Some complain about how “doing it for the gram” has turned traveling into less of an experience and more of a quest to take highly edited photographs for instant feedback. And, sure, anyone who’s traveled with someone who takes 700 pictures of a waterfall then immediately goes home can attest to the fact that Instagram has some downsides. But it’s also exposed millions of people to the beauty of destinations they may never have heard of.
Case in point are some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, places you might have never known existed if you live in America. Through the magic of social media, we can now learn about a California-esque beach town in England or a rusty shipwreck on the sand in Greece without having to do much more than scroll a feed. The folks at Travel Supermarket looked at the beaches hashtagged the most on Instagram over the years, and here are the top 20.
20. Fig Tree Bay Beach, Cyprus
One of the most accurately named beaches in the world, this stretch of pure golden sand in the resort town of Paralimni is named after a lone fig tree, which has been standing there for over 300 years. During summer, the beach can be wall-to-wall people, but fortunately, you can escape them and swim to the little island a short distance from shore. It won’t be empty, but it’ll give you a great perspective on the entire bay.
19. Waipio Valley Beach, Hawaii
The black sand beach here is one of the finest in the world and doubles as a popular surfing spot for those willing to make the trek. But the trip to this beach might be more spectacular than the sand itself as you hike from an overlook over the lush, tropical valley, down through the canyons, along a meandering river, and out onto the sand. It’s fewer than seven miles and makes for a perfect day trip if you’re on the Big Island.
18. Navagio Beach, Greece
It’s not that this beach on a tiny island off the southwest coast of Greece isn’t spectacular for its towering cliffs, white sand, and deep blue Mediterranean water — but the rusting smugglers’ ship sitting on the shore is what makes it an Instagram all-star. The ship was allegedly chased aground by the coast guard back in the early 1980s as it was carrying cigarettes, alcohol, and possibly people. And it’s sat there ever since. It’s now known as “Shipwreck Beach” and is only accessible from the water — so you’ll need to book a tour to see it.
17. Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico
Culebra is the last untouched gem of Puerto Rico, where the pristine beaches are still fairly undeveloped and most of the people you’ll find are day-tripping locals. Flamenco sits at the base of dark green hills, on the section of the island with no hotels, facilities, or restaurants. It feels like a deserted Caribbean island — if you ignore the catamaran cruise boats that sometimes stop here. Locals may find them irritating, but if you’re not flying straight into Culebra, that’s the best way to see the beach.
16. Shoal Bay Beach, Antigua
On an island that claims to have “a beach for every day of the year,” it can be tough to pick one out of literally 365. But the Instagrammers’ fave is this one on the north coast, which is also the most popular among tourists. It’s every bit the turquoise water and white sand of your Caribbean fantasies, and while you might have to share the beach during high season, it’s worth a stop just to get a picture. After all, there are 364 more to choose from.
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15. Reynisfjara Beach, Iceland
Cold? Sure. But you don’t go to Iceland for the tanning, you go to see the cool stuff you saw in “Game of Thrones”. That’s why the basalt stacks off this beach are so heavily Instagrammed, as they were featured heavily in Season 7 of the hit TV show. Even if you’re the one person on earth who doesn’t watch “GOT,” you can still appreciate the beauty here, where roaring Atlantic waves crash into the shore against an eerie gray sky. Best of all, it’s only a couple hours’ drive from Reykjavik, so you can do it in a day.
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14. Varadero Beach, Cuba
Varadero is still the best, most easily accessible beach in Cuba. This peninsula of white sand and tropical foliage sits only about two hours from Havana — 13 miles of uninterrupted coastline jutting straight out into the Caribbean. Diving here is some of the best in the region too, as the sites haven’t been dived out like in many more-popular-with-Americans reefs. It is Cuba’s beach tourism hub, so if you’re looking for a quiet escape this isn’t it. But it’s a nice change of pace from hectic Havana and is the most relaxing thing to do that won’t require an overnight.
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13. Eagle Beach, Aruba
That tree you see on, like, every tourism poster for Aruba in history? That’s at Eagle Beach, and that Divi tree makes the beach behind it among the most photographed in the world. But stay behind after you get your requisite Divi tree selfie; the sunsets here are spectacular as the warm, rain-free days you’ll spend gazing out at the Caribbean.
12. Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
Many call this the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean, as the turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos shine a color you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The best way to experience it is the park at Coral Gardens, a snorkeling trail with more colorful marine life than most scuba dives. It’s definitely a must-swim if you’re spending a day in Provo.
