Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Cities Outdoors

The Safest Places in Central America for Travelers

Editor’s note: This story was researched and written before the current COVID-19 pandemic. While we look forward to traveling again soon, we recognize that the most important thing we can all do right now is to stay home. For the most current information about COVID-19, check the CDC website.

With active volcanoes, Maya ruins, and extensive coastlines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, Central America is an idyllic destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Given the region’s history of political instability, many foreigners are wary of visiting, wondering if Central America is safe, and end up missing out on the cultural, historical, and culinary richness of the seven countries that comprise it.

But while these fears are justified in some cases, you shouldn’t judge an entire region by its news cover. Not every country in the area is experiencing conflict, and while caution is always advised no matter where you travel, you certainly won’t be stepping into the war zone Central America is often made out to be.

To help you have an amazing—and safe— trip, we have compiled a list of the four safest countries to visit in Central America.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins over the heart of every visitor with its “Pura vida” philosophy. The entire nation exudes a relaxed vibe that calls you to breathe in and enjoy life—something that’s not too difficult to do here. During your time in this mesmerizing country, you can watch sea turtles hatch on quiet beaches, climb the Arenal Volcano, or see monkeys and jaguars at the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Often considered a pioneer of eco-tourism, Costa Rica takes great pride in its natural resources and its status as a megadiverse country. In fact, 98 percent of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, and 26 percent of its territory is made up of protected natural lands. Because of this natural richness, the country attracts intrepid adventure travelers who come to surf tall waves, zipline through canopies, rappel down waterfalls, and white-water raft down swift rivers.

As for safety, foreigners usually don’t have much to worry about. The Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the 33rd most peaceful country in the world. For comparison, the U.S. is ranked at 218. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives it a level 1 warning, making it safer than Spain and Italy in the eyes of the U.S. Basically, you should exercise common sense precautions like avoiding dark streets at night and hiding your valuables.

Costa Rica takes such pride in its commitment to peace that it doesn’t even have an army. As if that weren’t enough, it is considered one of the best countries in Latin America for LGBTQIA travelers, given locals’ open-minded attitudes towards sexual diversity and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Ready to book your tickets yet?

Panama

panama city skyline at sunset panama.

If you judge Panama by its rankings on the Global Peace Index and the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory, you’ll soon be at ease. The former ranks Panama at 47th, and the latter suggests a level 1 advisory. Do keep in mind that certain areas should be avoided, including the Mosquito Coast, and the Darien region along the border with Colombia. Again, normal safety measures are recommended to avoid being pickpocketed or mugged, particularly in urban centers.

Now that you know Panama is much safer than most people believe, you should also know that it is much more interesting than most people imagine. In fact, many people simply know Panama for its famous canal, which continues to be a tourist attraction but which is not by any means the only thing the country has to offer.

Sure, take a scenic flight over the canal to see it for yourself, but also allow some space in your itinerary to swim with whale sharks in astonishing Bocas del Toro, or to soak up the metropolitan glitz of Panama City. Adventure travelers will also find plenty of thrilling activities, like hiking through cloud forests, watching the migration of humpback whales in the Pacific, and climbing the country’s highest point, Baru Volcano.

The best part about Panama? It seems like tourists have yet to wise up about it, so you can enjoy small village beaches and forest treks without hordes of Instagram-hungry tourists.

Belize

boat on great blue hole belize.

Yet another wonderful but often overlooked country in Central America, Belize is impressively diverse for its tiny size. The English-speaking country boasts jungles riddled with Mayan ruins, the second largest reefs in the world, and idyllic islands scattered along its coast.

Divers absolutely love Belize because of the diversity of its reef, but also because of its famous Great Blue Hole. This underground sinkhole is the largest of its kind, and is equally impressive from above and from underneath the water’s surface. In fact, the great conservationist, explorer, and diver Jacques Cousteau included the “hole” as one of his favorite diving spots on the planet.

Even if you’re not a big fan of diving in a dark, seemingly unending ocean abyss, the Belize coastline offers plenty of opportunities for swimming in warm waters, paddle boarding, and kayaking through mangroves. One of the best things to do is to simply lay in a hammock with a bottle of cool beer in your hand and enjoy the sun kissing your skin.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives Belize a level 2 warning, which is the same level as countries like France and the U.K. That said, increased precaution is recommended, since its proximity to Mexico inevitably makes it part of Central America’s drug route. The south—where many of the country’s Mayan ruins lay hidden by the jungle—is of particular concern, so we recommend researching before planning a trip, or going with a trusted tour company.

LGBTQIA travelers might want to rethink a trip to Belize, as locals tend to have a more conservative mentality and may even be hostile to non-heterosexual couples.

Guatemala

santa catalina arch in antigua guatemala

Like Belize, Guatemala has a level 2 warning from the Department of State. Certain areas present an increased level of risk, specifically the areas along the drug trade route. It is recommended that travelers do research before deciding their itineraries, particularly if they plan to go to remote regions that are not as frequented. Again, visitors looking to explore natural or rural areas might want to consider using a trusted tour company with local guides.

Once you have taken the necessary precautions, don’t even consider missing out on picturesque Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, this well-preserved colonial town is one of the most beautiful towns in Latin America. Cobblestoned streets and colorful balconies are perfectly complemented by the volcanoes that surround the town, providing breathtaking views from almost any street.

Another must-see destination in Guatemala is Lake Atitlan, one of the most important in the region. If you want a simple thrill, you can hike around the lake and enjoy the invariably impressive views it provides. Those with a harder adrenaline addiction can opt for more extreme activities, like paragliding over or scuba diving.

No history or Indiana Jones lover can afford to skip out on the mighty Tikal National Park, the former capital of the Maya Empire. Surrounded by the jungle that once hid it, Tikal boasts the tallest existing pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, and is considered one of the most important archaeological treasures of the continent.

If this doesn’t seem like enough, you can also ride through the canyons of Rio Dulce, learn about Afro-Guatemalan culture at Livingston, explore the caves of Verpaces, and delight your taste buds with the country’s rich culinary tradition.

