14 of the World’s Best Beaches

I did an interview recently and was asked if I’m a beach guy.  Born and raised in a sprawling landlocked city, the beach had a different significance to me than my wife, who grew up a block away from Copacabana Beach in Rio.  Lounging on sand wasn’t part of my culture, but symbolized vacation, a break from the norm, and lots and lots of sand.  I’m too restless to lie back and do nothing for too long.  What makes a magical beach is as much about what surrounds it as it is the beach itself.   A tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, cafes in Barcelona, people watching in Rio, robed monks in Cambodia…here’s 13 memorable beaches from the Global Bucket List. 

 

costarica

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

 Costa Rica has some pretty sensational beaches along both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, with long stretches of sandy beach, warm seas, and, ahem, hot bodies . Manuel Antonio was a standout for me because it’s located in a national park, is free of any development whatsoever, and gives the feeling that you’ve just stumbled onto something wild and untouched. Take the monkey warnings seriously, though, the cheeky buggers appear out of nowhere and love snatching whatever they can get their hands on!

ipanema

Ipanema Beach, Rio, Brazil

When it comes to Rio, arguably the best beach city around, you’ll want to walk along the Copacabana, but spend your time soaking up the sun and waves at Ipanema.   This perfect sandy beach frames the city, and on a hot mid-week day, you’ll find yourself wondering if anyone in Rio actually works for a living.   Besides the water and beautiful surrounding mountains, Ipanema has plenty of yummy, fit, tanned and ripped Brazilians to look at. There’s no better place to observe the best looking nation on earth in their natural habitat.

 

bondi-beach

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

 Sydney is blessed with spectacular beaches – Coogee, Manly, and the most popular of them all, Bondi.   What strikes you is just how pretty this beach is – a perfect semi-circular bay with bluer water than one would expect rushing into a major urban centre.. With some of the highest UV levels around, there’s not an umbrella in sight. Thousands of people bake beneath the sun just about every day. Surfers gather like vultures amongst the waves, Japanese tourists walk about fully clothed, while the babes and hunks of Bondi balance it out with swimwear made of dental floss. As for the lifeguards, they’ve got their own hit reality show, Bondi Rescue, to add even more buzz to this busy beach.

 

Alona Beach, Bohol, The Philippines 

A nation made up of thousands of islands, the Philippines has no shortage of spectacular beaches. Boracay, El Nido, Caramoan, Samal Island…any could belong on a list like this.  Here’s a little one that is fast becoming one of the most popular beaches in the country.    Alona Beach is found about twenty kilometres from the regional capital of Tagbilaran, blessed with milky white sand the azure warm sea of dreams.  One and a half kilometres in length, it is serviced by dive shops, bars, resorts and restaurants, and the snorkelling is sublime.  Cradled by rocky cliffs on either end, there’s a a bustling nightlife and steady stream of international travellers to keep you company.

 

 

barcelona

Barceloneta Beach, Spain

Sticking to the Mediterranean, Barcelona is blessed with 4.2km of golden beaches, close to the city centre.   Barceloneta, the first beach along the boardwalk, has long been called one of the best urban beaches in the world.    Besides its wide open space, it has a vibrant atmosphere and gets packed with locals and tourists.    While it is Barcelona’s most popular beach, thanks largely to its location, it does get some criticism for the quality of sand, which some say is mixed with cement.  But the weird artwork, atmosphere, local characters and buzz make up for it.  Close to the port, it’s also the best place for fresh seafood in the city.

dhermi

Dhermi, Albania

The Adriatic that rests off Italy and Croatia has some standout beaches, although purists might deduct points for pebbles. Yet the colour, clarity and sparkle of the water more than make up for the slight discomfort of stones. I’ve picked the little known Dhermi in the very off the beaten track Albania because a: I can illustrate what it looks like b: it’s badass to say you’ve been to Albania and c: how many other pristine beaches in Europe can you pitch a tent and just do your thing? Plus it has old abandoned bomb shelters, and some pretty amazing beach bars.

waikiki-jenschapter3

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu

The surf is usually up at Waikiki Beach, once the playden of Hawaiian royalty, now a hotel and surfing mecca. Waikiki has attracted all the major hotel chains and serves as a centre of tourism in Hawaii, but lets not forget it’s also a terrific beach, with a great view of the striking Diamond Head –  all that’s left of a massive volcano and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.   Waikiki actually refers to several beaches chained together, usually crowded with tourists pouring out the adjacent hotels.  A good chunk of the beach is reserved strictly for surfers.  The neighbourhood is abuzz with open-air bars, restaurants, volleyball and beach sport, and most days it’s just a perfect spot to watch yet another gorgeous sunset.

