The Caribbean is full of beautiful beaches—Antigua alone claims to have 365 of them—so any list of best Caribbean beaches is bound to be incomplete as well as subjective. What makes a great family beach, for example, is a far cry from a beach that surfers will love. So, don't consider this a list of the "best" beaches in the Caribbean, but rather a sampling of some of the top strands, designed to whet your appetite for seeking out that perfect sliver of island sand, wherever your Caribbean travels take you.
Shoal Bay Beach: Anguilla
Lie back and soak up the sun or groove to some live music from the beach bars at one the best beaches in Anguilla. You'll have your choice of small beachfront resorts to stay at, and when you get tired of sunbathing there's an underwater garden to explore by snorkel and the Heritage Collection Museum on the east end, where you can browse through 1,000-year-old artifacts. At two miles long, Shoal Bay Beach was named the top beach in the world by the Travel Channel.
Palm Beach: Aruba
If you like a beach with a lot of amenities and activities, Palm Beach is for you. This is the main resort area in Aruba, a strand lined with high-rise hotels and bustling with vendors pitching boat tours, watersports rentals, and a variety of other amusements. Aruba's biggest shopping mall, the Palm Beach Plaza Mall, is right across the street, with bars, shops, a food court, and a multiplex cinema. Still, the beach is wide and long enough that you can find some relative solitude if you need it.
Pink Sands Beach: Harbour Island, Bahamas
Pink sand beaches are more commonly associated with Bermuda, but the Out Islands of the Bahamas boasts one of the best of these coral-created beaches: Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island, just offshore Eleuthera. The beach has been the setting for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and while you may not meet any supermodels here, you will find three miles of sandy shoreline and calm, shallow waters. Horseback riders occasionally share the surf with swimmers and snorkelers, and the beach is dotted with pastel cottages and boutique hotels.
Crane Beach: Barbados
This pink-sand beach on the southeast coast of Barbados is a little off the beaten path and accessible only by climbing down a series of steps carved into a cliff, which helps keep the crowds down. The good wave action in this reef-protected, palm-lined cove makes it popular with surfers. The Crane Resort is the obvious place to stay overnight if you fall in love with this dune-lined beach and want to linger after viewing one of the beach's spectacular sunsets.
Horseshoe Bay Beach: Bermuda
The calm waters, hidden coves, and soft pink sands of Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda make it an attractive stop for visitors and locals alike, and the local reefs are teeming with clown, rainbow, and trumpet fish. Just a third of a mile long, the beach is packed with activities such as beach volleyball and beach soccer games and waterspouts, but you can also head beyond the coves to the west for a more serene experience.
Devil’s Bay Beach and The Baths: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Devil's Bay Beach and the neighboring Baths National Park offer some of the most beautiful diving in the world. Located on the southern tip of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, this strip of shoreline is marked by giant, tumbled boulders that form caves above and below the water. Follow a marked trail through shallow pools, grottos, and rooms, or throw on a snorkel mask and fins to explore the dramatic rock formations teeming with fish offshore.
Seven Mile Beach: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands was crowned the best beach in the Caribbean by Caribbean Travel and Life magazine, and the fact that it's really more like 5.5 miles long does nothing to detract from its beauty. The crescent-shaped beach, known for its clear waters and great visibility for diving, is lined with hotels, restaurants, and waterspouts shops, meaning you never have to go hungry, thirsty or bored.
Bavaro Beach: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has more than 1,000 miles of beach, but 20 miles of the best are in Punta Cana, including the popular Bavaro Beach resort district, known for its all-inclusive hotels. This area is the most developed section of the east coast of the Dominican Republic, and the beach is dotted with restaurants and gift shops as well as palm trees swaying before the white sands and turquoise sea. Bavaro boasts a majestic coral reef for diving and other water activities ranging from parasailing to speed-boat tours.
Batibou Beach: Dominica
Batibou Beach requires a rugged 15- to 30-minute hike to the north (Atlantic) shore of Dominica, but your reward is a beach that's ideal for sunbathing or picnicking under the shade trees. Portions of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed at Batibou, one of the widest, longest beaches on Dominica. The isolation nearly guarantees an uncrowded day at the beach.
Grand Anse Beach: Grenada
Grand Anse Beach in Grenada has two miles of white sand on a sheltered bay that's home to resorts such as the Spice Island Beach Resort and Mount Cinnamon, which has villas and luxury apartments on a lush hillside overlooking the beach. The beach is narrow in spots, but the waters are calm and there are great restaurants serving local cuisine, fun shore bars to visit, and plenty of water sports to enjoy.
