Author: Kendall Hill
Photography: SHANGRI-LA BARR AL JISSAH RESORT AND SPA
Clifton Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Clifton is the Portsea or Palm Beach of Cape Town - a picturesque seaside location that attracts a stunning crowd. Stone steps lead down to the four beaches, each partitioned by granite boulders, which comprise Clifton. Creatively named First, Second, Third and Fourth beaches, the last is the most trendy; First and Second are harder to reach and a good option for non-scene sunbathers. With Table Mountain as a backdrop, the beach is flanked to the north by Bantry Bay, home to Cape Town's best selection of boutique hotels, and the restaurants and cafés of Camps Bay to the south.
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Despite being the spiritual home of the G-string, Ipanema is a classier alternative to the madness of Rio's infamous Copacabana Beach. First-timers can ease themselves into the vibe by parking their towels outside the Caesar Park Hotel, then muster the courage to join actors and artists at Posto 9 or the sexy set at Cap Ferrat beaches. Framed by the twin peaks of Dois Irmãos, this handsome sweep of shoreline is handy to the chic boutiques of Leblon and home to the legendary Garota de Ipanema restaurant, where Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes found the inspiration to write The Girl From Ipanema.
Anse Source D'Argent, Seychelles
If the Garden of Eden existed today it might look a lot like the idyllic Anse Source D'Argent (Silver Beach) located on the island of La Digue. The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles is often cited as having the highest concentration of beaches in the world, and this is regarded as the finest of all. Black granite outcrops in whimsical shapes jut into powder-soft sands fringed with palms, tropical rainforest and translucent waters. There's amazing bird life above ground, and incredible fish life beneath the sea. La Digue is charmingly laid-back - there's only one road - and the locals are genuinely friendly.
José Ignacio, Uruguay
A gorgeous crescent of sand flanked by high dunes. Curling, see-through waves big enough to bodysurf but tame enough for children, too. Designer beach shacks amid coastal scrub. And La Huella, the beachside restaurant and bar of your fantasies - great food, terrific local wines, affordable prices and a bare feet and salt-air vibe. This exclusive enclave about 40 kilometres from the glitzy, high-rise Punta Del Este will soon be home to the members-only The Setai (due to open in 2009), sister property of the Lenny Kravitz-cool Miami Beach institution. It feels a bit like the Hamptons of South America, without the attitude.
The western Filipino province of Palawan is strewn with more than 1700 islands as dramatically lovely as - but far less touristy than - the famed karst outcrops of southern Thailand or Vietnam's Halong Bay. Base yourself on Palawan island proper at El Nido, home to superb beaches and a marine reserve, then hire a kayak and paddle to Cadlao or Helicopter islands to live out your Tom Hanks Castaway fantasies (beach camping is permitted, and highly recommended). Various operators run multi-day sailing trips by banca or catamaran, which thread between the islands to discover otherwise inaccessible, picture-perfect coves.
Huvafen Fushi, Maldives
Okay, so it's better known as a resort than a beach, but if you're going to do the Maldives - and who doesn't long to visit this earthly paradise? - then this is the way to do it. The dreamy digs created by Aussies Tom McLoughlin and Jane Quinn has become a favourite bolthole of the rich and easily recognised (the likes of Tom Cruise and Kate Moss come here to escape the pressures of fame). The spa is sublime - what better way to unwind than watching a kaleidoscope of tropical fish in the sea below - and the restaurants rave-worthy. And yes, there are beaches - this is a resort island, after all.
Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas
The vibe on Harbour Island can be summed up in one short sentence: Elle Macpherson has a holiday house here. (So does designer Diane von Furstenburg, and Princess Di's bridesmaid India Hicks runs the boutique hotel, The Landing - it's that kind of place.) Mere mortals are also welcome to enjoy the natural wonder of Pink Sands Beach, a five-kilometre arc of sand coloured by the red and pink shells of marine micro-organisms. Coral reefs shelter the warm, clear waters for carefree swimming and snorkelling, and there's an A-list of upmarket inns and restaurants to indulge in once the sun sets.
Lizard Island, Queensland, Australia
It's impossible to nominate just one of Australia's myriad beaches as 'the best'. How can anyone choose between Whitehaven, Wineglass Bay, Cable, Bondi? Still, everyone has their favourite stretch of sand… Lizard Island National Park, marooned off the Far North Queensland coast, has 24 blinding white beaches from which you can step right into the World Heritage wonder of the Great Barrier Reef. Visitors are few so you can always claim an empty beach as your own. Yes, there is a very expensive resort here, but there are also five camping sites that cost just $4.50 per person a night. Divinely democratic.
The Sultanate of Oman is a vast, exotic land of deserts, wadies and empty beaches. In Muscat, the capital, many of the finer seafront locations - Al Jissah, Al Khayran and Al Sifa - have been colonised by five-star hotels and resorts offering fine dining, lodgings and watersports. If this isn't your scene, hire a car and explore the many coves wedged between the towering mountains which plunge straight into the Arabian Sea. You'll invariably have the beach to yourself, though the sea will be crowded with colourful marine life from the pristine coral reefs.
Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii
You might know the Garden Isle of Kauai, Hawaii's least-developed island, as the pristine setting for movies such as Jurassic Park, but its heart-stirringly dramatic landscapes are best appreciated in person, and preferably from the comfort of a beach towel. The most attractive stretch of Kauai coastline is at Poipu, where the sandy crescents have something for everyone: the tame Baby Beach is ideal for families with young children, Brennecke's for swimming and bodysurfing, there's snorkelling at Lawai and gnarly pipes at Shipwreck's Beach.