goa

Goa, India

The entire state of Goa offers wonderful and colourful beaches to explore. Some are rocky, some have red earth, some with white sand. However it’s not uncommon to see a local relieving themselves in the open, and I wouldn’t exactly jump into the Arabian Sea without checking to see if there’s a settlement around the corner. That being said, when you stay in villages like Arambol or the infamous Anjuna, the beach becomes part of your daily life.   You eat on the beach, you party on the beach, you explore the beach.   Extra points for the occasional holy cow wandering about. Deduct three for any stray dogs, and the odd burned out hippie.

 

ilespins

Iles des Pins, New Caledonia 

Off the coast of a cigar shaped island named New Caledonia in the South Pacific, the Island of Pines still has, in my experience, the whitest, finest and most powdery sand I’ve seen anywhere, and the calmest, clearest water.   The closest I’ve seen is Nungwe Beach in the north of Zanzibar (sorry, I’m lacking digital photos from that trip).   Both times I picked up sand to take home with me in a bottle, and both times I decided that it looked too much like that other illegal white powder to risk packing in my luggage.

tofino

Long Beach, Tofino, Canada

On the other hand, not every beach needs to have perfect white sand, or even warm blue water. Long Beach, on the west coast of rugged Vancouver Island, borders the Pacific Rim National Park and the wild waters of the Clayoquot Sound.   While surfers play mostly in the summer, the beach exudes magic year-round, including the storm season, when thunder batters the coast and the raw energy of nature crackles in the surrounding forest.   Excellent accommodation sits right on the beach, which stretches for 12 miles and makes for excellent long, slow walks to ponder if life, is in fact, a beach after all.

clifton-warrenski

Clifton, Cape Town

Cape Town is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, and it’s best beaches are in the upmarket suburb of Clifton.   Driving up from Sea Point, cars line the side of the road early, and parking is seldom easy. It’s a walk down the stairs until you hit the fine white sand.   There are four beaches in Clifton, separated by rocks, and attracting different crowds.    All four beaches are protected by rocks and spared the strong winds that blow through the city.   First Beach gets the biggest waves and is popular with surfers.  Third Beach is a popular gay hangout.   Second beach continues to attract teenagers and students on the prowl for love.   Capetonians and tourists soak up the sun, and since the water is a frisky 12-16C, a dip in the sea is truly refreshing.

malibu

Malibu, California

Barbie comes from Malibu for a reason.   The coastline of Southern California seems to stretch on as endlessly as Barbie’s disproportionate legs, speckled with the jewelled mansions of the fabulously famous and wealthy.   Sunsets are spectacular, the waves offer great surfing, and the mystique of California Dreaming, – all tan and blonde and healthy – is addictive. I prefer the vibe down the beach in Venice, where whacky characters gather and hard men work out, but in the beauty stakes, Malibu definitely adds something special to our paradise punch.

tel-aviv

Metzitzim Beach, Israel

Not many people know that Tel Aviv is a true beach city.   Fine sand, decent waves, clean water, all in a city that never sleeps. The promenade even resembles the Copacabana, with its mosaic patterns.  There are several beaches along the strip, but Metzitzim, also known as the Sheraton Beach, consistently wins the accolades as the city’s best beach.   It’s definitely the most trendy, a place for fit young Israelis to bare their olive skin (as opposed to Nordau Beach further down, which is where religious Jews go for the separate male and female areas).     Metzitzim, which means “peeking” in Hebrew, is close to the Old Port which has recently been upgraded into a hip area of restaurants, bars and clubs

sihanoukville

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I arrived in Sihanoukville, a beach town that competes with anything that you’ll find in Thailand, and along stroll two monks in their bright orange robes.   I just managed to snap this photo before they walked past me.   Beach cabins were rustic but improving as more tourists discover the joys of this former war-torn country. Bars play reggae, small ladies offer cheap beach massages, and the beer is always cold.   Surrounding poverty means you do have to be careful with your belongings, but Sihanoukville’s reputation for squeaky beaches and a laid back vibe will hopefully bring more tourists, and prosperity for the locals.