More from SmarterTravel:

10 Natural Wonders to See Before They’re Gone
The 13 Safest Places in Mexico for Travelers
The Best Caribbean Destinations for Gay and Lesbian Travelers

Categories
Beach Cities Health & Wellness Island

10 Dreamiest Beachfront Resorts in the World

We may be safe at home right now, but we’re already dreaming about our next vacation. At these dreamy digs on some of the world’s best beaches, you can sink your toes into warm sand and find your ideal place in the sun. Divide your time according to your own rules: Learn to paddleboard or parasail, reel in a magnificent fish, or simply lie back and adjust your hat as the sun moves across the sky. Read on for 11 out-of-this-world beachfront resorts to add to your bucket list.

LUX South Ari Atoll, Maldives

LUX South Ari Atoll, Maldives

LUX South Ari Atoll is the only hotel on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu. Pristine beaches and crystal clear water are steps away from the thatch-roofed suites. Looking for a retreat? Pamper yourself in the ocean-view spa. Want a more active holiday? LUX South Ari Atoll  is a prime spot for snorkeling and whale-shark spotting.

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

This dreamy beachfront resort is located on a private island in Seychelles. Six Senses Zil Pasyon has 30 villas to choose from, each with stunning vistas of the ocean and surrounding islands. Book a spa treatment and soak in the beautiful landscape of this sustainable gem.

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Bali

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Bali

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay has done a great job of integrating elements of Indonesia into this hotel—from the lobby to the villas modeled after a Balinese home. Discover the island’s cultural heritage through onsite artist workshops and take a tour of the resort’s temple with a high priest.

Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand

Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand

Vana Belle is all about privacy, with 79 suites and villas all tucked into a secluded cove over Chaweng Noi beach. Each suite and villa has a terrace with a private pool and stunning views of the beach or of the lush rain forest.

Ocean Club Resort, Turks And Caicos

Ocean Club Resort, Turks And Caicos

Even though the Ocean Club Resort is packed with things to do, the best one might be to do nothing at all. Of course, you can scuba or snorkel to see yellow tangs, parrot fish, and turtles, go bonefishing, or arrange for the resort to drop you off on one of the 30-plus deserted islands in Turks and Caicos so you can spend the day Robinson Crusoe-style. Or, simply sleep late. Think about reading a book. Order a drink. And watch the sun set.

The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas, Jericoacoara, Brazil

The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas, Jericoacoara, Brazil

Malhada Beach was named one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by the Washington Post. Make the most of it at The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas. This exclusive boutique hotel has only six rooms, so you’ll be able to truly get away from it all.

Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius

Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius

Experience tasteful paradise at Le Touessrok, a resort that cuddles up to Trou d’Eau Douce Bay in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It has all the requisite amenities: nearby reefs for diving and snorkeling, southern trade winds for sailing, and ample turquoise waters for swimming and admiring.

Travaasa Hana, Hana, Hawaii

Travaasa Hana, Hana, Hawaii

Maui’s Road to Hana is as famous as its beaches. A journey to Travaasa Hana, which sits just off that road, leads to an older, quieter Hawaii, complete with waterfalls tucked into lush forests. The original Sea Ranch Cottages opened here in 1947 and became a favorite retreat for generations of travelers seeking barefoot elegance. Today, Travaasa runs the resort in the picturesque Hana community, where Hawaiian culture is still the focus. Daytime activities include outdoor yoga classes, horseback rides, spa treatments, and Hawaiian cooking classes. You won’t miss the glitz of the more populated beaches.

Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Seek out this untouched escape, where golden beaches and turquoise waters sit adjacent to coastal forests, a silvery lake, and a wetland park. The five-star eco Thonga Beach Lodge makes the most of its natural setting. It’s the ultimate beach safari, located just south of Mozambique’s fabled sands on the western edge of the Indian Ocean. The lodge sits in a dune forest overlooking a pristine beach. During winter, you can spot nesting turtles and whale sharks.

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, Motu Tevairoa, Bora Bora

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa

You won’t want to cross Bora Bora off of your bucket list after spending a few days at The Pearl. It’s worth returning to again and again. The full-service resort sits on one of Bora Bora’s islets, facing the main island. The peaceful retreat stuns with 360-degree vistas. Keep it calm by spending your days snorkeling in the crystal-clear water, hiking up a tropical mountain, or sailing on a catamaran.

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Categories
Beach Fashion & Beauty

13 Stylish Swimsuit Cover-ups for Your Next Beach Vacation

Whether you’re imagining yourself in Hawaii, Florida, Tahiti, or the Caribbean, a week on the beach sounds pretty appealing right about now. Though it’s not yet clear when we’ll be able to take those dreamy beach vacations, you’ll want to be prepared with a cute cover-up to protect yourself from the sun as you make your way down to the sand. Check out the best beach cover-ups for your next tropical getaway.

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress.

This simple, affordable cover-up from Venus comes in bright tropical colors or basic black to match any look. An adjustable drawstring under the bust helps you find a comfortable fit. This cover-up is available in a wide range of sizes from XS to 2X.

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono.

Slip into this airy, lightweight kimono that packs easily and adds a touch of floral charm to any beach outfit. The three-quarter ruffled sleeves add a little sun protection without making you hot. Bonus: This swimsuit cover-up is ultra-affordable, too.

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress.

Looking for a little more coverage? Try this plus-size maxi dress, which ties at the neck and has an elastic back so it always feels comfortable. It has a breezy fit and comes in a universally flattering black color.

Aerie Chiffon Kimono

Aerie Chiffon Kimono.

This one-size-fits-all chiffon kimono comes at an affordable price and has a cheery floral pattern. Its breezy slip-on style provides coverage without hassle. Its care is easy, too: It’s machine washable.

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress.

This full-length cover-up comes in a variety of colors including black, denim, and mauve. A drawstring waist and V-shaped neckline create a flattering silhouette, and the slit skirt is easy to walk in.  

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress.

This lacy beach cover-up is made from a combination of bamboo and cotton, creating a soft, lightweight fabric that you won’t want to take off. The dress features a scoop neckline and a thin belt at the waist.

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up.

Just slipping into this beachy green and white kimono will put you in a tropical mood. The lightweight garment packs easily and ties in the front to keep it in place even on the breeziest beach days.

Seafolly Amelia Caftan

Seafolly Amelia Caftan.

This one-size-fits-all caftan is made of flowing cotton gauze with fun decorative tassels along the edges. Its midi length and short sleeves are long enough to keep you covered, but the billowing design ensures that you stay cool. The caftan comes in two attractive colors.

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie.

