With its palm-fringed bays, shallow reefs and rustic rum bars, the Caribbean offers some of the world’s best tropical beach breaks.
You’ll find thousands of beaches with clear waters and warm weather on these diverse islands, which extend in a chain from the southern tip of Florida to the northern coast of Venezuela. From St Lucia and St Vincent to Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, there are plenty of sandy shores across the tourist-friendly region. But with so many dreamy island coastlines to choose from, which are the best beaches in the Caribbean? Read on to find out.
1. Playa Varadero, Cuba
Cuba’s famous “blue beach” comprises several pristine areas that stretch out over 12.5 miles (20km) along a long peninsula. Silky white sand, shady palms and warm waters await sunseekers who want a picture-perfect shoreline to explore.
Natural beauty blends seamlessly with beach amenities at Playa Varadero. Resorts are plentiful here and offer guests access to chairs and loungers, as well as a good variety of beach activities, should you tire of swimming and sipping cocktails.
Keep an eye out for bicycle souvenir kiosks that regularly roll along the beach selling a selection of bongos, sarongs, sun hats and shell jewelry to bartering tourists.
2. Anse Chastanet Beach, St Lucia
In the shadow of the towering Pitons (a World Heritage site) lies secluded Anse Chastanet Beach. Bordering 600 tropical acres, this black-sand beach has prime snorkeling and diving opportunities among coral-covered rocks.
Just 10 yards from the water’s edge, the protected house reef is home to over 150 species of fish including moray eels, parrotfish and angelfish. The team at the on-site dive shop can kit you up shoreside and take you on guided scuba and snorkel trips through the colorful corals.
After a big snorkeling session, unwind with a cheeky rum cocktail (or three) from the beach bar and stay for the sunset as the skies blaze with a kaleidoscope of pastel colors.
Planning tip: Like all beaches in St Lucia, Anse Chastanet is a public beach with free access to all, and you don’t need to be a resort resident to sunbathe here. Beach day trippers can arrive by car, taxi or boat and are welcome to use the on-site restaurant, beach bar and dive shop.
3. Playa Los Patos, Dominican Republic
Located on the coastal highway on the Península de Pedernales is the popular pebble beach Playa Los Patos. This pretty swim-and-surf spot also has several shacks selling ice-cold cerveza (beer) and tasty snacks – perfect for post-surf refreshment,
Experienced surfers can take advantage of the consistent and strong swells, which provide long rides along the shore. Be mindful of rocks and rips while riding the fast-breaking waters – they can catch even pro wave riders out.
Planning tip: There’s a natural swim spot near the beach by the Los Patos River, where a wide natural pool has formed, providing for a refreshing dip away from the rocky reefs.
4. Frenchman’s Cove, Jamaica
Clear river waters empty into an unspoiled turquoise bay surrounded by lush gardens and green headlands. It’s a piece of paradise in Port Antonio.
Beloved by celebrities, Frenchman’s Cove is a private enterprise (owned by Garfield Weston), and access to this beach utopia costs around $10 a day. And it’s worth it, as you sunbathe on a white-sanded shore, paddle in warm waters and order fruity drinks and flavorsome food from the locally owned beach bar.
5. Magazine Beach, Grenada
A long stretch of white sand located in island’s southwest, Magazine Beach is a serene snorkel spot in Grenada where you can float above sea fans, damselfish and angelfish.
Sustenance can be found at the southern end of the beach at Aquarium Restaurant. Serving cold Carib beers and fiery jerk dishes, this spot is renowned for the raucous beach BBQ and live music held every Sunday.
6. Pink Sands Beach, the Bahamas
On Harbour Island, you’ll find one of the most renowned and elegant beaches in the Bahamas. Along this three-mile (5km) sandy stretch, snap-happy tourists flock for pink-sand selfies among luxury accommodations and excellent dining options.
The pale-pink hues under your feet are a quirk of science. They’re created by foraminifera, microscopic coral insects whose reddish-pink shell mixes with the sand to create a unique pink shoreline that practically shimmers during the sunset.
Planning tip: Enjoy a slower pace of island life and rent a bicycle or golf cart to get around car-free Harbour Island.
7. Apple Bay, British Virgin Islands
White-sand Apple Bay is a surfing hotspot where you’ll find some of the best riding waves and swells in the Caribbean. Located on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, the beach suffered huge destruction during the 2017 hurricanes, and many of the rickety beach bars sadly never returned.
There’s still a selection of beach amenities here, though, including loungers and umbrellas for rent. Nearby, you’ll find several local restaurants and boutique hotels.
8. Fisherman’s Hut Beach, Aruba
This white-powder beach is one of the best flat-water windsurfing locations in the world. Also known as Hadicurari, it’s where pro windsurfers and kitesurfers come in Aruba to practice slicing through shallow waters and to compete in the annual Hi-Winds windsurfing competition. Newbies can book kitesurf lessons on the beach, or hop on a Jet Ski to rip along the shoreline.
9. Playa Caracas, Puerto Rico
Located in Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, Playa Caracas is one of the more remote beaches in Vieques – or really all of Puerto Rico. Here, you’ll find a wide, white-sand cove framed by small palm trees.
From the left side of the shoreline, you’ll find snorkeling opportunities in crystal-clear waters, where you can explore a sea-fan garden populated by colorful fish. Amenities are limited here, so pack a picnic and plenty of water.
Planning tip: There’s very little shade here, so bring a beach umbrella if possible.
10. Shoal Bay East, Anguilla
Powder-fine sand, towering palms and calm, cerulean waters: Shoal Bay East in Anguilla has all the required elements for a sublime Caribbean beach break.
Swim or snorkel through the shallow waters, keeping an eye out for sea fans and schools of blue tangs as you venture towards the outer reefs. Restaurants, beach bars and hotels line the beach, renting chaise lounges and umbrellas to guests.
11. Crane Beach, Barbados
Initially a working harbor – the large loading crane still present gives the beach its name – this lush, subtropical idyll is now considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Barbados. While swimming is possible here, the often choppy waters make it a great spot for boogie boarding – so make sure to bring a board and ride the lively waves.
The connected Crane Resort also offers beach chairs and umbrellas to rent, and food and drinks are available to both resort guests and beach day trippers.
12. Governor’s Beach, Grand Cayman
A segment of Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach adjacent to Government House, this peaceful stretch of sand is known for being a family-friendly beach. Let the kids roll around on sugar-soft sand, swim or snorkel in marine life-rich waters and eat falling fruit from the sea-grape trees during the summer months. Beach facilities are plentiful, with toilets, parking and water-sports rentals all available in the immediate vicinity.
Planning tip: Hungry? Near the beach, you’ll find shopping malls with a decent selection of restaurants where you can grab a reasonably priced lunch.