 

Unusual Hotels for your Bucket List

Jumbo Stay, Sweden
The next time a friend tells you how they were bumped to first class and could stretch out on a reclining seat, tell them about the night you slept inside a 747 on a double bed, with an en-suite bathroom! What’s more, it was in the cockpit, with a flatscreen TV, and view of Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. Couples might want to consider the private, double Black Box suite at the back of the plane. The 29 rooms on board this converted jumbo jet might not actually fly anywhere, but your one night in a “most unusual hotel” story will certainly have wings.

Desert Cave Hotel, Australia
One sleeps very well in a cave hotel. Possibly because our DNA remembers the thousands of years humanity evolved inside dark caverns, or more likely because it’s quiet, cool, and somewhat impregnable. Located in what is known as the opal capital of the world, Desert Cave is a memorable outback experience. Extreme heat and dust storms make these spacious underground luxury rooms a respite from the world above. There’s also an underground bar, shops, opal interpretation centre, and a history of “dugout” living in the area. Go on, cave into the temptation. See Also: Aydinli Cave House Hotel, Turkey

Giraffe Manor, Kenya
Breakfast on the patio, a bright sunny morning outside of Nairobi. You’re excited to be heading to Masai Mara or one of the other game parks that put Kenya on the safari bucket list. You know you’ll soon get close enough to the animals to put away the zoom lens. As you sip your tea, the large head of a Rothschild giraffe pokes its head through the window, and gives you a lick with its cucumber-sized tongue. Yes, that just happened, as it does every morning at Giraffe Manor, a 10-room luxury hotel located inside a giraffe reserve. The herds love popping their heads in at breakfast or tea, helping themselves to a snack, and giving you the wildest breakfast of your life. Photo: Giraffe Manor

V8 Hotel, Germany
There’s nothing cool about sleeping in your car. Unless that car is a vintage Mercedes, racing VW Beetle or cherry-red Cadillac, converted into a double bed in Stuttgart’s classic car themed hotel. The 10 theme rooms celebrate all facets of the automobile. The Gas Station room lets you sleep in Herbie, the Drive-In room lulls you to sleep with painted stars and soft yellow headlights. Too chintzy? Book the Scrapyard Room, where your bed-car needs a fresh coat of paint (although the hood does hold a large flat-screen TV.) All the rooms look like the dreams of a 12-year-old boy came true, and will therefore appeal to men of all ages. Photo: V8 Hotel

Aux Vieux Panier, Marseille
Small, independent boutique hotels are popular for a very good reason – they provide a different experience from cookie-cutter hotel chains. It doesn’t get any more different than this hotel slash art gallery. Located in Marseille’s historical La Panier district, the five rooms have been turned over to artists to run amok. And amok they have run. One room has hanging columns of wood over the bed. Another was designed to “extract poetry and absurdity.” Each room has an artist statement, incorporating painting, architecture and sculpture. All designed to give you something to think about, and talk about, for years to come. Photo: Aux Vieux Panier
See also: Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel has a similar concept, with 37 unique, artist-designed rooms.

Finca Bellavista, Costa Rica
What makes Finca Bellavista stand-out from other treehouse hotels is its location – both remote and yet surprisingly accessible too. Located off the Pan American Highway in Costa Rica, you enter a world where guests stay in multi-platform treehouses high in the jungle canopy, ziplining to the main lodge for dinner, and surrounded by the sounds and colour of rainforest. The privately owned, eco-friendly treehouses are rented out to overnight guests, giving each a homely atmosphere. Shower on the outdoor platform, high in the treetops, and breathe that rich jungle air. Ah….your own private Pandora.
See also: Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island, where you can fall asleep gently swaying in the trees. Photo: Robin Esrock

Mine Suite, Sweden
Advice for those that found the sandstone cave hotel in Australia too exposed: go deep. The Sala Silver Mine offers guided tours inside and around a former silver mine. At night, descend 155m to the legendary Mine Suite. Left alone (with an intercom to contact an attendant aboveground) the heated double room is so isolated and quiet that an alien invasion wouldn’t interrupt your sleep. All alone, deep beneath the ground, the silence is immaculate. It’s enough to forgive the 50 metre walk to the closest toilet, although at this depth, one should be grateful there is one to begin with.

HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel, Ottawa

If darkness gives you the creeps, match it with a haunted prison cell. After a century of (mis)use, the old Nicolas Street Gaol was closed in the 1970’s due to inhumane living conditions. It opened shortly after as a budget hostel. There are 4 beds to a dorm in the same vaulted cells murderers and thieves once scratched their names in the walls. Evening tours of the former Death Row, isolation cells and ghostly haunts doth not a peaceful night make. Even if your face is as white as the sheets, it’s an experience you won’t forget. See also: The Liberty Hotel in Boston, a former prison, this hotel is far more luxurious.

Crazy House, Vietnam
A local architect felt inspired by Gaudi, Dali, Disney, Sesame Street, Tim Burton, fairy tales, nightmares, monsters, angels, demons, and whatever else can explain the wildest hotel this side of Fantasia. Built as a personal expression, the loopy buildings were opened as a guesthouse to help with heaps of debt. 9 of the rooms are located in three treehouses, the honeymoon suite in the Spider-Web Garden. Like many visitors, you might stay a few nights to experience more than one room, but like the ice hotel, rooms are open to the public for daily tours. Some guests love the creativity, others find it kitsch beyond sanity. As for your dreams…well, they can’t be any weirder than the rooms themselves.

Ice Hotel, Quebec
There are cool hotels, cold hotels, and just plain freezing hotels. Quebec’s Hotel de Glace may look like a winter wonderland, but spending the night is a matter of survival. Guests are provided with Arctic sleeping bags, instructed how to use them, and warmed up before bedtime in hot tubs and saunas. You enter your artist-designed ice chamber with nothing but your jammies, boots and winter jacket. It’s an even -5C in the rooms, and much colder outside. Public bathrooms are located in the heated public area.. A night in the quiet ice hotel is a night bundled up with just your face exposed. Don’t think about sleeping in – if the light doesn’t wake you up, you’ll be asked to leave before the day visitors arrive in the morning.

Bucket List Gondolas, Trams and Funiculars

Chamonix, France
Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Let’s start with Europe’s highest gondola, the Aiguille du Midi.   Beginning its journey across the Alps in the tourist hotspot of Charmonix, the téléphérique gives visitors sweeping access to the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, with unparalleled views of the highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc.   Once atop Aiguille du Midi, hop into the red télécabine for the three-mile, 40 minute journey over a dazzling glacier to the Italian border. Drawing heavy crowds in all seasons, beat the queues by leaving early, and by making return reservations once you arrive at the top.

Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain, Cape Town

Named for the cloud that often sits atop it like a tablecloth, Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most distinguishing landmark. The Table Mountain Cableway has transported over 20 million tourists on the four to five-minute journey to the top, with circular cabin floors rotating to give everyone a good view. Lions and leopards are no longer roaming the mountainside, but this World Heritage Site is home to a variety of small animals and endemic plants.   Closed during strong winds, the temperature can be up to 6C colder at the top, so bring a sweater.  Once there, you can take one of three short walks offering fantastic views of this famously picturesque city and surrounding mountains.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro
Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

 

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

I’ve been in love with gondolas ever since I saw the James Bond film Moonraker, featuring a thrilling chase scene of the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain.  Ascending almost 400m, first up Morro da Urca and then Sugarloaf, the gondola offers 360-degree views of the beaches, ocean, mountains and landmarks that make Rio one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Of course, Moonraker also made me wonder how the villain Jaws managed to literally chew through the steel wire transporting the 65 passenger cars.   Fortunately, the system has been fully updated, ensuring no bad guy will be using this cable car for dental floss (see below).

Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola / Jasper Tramway

The two towns that serve Canada’s oldest national parks boast a world-class gondola and tramway. There are technical differences between gondolas and aerial tramways. Tramways work like elevators, with a counter-balance car, where as gondolas can leave more frequently, like ski lifts.   The Banff Gondola Mountaintop experience is an eight-minute ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, in a four-passenger cabin climbing to an elevation of 2,281 metres. At the top you’ll find a restaurant, a Cosmic Ray Station Historic Site, and a 1km self-guided interpretative Skywalk.   The Jasper Skytram is the longest and highest guided tramway in Canada, giving visitors spectacular views of six mountain ranges, glaciers, alpine lakes, and the town of Jasper itself.

