By Matt Meltzer
As soon as the holidays are over, we reach a point in the new year affectionately known as the “Winter Blahs.” No fun holidays to plan for (unless you’re REALLY into President’s Day) and no fun stuff to do outdoors that doesn’t involve 40 layers of thermal underwear (unless you live in Florida). It’s the time of year when people start using a lot of work hours looking for somewhere, anywhere, to go that’s warmer than where they currently are.
And the easiest somewhere for East Coasters/Midwesterners — other than one of one of these popular Florida beaches — is usually the Caribbean Sea and its bevy of tropical paradises. White sand, turquoise water, jealous Facebook friends — what more could you ask for? (International roaming charges be damned!) But which beaches will ensure you post the most envy-inducing pics on social media? These 14, of course — the best beaches in the Caribbean.
Why it made our list: Thanks to the embargo (or not thanks, depending on how you look at it), Cuban resort towns boast the same fine white sand beaches and clear waters as other Caribbean destinations, but with fewer people and a more authentic feel. The best in Cuba is Varadero, where the 10-mile beach is lined with over 20 hotels that cost a fraction of what similar resorts on other islands would.
Bonus: Just off the beach is a chain of untouched keys with explorable caves; you can visit via a short boat ride.
Photo: Getty Images
Why it made our list: It’s the beach where planes fly 10 feet above your head. Peace and quiet? No. An experience you won’t get anywhere else in the world? Absolutely.
Bonus: The best time to enjoy the near-death experience of a 747/Airbus landing or taking off on top of you is at 2 p.m. or 4 p.m., when those particular planes arrive and depart, respectively.
Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Photo: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Why it made our list: It’s one of the 25 most beautiful beaches in the world to start with. But in the British Virgin Islands, it’s also the beach with the easiest access to bars, restaurants, and other activities you’ll want to engage in when lying on perfect white sand gets old.
Bonus: One of those bars is the Soggy Dollar, where the Painkiller was invented.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Why it made our list: It’s hidden, remote (you’ve gotta hike through unmarked wilderness and cross a stream to get there), and, oh yeah, it’s a freaking black sand beach in the decidedly un-volcanic Caribbean.
Bonus: The black sand is actually volcanic rock sediment that washes on shore when it rains. The stuff is so metallic it will stick to a refrigerator magnet.
Why it made our list: It’s about as close as you can get to stepping out of the jungle and on to the beach as you can get in the islands; dense tropical cliffs stretch right up to the sand and palm trees. Plus, the beach manages to strike a rare balance between keeping it local/authentic while still catering to tourists.
Bonus: Hit up Richard’s Bake & Shark to try Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish, the, well, bake and shark. Yep, it’s deep-fried shark stuffed in deep-fried dough, and it’s a totally good-for-you cultural experience.
St. Croix, USVI
Credit: Flickr/Philip Brewer
Why it made our list: Not that St. Croix is exactly overcrowded and full of tourists, but if you REALLY want the “alone on a deserted island” experience this national preserve, 30 minutes by boat from the main island, has perfect beaches and a stunning view of St. Croix.
Bonus: It’s one of the top snorkeling spots in America. If you’re ambitious enough — and the weather cooperates — you can fish-gaze around the entire island.
Virgin Gorda, BVI
Why it made our list: The Baths is an entire landscape of giant, volcanically formed boulders that create dozens of grottoes and pools in which to play. A brief hike also leads to a completely private one, if you’d like to share an intimate moment.
Bonus: If giant boulders aren’t your idea of a perfect beach, it’s only a short (and pretty spectacular) hike through The Baths National Park to the beaches of Devil’s Bay and Spring Bay; both of which are more the white-sand-and-blue-water variety.
Credit: Flickr/Sarūnas Burdulis
Why it made our list: We’ve already told you that the best beaches in the DR are in the not-nearly-as-blown-up north, and of those, the cream of the crop are in the former fishing village of Las Terrenas. And then, the most isolated and dramatic of THOSE beaches is the one locals call “El Coson.” So think of this stretch of sand as the best of the best of the best.
Bonus: Sure, you CAN make the long walk through the beachside jungle from the town of Las Terrenas. But wouldn’t it be more fun (and faster) to jungle-hop on an ATV? Of course it would.
Seven Mile Beach
Photo: Flickr/Michael McCarthy
Why it made our list: A long beach that was pretty much founded by hippies so they had a place to get high and stare at far-out tropical sunsets, it’s now home to the world’s preeminent swingers resort, Hedonism II.
Bonus: The famous Negril Cliffs, where you can climb 30 feet and dive right into the Caribbean Sea.
Turks and Caicos
Photo: Getty Images
Why it made our list: To be honest, you could pretty much put any beach in Turks and Caicos on a list of the best in the Caribbean, but the turquoise-water star of this island chain is Grace Bay. Home to most of the major resorts in Providenciales, it’s also a launch site for the best diving in the islands.
Bonus: If lying on the beach makes you antsy and you’re NOT scuba certified, head to the Coral Gardens snorkeling park — you’ll see marine life just as amazing as that 80 feet down.
St. John, USVI
Photo: Getty Images
Why it made our list: It’s a perfect stretch of white sand in Virgin Islands National Park. Completely devoid of development, it allows visitors the chance to experience a truly natural Caribbean beach.
Bonus: Except… when the cruise ships are docked in St. Thomas. Also known as: the time you don’t want to be there. Hundreds of tourists take the ferry to St. John and the beach at Trunk Bay gets crowded. On a “no ships” day, though, it’s quiet and the snorkeling trail is easier to explore. Consider yourself warned.
Credit: Flickr/David Stanley
Why it made our list: The alarmingly calm seas here make it one of the best places in the Caribbean for water sports. Plus, Aruba is outside the hurricane belt so you can visit late in the summer without concern of getting stuck in your hotel’s bathtub for three days.
Bonus: The heart or Aruban nightlife is right along the strip adjacent to the beach, which means nights on the sand are often more interesting than the days.
Credit: Flickr/Matthew Straubmuller
Why it made our list: Exuma has all the beauty of other top Bahamian spots without the strip of hotels, so you can enjoy the beach in peace and quiet. Or at the very least, only have to share it with those famous swimming pigs.
Bonus: Take a short walk to the “washing machine,” a private cove where the tides meet and swish you around like last week’s gym clothes.
Credit: Flickr/Jeremy T. Hetzel
Why it made our list: Yes, yes, we realize that Bermuda isn’t technically in the Caribbean but close enough, right? And the combination of pink sand and limestone formations is something you won’t see anywhere else.
Bonus: This beach can get unpleasantly crowded with tourists when the cruise ships come in, so take a short walk to either Port Royal Cove or Peel Rock Cove and find yourself in an almost-private grotto.
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