This striped, hoodie-style beach cover-up has a handy front pocket for your phone or other small items, as well as a waist tie to keep the garment in place. The hood will keep you warm on breezy evenings by the shore.

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress.

This cute tie-dye beach cover-up from Nordstrom is designed for plus-size travelers. The viscose material is mixed with a bit of spandex for a comfy stretch, and there’s a waist tie to keep the cover-up in place.

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants.

If you’re only interested in covering up your bottom half, consider these wide-leg, smocked-waist pants from ELAN. They’ve got two side pockets where you can keep small items, and they look equally stylish at the beach or by the pool.

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt.

For another fun bottom-only option, consider this tropical-print cover-up skirt from SHEIN. It ties at the waist for an easy-on, easy-off style. Lightweight and breathable, this skirt complements any beach outfit.

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up.

This fun, flirty cover-up from Eberjay is long-sleeved and tunic-length, made of soft bamboo and cotton that make it ultra-comfortable to wear. Ruffles and a low-cut tie neck add a hint of retro 60s style.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

Categories
Beach Island

The 8 Caribbean Destinations with the Cleanest Beaches

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel abroad. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

In a world where we’re all trying to be a little more environmentally-conscious, these eight Caribbean destinations are doing their part in keeping themselves as clean as can be.

The Caribbean’s Cleanest Beaches

So, if you’re dreaming of white sand beaches and crystal-clear water, here’s where you’ll find the cleanest beaches in the Caribbean.

We used information from the Ocean Health Index and an ocean health study done by Get Going Travel Insurance for this story.

The Bahamas

beach chairs on a bahamas beach.

The Bahamas rank highest in the world out of all the Caribbean nations on the Ocean Health Index, with its 84-point score coming in at 11th. Explore its untouched Out Islands for an even more pristine landscape.

Antigua and Barbuda

antigua caribbean pristine beach.

The two-island nation is positioned where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, so its ecosystem is incredibly unique with reef-lined beaches and rainforests. Its beaches are among the purest in the Caribbean, with an overall Ocean Health Index of 80 and rated 27th in the world.

Aruba

Straw umbrella Eagle Beach Aruba.

Aruba’s waters come in 31st in the world with an Ocean Health Index of 79. Its biodiversity and protected coastline help Aruba rank among the best countries to visit for its beaches in the Caribbean.

Turks and Caicos Islands

caribbean providenciales island in turks and caicos.

Turks and Caicos’ Grace Bay consistently ranks as one of the top beaches in the world, so it’s no surprise that the country has some of the cleanest and most enjoyable beaches in the Caribbean. The islands come in at 35th in the world, with an overall Ocean Health Index of 79.

The U.S. Virgin Islands

Coral Bay St Johns U.S. Virgin Islands.

With an overall Ocean Health Index of 76, the U.S. Virgin Islands places 47th in the world (the listing is combined with Puerto Rico). The island chain is also ranked at number 10 on Get Going’s study, making it one of the cleanest oceans in the Caribbean.

Saba

saba island caribbean.

This Caribbean island is among the least-visited, which means fewer tourists to pollute its beaches. It’s known as the “Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean and its overall index score is 73, ranking 60th in the world on the Ocean Health Index.

Curacao

Grote Knip beach Curacao Netherlands Antilles.

It’s no wonder why Blue Curacao liqueur uses the country’s beaches for its color inspiration. Get Going ranks Curacao’s beaches as 11th in the world, and the country has an overall Ocean Health Index of 73, ranking 61st in the world.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

aerial view of isla mujeres in mexico.

While the country of Mexico doesn’t place very high on the Ocean Health Index (166th, with an index of 67), Get Going’s study positions Isla Mujeres as 15th in the world for its underwater experience, and as one of the best places to swim with whale sharks during their peak season. Located off the coast of tourist-filled Cancun, the island feels thousands of miles away (when it’s really only eight).

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Categories
Beach Oddities Travel Etiquette

What Not to Do at a Nude Beach

From Hawaii to Mexico, Greece to Croatia, and even to the coastal shores of New Jersey, nude beaches abound. These hot spots are great if you want a carefree and clothing-optional getaway. But before you hit a nudist beach, know that strict etiquette reigns supreme. In fact, most clothes-free destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know—and what you shouldn’t do—at a nude beach.

Don’t Assume That a Beach Is Clothing-Optional

Reading somewhere that a beach is clothing-optional does not mean that the beach is actually clothing-optional. Do your due diligence and ensure that the area is truly safe for your naked patronage. To get you started, the American Association for Nude Recreation supplies a short list of nude beaches in the U.S. (there aren’t many), while SmarterTravel has rounded up some of the world’s top nudist destinations.

And if you’re ever unsure as to whether a nude beach is a nude beach? Keep your clothes on. In many places, public nudity is a serious crime that could lead to a fine (or worse).

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Don’t Forget to Research Naturist Resorts

Naturist resorts cater to completely clothing-free vacation seekers, so if you want to go all in (or off), consider these options rather than a one-time visit to a nude beach. From family-friendly campgrounds in the Poconos to luxe all-inclusives in the Caribbean, there’s likely a nudist resort option that suits your style and budget.

Rules at each of these resorts differ, and many are adults-only. As with any hotel stay, read the resort’s policies closely before you book.

At a Nude Beach? Don’t Stare

Once you’re on a nudist beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously, you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. But play it cool: Most nude beach insiders insist that it’s easy, and that at a certain point, you simply stop noticing all the bare skin.

Can’t handle the realities of polite naked society? That’s okay, but stick to clothing-required beaches for the sake of everyone’s comfort.

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Don’t Expect Too Much at Nude Beaches

Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a Playboy Mansion memoir. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and are far more likely to veer into dad bod territory than to look like Channing Tatum in the buff. So don’t expect models at a nude beach and then be disappointed when you see, well, normal humans in all their hirsute glory.

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Don’t Take Pictures at a Nude Beach

A good rule of thumb: Never, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission. This goes for all tourist destinations—from nude beaches to theme parks to UNESCO World Heritage sites—but it’s especially true when the subject of your photo is naked. Always ask explicitly if you may take a photo and make sure photography is even allowed where you are. (Many nudist beaches prohibit it.)

Furthermore, even if you’re okay with someone snapping a pic of you, keep in mind that you have little control over where that photo ends up—from travel review sites to social media to less pleasant parts of the internet.