Frenchman's Cove: Port Antonio, Jamaica
Negril gets most of the love from beach-loving visitors to Jamaica, but the emerging destination of Port Antonio is home to the beautiful Frenchman's Cove, a haven for those who want a more serene sand, surf, and sun experience. The laid-back, tranquil atmosphere here is reminiscent of Negril a few decades ago. Bordered by lush foliage, the beach has been featured in films such as Club Paradise starring Robin Williams and The Mighty Quinn with Denzel Washington. Boston Bay, home to the best jerk cuisine in Jamaica, is just 20 minutes away.
Playa Ruinas: Riviera Maya, Mexico
A beach for history buffs? That's one way to describe this beach is Tulum, which sits just below the amazing ruins of the Mayan city of the same name. Visitors to the ancient walled city can clamber down a staircase that descends Tulum's 39-foot cliffs to reach a sandy beach and the aqua waters of the Mexican Caribbean. Swim out and look back for a remarkable view of the iconic El Castillo pyramid, which once housed a beacon leading sailors through a break in the reef to this bustling trading post.
Most people think of Tulum for the ruins, not the beach, but it's still a top beach destination—just try to time your visit to avoid the buses full of cruise-ship passengers from Cozumel (first thing in the morning or later in the day are best).
Flamenco Beach: Culebra, Puerto Rico
The Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques have become hot destinations for Caribbean travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience. Both have great beaches, but one of the most acclaimed is Flamenco Beach on Culebra. Here, you'll find crystal-clear waters perfect for reef diving or sitting in front of a wide, white-sand beach framed by palm trees and the mountains.
Gouverneur Beach: St. Barths
St. Barths is tiny, so it's hard to get away from the crowds of beautiful people here. However, a few private villas dot the hillside over Gouverneur Beach, and the relative isolation of this south shore beach makes it a popular spot for nude sunbathers as well as for those who want to go snorkeling and swimming.
Cockleshell Bay Beach: St. Kitts and Nevis
Cockleshell Bay Beach on St. Kitts is not only one of the island's best beaches, but it's also the center of Kittsian nightlife and home to some of its best eateries, including the waterfront Spice Mill Restaurant and fun/food/music hotspots such as the Reggae Beach Bar and Lion Rock Beach Bar. You'll also enjoy a lovely view of Nevis, and there is plenty to do here if you don't like lying around in the sun all day, including renting water toys, snorkeling, and of course the action at the beach bars.
Cupecoy Beach: St. Maarten
There are two sides of the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. The French St. Martin has the naughtier reputation, but the Dutch St. Maarten has its own clothing-optional plage—Cupecoy Beach. Surrounded by sandstone cliffs and facing the Caribbean Sea to the west, this is not only a popular spot to get an all-over tan but also to view sunsets. The beachfront is home to a number of properties renting resort villas and condos, including The Cliff at Cupecoy Beach, the Cupecoy Beach Club, and the Sapphire Beach Club Resort.
Orient Beach: St. Martin
Sometimes called the "St. Tropez of the Caribbean," Orient Bay Beach is the largest, most popular beach in French St. Martin—and one of the best-known nude beaches in the world. Less well known is the fact that this also is a family-friendly beach—the naturist beach is actually located on the extreme western end, while the eastern sections are lined with restaurants, hotels, shops, and water-sports outfitters.
Salt Whistle Bay Beach: Mayreau, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
This lovely, hourglass-shaped beach is actually two strands—one on the calmer bay side and the other on the more lively windward site of the sleepy island of Mayreau in the Grenadines. It's pretty quiet on 1.5-square-mile Mayreau, but if you want a true desert-island experience, visit even tinier Mopion—just bring an umbrella, because there's no shade on this beautiful, much-photographed speck of sand in the Caribbean. The Tobago Keys, just offshore, are a mecca for scuba diving and snorkeling.
The Salt Whistle Bay Club, the island's only upscale resort, offers you a choice of 10 suites plus the comforts of a bar and restaurant, or you can stay at the posh private-island Petit St. Vincent resort and day trip over to Mayreau.
Pigeon Point Beach: Tobago
Swaying coconut palms and thatched-roof huts greet visitors to Pigeon Point, a peninsula beach jutting into the Caribbean on the leeward side of Tobago. The powdery white sand invites you to dig in your toes and linger, but there's also plenty of wind and water sports action around the breezy point. A small admission fee (the beach is located on a private coconut estate) gives you access to facilities that include a changing room and showers; there's also a gift shop, restaurant/bar, and occasional live entertainment.
Magen's Bay: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Magen's Bay is one of the most popular and developed beaches in the Caribbean, which makes the fact that it's consistently voted one of the best in the world by the likes of National Geographic even more remarkable. Located on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Magen's Bay is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, with all the conveniences of parking, lifeguards, equipment rental, freshwater showers, restaurants, and bars.