This was a highlight of my trip – €18 for a four-hour trip to the marvellous island of Spinalonga on board the MV Venus from Agios Nikolaos, including a swimming stop.
Excellent introduction on board ship and then left to wander the evocative island. You must read The Island by Victoria Hislop before entering the lepers tunnel – the book is an account of life on Spinalonga.
Prices for drinks on board was actually cheaper than in Agios shops. A must for a trip to eastern Crete.
Google map: tinyurl.com/2v4qv35
Agios Nikolaos is at the Eastern end of Crete. It would be wrong to say it is not busy or touristy but there is a mixture of real people and tourists. The several excellent local beaches are very cosmopolitan and in August, English is in the significant minority. The response in all tavernas and bars is a warm welcome.
To eat I recommend Pelagos restaurant for high quality, Christofyllis for the Greek experience and the Dolphin taverna on Ammoudi beach for the Shirley valentine experience.
The sea is wonderful.
Google map: tinyurl.com/32j7lvj
The most beautiful beach in the whole area, worth the short bus ride from Pipa town (take a local bus for R$2.50). The surf here is the best of the town's beaches with many surf schools for any beginners wanting to pick it up. There is also a nearby nature sanctuary which is well worth a look. The beach itself has beautiful sand, is resplendent with dolphins and has incredible cliffs jutting out of the ocean as its beautiful backdrop. At low tide the town can be reached with difficulty by climbing around the rocks to Dolphin bay, which is also definitely worth a visit.
Ask a collectivo (local bus) driver for Praia do Madeiro and he'll drop you outside a hotel. Walk through a gate in the wall and there are steps down the cliff to the beach.
Google map: tinyurl.com/3yhhn9w
This for me is the best place to sit back and relax, lie in a hammock drinking coconut shakes while looking out at the ocean. Paradise, is set in a idyllic location with a laid back atmosphere, welcoming and friendly staff, great food and cocktails.
My favourite beach I discovered while backpacking around Africa last year was Kendwa, on the north-western tip of Zanzibar’s principal island Unguja. Zanzibar is steeped in history, its capital Stone Town being a UNESCO world heritage site, with vivid reminders of the island’s past as the centre of the slave trade. You can (and I did) spend days wandering around the labyrinth of narrow streets and market stalls, senses inundated by exotic smells, colourful sights and deafening sounds. But if you can drag yourself away from the hustle and bustle and head north, you will come to Kendwa - a true paradise of white sand, clear skies and turquoise sea. But there’s much more to it than that: I stayed at Kendwa Rocks, a very chilled out backpacker place with accommodation of varying degrees of luxury – from basic dorms to luxury beach bandas. There is a bar/restaurant right on the beach (which is run by a very cool rasta who was always very friendly) which hosts a full moon party every month. I was lucky enough to be there for one of these legendary shindigs and the slight apprehension I felt as a lone traveller soon disappeared as I found myself drinking konyagi (a spirit which can be likened to a cross between gin and vodka) with other revelers and dancing until the sun came up. A truly once in a lifetime experience! I met such an interesting mix of people at Kendwa, from fellow European backpackers to Zanzibar locals and Maasai from northern Tanzania. An excellent place to relax, if you like your beach hangouts a little rough around the edges and with a real local flavour. It's also possible to take a boat trip to the neighbouring private Mafia island to snorkel or dive - highly recommended, and best booked by talking to the local guys who run the trips (as well as providing snorkelling gear and a modest lunch of barbequed fish and rice). The Maasai sell traditional art, jewellery and carvings in shacks along the beach and it's also possible to get a really good massage for around $5.
When John Milton sat down, pen in hand, ready to put the final touches to Paradise Lost, he clearly hadn't made it here. Pulau Perhentian Kecil might prove a mouthful to pronounce and a mission to get to, but it'll prove worth every bit of effort you put in to find it.
That South East Asia is littered with beautiful islands is unquestionable, but many are well en route to being trashed by the carnage their economy depends upon. However, few that register on the backpacker's radar, remain as untouched and in rude health as this pint-sized paradise, located 50km off the Eastern Coast of northern Malaysia, a stone's through from the Thai border.