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Don’t Go Naked in Certain Public Areas

Due to local regulations, many areas at nudist beaches or resorts may, in fact, require clothing, including parking lots, cafes, shops, and so on. Consult any posted signs regarding clothing-required venues and follow them closely. Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist beaches and resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.

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Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

While this doesn’t fall squarely in the etiquette department, it’s still a critical piece of information to have at a nudist beach: Yes, those sensitive areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a slather of sunscreen, preferably one that’s gentle on sensitive skin. Test it a few weeks before you hit a nude beach to ensure that you don’t end up with an unsightly rash somewhere that you definitely don’t want one.

Women's Nude Beach Outfit

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Beach Fashion & Beauty Island

13 Tropical Vacation Outfits for Better Days

Warmer weather will be here soon. Be ready for it with these fun outfits that will make you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation.

Anne Cole Maxi Robe Coverup

Anne Cole Maxi Robe Coverup.

Available in regular and plus size, Anne Cole’s Maxi Robe is the perfect cover-up for hot destinations. The robe style is one-size-fits-all, and simply ties in the middle, so you don’t have to worry about it clinging to you in the heat. Plus, the ultra-colorful sunset floral print will look great in poolside photos.

Tilley TOY1 Audrey Hat

Tilley TOY1 Audrey Hat.

For stylish sun protection, you can’t beat Tilley’s TOY1 Audrey Hat. With a four-inch brim, this hat will add a touch of glamour to any tropical vacation outfit. Made from 100 percent rice paper, the Audrey is lightweight but still provides UPF 50 sun protection. It’s lined with mesh on the inside and has a moisture-wicking sweatband to help keep you cool. There’s even a secret pocket on the interior to store your valuables.

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Viscata Espadrilles

Viscata Espadrilles.

Add (comfortable) height to your tropical vacation outfit with Viscata Barcelona’s Roses Canvas Wedges. These on-trend espadrille wedge pumps add three inches of height via a 2 1/3 inch heel and half-inch platform that’s still easy to walk in. Made out of a soft cotton canvas lined with leather, these are some of the world’s most comfortable wedges. 

Ably Valerie Maxi Skirt

Ably Valerie Maxi Skirt.

Ably’s Valerie Maxi Skirt is a versatile item that can work for a long plane ride, as a beach cover-up, or as a part of a fun outfit in a hot climate where you want to remain modest. The skirt is made from a trademarked Filium activated fabric that repels liquids, stains, and odors, so you can wear it multiple times on one trip without needing to visit the laundromat.

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Public Rec All Day Every Day Short

Public Rec All Day Every Day Short.

Public Rec’s All Day Every Day Shorts look casual, but they have plenty of serious features. Two front zipper pockets are deep enough to hold all your valuables, and two large back pockets hold anything you need easy access to. An elastic waistband makes these comfortable enough to wear on a long plane ride, or after a day of vacation indulgence.

Nisolo Serena Sandals

Nisolo Serena Sandals.

Nisolo’s Serena Sandals are the only shoes you need to pack for your tropical vacation. Available in three neutral colors, these minimalist sandals will go with everything—and they’re so comfortable you’ll want to wear them every day. A small three-quarter-inch wedge heel adds a little bit of support without causing pain and makes these sandals easy to pack. A cushioned insole, ankle strap, and soft leather lining add to the comfort factor.

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Catalina Swim Bikini

Catalina Swim Bikini.

No tropical vacation outfit is complete without a cute bikini underneath. Catalina Swim’s Twist Front Underwire Bikini Top and Hipster Bikini Bottom are flattering and comfortable. The twist front and ruching add a pop of style. The bikini top has underwire for extra support, plus removable cups and adjustable straps so you can get the perfect fit.

Belongsci 3/4 Sleeve Dress

This incredibly breathable dress comes in a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes. This adaptable find is a cute and casual dress for any tropical occasion.

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Milumia Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress

Milumia Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress.

Looking for plus size tropical vacation outfits? Check out Milumia’s Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress which is available in sizes up to 3XL. The dress has a trendy cold shoulder design and a flirty split hem and comes in lots of tropical prints like palm leaf or florals.

Sanuk Water Shoes

Yes, water shoes can look stylish. In fact, you’d never know that these slip-on shoes from Sanuk are designed to be worn in the water—they look just like a cute beach espadrille. Made out of canvas with a rubber sole, these shoes are perfect for when you need to transition from the beach to lunch. They come in a variety of styles, including a men’s version.

KGB Running Shorts

KGB Running Shorts.

Whether you plan on working out on vacation or just want something casual to throw on over your swimsuit bottoms, the KGB Running Shorts are a perfect choice. Available for men and women, these shorts hide a secret SmartSlot pocket in the waistband that’s large enough to hold a phone or wallet—or your sunscreen.

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Halo AIR Series Headband

Tired of headbands slipping off your head whenever you do anything remotely active? Give Halo AIR Series Headband a try; it has silicone nubs on the inside to keep it securely in place. The headband offers UV protection, making it great to wear during sunny activities like snorkeling or hiking.

Poseshe Plus Size Maxi Dress

Nothing says vacation like a maxi dress. Poseshe’s Plus Size Maxi Dress is flowy without being frumpy, thanks to an adjustable waist tie that gives you definition. Made from a modal/spandex fabric blend, this dress travels beautifully and can be packed without causing wrinkles.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Beach Health & Wellness Island Luxury Travel

9 Remote Spa Getaways Where No One Can Bother You

Forget sightseeing, walking tours, and signing up for adventures you don’t have the energy for. It’s time for vacation to mean vacation again, and there’s no better way to escape completely than by taking a trip to a spa—preferably one in the middle of nowhere. These days, the only way to truly relax is to get off the grid and emphasize in your out-of-office message that you’ve set off for somewhere where the Wi-Fi is “very limited.”

If you’re looking for a vacation where no one can bother you, check out these luxurious and far-flung spa getaways and their most delectable treatments.

Naia Resort and Spa in Placencia, Belize

Although Belize is closer to the U.S. than most people think (just a two-hour flight from Miami), you’ll need to take another short flight on either Tropic Air or Maya Island Air to get to the Naia Resort and Spa in the small city of Placencia. The hotel itself is lovely on its own, located on a wild beach lined with ocean-view studios and villas, but the spa hidden away on a private lagoon is what makes this resort really worth the trip. Perched over a lily pad-speckled pond, each treatment room has a private deck perfect for enjoying the spa’s quiet serenity. You can book a treatment whether or not you’re staying at the resort, and you’ll also have day access to the spa’s pool area.

