Great Escapes

Best Alternative Beaches: Brazil, Mexico, Fiji, Spain, More

The world’s most famous beaches are often overcrowded, noisy, and dirty. But there are great alternatives.

Head for the beach in Chile and the water’s too cold. In Rio there’s sewage in the water, and if you go to the wrong beach in the Virgin Islands, you’ve got to contend with those infernal steel drums. But in every case, there is a less-frequented alternative worth checking out.

Plus, explore more destinations on Travel Beast.

AP Photo; Newscom

1. Thailand

Overplayed: Koh Chang  
Alternative: Sairee 

Visiting Thailand is an exercise in avoiding places overrun with tourists. Koh Chang, or Elephant Island, is 18 miles long and has only nine villages, a few of them accessible only by boat. Unfortunately, this little paradise has been the focus of rapid development, with more on the way—construction sites abound, with all the accompanying noise. A better option is Sairee, a crescent of sand on Koh Tao island with palm trees arcing over the aquamarine water as if they are yearning to drink from the sea, according to Fodor's. Along the thin sliver of golden sand sit rustic, traditional beach huts, a scene that's perfect for lounging in hammocks. It's west-facing and therefore great for watching the sunset.

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2. India

Overplayed: Juhu Beach  
Alternative: Patnem Beach
An ever-more-popular travel destination, India has thousands of miles of coastline. Its most popular beaches, unfortunately, draw swarms of travelers. Juhu Beach is perhaps the best known and benefits from being very close to Mumbai, but it’s covered with locals and tourists. Venture a few hundred miles south on India’s west coast. Goa, while filled with resorts, has plenty of lesser-known spots to enjoy the sun. Palolem Beach was until recently one of the few virgin beaches left in Goa. Now it’s growing crowded during the peak months, so try the smaller, quieter Patnem Beach next door. Travelers say it's as paradisaical as India gets, and has clean huts and cheap food.

AP Photo, Flickr

3. Mexico

Overplayed: Cancun
Alternative: Tulum
With hotels built right up to the water, the jam-packed beaches of Cancun can be anything but relaxing. And with all the kitsch and over-the-top tourist traps, you may feel like you're still in the U.S. Much nicer is the spectacular coastline at Tulum. Its powdered-sugar sand, jade-green water, balmy breezes, and bright sun make it one of the top beaches in Mexico. Where else can you get all that and a dramatically situated Mayan ruin? There's excellent diving and snorkeling, and a variety of lodgings and restaurants to fit every budget. A big plus: the beach is much wider than that of Cancun, so even on its more crowded days you have a lot more space. "Tulum's beaches are still free of the party scene that dominates Cancun, despite its increasing popularity over the last decade,” Jason Clampet, a senior editor at Frommer’s, tells The Daily Beast.

4. South America

Overplayed: Chile's beaches
Alternative: Prainha Beach
Chile, with its hotspot capital, Santiago, is tempting, but don’t let its sprawling coastline give you the wrong idea: the southern countries on the continent stretch toward the Antarctic Circle, meaning the beaches are beautiful but the water is often frigid. Instead, try farther north, like Lima or Rio de Janeiro. Avoid Rio’s world-famous Copacabana Beach, however, as it’s packed with tourists and the water is often filled with trash and sewage. A better bet is to head to Prainha Beach, a favorite with surfers that is virtually abandoned on weekdays. Part of the reason for this is its location way outside the city. Hop a cheap taxi and you won’t have any trouble finding it. “Prainha is the first in a line of excellent beaches stretching out of Itacare,” says Clampet. “Since the only way in is by boat or foot, each one promises to stay relatively unpsoiled.” 

AP Photo, Getty Images

5. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Overplayed: Trunk Bay  
Alternative: Hawksnest Beach
Trunk Bay remains one of the world's most picturesque beaches, with soft, warm sand and clear, blue water. But the reefs and the celebrated snorkeling trail are dying, the beach is crowded with day-trippers, and it doesn't offer much shade. Plus, there's an entry fee. Instead, visit Hawksnest Beach, lined with sea-grape and waving palms. A patchy reef just offshore means snorkeling is an easy swim away. It's still a bit crowded, but there's no entry fee because it's in a national park.

6. Australia

Overplayed: Bondi Beach  
Alternative: Clovelly
Sydney's Bondi Beach is almost more famous for its lifeguards than its swell. It may lord over every other beach in the city, but it's not the best one for a swim, surf, or sunbathe. Instead, a trio of Sydney beaches may be more enticing options. More like a giant ocean pool, the crystal-clear waters of Clovelly are heaven for snorkelers. Keep an eye out for Bluey, the resident blue grouper. Split in two by an impossibly picturesque rocky outcrop, Balmoral is another popular North Sydney haunt for swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing. There are also some fabulous fish-and-chip shops. And Norfolk Island pines and sandstone headlands hug the bowl-shaped park behind Bronte, a small, family-oriented beach that has a playground, rock pool, and sandy cafes.

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7. Hawaii

Overplayed: Ka'anapali Beach  
Alternative: Makena Beach
The sand on Ka'anapali Beach in West Maui is soft and inviting, and there are some magical spots for prime snorkeling. But beachgoers who want some privacy and seclusion won't find it here—tall high-rises scrape the sky directly behind you. More intimate is Makena Beach in South Maui. Turn around, and you're looking up at lush green mountains of tropical forest. You can also grab a fish taco from a truck and chat with the vendor, says Fodor's.

8. New England

Overplayed: Martha's Vineyard  
Alternative: Block Island, R.I.