Though Malaysia is far from synonymous with beach life, whip out your weary-limbed backpacker's checklist upon arrival and you'll be able to tick off translucent, turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and abundant palm trees. There are shacks aplenty to house you, few of which it is even possible to find evidence of, let alone book, online. These range from the rather basic mattress in a beach hut to the more opulent mattress in a beach hut, with air con, electricity and an en suite bathroom. For an added luxury, the island folk have mastered the art of the flushing toilet, so you won't find yourself staring at your own emissions as you desperately try to sink them with a bucket like you will in Thailand. Prices range from around 20RM (£4) to 80RM (£16) a night making these eminently affordable and worth every penny thanks to the surrounding beauty.
Well-priced and friendly options include Panorama Huts, located centrally on Long Beach, and Moonlight Chalets, tucked away at the periphery, among the palm trees at the beach's edge. Both house their own restaurants, serving up sizeable portions of pan-Asian and western cuisine at great prices and offer a host of options when it comes to entertainment.
Rather unique to Kecil is the complete absence of roads linking the backpackers' paradise of Long Beach with anywhere else on the island. The only way to circumnavigate this drop in the ocean and its various enclaves is by boat or on foot. With some of the best priced and most stunning diving you'll find anywhere in the world ... or so the divers in my midst assured me, you'll be able to plunge to coral-addled depths, offering twenty-metre visibility, for as little as 60RM. For the uninitiated, the snorkelling trips offered around the island also prove mind-blowing in themselves. The prevalence of incredibly vibrant coral, makes for a psychedelic underwater experience for all, without the need to team up, tank up and drop to new depths. With sea turtles, sharks and sting-ray among the marine life promised to the average day tripper, these certainly prove a rewarding experience. But it doesn't end there. If you haven't heard one of more considered and more erudite of your party yelling “awww, look it's Nemo” before the end of the day, then your trip will not have been complete.
Kecil, as stated, means small, thus it should come as little surprise that the island is also rather quiet. Those seeking the kind of intensity of nightlife a full moon party can serve up need not apply. Neon pink body paint, glow sticks, Samsong buckets and hoards of beered up geezers grappling you in sweaty hugs couldn't be further your mind as you negotiate Long Beach's four bars, none of which ever seem to fill up. If a dancefloor does emerge, it invariably boasts little more than a few bar tenders busting a groove, a barely cognisant European guy or two with far more confidence than their ape-being-elecricuted-esque dance moves deserve and a couple of ladies who defences will inevitably be broken down by either/or before the night is out. For most, however, candlelight and a shisha become the order of the evening, accompanied by the odd slug on a bottle of the local rum. With relaxation the ambient vibe, it isn't long before most of the island's visitors slip away for a relatively early night in order to make the most of the next day on one of the continent's most stunning destinations. And whether they'll be found soaking up the sun, lost in a book, kicking a ball over a net with some uber-flexible locals or several metres under the ocean chasing a shark around a wreck, there can be little doubt they'll be having the time of their life. Perhentian Kecil is a mission to get to, it was even harder to get away from, but I for one will definitely be heading back.
Check out: www.perhentian.com.my
Go to: Putra bus station, Kuala Lumpur a short walk from the Putra World Trade Centre stop on Kuala Lumpur's efficient LRT network.
Here you can book a ticket to Kuala Besut, for a paltry sum.
The final leg: book yourself onto a speedboat at Kuala Best jetty for 70RM, open return.
Do go: between March and September.
Don't go: between October and February, when you'll find little other than some tropical storms, monsoon rain and the tiny collection of locals that brave them during the off-season.
Google map: tinyurl.com/355hvlk
Get away from the crowds in Thailand and enjoy lazy days on the island once filmed for South Pacific. You can flashpack to the island these days on a Berjaya Air flight instead of getting the ferry, but you still need to clamber onto a local boat to reach Salang Bay on the palm-fringed east coast. A handful of eateries and a beach bar are all you need when there is white sand and clear waters with coral and turtles accessible from the beach. Join in the evening campfire singsongs or make friends at the B&J diving school. Either way you'll find this an idyllic spot without any neon lights.