Top Treatment: The Maya Cacao and Cinnamon Wrap is one of Naia’s most famous and delicious treatments. Your body will be exfoliated with a mix of dark chocolate, brown sugar, and hydrating coconut oil, and then wrapped in warm towels to infuse. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to becoming a chocolate brownie.

dipiu at Hotel Giardino in Ascona, Switzerland

The Hotel Giardino is “located where the Alps meet Italy’s lemon trees” and is home to the dipiu Spa. Named for the Italian phrase “a little more,” you’ll be wanting a lot more when you see the facilities like the indoor pool and lovely treatment rooms. In the small town of Ascona, right on Lake Maggiore, the hotel offers a peaceful atmosphere halfway between the busy financial centers of Zurich and Milan.

Top Treatment: You can’t go wrong with the Fusion Stone Massage, a treatment that blends classic massage techniques with hot stones and aromatherapy.

Forest Spa at the Bwindi Lodge in Uganda

If you want the adventure of a lifetime and a remote spa getaway all in one trip, it’s time to think about Uganda. At the Bwindi Lodge, when you sign up for a gorilla trek, you’ll also receive a complimentary 30-minute massage upon your return. You can choose to have your treatment in the spa or in your room. There are eight private bandas, or bungalows, for guests, each with its own luxury shower, sitting area, and terrace overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Top Treatment: Try the African Rungu Massage, which uses a rungu, a Maasai throwing club carved out of eucalyptus wood. This treatment uses long strokes and deep pressure to reduce soreness and improve blood circulation.

Maya Spa at Azulik in Tulum, Mexico

On a secluded beach in Tulum at the adults-only, eco-friendly resort of Azulik, the Maya Spa offers spiritually inspired treatments meant to reinvigorate your mind and body. From sound-bathing and biomagnetism to massages and facials, you’ll find the perfect treatment to suit your physical and emotional needs—whether you’re looking to relax or rejuvenate.

Top Treatment: For vitality, try the Ancient Traditional Massage. Using traditional Mayan techniques, this full-body massage utilizes lemons and herbs to detox your body, as well as cupping to help restore balance and give you more energy.

KurSpa at the Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, British Columbia

If you want to get away to somewhere quiet but don’t want to stray too far, check out the Sparkling Hill Resort, one of the most luxurious spa getaways you can get, where the 40,000-square foot-spa is the height of luxury. This wellness resort is owned by the Swarovski family and decked out in beautiful crystals everywhere you look, from the large chandeliers in the lobby to the decorative details in the guest rooms. At the spa, you have all the basic spa treatments available, as well as the opportunity to visit the Wellness Clinic, which customizes treatments for guests to address issues like chronic pain, inflammation, and slowing the aging process.

Top Treatment: For something on the colder side, test out the KurSpa’s three-chamber approach to cryotherapy. Guests pass through a series of chambers that get progressively colder. The cold treatment boosts the nervous and circulatory systems and is effective for treating arthritis, multiple sclerosis, blunt joint trauma, sleep disorders, and more.

The Arctic Bath in Harads, Sweden 

The trendy Arctic Bath is a floating spa that made waves when it opened in 2018. In Harads, Sweden, this timber- and ice-inspired building will feature four saunas, a pool, outdoor showers, and overnight lodging in rooms featuring large skylight windows for appreciating the northern lights in the winter months.

Top Treatment: The Arctic Bath might not be open yet, but there’s no way you won’t be able to get a classic Swedish massage when it does. Is there any place better in the world to get a Swedish massage than floating on a lake in Sweden underneath the northern lights?

Jawa Juu Spa in Pacuare, Costa Rica 

At the Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica, Jawa Juu is a spa where you can experience the rainforest all around you. Treatments are inspired by the ancient traditions of the indigenous Cabecar culture, and the spa offers a menu of holistic massages, reiki, and rituals that combine aromatherapy, sound therapy, and yoga. Jawa Juu’s wellness philosophy has been instilled with all things restorative with an emphasis on using local materials.

Top Treatment: Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, so while you’re staying at the Pacuare Lodge don’t miss a chance to try the Invigorating Coffee Exfoliation. After the coffee bean rub leaves your skin silky smooth, the infusion of orange-essence body cream will have you feeling fresh and renewed.

Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain in Chengdu, China

Settled in view of the majestic Qing Cheng Mountains in China near the city of Dujiangyan, Six Senses is a decadent spa retreat with beautiful suites and villas. No trip to Six Senses is complete without a visit to the spa, where the architectural design of the facilities matches the natural beauty of the mountains. Every treatment is incorporated “with the purity of Taoism” and uses a variety of holistic therapies personalized to guest needs.

Top Treatment: While in China, treat yourself to the Bamboo Massage. This treatment uses different types of bamboo sticks to apply firm pressure to your back, legs, and arms. At Six Senses, it is followed by a face massage that will reduce signs of fatigue.

SpaTerre on Little Palm Island, Florida

Florida might be the last place you think of as remote, but in order to get to Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, you’ll need a seaplane. Located on an exclusive island in the Florida Keys, SpaTerre is inspired by Balinese spa treatments and Thai rituals.

Top Treatment: Order the Madrugada Water Massage for a blissful experience you’ll never forget. With your massage table located right in the water, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds and smells of the ocean while receiving a customized massage that makes use of seashells. Note that this massage is only available in the morning and when weather conditions are suitable.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who loves a good facial while traveling. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach

The 10 Best Bathing Suit Websites for Men and Women

Don’t let swimsuit shopping anxiety prevent you from booking your next tropical vacation. These 10 bathing suit websites make swimsuit shopping easy and breezy … just like those palm trees you’re dreaming of. And since finding the right fit can be particularly tricky for swimsuits, we’ve included the return policies for each of these bathing suit websites.

The Best Bathing Suit Websites for Women

Everything But Water

two female bathing suit styles

The swimsuit website and retail chain Everything But Water doesn’t just sell hundreds of bathing suit styles, but also rash guards, cover-ups, resort wear, and accessories (including sandals, beach bags, sunglasses, sun hats, and more). The bathing suit brand earns a spot on this list for its variety in sizing—there is an entire plus-size line—and its quality. The brand also supports sustainability practices through beach cleanups, donations, and waste reduction and recycling programs within its supply chain.

