On virtually every island in the Caribbean you'll find a great beach — from Trinidad's Maracas Beach, home to the "bake and shark" sandwich stalls, to Negril, Jamaica's seven-mile-long wonder and the boulder-piled Baths on Virgin Gorda. But on the following islands, beaches – ranging from remote to rowdy -- are the biggest selling point.
You can drive 16-mile-long Anguilla in less than 30 minutes end to end, but you could walk its 33 beaches seemingly endlessly. The low-lying, coral and limestone landing is ringed in downy platinum-blond strands, led by Shoal Bay — the most social of the crowd with beach bars, barbecue shacks and live music. It's still peaceful though, with good off-shore snorkeling at the east end. Take a 2.5-mile walk along another, Rendezvous Bay, and catch sunset at the Dune Preserve, grooving to live reggae. Spend a barefoot day castaway at one of the two tiny sandbar islands, Scilly Cay and Sandy Island — both of which host a beach restaurant and send a shuttle boat for guests.
A flat sandy desert isle makes for some great beaches. Aruba uniquely fits that profile. The entire northwest shore is one long beach with different names – Eagle, blending into Palm, for example – and a string of hotels, beach clubs, water-toy rental huts and boat-trip hawkers. From pocket Malmok Beach, snorkelers can dive into the underwater world (bring your own gear; no rentals in this quiet patch of sand). The shallow, crescent-shaped Baby Beach to the south is a favorite among families, tranquilized by the nearby reef. And while you can't swim at them, the coves that occasionally interrupt the limestone cliffs of Arikok National Park on the wave-bashed eastern shore offer dramatic views and good beachcombing.
Over 700 islands comprise The Bahamas, offering a mix of resort-staked strands, hideaway coves, mangrove channels and unspoiled shores. Paradise Island offNassau specializes in beachy conviviality in the massive Atlantis resort with a dolphin-swim facility, casino and multiple restaurants; and in the resorts and golf clubs near four-mile-long Cable Beach. Eleuthera and Harbour Island, connected via ferry, epitomize barefoot luxury — the former with deserted white-sand coves and the latter with pastel cottages and a pink beach to match. In the more remote Exuma Islands you can walk a sand bar at low tide, visit a plantation ruin or dive some of the best coral patches in these parts.
The British-held Barbados is one of those islands that's big enough to offer a beach for every personality. The east coast beaches are for surfers with famed breaks like Soup Bowl at Bathsheba. The west or "Platinum" coast shores are more tranquil with blond strands ideal for swimmers. The southern beaches include the celebrated Crane Beach, featuring pinkish powdery sand and cliff walls for pure picturesque beachcombing, and the easier-access Miami Beach, offering good shelling at low tide. Walk next door to the fishing community of Oistins for its famous Friday night fish fry.
A beach that runs seven miles? Check. One with hammocks under the casuarina trees? Yep. And another with beach-entry snorkeling? Got it. And that's just three ofGrand Cayman's many coastal come-ons. Seven Mile Beach runs the namesake length where bleached sand meets the turquoise shallows and a number of the island's most high-profile resorts, such as the Ritz-Carlton, conveniently reside. On the northern tip, more remote Rum Point Beach is the place to grab an icy drink from one of the oceanfront vendors and cop a hammock in the shade, or join a pick-up volleyball game. Submerge at Smith Cove near the city cruise docks to see the colorful coral and fish protected by the limestone beachhead.
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
Like the islands of the Bahamas, those of the nearby Turks & Caicos often feel like little more than revealed sand bars. That's the case on the main island of Providenciales, aka Provo, where the entire north shore is virtually one long beach. The best is Grace Bay Beach, a 12-mile talcum white strand that extends underwater in the inviting turquoise shallows. Most of the best hotels cluster around the beach, but it never feels crowded, clamorous or unsafe. Rent a Jeep to get to more remote Malcolm Roads Beach on the west end, edging a marine national park.
Don't let this island's glamour-girl reputation throw you off. Topographically speaking, it's more rugged than refined and rewards the intrepid traveler with a string of pristine pocket beaches. Watch the jets land at St. Jean Beach, where the short runway ends at a dramatic blue bay. Rent a car to reach undeveloped Governor Beach, where the sand is ankle deep, or Saline Beach, where you can join the topless in a French sunbathing tradition. Near the capital of Gustavia, Shell Beach is piled high with seashells just waiting for treasure hunters. You can only reach Colombier Beach by hiking path, rewarding trekkers with a pristine cove and untrafficked snorkeling offshore.
The majority of St. John, a U.S. Virgin Island, is protected as the Virgin Islands National Park, and the beaches within the preserve are ideal for nature lovers. Trunk Bay features a 225-yard underwater snorkeling trail with submerged signs that identify coral and fish. The more adventurous can take the nearly-mile-long Leinster Bay Trail to scalloped Waterlemon Bay and snorkel out to Waterlemon Cay to leave the crowds behind. Salt Pond Bay offers snorkeling for explorers and calm shallows for the kids.
Spanish Virgin Islands
A pair of satellite islands off (and governed by) Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques comprise the Spanish Virgin Islands. Relatively undeveloped compared to the U.S. and British Virgins, Culebra and Vieques appeal to the kind of beach lover who doesn't need a groomed resort to appreciate Mother Nature. On Culebra, spread your towel – or even a tent -- on soft and tranquil Flamenco Beach. On the larger Vieques, travelers can snorkel from its many undeveloped shores including Blue Beach. Go night kayaking in the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay where each stroke of the paddle leaves a light wake thanks to tiny organisms in the water.