I recommend the beach on the Indian Ocean side of the coral-ringed Chumbe Island, located off the coast of Zanzibar. Chumbe combines sustainable ecological living with luxury; an affordable, private haven with a conscience. As a guest on this island paradise (and there are never more than 14 people at any one time), you have your very own beach, steps away from the front door of your beautiful palm thatched eco-bungalow. The beaches surround a marine protected coral park with world-class snorkelling, as well as being home to a historic lighthouse and the protected (and nocturnal) coconut crabs. The beaches are perfect for relaxation, nature spotting and romance, far removed from those of a typical holiday resort. On our first night, we were the only guests on the island. On our final night, the staff (always attentive without being intrusive) arranged a private, secluded candlelit dinner for two on the beach as a surprise. Bliss.
Tofo with its infinite sands, windowless wicker bungalows, perfectly spaced surf-waves and amazing market eateries serving up plates of enormous buttery prawns would have put Tofo in my top five travel spots even without the whale sharks.
Having de-rusted our diving skills with the extremely patient staff in Tofo Scuba's pool we joined a boat and headed off into the Indian Ocean.
First we noticed a whale tail - then five, twenty, too many to count, the most our dive leader had ever seen.
Without scuba gear we leapt into the water and spent the next hour swimming with the pod and their hangers-on - a couple of enormous but exceptionally graceful manta rays. Coming face to face with alien whale shark grimaces, swimming between their enormous bodies and sensing their utter ambivalence towards us was a euphoric and uniquely calming experience.
Nestled in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park - a marine reserve and world heritage site since 1999.
Endless beaches with massive sand dunes fringed by a dense coastal forest.
My favourite place is to the left of the lighthouse, just to sit and watch the southern right and humpback whales breach as they makes their journey up and down along the coast of Africa. Watching the sun set with a beer in hand is another way of celebrating the area's natural beauty, peace and quiet.
The rock pools have great nudibranchs and loads of tropical fish juveniles - great for snorkelling.
Between November and February you can see turtles laying eggs and the babies hatching (leatherbacks, loggerheads amongst the species).
You can also watch dolphins on their daily feeding route along the coast.
What more can I say? It has to be seen to be believed :)
An idyllic stretch of white sand beach spilling into the crystal clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean accessible either along the beach from Nungwi at low tide or a long haul clamber down from the main access road that drives through the island. By day you stretch out on the deserted sands and watch the fishermen casually push off in their dhows. You can cool off and swim in the beautiful blue shallows before relaxing with a cold beer as the amazing sun sets over the Indian Ocean - creating silhouettes of the fleets of fishing dhows on the horizon - you can even clamber onto an old one laid to rest on the beach. By night you can eat fresh king fish with coconut rice on the cooled swathes of sands before swinging in a hammock, looking up and almost touching the stars as they spread across and light the remote blackness around you. Idyllic, isolated and immense.
Kendwa, near Nungwhi - north west coast of Zanzibar.
Google map: bit.ly/rQcysW
River no. 2 beach, Sierra Leone.
Some 16km out of Freetown’s dust and noise is a piece of unexpected paradise. River no 2 beach, the film location for the 70s Bounty ad, is a tranquil bay mostly frequented by NGO workers on their days off. Along the sandy bay are perfectly positioned beach chairs, tables and parasols facing the Atlantic, where the occasional passing canoe catches your eye. With temperatures at around 29 degrees, December and January are ideal months to go. Don’t expect any frills, the only facilities are a latrine in a shed. But the piece de resistance has to be the hut in the trees where they’ll cook your food – or better still, serve up specialities from their menu including huge prawn kebabs on spicy couscous. You won’t be hassled by the beach sellers offering their ornaments and jewellery but do buy one of their deliciously fresh coconuts to finish off your lunch.
16km outside of the capital, Freetown. Drive there (4X4 recommended) or local taxi.