Om beach is a low key backpacker paradise, which has managed to remain undeveloped so far. Avoid the crowds with a beautiful quiet beach fringed by woodland, turquoise sea and great shack restaurants all along the shore. Yet, you can walk to the holy, buzzing town of Gokarna in 45 minutes over the stunning cliffs. Great people watching opportunities, before returning to laid back Om Beach to watch the sunset with a Kingfisher, and chat to new friends whilst eating delicious curry!
Om Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka, India
Google map: tinyurl.com/25jjyln
Ibiza isn't short of blissed-out bars or beaches. But Blue Bar on the neighbouring island of Formentera is both. Hire a bike and drift along quiet lanes to this chilled-out shack. Come for sunset, sip something long and cool and meet fellow drifters (just don't let their self-consciously wacky website put you off.)
From the slightly too image concerned surfer hangout town, San Juan Del Sur on the South West coast of Nicaragua, you can catch a shuttle bus (an enormous zebra-striped all terrain shuttle bus at that) over some pretty bumpy roads and tracks to one of the best waves in Nicaragua at Playa Maderas. Don’t stop here - if you walk about half a mile north over beautiful sands and a rocky outcrop you come to the beach dubbed Playa Matilda, after the fantastic beachside accommodation. You can choose simple but comfortable cabanas or the ‘dog kennels’ that just fit in a mattress and your bag or even set up a tent (or just a hammock) in their camping area at the back – all right on one of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in Central America. There are kitchen facilities but better is to go to Maria’s shack tucked around the back where you can mix and match different seafood, fish and meat with her three different sauces, all served of course with gallo pinto (rice and beans). That is of course if you’re not barbequing the fish caught by one of the eclectic mix of travelers that tend to stay a while here. A backpacker hangout that attracts a slightly more mature crowd – expect nights round the fire sippinging the delicious but cheap Flor de Cana rum and keeping an eye out for turtles crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. Swimming, surfing, rock pool discovering and a lovely vibe will ensure your two-day stay could turn into weeks.
Nearest town - San Juan del Sur. Get shuttle bus from one of the big backpackers to Playa Maderas - then walk! Or get a taxi all the way there.
Google map: tinyurl.com/2u5znwc
Calling Smile Bungalows a basic beach resort doesn't even begin to do it justice. The bungalows are rustic, with each having a bed, bathroom, balcony and fan, but the resort sits in beautiful lush gardens on Bottle Beach, which can only be reached by boat.
It lies on a beautiful secluded beach, which has great swimming and is perfect for gazing at the stars at night. However the place is really made by the incredibly friendly and helpful staff, and the relaxed bar/ restaurant which sserves a wide range of amazing food and drinks. And at 400 Thai Baht a night (approx £8) you can't get much better than that.
Aqua is quite possibly the best backpacker-style beach haunt I have ever come across. It is located on a small island in the group called Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Easily accessible from the mainland by small taxi boat, the hostel/bar has been built above the water with a swimming pool area cut out of the decking. The vibe is chilled out Caribbean with a characterful collection of international staff. Key attractions: cheap accommodation ($10 a night), amazing surfing and snorkelling opportunities accessible by boat, swimming literally off the decking, hammocks to relax in by day, a sea trampoline, AMAZING parties twice a week and easy access to the main island (a $1 taxi or 15 minute swim!) where there are cheap club nights every night. Also, on ladies' night, girls drink for free!
Cinsta is a small town stop along the coastal route of South Africa heading towards Durban. This place, and the warm and friendly people at the Bucanneers Backpackers, was a true highlight of a stay a few years ago. Wide expansive views of the beach from the room at Bucanneers, many kilometres of unspoit white sandy shoreline and the most serene and idylic sunrise and sunsets are just some of the reasons why this place is a must see. Away from the hustle, noise and bustle of the more urban beachfront attractions, like Jeffrey's Bay, or other stops on the Garden Route. A place that is genuinely off the beaten track, as many I think would drive on towards Durban or the Drakensberg. If you are looking for a place to hang out, chill, walk, hike, read, swim, surf, but without the tourist commercial bubble, then this is it. Some amazing beach photgraphy to be done, and breathtaking early and late horizon gazing. Happy Memories.
PO Box 13092, Vincent, 5217, East London, Cintsa
To be found two hours on from East London in the Eastern Cape by car. If you are a newbie traveller and taking the Baz Bus, the bus will stop there!