Quebec City Funicular
Quebec City Funicular

 

Old Quebec Funicular, Quebec City / Valparaiso, Chile

Neither are very long, nor very thrilling, but these old funiculars are definitely fun, not to mention convenient.   Opened in 1879, Quebec’s 64m long funicular is an easy way to transition from Upper Town to Lower Town, where you can explore the Petit Champlain district, port and museums.   Open until midnight in the summer, it is the only funicular of its kind in North America. Valparaiso is a city of hills, serviced by 10 funiculars, although at one time there were 26 working elevators.   Protected by the World Monument Fund as an endangered historical treasure, the funiculars are not only practical to navigate Valparaiso’s steep hills, but they also give great views of the city and harbour.

Singapore Flyer
Singapore Flyer

Singapore Flyer / London Eye

OK, these are Ferris Wheels, but since both involve you getting into a glass-domed car, ascending high into the sky, and taking pictures of a city’s view, the sentiment is the same. Opened in 1999 at a cost of £70 million, the London Eye has quickly become the biggest tourist attraction in the UK. It takes a half hour to make a full rotation, with 25 mile long views in every direction. When it opened in 2008 – the Singapore Flyer – stole the Eye’s thunder and, at 42 stories high, is currently the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Located at the Marina Centre, the Flyer’s 28 air-conditioned capsules take a half hour to rotate, with terrific views of the city. Both the Eye and the Flyer can be rented out for corporate events, dinner parties and weddings.

Whistler's Peak 2 Peak
Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak

Peak 2 Peak, Whistler

When the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb decided to connect via gondola, it needed one serious engineering achievement.   The resulting Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds the world gondola records for the highest point above ground (436m), and longest free span between towers (3.03km), and the two largest lift terminals in the world. Each winter, the 11-minute journey gently ushers over 4000 people an hour between the mountains of North America’s largest ski resort. Only two of the 28 cabins have a glass bottom, so consult the wall chart at the terminal to see when it is approaching. Cars arrive and depart ever 49 seconds.

The Peak, Hong Kong
The Peak, Hong Kong

The Peak, Hong Kong

Opened over 120 years ago, The Peak is one of the world’s oldest and most popular funiculars, rising 396 metres above sea level on a gradient so steep it appears buildings are leaning on their side. Besides the expected gift shops and restaurants, it’s well worth visiting the Peak Tower for the panoramic views of Hong Kong.   There’s also the Sky Terrace 428, with the highest viewing platform in the city, and you can walk along one of several walking trails. The funicular itself ascends up Victoria Peak on a 1.4km railline, and takes just under five minutes to reach the top.

Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver

Grouse Mountain Skyride, Vancouver

North America’s largest aerial tramway system offers visitors to Grouse Mountain stunning views of Vancouver, surrounding forests, mountains and the Gulf Islands in the distance. The 45-passenger car runs 365 days a year, depositing tourists and locals at the top to enjoy a range of activities, including a gourmet restaurant, wildlife, and a busy ski resort in winter.   During summer, you’ll find a grizzly bear enclosure, bird of prey shows, logging demonstrations, and ziplining and paragliding for the more adventurous.   On the way down, you might notice some particularly sweaty passengers. A popular local pastime is to hike up the punishing Grouse Grind, and take the Skyride down to the parking lot.

The Sea to Sky Gondola

The Sea to Sky Gondola

Western Canada is making a bold claim to the Bucket List gondolas podium. Squamish, located between Vancouver and Whistler, has the outstanding Sea-to-Sky Gondola with astounding views of Howe Sound, Sky Pilot Mountain, and one of the world’s bucket list climbing walls, the mighty granite Stawamus Chief. The 849m-long gondola takes you right to the top of an adjacent mountain, where you’ll find a 65m-high suspension bridge, scenic walking loops, as well as new hiking and biking trails. Celebrate the commendable execution of BC’s latest attraction with a craft beer on the sunny patio of the Summit Lodge.

Ba Na-Suoi M, Vietnam
Ba Na-Suoi M, Vietnam

Ba Na-Suoi Mo, Vietnam

Fifty kilometres west of Da Nang City is the world’s longest single wire cable car system, spanning over 5 kilometres in length. The Ba Na Hills gondola trip takes 15 minutes to reach the top, with passengers enjoying views of the surrounding mountains, the Han River, and lush jungle. A 27 metre high Buddha also rests at the top, along with gardens and an impressive pagoda. The gondola prides itself on being built to European standards of comfort and safety.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re afraid of getting into a gondola or tramway,  I’m almost entirely positively certain that this will never happen.

jaws