When it comes to New England, everyone talks about the beaches of Martha's Vineyard, but the best ones on that A-list island are private and require residency or a pricey permit. The ones on Block Island, R.I., are just as lovely and much more accessible. Head to the quieter Mansion Beach over the more crowded State Beach—you won't bump into Martha Stewart, but it's free and open to the public.

Getty Images; Newscom

9. Bahamas

Overplayed: Pink Sands Beach  
Alternative: Club Med Beach
Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island might be the most famous rosy-hued stretch of sand in the world—and for good reason—but you will have to walk from here to eternity to get deeper than your waist in the water, as its small waves break hundreds of miles offshore. For better breakers, amble over to Harbour Island’s tranquil Club Med Beach in nearby Eleuthera. This was Club Med’s famed beach before the resort was destroyed by a hurricane in 1999, so it's possible that you’ll find you have the whole strand to yourself. The gorgeous Atlantic-side beach remains, anchored by fantastic bistros.

AP Photo, Flickr

10. Florida

Overplayed: Daytona Beach  
Alternative: Gulf Islands National Seashore
With big signs and glossy pamphlets, Daytona Beach bills itself as "The World's Most Famous Beach"—a title that caught on in the 1920s and, today, is up for debate. It's a spring-break destination, its population quintuples during big stock-car races, and as many as half a million bikers roar into town for motorcycle events during the spring and fall. You'd be better off at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Summer 2010 was a lost cause for this picturesque area thanks to the BP oil spill, but already snowbirds have started to return to the undeveloped, snow-white sand here.

11. France

Overplayed: Nice  
Alternative: Cannes or St-Tropez

Nice is probably the French Riviera's best-known resort, but its rocky beaches, tacky cafes, and cheap budget hotels just off the promenade make it less than ideal, and it's a far cry from the exclusive Riviera coastal vibes that you'll find at neighboring beaches in Cannes or St-Tropez. Stick to Nice as a transport hub and leave the beach bumming for towns farther west along the coast.

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12. Fiji

Overplayed: Natadola Beach
Alternative: Volivoli Beach

It’s hard to go wrong in Fiji, where nearly every beach boasts white sands and calm cerulean seas. The Travel Channel has dubbed Natadola Beach on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu “the most beautiful white-sand beach in Fiji,” which “draws vacationers from around the world.” If the latter part of that sentence isn’t enough of a red flag, then also bear in mind that Natadola’s strong currents often churn up choppy waters and an undertow that makes for less than desirable swimming conditions. Another white-sand beach at the very northern tip of the main island, Volivoli, is less likely to draw crowds and the requisite peddlers selling coconuts and coral necklaces. Volivoli’s deep lagoon and sprawling southwestern view of Viti Levu’s mountains are just a few of the beach’s attractions. It’s also a short walk from the affordable Volivoli Beach Resort—a modest yet comfortable resort where backpackers often lay their heads for the night. 

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13. British Virgin Islands

Overplayed: Cane Garden Bay (Tortola)
Alternative: Deadman’s Beach (Peter Island)

Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay has long been considered one of the most popular beaches in the British Virgin Islands. (Jimmy Buffett sang about it in his 1978 hit "Mañana.") The mile-long stretch of pristine beach beneath rolling green hills is certainly picturesque, but the excess of rum bars and restaurants in the area often attract a raucous crew throughout the day and night, particularly in peak season. Those who prefer the sound of wind and waves to steel drums should stray from the mainland to the lesser-known Deadman’s Beach on Peter Island. “Don’t let the name scare you,” says Clampet. “Deadman’s is perfect for a romantic getaway from the comparative bustle of Tortola.” The deserted Deadman’s Island is a short dinghy ride from the beach—and arguably the best snorkeling spot in the region.

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14. Spain

Overplayed: Costa del Sol

Alternative: Menorca

Costa del Sol has attracted party-loving beachgoers from around the globe. Whether in Marbella, Malaga, Nerja or Torremolinos, you can find soft sand, calm waters, and tons of sun. However, its popularity means you can also expect heavy traffic as hordes of travelers make their way toward Costa del Sol’s beaches lined with skyscrapers, resorts, and restaurants. Those looking for a less congested beach getaway would be wise to head north and hop a 45-minute flight from Barcelona to Catalonia’s Balearic Islands. Hotspots Majorca and Ibiza echo Costa del Sol’s crowds and party scene. Menorca, on the other hand, is described by Lonely Planet as “one of the few places in the Mediterranean where it is possible to have a beautiful beach largely to yourself in the summer.” The 216-kilometer coastline of the Balearics' second-largest and northernmost island features pristine beaches and undiscovered coves—perfect for a secluded getaway.

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15. Greece

Overplayed: Mylopotas
Alternative: Myrtos

Mylopotas beach on the Greek island of Ios got so popular at one point that people were sleeping on the sand to avoid hotel fees. Camping out has since been banned, but the long stretch of coastal sand is still a favorite among tourists who come not only for the view but the abundance of hotels, restaurants, and boutiques. While Mylopotas is clearly popular for a reason, anyone looking to ditch the crowd might want to head over to Myrtos beach. Located on Kefalonia island, this relatively undeveloped expanse has received several awards including “Best Beach in Greece.” Still, while such attention has attracted many visitors to Myrtos’s pebbled shores, a lack of restaurants and the fact that it’s relatively hard to reach keep it pretty isolated. “The secluded setting is worth the price of the car hire you'll need to get here and back,” says Clampet. 

Recommendations from the editors at Fodors, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, and Smart Luxury Travel magazine