+27 (0)43 734 3012
Google map: tinyurl.com/2uynhe3
The most beatiful and relaxing beach on my year round trip back in 2004/2005. It will stick in my memory for a long time. White sand beaches, blue waters and great bars that spread onto the beach. In the evenings the town comes alive with street bars (amazing cocktails for nothing at all) and guys jumping around everywhere practicing capoeira. We stayed there for three weeks but could have easily stayed longer. Great little pousadas tucked away in the small town. HIGHLY reccommend a visit!
The nearest main town is Porto Seguro (where the Brazilians holiday) and from here you can get to Arraial d'Ajuda by a very short ferry ride. We caught a (long) coach trip up from Rio to Porto Seguro.
Google map: tinyurl.com/39fh7v8
For my money, it’s Dali in Yunnan Province in China. Yunnan is landlocked, but Dali is on the edge of the massive Erhai Lake and it therefore feels like a beach location. Activities on the lake include visiting the nearby island temple and surrounding fishing villages and watching the ancient practice of cormorant fishing. Inland there are plenty of pagodas and markets to visit, pony trekking in the Cangshan mountains or just watching the world go by in Dali’s cafes.
Dali City, Yunnan, China
Google map: tinyurl.com/2uvg37y
It’s got to be Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan in Thailand. It's got all the qualities – isolated (access to the beach is only possible by boat), superb beaches, good food, jungle to explore, very hospitable hosts, great swimming and snorkelling opportunities. Enough said.
Backpackers have been going to Dahab on the Sinai for years and although the town has grown now it is still a great place to meet people and really chill out by the sea.
Diver's House is a really friendly pension that is in the southern part of the town which is far quieter than the northern end which is starting to get "touristy". You can get a double room, but many are triples or sleep four people. The acommodation is basic but you're not there to spend time in your room as you can just walk out onto their sun terrace or that of the Jasmine Restaurant (and Pension) which is opposite. Both have stunning views of the Gulf of Acqaba and the staff there will get your drinks and keep the tab going all day without hassling you to buy more or move on. The bedouine cushion seating there makes it very easy to stay all day!
If you do manage to prise yourself from this laid back cafe the diving instructors and guides with Diver's House are well qualified and friendly. You can though just rent a mask, snorkle and some fins cheaply from any of the stalls along the road and snorkle on the coral reef which runs directly infront of the cafe.
Mashraba Street - Dahab - South Sinai
+20 69 3640885
Google map: tinyurl.com/2wbo993
Mashraba St.- Dahab - South Sinai- Egypt
+20 69 3640 852
From Sharm El Sheik or Cairo there is an East Delta Bus Service that runs regularly during the day and overnight (Cairo to Dahab is 50LE per person).
Langkawi is probably better known for upmarket beach resorts, but there are cheaper options. Laid back Pantai Cenang is situated on a long sandy beach which never gets crowded. There is a good choice of places to eat, drink and stay, some right on the beach. The AB motel has clean rooms with a/c, fridge and TV. We stayed in the (most expensive) room at only £24 a night.
07000 Langkawi, Kedah Darul Aman, Malaysia, Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia
Google map: tinyurl.com/2wpet3h
Discover somewhere exotic at Cambodia's ultimate beach hangout, Sihanoukville. It definitely ticks all the boxes as far as backpacker beach hangouts go. Serendipity Beach is bursting with budget accommodation - try Monkey Republic Bungalows as it's cheap, clean and comfortable and has a great bar with good-value meals.
Come nightfall you will notice the huge stretch of bars on the beach front where you can pick up a cheap feed at the fresh seafood barbeques. I'd recommend Dolphin Shack, as it's reliable and always buzzing with fellow backpackers. It's all day happy hour, beer's very cheap, so you can dance the night away under the stars right by the ocean.
Spend your days relaxing on the beach. Or if you are after something more, I'd recommend taking a trip out to the nearby islands where you will stumble upon unspoilt paradise, with squeaky pure white sand, lush palm tree's and sublime waters with endless snorkelling opportunities. You can stay in beach bungalows on Bamboo Island for an unforgettable experience.
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