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11. Dreamland Beach, Bali
About 20 years ago, the name of this beach seemed a lot more appropriate, when the dramatic limestone cliffs covered in ferns and palm trees dropped onto the pure powdery sand and clear water. It’s seen some serious development since then, and while the world-class surf breaks and soft beach haven’t changed, like a lot of Bali is feels a lot less undiscovered and “dream-like” than it once did. Still, if you’ve made the trek to Indonesia, give it a few hours. Off-season, it almost recaptures the charm of yesteryear.
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10. Playa Paraiso, Mexico
Beyond the famous ruins at Tulum, you’ll find this beach, considered among many to be the best in Mexico. It’s the jewel of Riviera Maya, a soft stretch of sand set along the Caribbean that feels more like the islands than the Mexican mainland. The reef offshore is also one of the best dive spots in the country, so if you’re certified this can be a perfect day trip from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
9. Ao Nang Beach, Thailand
Though the beach here and its limestone cliffs are the darlings of amateur photographers around the globe, the real jaw-droppers will be on the islands that sit just off the coast. Ao Nang feels like an international beach destination with crowds, luxury hotels, and franchises along the main drag. But take a boat out to the islands and you’ll find empty slices of serene tropical paradise, with some of the best diving in the world and the occasional feeling of complete isolation.
8. Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas
If you’ve been on a cruise, your vision of the Bahamas is probably one of straw markets, crowded resorts, and overpriced fruity drinks. But take the time to investigate the smaller islands and you’ll find one of the most beautiful places in the world. Case in point is Harbour Island, a sparsely populated spot just off North Eleuthera. Here, rose-colored sand butts up against calm clear ocean, and though it’s not exactly a hidden gem, its remote location keeps the crowds down.
7. Bournemouth Beach, United Kingdom
Glance quickly at photos of this beach on the southern coast of England, and you might assume it’s somewhere in the sun-soaked Mediterranean. That’s because the micro-climate here creates one of the sunniest spots in the dreary UK and has created the closest thing to a beach resort town you’ll find in the British Isles. The seven-mile golden beach sits at the base of steep cliffs with a couple of long fishing piers, a venerable Santa Monica on the English channel. Though it’s not as warm as the Med or Southern California, it’s as picturesque as anywhere in balmier locales.
6. Boulders Beach, South Africa
Boulders might be the most photographed beach that never includes people, as the main draw here is a flock of African penguins that calls the sunny Cape Town beach home. It’s a strange juxtaposition — the baby-blue ocean and white sand look very Caribbean until an adorable group of penguins comes waddling along. But these birds apparently got stuck here after making a wrong migration turn coming up from Antarctica and decided the year-round warm weather of Cape Town was better than chasing the sun all year. It’s not a beach to lay out or have a cocktail, but for wildlife viewing, it’s one of the best in the world.
5. Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic
The tourism explosion that transformed the DR over the past two decades started in Bavaro, the first spot in the country to explore the world of all-inclusive luxury on a large scale. The abundance of resorts is a big reason why this beach is so heavily photographed, as well as its popularity as a weekend getaway for locals in Santo Domingo.
4. Cayo Coco Beach, Cuba
Cuba has become a little saturated with tourists the past few years, but you’d never know it on this serene island on the northern coast. A 16-mile causeway lined with wild flamingos takes you out to a remote cay, where empty white-sand beaches sit in front of grand resorts, none of which ever seem teeming with people. For combining luxury with nature, this is the best beach in Cuba.
3. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Aside from cops with socks up to their knees, what one pictures when they hear “Bermuda” is this crescent-shaped pink-sand beach lined with rock formations, situated a short walk from the cruise port in Hamilton. It can get packed when a ship is in, so if you’re spending a few days on the island, time your visit to when smaller ships are in port. Or, if the crowds get too much, rent a snorkel from one of the friendly vendors near the beach, bury your head in the water, and pretend nobody’s there but you and the fish.
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2. Lanikai Beach, Hawaii
Escaping the crowds of Waikiki is essential to enjoying a Hawaiian vacation, which is why a lot of visitors find their way to the other side of Oahu and this beach in Kailua. Named “Heavenly Sea,” it’s a much more isolated spot, where palm trees sit behind you on the shore and the Mokulua islands stand in the distance. It’s a bit of a trek if you’re coming from the tourist hotspots in Hawaii but absolutely worth the time and money to have this piece of Pacific tranquility to yourself.
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1. Whitehaven Beach, Australia
It’s amazing that a beach located on the far end of a national park on the most far-flung populated continent would top this list. But amazing is just what this beach on the Great Barrier Reef is, where the sand is 98 percent pure silica, making it among the whitest in the world. Whitehaven’s location in Whitsunday Islands National Park means it’s not packed with hotels and t-shirt shops like some others on this list, so pictures are almost as clean and pure as the beach itself.
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