to which you can get away from it all. This year, if you’re looking to take a break from (still splendid) standbys like Puerto Vallarta, Mykonos and Sitges, consider one of these up-and-coming destinations, each of which will be home to exciting new hotels and happenings in 2018 and chosen to suit a variety of personal tastes.

Baha Mar: for Tentative Travelers

Only have a few days off to seek solace in some sunny climes? No need to venture too far, thanks to the recent opening of the massive and massively luxurious $4.2 billion Bahamar (bahamar.com) development on the Bahamian island of Nassau. It is already home to the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar (hyatt.com) and the SLS Lux (slshotels.com), with the lavish Rosewood Baha Mar (rosewoodhotels.com) opening later this year. All told, the end result will boat over 2,300 rooms.

Bahamar

Bahamar

Apart from the hotels though, Baha Mar will be able to offer some 40 restaurants and lounges, the Caribbean’s largest casino, an 18-hole Championship Jack Nicklaus Golf Course, the first ESPA spa in the Caribbean and over 30 luxury stores. And — just in case all that is not enough to keep you busy, guests can also book special experiences like a chef-led conch or lobster excursion aboard the resort’s private yacht.

Cambodia: for Exotic Explorers

While Siem Reap and Angkor Wat have topped travel bucket lists for decades, it is along the Cambodia’s sleepy southern coast that visitors should focus their attention in search of something new. This untouched strip of shore provides a calmer counterpoint to Southeast Asia’s party beaches in Thailand and Vietnam with plenty of new properties on the horizon.

In mid-2018, Asia-based luxury brand Alila will debut the Alila Villas Koh Russey with 50 pavilions and 13 villas all inspired by traditional Khmer architecture, while spa-driven luxury chain Six Senses (sixsenses.com) has plans for a resort with 40 pool villas discreetly distributed throughout the 30-acre Krabey Island.

Song Saa

Song Saa

For the ultimate in rustic romance, though, book a stay at Song Saa (songsaa.com). The resort, whose name means “The Sweethearts” because it straddles two nearly-touching neighboring islands, opened in 2012 and is not only a paragon of luxury, but also of thoughtful, conservation-driven development. Owners Mel and Rory Hunter also started the Song Saa Foundation, which supports projects ranging from wildlife and marine preservation to local employment and medical care initiatives. Their overwater villas are pretty spectacular, too.

Cartagena: for Colonial Culturalists

Colombia was a no-go zone for the last two decades of the 20th century due to its illicit drug trade and a raging civil war. That war was formally declared over just last year and the country’s rebound onto the tourism scene, which was already well underway, is now going full speed ahead. The glittering jewel in its crown — known in fact as the Pearl of the Caribbean — is the colonial coastal city of Cartagena.

Cartagena is just a five-hour flight from New York, with non-stops on JetBlue. The city, which was once home to novelist Gabriel García Márquez and the setting for Love in the Time of Cholera, offers a significant slice of history since it was founded back in 1533 and has undergone a series of dramatic booms and busts ever since. Today, it offers all the advantages of a beachy Caribbean getaway with a lively cultural scene, fine dining and jet-set cachet all mixed in — creating an elixir tastier than local rum in the cocktails you won’t want to miss in one of the town’s rooftop bars like Alquímico (alquimico.com).

Cartagena

Cartagena

To make the most of your time, divvy it up between the cultural center and the beach. In the heart of the UNESCO-listed walled old city lie marvelous digs like the Casa San Agustín (hotelcasasanagustin.com) in a former monastery and the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena (sofitel.com) in a converted convent (notice a theme here?). The city also contains colonial treasures like its pastel cathedral, the Palace of the Inquisition, Castillo San Felipe and the Church of Santo Domingo, not to mention 11 kilometers of well-preserved fortification walls with scenic sea vistas and a bounty of balconied, bougainvillea-draped buildings just asking to be Instagrammed.

Once you get the historical sightseeing out of the way, move over to one of the beach hotels in town — such as the Intercontinental (ihg.com) or the Hilton (hilton.com), both of them near Hollywood Beach (where the gays come to play on Sundays). While you might want to skip the beaches in town, book a private boat out to the Rosario Islands through This Is Cartagena (ticartagena.com) for snorkeling and a beach lunch or spend a day lounging in the cabanas at the Fenix Beach Hotel and Club (fenixbeachcartagena.com) on nearby Playa Bomba with views of the city in the background.