Return Policy: Full refund for in-store or online purchases within 21 days of purchase. If your order is over $100, return shipping is free; if your order is under $100, an $8 shipping fee will be deducted from the refund.

Anne Cole

two female bathing suit styles

Peruse the bathing suit website from iconic swimwear designer Anne Cole, the inventor of the “tankini,” for stylish, high-quality swimsuits at reasonable prices. The brand offers a plus-size line as well as cover-ups and swim dresses for even more coverage. This year, I have my eye on the Textured Twist swim top and bottom set.

Return Policy: Full refund with free return shipping within the U.S. and within 30 days of the original ship date.

Summersalt

two women wearing bathing suits

The direct-to-consumer bathing suit website Summersalt prides itself on impeccable fit, use of eco-friendly materials, and comfortable, but still trendy pieces. Oh, and did we mention most styles are under $100?  The brand also sells high-quality and reasonably priced loungewear, travelwear, and sleepwear.

Return Policy: Full refund with free return shipping within 30 days of delivery date.

Bare Necessities

two female bathing suit styles

With over 1,000 swimsuit styles, Bare Necessities is your go-to for the best online bathing suit selection. The intimate apparel and swimsuit website offers free two-day shipping and returns to make online bathing suit shopping easier.

Return Policy: Free returns and a full refund on qualifying orders within 60 days of purchase. After 60 days, you receive an online voucher.

Athleta

two female bathing suit styles

Popular athleisure brand Athleta designs a specific swim line each season. We love the bathing suits for their high-performance abilities while still being stylish. From rash guards to swim shorts to bikinis and everything in between, you’ll feel comfortable and on-trend whether you’re just sunbathing or taking a surf lesson.

Return Policy: Free returns for a full refund at any time. You can even wear the item and decide if you like it.

The Best Bathing Suit Websites for Men

Nordstrom

two mens bathing suit styles

You’ll find hundreds of options from popular swimsuit brands like O’Neill, Trunks Surf & Swim Co., Fair Harbor, and Volcom on Nordstrom’s website as well as bathing suits from menswear-focused brands like Tommy Bahama, Barbour, and Peter Millar. With one of the best return policies in the business (see below), Nordstrom is an ideal website to use for testing out different swimsuit styles.

Return Policy: Free returns via mail and full refund with no time frame restrictions. You can also return at any Nordstrom location.

Bonobos

two male bathing suit styles

From solid colors to fun prints (think flamingos), the online men’s retailer Bonobos makes a killer bathing suit line. Note that Bonobos does have select Guideshop locations around the U.S. where you can try on styles and also process returns. This line stands out in particular because customers can customize the waist and length of their swim trunks. Choose from a range of waist sizes from XS to XXL and a length of five to nine inches. Most of the current styles are even made with a recycled polyester fabric.

Return Policy: Full refund within 45 days of the purchase date, or for store credit for up to 90 days after purchase.

Rhone

two male bathing suit styles

Menswear line Rhone might just sell the best board shorts on the market. Constructed with water-flow pockets and a secure waistband, you can body surf, paddleboard, wakeboard, or simply lounge at the pool with no worries in these board shorts. Rhone also sells a trunk style, which is quick-drying and made with four-way stretch for comfort.

Return Policy: Free full refunds within 45 days of purchase.

Chubbies

two male bathing suit styles

Bright, fun patterns are Chubbies’ bread and butter, and the brand’s creativity is visible across all of its swim styles. From roosters to hippos to roaring dinosaurs, pick your print (or solid) in a variety of lengths ranging from four to nine inches. Most styles even come with a back zippered pocket.

Return Policy: Returns and exchanges are accepted within 90 days of purchase.

Hill City

two mens bathing suit styles

Online men’s retailer Hill City sells two well-designed swim styles online: the Easy Swim Short and the Boardshort. Both styles are stretchy, quick-drying, and abrasion-resistant, and have a UV-protective fabric as well as a rear pocket.

Return Policy: Like its sister site Athleta, Hill City offers free returns for a full refund at any time. You can even wear the item and decide if you like it.

Accessorize Your Bathing Suit

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island Outdoors Packing Travel Trends

15 Beach Bag Essentials You Need for Summer 2020

From a clever sand-removing powder to a high-performance water camera, these beach bag essentials will make your trip to the beach much more enjoyable.

HyperGo Body Wipes

After a long day at the beach, you’ll have sand, salt, and sweat on your body. Quickly refresh before heading back to your car—or the closest bar—with HyperGo Full Body Wipe. These biodegradable, hypoallergenic wipes come in a variety of sizes—and they don’t leave a sticky residue. Bonus: The wipes are alcohol-free and also have a moisturizing component.

MyKazoe Waterproof Wet Bag

gray chevron bag and aqua drawstring bag

These water-resistant pouches by MyKazoe are amazingly multi-functional—use them for a wet swimsuit, to separate dirty items from the rest of your beach bag, or to protect your phone or any other valuables from water and sand. You’ll want one in every fun print for your beach bag essentials.

BYRD Texturizing Surf Spray

Throw this sea salt spray into your beach bag for a natural UV filter for both your hair and scalp. It will complement your wavy beach hair and protect your locks and contains only natural or plant-derived ingredients so your hair won’t dry out. I recommend using it on damp hair and reapplying after swimming.

Icy Cool TSA Approved Neoprene Caddy

Keep those beach bag essentials that you don’t want to be exposed to the sun shaded and cool with these bags. Whether it’s your phone, a snack, medications, or toiletry items, these pouches are a great alternative to a cooler. Simply freeze the inserts and place them in the lining of the bag.

Vitrix Kitchenware Bottle Caps

green bottle cap on wine bottle

Throw this bottle stopper in your beach bag so you can close and save your drink on the beach. Each bottle stopper comes in a different color, so you know whose bottle is whose. The stopper fits on bottles like beer, wine, water, juice, or sports drinks, and is a must-have for serious beach days.

Takeya Actives Water Bottle

Stay hydrated at the beach with a Takeya water bottle. These babies will stay cold for 24 hours, and come in sizes as large as 40 ounces. Whether it’s water or something stronger that you want to keep discretely chilled, this bottle will be one less thing to pack in a cooler.

