Out-Of-This-World Beach Destinations

Out-Of-This-World Beach Destinations


When it comes to imagining the ideal beach vacation, the average mind works rather narrowly. Say those two words and most will think of crystalline water lapping against a soft shore of yogurt-white, with a kind, warm sun working its magic on bare skin. You think of parrots, palm trees and piña coladas, a sprawling resort with an infinity pool, an army of white-clad, tan-skinned, tray-carrying waiters at the ready, asking, “Would you like one more?” or “Have you tried the catch of the day?” In the average mind, the prototypical beach vacation is associated with the tropical and the uniform. But the world is a large, diverse place and beaches come in all shapes and sizes. Why not, then, for your next coastal outing, consider a beach vacation outside of the average, sunny jaunt?

Belize’s Great Blue Hole, a 400-foot-deep sinkhole in the center of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll in the Caribbean Sea, is a true natural wonder. One-thousand feet across, forming an otherworldly dark dot in a sea of candy-blue, it attracts divers, sightseers, and scientists alike.

Heritage Line, a Southeast Asia luxury tour operator in Vietnam
Heritage Line, a Southeast Asia luxury tour operator in Vietnam.

Billionaire Richard Branson recently embarked on a scientific expedition there in a high-tech submarine, to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the wonder, which first came into the public consciousness after being featured in an episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau in 1971. Divers can visit, but must be experienced, though anyone can snorkel along the edges, where pristine reefs abound.

Located about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, Reynisfjara Black-Sand Beach—located behind a small fishing village—is one of the most popular natural sites on Iceland’s South Coast. There are two massive basalt columns that rise from the beach, mesmerizing structures said to be, in local lore, the towering remains of sun-frozen trolls (they made a cameo in Season 7 of Game of Thrones). Birdwatchers abound, attracted to the beach’s many fulmars, guillemots, and puffins, which are particularly bountiful from May through August. Beware the water though, which is notoriously wavy, rough, and beset by riptides. Wilderness Ireland, a luxury adventure operator, offers Hiking the Dingle Way on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. The seven-day itinerary, which features a hike along the Maharees, Ireland’s longest beach, on the country’s rugged west coast. Popular with wind, kite, and wave surfers alike, the Maharees, with white-sand and turquoise water all surrounded by rolling green hills, has drawn adventurers and outdoor lovers from around the globe. The sand dunes also foster a unique ecosystem, home to the rare natterjack toad, whooper swan, and the Bewick’s mute swan.

A view of the Galapagos’ volcanic landscape.
A view of the Galapagos’ volcanic landscape

Located between Tairua and Whitianga, not far from Auckland, New Zealand, Coromandel Hot Water Beach is a marvel of geothermal activity. Sourced by an underground river of volcanically heated water, the golden beach, at low tide, becomes a make-your-own-hot-tub extravaganza; all you have to do is dig. When your ditch is at the preferred size, wait as it fills with naturally heated water (some beaches in the Caribbean island of Dominica also have this superpower). Nearby are a number of galleries and hip cafes, some of which rent out digging spades. The beach also boasts some superb surfing waves. A long-sacred site for the Ngati Hei tribe, visitors are expected to show respect for the beach.

About two-and-a-half hours from the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik stands the Reynisfjara Black-Sand Beach
About two-and-a-half hours from the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik stands the Reynisfjara Black-Sand Beach.

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates the Baja Peninsula from mainland Mexico. In its southern end are several small, uninhabited islands that feel like visiting another world. From the sleepy fishing town of La Paz, set out in a panga boat to Isla Espiritu Santo, a protected national park with a mountainous interior and lush coral reefs surrounding it. Camping and kayaking adventures can be booked through Mar Y Aventuras, a reputable, eco-friendly outfitter in La Paz. A panga-ride away is Los Islotes, where visitors can snorkel or dive with a massive sea lion colony–around 300–which, underwater, are like friendly flippered-dogs. And keep an eye out for whale-sharks, which abound in the sea.

The beaches in the Galapagos may look straight out of your standard, picturesque tropical paradise, but they are anything but normal. The islands’ ecological offerings, made famous by Charles Darwin’s studies there in the 19th century that led to his theory of evolution, are completely unique. From marine iguanas to blue-footed boobies and penguins, the creatures one can witness in the Galapagos are unlike any on earth. A number of high-end boat voyages cruise the waters of the Galapagos. Make sure to book an operator that provides a certified naturalist as a guide, such as National Geographic Expeditions.

The Galapagos Islands are known for wildlife, including blue-footed boobies.
The Galapagos Islands are known for wildlife, including blue-footed boobies

Though Ha Long Bay gets all the attention in Vietnam, a newly launched trip from Heritage Line, a Southeast Asia luxury tour operator, takes travelers to a lesser known coastal gem, in the country’s northern half. Stretching nearly the whole eastern coast of Cat Ba Island in the Gulf of Tonkin, Lan Ha Bay features, like Ha Long, limestone pillars and forested isles but with none of the crowds. Heritage’s vessel, the Ylang, is decked out for health and wellness, with singing bowl meditation sessions, yoga, massage rooms, and a guided meditation session on a beach in a secluded bay.

The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize
The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize.

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