1. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Shockingly, Palawan has remained steadily under the radar, and we certainly hope it stays that way. El Nido alone is home to around 50 white sand beaches—it’s impossible to choose just one—all of which are set around dramatic limestone formations and boast the finest and whitest sand you’ll ever see. The water is so blindingly blue it makes the Caribbean Sea look murky in comparison, and the sunsets? Well, they’ll ruin you for life. Consider yourself warned.
2. Blinky Beach, Lord Howe Island, Australia
While many of the continent's best beaches can be found in Queensland, make no mistake—New South Wales firmly holds it own. Besides its excellent surf, Blinky Beach, on the east side of Lord Howe Island, is fantastically beautiful: It’s situated between Blinky Point and a promontory known as Mutton Bird Lookout, and boasts the requisite powder-white sand and azure waters. Behind it, you’ll find tall dunes dotted with prickly spinifex and wild daisies.
3. Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Brazil
Forget Rio: Lopes Mendes is two miles of unspoiled, deserted, powder-white sand that leads to some of the world’s clearest, most crystalline waters. There are no beach shacks or restaurants here; instead, you’ll find thick, wild sea shrub, almond trees, and squat palms, perfect for napping beneath. It’s quite a trek—a three-hour drive to Angra dos Reis from Rio, then a ferry, then a taxi-boat, then a short hike through a forest—but well worth the effort.
4. Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
Australia is known for its spectacular beaches, including this stunning colored beach on Fraser Island. For starters, the entire island is World Heritage-listed for being the largest sand island in the world. Its golden sand beach is backed by fiery bronze cliffs; further beyond, you’ll find lush rainforest rich with native wildlife. It's of equal beauty—and far less touristed—than the more famous Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef at large.
5. El Castillo, Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico
When it comes to Mexican beaches, this one can’t be beat: It hugs the base of towering, 40-foot limestone cliffs. Its pale, silvery sand leads invitingly into the clear, shallow Caribbean Sea, and it's flanked by palms and lush vegetation on either side. Best of all, it’s located directly beneath the famous El Castillo ruins, which can be admired from the shore.
6. Honokalani Beach, Wai'anapanapa State Park, Maui, HI
With its jet-black shore, lapis lazuli waters and thick, jungle-like foliage, Honokalani Beach is a photographer’s dream. Besides lying lazily on the “sand”—actually made up of of tiny lava pebbles—there’s plenty to do: you’ll find seaside lava tubes and sea caves carved into the lava cliffs along the shore. It’s wild, unspoiled Hawaii at its best, and a necessary stop en route to Hana.
7. Honopu Beach, Kauai, HI
Also known as Cathedral Beach, Honopu—like Waipio Valley—is quite difficult to reach. For starters, it’s not accessible except by water, so to get there you must swim from an offshore boat, or from neighboring Kalalau Beach (a quarter-mile swim). But the trouble is worth it: Think cumin-colored sand bordered by soaring, vegetation-cloaked cliffs—and, most times, not a soul in sight. Fun fact: It’s served as a location on such films as Six Days, Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and King Kong.
8. Waipio Valley Beach, Big Island, HI
This beach in Waipio Valley is one of the hardest to get to in Hawaii—you must hike or drive down a treacherously narrow, steep road to reach your destination. But it's well worth the trek: At the bottom, you’re rewarded with a mile-long black volcanic sand beach bordered by 2000-foot cliff walls and backed by thick rainforest. If that weren’t scenic enough, the Kaluahine and Waiulili waterfalls cut into the cliffs at the south end of the beach, and are accessible via a boulder-strewn trail along the surf.
9. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Matira is perhaps the most famous of Tahiti's beaches, and for good reason. The mile-long stretch of silky, powder-white sand slopes gently into a shallow emerald lagoon, and is backed by a thick curtain of palms and tropical foliage. Added bonus: It’s one of the only public-access beaches in Bora Bora, so you won't need to pay five-star resort prices to enjoy its beauty.
10. Anse Lazio, Praslin, Seychelles
Anse Lazio, on the northwest tip of Praslin island, is known widely as the most beautiful beach in the Seychelles and is by far the most photographed. It's no wonder: The beach is long and broad with velvety sand and shocking blue water, and it's fringed with swaying palms and leafy takamaka trees. To add to the drama, it’s also framed by enormous granite boulders on either side.