Beach Sandy Sand Remover 

wooden brushes and blue bag

This miraculous brush set removes sand from your body and belongings after a long day at the beach. It wicks away any excess moisture and sand so you won’t track anything back to your car or house. The lightweight beechwood brushes come in a portable microfiber towel bag.

Dock & Bay Towel Microfiber Towel

Dock & Bay makes roomy quick-dry towels that are easy to transport and perfect for the beach. The extra-large size is great for more than one person to use, and the lightweight material makes it easy to shake any excess sand off.

Blue Lizard Sport Sunscreen

Obviously sunscreen and sun protection are beach bag essentials, but I especially love Blue Lizard Sport for its environmentally friendly formula. The formula is also mineral-based and paraben-free. This dermatologist-recommended sunscreen also packs up to 80 minutes of water resistance.

iJoy Beach Bomb Portable Speaker

This portable speaker was made for the beach: It can float, has a long-lasting battery of up to six hours, and is durable enough to handle sand. Amazon reviewers love the sound quality, and the speaker doesn’t take up too much room in your bag.

Beach Reads 

Nothing beats relaxing on the sand with a good book or magazine. Whether it’s a new, juicy novel or your favorite classic, a book is always one of my top beach bag essentials.

I’m currently reading The Futures by Anna Pitoniak, and highly recommend it as a beach read this summer. You can find our full list of the hottest beach reads here, or check out some of our readers’ choices for top beach reads on Amazon.

Nixon CoolPix W300

yellow digital camera

SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon tested out this beach bag essential. “I’ve never been one to trust a water-proof case to protect my iPhone, so I jumped at the opportunity to try a Nikon CoolPix W300, which is completely waterproof and can transfer photo and video directly to your phone over Wi-Fi,” she says. “A point-and-shoot camera with its own memory card, it has far better resolution and storage capabilities than my jam-packed iPhone.”

Wallaroo Hat Company Crushable Hats

For more beach bag essentials that will protect you from the sun, you’ll want a stylish hat for the beach. The Wallaroo Hat Company makes crushable hats for men, women, and kids, plus the fabric is UPF 50+ protective. SmarterTravel’s Christine Sarkis loves the Catalina Cowboy Hat for its style, lightweight material, and easy reshaping.

REKS Unbreakable Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a must-have item at the beach, and REKS Unbreakables are one of the ultimate beach bag essentials because they won’t break or scratch, and still have UV 400 protective lenses. Available in a variety of styles for both men and women, just add on floating croakies and you’ll never lose or damage your sunglasses at the beach again.

Zesica Beach Cover Up

A cover-up is a classic, but often one of the more neglected beach bag essentials. I love this light and airy cover-up from Zesica because it’s more like a blanket, and you can adjust it to cover only the areas you don’t want to be exposed to the sun.

For more ideas, see The Best Beach Accessories and Traveler Tips for Your Next Beach Trip.

Cute Beach Bags to Snag this Summer

Stylish Beach Bags

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Beach Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness Outdoors Packing Women's Travel

8 Best Travel Sunglasses for Summer 2020

To protect your eyes, sunglasses should be a daily accessory, especially in summer. But if you’re also bringing your sunglasses along on vacation, you’ll want to make sure they’re up to the task. The best travel sunglasses have special features to keep you protected and comfortable. Polarized, anti-scratch, and/or UV-protecting lenses are a must, as are other qualities like a light weight, a good price, and serious durability.

Best Travel Sunglasses for Summer

Here are my top picks of sunglasses for travel, including picks for active, clumsy, and fashion-forward travelers.

Travel Sunglasses for the Clumsy Traveler: Reks Round Lumolux

travel sunglasses

Attention prone-to-accidents travelers: These are the best travel sunglasses for you. Reks makes an unbreakable pair of travel sunglasses with anti-glare and UV 400 protective lenses. Thanks to the polymer frame material, you can drop ’em, bend ’em, or throw ’em in the bottom of your bag; whatever you do, this pair of travel sunglasses won’t break or scratch.

Travel Sunglasses for the Active Traveler: Native Eyewear Catamount

two sunglasses with brown and green lenses

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time outdoors, especially doing activities like hiking and camping, you’ll want to use the included, interchangeable SportFlex lenses—made for flat light to overcast conditions, meaning their performance doesn’t wane in the early morning or late afternoon. The other pair of lenses included with these travel sunglasses is the N3 Polarized option, which blocks four times more infrared light than normal polarized lenses. Plus, all Native Eyewear sunglasses come with a lifetime warranty.

Travel Sunglasses for the Classic Traveler: Kaenon Mather

travel sunglasses

Kaenon’s classic, aviator-style sunglasses are one of the best sunglasses for travel because of their lightweight frames and comfort. These unisex travel sunglasses have polarized lenses, hypoallergenic nose pads, and include prescription lens options. Pick between a brown tint—best for sports—or black tint—the most natural tint for clarity.

Travel Sunglasses for Men: Costa Del Mar Hinano

travel sunglasses

This pair of travel sunglasses is perfect for guys on an active vacation, but who still want to look stylish. The brand’s 580 lenses are some of the best polarized sunglasses on the market and are scratch-resistant and super lightweight.

Travel Sunglasses for the World Traveler: Cloudfield Bamboo Sunglasses

bamboo sunglasses and case

Not only are these travel sunglasses stylish and practical, they’re also responsible. These sunglasses are made from bamboo, which is a naturally eco-friendly product. Another great benefit to these travel sunglasses are their polarized and UV-blocking lenses, which help block glare and protect your eyes.

Travel Sunglasses for the Millennial Traveler: OSVAW Round Arrow Style Sunglasses

woman wearing pink sunglasses

For the trendy or urban traveler, these cat eye sunglasses just might be your perfect pair. At only $18, you won’t break the bank if you end up losing them and they even have polarized lenses. Hide your jetlag and turn heads at the same time with the oversized frames that are flattering on any face shape.

Travel Sunglasses for All Day Comfort: TAIQX Lightweight Sunglassesaviator sunglasses on top of black case

If you’re like me, you’re prone to headaches after a long day of wearing sunglasses. Well, not with TAIQX‘s lightweight sunglasses. The comfortable fit is found on all of the brand’s sunglasses, but I particularly like this style, which is flattering for all face shapes and is super lightweight. The unisex style comes with polarized lenses and a flexible stainless steel frame.

