Nearly everybody loves a day at the beach – basking in the sun, splashing in the surf, and lounging in an ephemeral state of relaxation. The one problem with this equation? The "nearly everybody” that comes along for the ride. With sun, surf, and sand at top of mind this summer, we’ve honed in on a selection of secluded international beaches that virtually guarantee at least a modicum of pure solitude, with ample room for your biggest beach blanket and wide-angle vistas of exquisite natural beauty from every perspective. Granted, not having to share can mean venturing to far-flung locales (we've dug up fine sands everywhere from Thailand to Tonga), but some of the most isolated shores also fall within such bona fide hot spots as the Caribbean, Brazil, and the Greek Isles. You’ll just have to act fast to truly get away from it all as such beautiful secluded beaches rarely stay crowd-free for long.
Baía de Sancho, Brazil
Red-tinged sands and turquoise-trimmed shores define this pristine bay, which unfolds on the main and only inhabited island of Fernando de Noronha, an Atlantic archipelago off of Brazil’s northeastern coast. Protected as an UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and a national marine park, the ecological sanctuary of this secluded beach and its environs can be explored in near solitude, thanks to strict restrictions on commercial development and controlled visitation. The few visitors who do access the isle are thinned out even further by the precarious approach to the remote Baía de Sancho, which entails climbing down a cliff face along a series of ladders (although the faint of heart can arrange to arrive by boat on snorkeling or diving excursions). The waters here thrive with an array of marine life, from live coral to manta rays and sea turtles to dolphins. Just be sure to pack provisions, as there will be no bars, peddlers, or the like on these isolated shores.
Costa de la Luz, Spain
An Andalusian affair with sand and sea awaits at Spain's southernmost point, where from the small coastal cities of Huelva to Cadiz and on to Tarifa, over 50 miles of dune-backed secluded beaches beckon with fine white sands trimmed by pinewood trees, animated fishing villages, and wide Atlantic-facing waters. Abundant year-round sunshine ensures that this Costa de la Luz, or “Coast of Light," is well-deserving of its moniker. Yet its shores manage to remain blissfully crowd-free and devoid of unsightly high-rise development, a European rarity largely attributed to its lack of proximity to any major Spanish city (it’s about a 3-hour drive to Seville), as well as to the forceful Levante (East) and Poniente (West) coastal winds that detract the masses, aside from the avid windsurfers who consider the area to be a sporting mecca. But come July and August, once the breezes quell and ocean ripples flatten, the sands heat up with the perfect combination of summer sunshine, sizzling Spanish bods, and coveted (relative) seclusion.
Long Bay, British Virgin Islands
The largest island in the British Virgin Islands’ 60-plus island chain, Tortola is home not only to its capital, Road Town, located on the south coast and buzzing with restaurants, shops, and the maritime hub Wickham’s Cay, but also lures in-the-know seclusion seekers to its largely off-the-radar Long Bay. Accessible either by the steep, rugged road past Nail Bay or via anchored boat off the coast, this isolated inlet’s white sands and secluded beaches make the perfect land base for further swimming and snorkeling adventures into the lagoon-like waters. Also primed for bird lovers, Long Bay provides habitat to blue herons, spotted sandpipers, black-necked stilts, pelicans, and more. Though an occasional sailboat or two anchored offshore might translate to a few extra visitors, this stretch of paradise can most often be enjoyed in near solitude.
Palmetto Point Beach, Barbuda
While popular Antigua boasts 365 beaches along its shores, none is as removed as the magnificent swaths of secluded beaches found on its sister island of Barbuda, some 25 miles to the northeast. A rarity in the Caribbean, where building big resorts on spectacular sands is more the norm, Barbuda's miles of white- and pink-hued beaches have been largely left untouched, with only a handful of full-service resorts to share them. Even the island's finest stretch, a 7-mile expanse from Palmetto Point to Coco Point, is typically so deserted that you can expect to share your day with seashells instead of people. Seclusion like this certainly appealed to Princess Diana, who vacationed here four times during her lifetime.