Don’t forget to book dinner — try for 10pm when the locals start arriving — at foodie favorites like Carmen (carmencartagena.com), a swanky eatery serving updated iterations of classic Colombian fare and modern mixology cocktails; or sophisticated Cuban-themed La Vitrola, where reservations are hard to come by, but worth it. Afterwards, venture to the boho-chic Getsemani neighborhood just north of the walled city for streetside drinks at low-key lounges like Bar Demente.

Costa Careyes: for Social Butterflies

Altready taken yoga in Tulum? Snorkeled El Arco in Cabo? Spent the day basking in sun and men at Mantamar in Puerto Vallarta? If you think you’ve seen everything Mexico has to offer, think again. Those looking to explore one of the country’s more underrated, and thus unspoiled, destinations should consider Costa Careyes (careyes.com) on the country’s rugged Pacific coast.

Careyes

Careyes

Careyes lies about a three-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta, or just an hour from the airport in Manzanillo. The private community was established by an Italian magnate named Gian Franco Brignone who bought the land in 1968 and soon transformed it into the destination of choice for his jet-setting friends.

Today, the property spans over 20,000 acres of jungle, mangroves and wetlands, in addition to eight miles of virgin Pacific shoreline. It also boasts a collection of casitas and palatial villas that blend a Mexican and Mediterranean aesthetic, six restaurants, a selection of sea-based activities including surfing and scuba, not to mention quirky monuments like the sculptural Piramidion and the bowl-like Copa del Sol, which perches on a cliff to catch the sun.

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The resort recently rebranded the Hotel Careyes as the El Careyes Club & Residences (elcareyes.com). The new property is comprised of 35 private residences ranging in size from studios to four-bedroom suites redesigned by Mexican architects Gabriela Carrillo and Mauricio Rocha and interior designer Uribe Krayer. Each expansive accommodation enjoys beach or jungle views, gleaming new bathrooms, some of which have infinity pools or tubs overlooking the ocean, full kitchens and access to the private beach club. The resort also has five infinity pools, a new Mexican restaurant and an all-new fitness and yoga center.

Though there is no shortage of activities to keep guests busy even during quiet times, one of the best reasons to visit is the schedule of social events that take place throughout the year. Those include the Arte Careyes Film Festival in April, the Ondalinda Music Festival celebrating Mexican culture in November, fantastical Chinese New Year festivities in February and a variety polo events including the Agua Alto Polo Tournament in March. The resort also spearheads several conservation, artistic and community-based philanthropic programs through its Careyes Foundation.

Dubai: for Jetlagged Jetsetters

Not so long ago, the United Arab Emirates was a just another out-of-the-way spot halfway round the globe. Today, thanks not only to decades of development, but also to the rapid expansion of both Emirates and Etihad, the country has become a major hub for travel and transit.

If you find yourself passing through Dubai, it might well be worth booking a stopover for a bit of culture and a beach getaway. This year, the country is celebrating the centennial of its founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, with a series of events intended to promote themes of tolerance, unity, societal development and economic prosperity. In neighboring Abu Dhabi, just an hour car ride away, the monumental Louvre Abu Dhabi (louvreabudhabi.ae) opened its doors in November with a collection of thousands of masterpieces on loan from its namesake in Paris.

Drift in Dubai

Drift in Dubai

But many people forget that Dubai is actually an attractive beach destination as well. Though temperatures soar well above the 100-degree mark for several months in the summertime, they run in the 80s and 90s for the rest of the year, and sunshine is guaranteed. Many of the hotels along its coast have capitalized on that fact by adding swanky beach clubs in recent years.

Drift Beach (driftbeachdubai.com) at the One & Only Royal Mirage (oneandonlyresorts.com) is an enticing enclave set in one of the city’s most exclusive resorts. Reserve a lounger at the infinity pool overlooking a half-mile stretch of beach with views of the city skyline. And don’t worry about being disturbed by shrieking kids because children under 16 are not admitted. The club also has a Provençal restaurant, so prepare to rosé all day.

The new W – The Palm Dubai (whotels.com) is also opening this spring with 350 rooms and suites as well as an AWAY Spa, a WET pool deck with private cabanas and a rooftop bar.

If you just want to keep things casual, though, do as the locals do and head to Kite Beach just north of the landmark Burj al Arab hotel for spectacular sunsets and alfresco dinners from one of the food trucks like Maíz Tacos or SALT for burgers.

Fiji: for Wildlife Wanderers

Epitomizing the allure of the South Pacific, Fiji’s immaculate waters and warm hospitality have been drawing travelers to this remote archipelago for centuries. Luckily, Fiji Airways offers daily flights from Los Angeles to Nadi nowadays and travelers have their pick of places to stay.