Google map: bit.ly/uBoicH
Boulders is home to the adorable yet bizarre African 'Jackass' penguin. Just a walk down the road from Simonstown, near Cape Town, Boulders is wonderful for picnicing, surfing and building sandcastles. I first visited this bay when I was about eight years old with my family and some friends. It was nice to be so at-one with nature, yet still have a family holiday. The boulders the beach is named after are also great fun for climbing and jumping off into the warm ocean. The only thing I would be wary of is checking around your car before you leave, just incase one of the penguins has fallen asleep in the shade!
Built from a design by artist and architect Cesar Manrique, the Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote is a definite must see. A “jameo” forms when the ceiling of a tunnel collapses due to volcanic activity and forms an enclosure or lake. In this venue, visitors walk through the connecting caves, where, thanks to the great mind of Manrique, every corner hides new surprises. Plants are beautifully arranged and the azure waters of a large swimming pool, surrounded by smooth, white stone and palms, is like something out of a James Bond film! There is also a little museum of volcanism – with wonderful views over the compound and interactive sections for guaranteed family fun!
It's a wonderful little campsite right on the river. Only a five minute walk to the town - BBQs allowed, as are pets, children and smokers. The shower facilities here are better than any others I've ever been to in my life. I'd go as far to say that the showers themselves are better than some in hotels. The owners are British and cook amazing food. The drinks at the bar are ridiculously over-priced but okay for a few nights. They also cook pizza in an outdoor stone oven.
It's also a few miles away from a fantastic volcanic region of France where you can swim in crystal-blue crater lakes.
Beautiful white sandy beaches alongside the perfectly clean, clear and warm waters of the River Plate estuary between Argentina and Uruguay makes you feel like you’re on a tropical island, not an hour northeast of Montevideo. Piriápolis with its elegant old hotel and beach front promenade surrounded by small mountains is reminiscent of a Mediterranean beach town. Fantastic seafood to be devoured alongside the beach offers a perfect spot to watch the sun go down. We feasted on gigantic cones and perfectly sculptured ladles of the creamiest ice-cream you can imagine (Heladeria El Faro just across the road from the beach a firm favourite!). Family friendly too with warm shallow waters lapping onto beautiful sandy beaches creating lagoons to play in it has something for everyone.
Great transport links including the ferry/bus service from Buenos Aires will take you door to door in a few hours.
If you're looking for paradise, this is as close as you'll ever get. Unspoiled, uninhabited islands where you can camp under the stars, snorkel in pristine waters and marvel at what a beautiful world we live in.
They are two beautiful, deserted beaches in the east of the island. Although the beaches are close to the island's main town, they are only accessible by foot on a signposted path, which starts at the eastern end of Abraao beach. The path, which is steep at times, takes you through pristine jungle and past one of the island's highest points from where the views are excellent. A good alternative to Lopes Mendes, the island's most well-known beach (which is accessible on foot from Pouso). It is possible to catch a boat back from Pouso beach to Abraao village.
Paraty is a couple hours drive south of Rio de Janeiro. A hidden gem in every sense of the meaning. The beach is quite difficult to find and includes a drive (I did it in a bus) up a mountain, then back down the other side. On the way, you do wonder if it's worth all this palava but once you finally witness the beach, the sea, the backdrop of the mountains and the surrounding coast, you know you've found something very special. Perhaps the most beautiful set of beaches I've ever seen. Just don't forget your suncream - the sun is perilously strong in this corner of the world.
A crescent of crushed white pebbles, the crystal clear water of Lake Pirihueico and a couple of snow-capped Andean volcanoes looming overhead. A simple, leaning wooden shack with a corrugated iron roof was the restaurant/shop. I bought a beer and a sandwich, slapped on the factor 30 and unfurled my towel while waiting for my bus to Argentina. The elderly Maipuche woman who ran the place provided entertainment when she decided to give her cat its weekly wash in the lake.
At the eastern end of Lake Pirihueico in the south of Chile's lake district. A breathtaking 90-minute ferry ride from the opposite end of the lake is part of the little-used cross-border route to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina.