Railay Beach, Thailand
Often cited as “Phuket 10 years ago,” the secluded beaches and resorts surrounding the Thai port town of Krabi remains far less trodden than those of its famous island neighbor, some 100 miles to the west. Accessible only by longtail boat from Krabi or from the more frequented beach resort town of Ao Nang, former hippie enclave Railay (also called Rai Leh) Beach is surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs that jut into the sky, lush jungle vegetation, and the warm waters of the emerald Andaman Sea. In addition to kicking back on its soft white sands, popular activities include rock climbing, kayaking, and snorkeling – expect an abundance of colorful coral reefs and cartoon-like fishes. Neighboring resort Rayavadee (which translates into “land of the princess”) offers two-story pavilions and beachfront villas spread out over 26 acres of coconut groves. Rates from $640/night for two, including breakfast and transfers; www.rayavadee.com
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
While Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula may already be a bona fide surfer-haven, mainstream tourism has yet to discover the largely untrammeled stretch of secluded beaches along Santa Teresa’s coast on the peninsula’s southernmost tip. You’ll have to endure a nearly 6-hour trek to get here – a car-ferry combo from San José, much of which is on a barely drivable dirt road – which may be why the jungle-swathed stretch from the beach villages of Malpais to Santa Teresa is still so preserved. Fronted by the Pacific’s unruly waves and backed only by jungle, even the few bungalow boutiques and hammock hotels are set beneath the lush canopy, unseen from the sand. Besides a few surfers out by the breaks and perhaps some mischievous monkeys pillaging for fruit in the canopy, you’re likely to have the beach to yourself. Come in the off season (summer through fall) for even more solitude; September brings migrating whales just offshore, often visible from the sand.
Shipwreck Beach, Greece
One of the most picture-perfect stretches of sand in Greece is also one of its most secluded beaches, thanks to the towering cliffs that surround Shipwreck Beach’s sandy cove and make it accessible only by boat. Stunning and secluded indeed, the Ionian island of Zakynthos is famous for its trademark beach – a perfect milky-white crescent where the wreckage of a marooned vessel, dating back to 1983, remains half-emerged in the sand; the beach was originally called Agios Georgios before the wreck became a fixture on the idyllic stretch, and Navagio (“Shipwreck” in English) beach was born. Cruise tours departing from the villages of Volimes or Porto Vromi will ferry passengers to the famous shore, as well as to the island’s other treasure, the Blue Caves at Skinari – massive airy grottos that are big enough to snorkel, swim, and boat through.
Trou d’Argent, Mauritius
Situated off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean, visitors to Mauritius’s Rodrigues Island can uncover a small swath of shoreline with a name that translates to “Money Hole,” a testament to the treasure that is rumored to be buried here. We’d argue that the treasure may very well be the beach itself – Trou d’Argent’s off-the-beaten-path sands tout striking views of and east access to the Indian Ocean from within a horseshoe-shaped, cliff-hugged cove. Access to this secluded beach is far away from the resort crowds – the 45-minute hike departs from the beaches at St. Francois along a rocky cliff-top path shaded by filao trees (on Rodrigues’ eastern coast).
Uoleva Island, Tonga
This hidden island gem’s far-flung locale – situated within the South Pacific archipelago of Tonga’s (aka the “Friendly Islands”) Ha'apai Group – ensures that visitors who make the journey here will be rewarded with perfectly pristine secluded beaches, designed with solitude in mind. Swim, fish, or snorkel the day away (don’t miss the reef-peppered shores along the western end of the island), or opt to charter a boat from the capital at Pangai, situated on Lifuka Island, just a couple of miles to the north. Though known for their inviting and pleasant nature, there are no more permanent island inhabitants here than you count on your fingers, so distractions from your time on the beach – aside from the sprinkling of fellow tourists who may have opted to bunk down at the small handful of island hotels – are guaranteed to be few and far between.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia
Tucked away on Australia’s idyllic Whitsunday Island (the largest of the Whitsunday chain), Whitehaven Beach seems impossibly pure. The dove-white, 4-mile-plus stretch owes its silky, talcum-powder softness to the 99.8-percent pure silica grains that swath its shore. Backed by lush acacia forest and fading into pristine, cerulean waters, the setting simultaneously calls to mind and transcends island clichés. Best of all, the secluded beach's sands border on deserted thanks to exacting visitation limits enforced by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (individuals must sign up with a tour operator to access the area). Consequently, Australia’s oft-photographed beach appears almost exactly the way it does in the pictures – inviting, relaxing, and refreshingly empty.