Those with hotel points can put them to use at either the new Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay (marriott.com), the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa (hilton.com), or the Sheraton Fiji Resort (sheratonfiji.com).

Kokomo West Beach

Kokomo West Beach

However, more unique options abound. The newest is Kokomo Private Island, a 45-minute flight from Nadi. It has just 27 villas and residences total, each with its own private garden and infinity pool. Chances are you won’t be lounging around, though, when you could be snorkeling or fishing the vibrant waters of Great Astrolabe Reef just offshore.

In April, Six Senses Fiji (sixsenses.com) will debut on Malolo Island, a 30-minute boat ride from Nadi. It will have 24 bures, or villas, each with a private plunge pool, and 10 residential villas ranging in size from two to five bedrooms (with another 50 planned down the line). Eco-seekers will appreciate that the resort will be 100% solar-powered.

A favorite among return visitors, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort (fijiresort.com) opened in 1996 on the island of Vanua Levu, overlooking Savusavu Bay. With just 25 bures crafted from local timber, the resort has long set the tone for sustainable luxury thanks to innovations like energy-saving lighting and ventilation, solar panels, an organic garden supplying its kitchen, and water efficiency and reclamation. Through its homegrown Ambassadors of the Environment program, marine biologists create custom programming to educate guests on the local ecosystem through activities like coral planting, mangrove adventures and rainforest treks.

Finally, for the ultimate splurge, Laucala Island (laucala.com) is a private paradise set on its own 3,500-acre island. Its 25 villas range in size from one- to three-bedrooms, and though the rates are high, everything from romantic beach dinners to cooking classes, multi-course tasting menus, treatments in the hilltop spa and private cruises are all included.

Malta for: Euro-Escapists

If you’re aching for a trip to Europe, it might be time to forgo a return to well-worn watering holes like Mykonos or Ibiza, and instead head to Malta (visitmalta.com), Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture. You might recognize Malta’s dramatic coastline and sun-dappled towns from Game of Thrones (the island is one of several nations that stand-in for parts of Westeros), but even Cersei Lannister couldn’t find much to complain about here.

Malta

Malta

Malta’s three main islands claim some of Europe’s most panoramic beaches. The azure waters of the Blue Lagoon on tiny Comino make for a perfect day trip from the main island of Malta, while Gozo’s Blue Hole is one of the best dive spots on the continent. With a name like that, how could it not be?

Now is the time to go, thanks to the packed roster of special events in the works for the nation’s year in the spotlight, including individual village festas, or feasts, throughout the summer, a world music festival in May and October’s Notte Bianca all-night arts festival.

Mozambique: for Sea Safarists

Though Mozambique’s 15-year civil war ended in 1992, the tourism development of nearby countries like South Africa, Kenya and Botswana seems to have mostly eluded this lush locale. That might be changing, though.

The country’s 1,500-mile Indian Ocean coastline borders some of the world’s most wildlife-rich waters, all of which you can explore while enjoying the comfort of a world-class lodge. As luxury safari outfitter andBeyond CEO Joss Kent describes it: “For me, Mozambique has the quality of an earlier time in Africa.” That translates to a destination you can experience before any of your friends do.

The flight from Johannesburg to Vilanculos in the south takes just over an hour, but delivers you to the doors of the sprawling Bazaruto Archipelago National Park. There, the recently refurbished andBeyond Benguerra Island (andbeyond.com) is one of Africa’s finest luxury camps, with just 13 casinhas, each with personalized butler service. But Benguerra’s charms go beyond the soft amenities.

Benguerra scuba diving

Benguerra scuba diving

“The Archipelago is in a protected marine conservation area and offers pristine beaches and unspoiled coral reefs teeming with marine life,” says Kent. He is speaking of rare dugongs (a relative of the gentle manatee), enormous manta rays, multitudes of dolphins, sea turtles galore and more. After a day out swimming among them — or perhaps taking a picnic to a private island, guests can unwind with a sundowner at the lodge’s beach bar as the Milky Way comes into view overhead.

If you have time, head north to the Quirimbas Archipelago. During a stay at Medjumbe (medjumbe.anantara.com), your days out on the water might include such once-in-a-lifetime experiences as swimming with behemoth whale sharks migrating through the sprawling coral reef systems or the beauty of a sunset cruise on a traditional fishing dhow.             

Last modified: March 19, 2018

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