Google map: bit.ly/pGl09h
While Santa Fe is chilled and has an OK beach, it's the boat rides to the islands that you come here for. Jump on a boat and head to the islands where you can eat fresh oysters from a man just walking round with a bucket of them and some limes, stroke the huge lizards and then pop back on the boat for some snorkelling in some beautiful, marine life abundant coral reefs - perfection.
Eight years ago when we went it was still relatively unknown and quiet - pure bliss.
Parque Nacional Mochima
Google map: bit.ly/rnZLpb
To anyone lucky enough to be able to go to Brazil during the World Cup in 2014, watching the footy on Copacabana beach is a must. I was there during the final of the last World Cup in 2010, and it was probably one of the best days of my whole six month travelling experience! They set up huge screens on the beach from midday, with live samba music, dancers and an abundance of beer and of course, Speedos. Even watching the final between Holland and Spain, the atmosphere was as excited as if it was a South American final. I can't even begin to imagine how it would have been if that was the case - it was truly like a mini Carnival. And my top tip, if you're feeling a little worse for wear the morning after the festivities, grab yourself an Acai berry smoothie from one of the kiosks near the beach, one sip and you'll feel completely revitalised!
Google map: bit.ly/rcHlgh
Boipeba is what you would expect Morro de Sao Paulo to have been like before it became the party central of the south Bahia! If you are looking to get away from it all for some rest and relaxation, pristine and serene coconut lined beaches and endless balmy days then the tiny island of Boipeba needs to be marked as a ‘must do’ on your map (if you sneeze, you will miss it!) With no noise apart from the sound of the occasional purr of a speedboat engine and the chirping of birds in the surrounding dense rainforests it is certainly a place to kick back and do absolutely nothing. Depending on how you get there, bus and boat or even plane from Salvador, you will not regret it. There are no ATM’s on the island and only a couple of very small stores for basic requirements, however, there is a small scattering of restaurants and obviously countless coconuts!
While studying at Spanish school in Guatemala, a friend and I spent a long weekend on a road trip to neighbouring El Salvador. We spent three glorious days at El Zonte, a small secluded beach inhabited only by locals with a passion for surf. We caught the first waves at sunrise everyday, leaving the ocean only to sip tropical fruit smoothies and eat freshly caught fish in beach front hammocks. Everyday, we returned to the ocean at sunset to watch the sun melt into the pacific as we tried again and again to catch the fierce waves. Even after spending months in Latin America, I never managed to find somewhere so tranquil and so perfect as El Zonte.
Google map: bit.ly/p917II
The picture-perfect beach of Dois Rios lies in a peaceful cove on an island just an hour off the mainland of Rio de Janiero state, where there are no ATMs and motorised vehicles are banned. After two hours of hiking across the island we reached it, with sprawling golden sand, turquoise waters to the front, lush rainforest behind and pretty much nothing else. It really is the perfect deserted beach. Unlike the more popular (and no more gorgeous) Lopes Mendes beach, no tourist boats go here so the only way to reach it is on foot - gruelling in the humidity (and flip flops) but a real blessing in disguise. I hope it remains utterly unspoiled for a very long time, or at least until I can afford to return.
Stay in: Vila do Abraao, Ilha Grande
Google map: bit.ly/oS93At
Earlier this year we stayed on Providencia Island: a small, mountainous Caribbean island, part of Colombia (although closer to Nicaragua), lying midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica. The primitive Island has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve and has a 20 km coral barrier making it a divers’ paradise. But for us, it offered the small Hotel Sirrius situated on a long, white sandy beach. We had the four sun-beds to ourselves and our lazy days involved reading, watching the fishing and scuba diving boats go in and out and having frequent dips in the warm sea. Saturday was the highlight of the week with horse racing along the beach: we stood in the ‘sea stand’ as the horses galloped past. There was only one nearby restaurant, no internet, mobile phone access or TVs: just total relaxation at the end of three months travelling.
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