Ahh, your own place in the sun. In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we show how to make like a beach bum and head for the world's 10 most idyllic, sun-kissed refuges.
1. Dahab, Egypt
Dahab means 'gold' in Arabic – a name given to the area because of its golden sands. With a unique location on the edge of the Sinai desert, Dahab certainly remains an untapped treasure; budget accommodation almost on the beach means you can virtually roll out of your sleeping bag and into the water. Backed by mountain ranges, Dahab's Bedouin settlement, Assalah, is a favoured beach-bum haunt, with unspoilt charm and chilled beachside
cafes, while up the coast are favoured and famous diving spots. Expensive resort-style hotels are at El Kura, where the bus stops; Assalah village in Mashraba Bay is much more chilled.
2. Curonian Spit, Lithuania
This 98km lick of sand is a wondrous mixture of dunes (some as high as 200m) and forest – the smell of pine will impart an otherworldly quality to your hammock time. Wilhelm von Humboldt believed that a trip to the Curonian Spit was essential nourishment for the soul, and Thomas Mann was also drawn to this timeless wonderland. It's said that around 14 villages are buried under the endless, shifting dunes, making the Spit a kind of
Baltic Sahara. The towering 52m 'Great Dune' is in Nida; to get there take the ferry from Klaipeda to Neringa (costs around €10 per car), then drive or cycle 50km.
3. Jambiani, Tanzania
This the Beach that Time Forgot, where men in fishing dhows set sail at sunset for the reefs, women gather seaweed daily, and people like you are constantly boiling to a crisp under the baking sun. There's not much to do here (certainly not swimming; tides are low) except loll about and crack open a few coconuts. Remember: you're in Zanzibar, Mythical Africa, so just kick back and drink it (or your coconut milk) in. Rent a bike from the fishing village to explore the beach's limits; ask a local fisherman to take you for a boat ride at dusk so you can see the beach in all its sun-dappled glory.
4. Kerala Coast, India
Beachy types generally don't hop up and down with glee when India is mentioned, but those in the know are enraptured. Tucked in along India's 600km-long Kerala coast is a string of coconut-palm-fringed beaches adjoining lulling surf and bluest-of-blue waters. There are the larger resorts, such as Kovalam, but also many more unspoilt delights where your hammock will be overworked as you gaze at rub-your-eyes-raw semicircular bays, or expanses of sand so long you'll think they're a mirage. Thrillingly, there'll be no one else around to pinch you and tell you you're dreaming. The spa at Varkala Papanasam Beach is the best spot to watch the sunset;
follow the pilgrim trail 42km from Thiruvanathapuram.
5. Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
The palm-fringed beaches of the Perhentian Islands, covered in tropical rainforest, are about as natural as they come: calm, hassle-free and with virtually no signs of commercialisation. Except for snorkelling, diving, frolicking, swimming, sunning your body or pretending you're either Brooke Shields or Christopher Atkins inThe Blue Lagoon (1980), there's nothing to do. Depart from either the Tok Bali or the nearer Kuala Besut jetty; speed boats take about half as long as regular ferries, which make the trip in about 1½ to two hours.
6. Kai Islands, Indonesia
There's a growing chorus that says these remote white-sand beaches are the finest the world has to offer. Development has been slow around the Kai archipelago, so the beaches remain unspoilt and as nature intended. If you're not big on pristine powdery sands, azure seas, rare and varicoloured birds, arresting fish and wondrous coral reefs, then stay away. Everyone else: enjoy. Upon arrival at Pasir Panjang or Kei Kecil, you'll find locals ready to organise accommodation for you in a basic beach cottage; ensure that the agreed price includes the daily delivery of fresh water and meals.
7. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
This unpretentious island off shore from Cancún, just 7km long and barely 1km wide, is light years away from the glitzy mainland scene. Its tropical beaches make it a cult fave, with those on the south side known for calm turquoise waters. For get-on-down Caribbean fun, visit Playa Norte, a popular beach with waiters who'll bring drinks to your spot on the sand. More secluded options include Playa Paraiso and Playa Indios. Boat tours run by fishing cooperatives disembark along Rueda Medina; hire mopeds, bikes, or golf carts once on the island. For more see www.isla-mujeres .com.mx.
8. North Stradbroke Island, Australia
Straddie is among the world's largest sand islands – and 'sand' equals 'beach', right? The Queensland island's 30km white sand Main Beach is backed by an expanse of dunes, making it popular with 4WDs. There are a number
of more secluded spots around Point Lookout. Here, the only thing to do is surf, sun yourself, and perhaps paddle in rock pools teeming with marine life, or watch whales or some unique Aussie animals. From the mainland, the Big Red Cat ferry runs up to 16 trips a day, seven days a week; for details see www.seastradbroke.com.
9. Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand
A lovely island, with mostly deserted beaches that are perfect for solitude lovers and infatuated couples… except
for Hat Rin, which holds its famous full-moon parties every month, perfect for hedonists and pleasure seekers.
Surrounded by coconut trees and mountains, the twin beaches of Thong Nai Pan are a favourite of the Thai royals,
which probably explains why development has been kept at bay. The bliss is so overwhelming as to be almost (almost) unbearable. Tha Laem Nai is the lagoon depicted in The Beach by Alex Garland; for information about the marine park visit www.phangan.info.
10. Punalu'u, USA
Hawai'i's black-sand wonderland has won a few 'best beach' awards in recent times, and it's truly an astonishing sight: Punalu'u's startling blue waters lap up against the jetblack beach, which is backed by rows of deep-green coconut palms. This is one place where your hammock will really come in handy – it's scenery that demands your constant, supine contemplation – and you might even spot a hawksbill turtle wandering onto the sand to lay its eggs. Don't touch them, though – they're an endangered species. Hawksbill turtles (known locally as Honu'ea) nest here from May to September but remember - hands off. Human bacteria can prove deadly.