 

Travel Sunglasses for the Beach-Lover: Rheos Wyecreeks Floating Sunglasses

blue and red sunglasses

These are the best travel sunglasses for beach vacationers, surfers, boaters, or anyone who loves being out on the water. Why? Because they float! They’re awesome for summer vacations since you can wear them in the water without the fear of losing them. Plus, the frames are lightweight and come in lots of trendy colors.

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Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Health & Wellness LGBT

The 8 Best LGBTQ-Friendly All-Inclusive Resorts

The most relaxing vacations leave all worries behind, even if it’s just for a few days. That’s where all-inclusive resorts come in, inviting guests to dine, swim, lounge, and sip fruity cocktails sans hassles. For LGBTQ travelers, there’s an added factor of enjoying a breezy vacay in comfort, from a setting that inspires all aspirational beach bums to unwind and be themselves.

All-Inclusive Gay-Friendly Resorts Around the World

While plenty of resorts welcome diverse travelers, some really roll out the rainbow carpets—whether they’re part of a gay-friendly brand; home an out-and-proud LGBTQ staff; or part of a fabulous destination. Here are some of the top all-inclusive resorts for gay couples (and gay singles).

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Hyatt is among the large hotel chains that’s shown continuous support for LGBTQ travelers. The brand is a Gold Global Partner of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), and has been honored for more than a decade as one of the HRC’s annually ranked Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality. One of the best all-inclusive resorts for gay couples is the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. For starters, the Pacific-Coast city is a hotspot for gay vacationers who love the nightlife and its annual mid-May Vallarta Pride festival. The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta lures travelers to lodge a few miles south of town, where they can enjoy swim-up suites, live entertainment, fitness and sports programs, and dining with oceanfront views.

Banyan Tree Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

For an extra-dreamy luxury escape, LGBTQ travelers can wing down to the sunny Yucatan peninsula, where Banyan Tree Riviera Maya awaits with private waterfront villas. More than average resorts, Banyan Tree elevates all-inclusive experiences with refined amenities, restaurants, and spa time, always evoking the brand’s Southeast-Asian heritage. But the resort’s respect for nature and local culture sets it apart, as does its pride in serving LGBTQ guests. Here gay couples can spend time in their villa’s private pool, cruising through the property’s mangrove forests, biking to the beach, or melting into an open-air couples’ massage.

Grand Palladium White Island Resort and Spa, Ibiza, Spain

As one of the world’s most vibrant gay destinations, Ibiza is a favorite for continental travelers—especially if they’re looking for a party. This Mediterranean island off the eastern coast of Spain is bursting with posh hotels and resorts. But for LGBTQ travelers seeking all-inclusive, beachfront luxury on a grand scale, the Grand Palladium White Island Resort and Spa is a suave choice. Along with Grand Palladium’s trademark contemporary design and range of on-site restaurants and entertainment, gay and lesbian guests can enjoy amenities like the Zentropia Spa & Wellness and its fully equipped gym, several pools and Jacuzzis, sports facilities, and direct beach access.

Walt Disney World Resorts, Orlando

Disney Destinations is a longtime global partner of the IGLTA, so LGBTQ travelers can feel good about checking into Disney all-inclusive resorts, especially sprawling Disney World in Orlando. The park is welcoming all year-round, and it hosts special Pride Month events like Gay Days, held the first weekend in June. Come for the special-edition rainbow Mickey Mouse ears, stay for resort perks like Disney Dining plans, complimentary transportation, “Magical Extras” for entertainment and recreation, and other customizable packages.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

If the rock-star life is calling, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana wants you to turn it up. Of all the brand’s LGBTQ-friendly all-inclusive resorts, this Dominican Republic property amps up the on-site amenities with 13 pools (with swim-up bars and water slides), nine restaurants, five bars, Oro Nightclub, a salon, a Nicklaus-designed golf course, a huge casino, and live concerts. Parents let their kids find harmony at the Kidz Bop experience, especially while tuning their own vibes to resort’s Sound Body spa, meditation, and musical fitness programs. The Hard Rock’s trademark amenities are all here, inviting guests to get expert instruction and accelerated stage training at the Music Lab, or to check out a guitar to shred on their own.

Kahala Hotel & Resort, Honolulu, Hawaii

Ah, Hawaii, a wonderfully welcoming destination for any traveler. And though gay-friendly resorts are a breeze to find across the Hawaiian Islands, head to the Kahala Hotel & Resort for sunny accommodations on Honolulu’s east side. Since 1964, the Kahala’s prime spot along a stretch of white-sandy beach has lured celebrities, royalty, and international guests. The resort today offers packages with spa treatments, oceanfront yoga programs, wine tastings, and dining at its four restaurants. While the Kahala neighborhood is a tranquil spot for getaways, the hotel is just a short drive (or free shuttle) from Waikiki’s LGBTQ scene—which hosts Oahu Pride each October. Hot tip: Book a Dolphin Lanai room to overlook the Kahala’s famous dolphin and sea-turtle lagoon.

Warwick Paradise Island, Bahamas

The Bahamas are rich with all-inclusive resort options, but at the Warwick Paradise Island, LGBTQ travelers can enjoy lodging in the company of adults only. The 250-room resort is more modest than the giant Atlantis and other island lodging, giving guests a bit more serenity whether lounging poolside, relaxing with an Amber Spa treatment, or sunbathing on the resort’s private white-sandy beach. Guestrooms are spacious and sleek, many of them have private balconies and water views. At the property’s five restaurants you can go casual or sophisticated, then grab a cocktail for nightly live entertainment.

W Costa Rica Reserva Conchal, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Dive into the local pura vida spirit at sleek, oceanfront W Costa Rica Reserva Conchal. The W is part of Marriott International, a brand that’s long welcomed LGBTQ guests to its 6,000-plus properties and is an IGLTA Platinum Global Partner. At this oceanfront resort, located about 30 minutes from the Tamarindo Airport, vacationers can take in lush landscapes, white sands, and panoramic views. All-inclusive packages make relaxing easier, whether poolside on the WET Deck, at the Zona Azul beach club, or at the resort’s restaurants, each designed to channel Costa Rica’s local culture. The AWAY Spa offers treatments for couples and singles, a nice way to unwind after activities like bike rides, snorkeling, kayaking, surfing, or nature hikes.

What to Wear to an All-Inclusive Resort

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Jamie Ditaranto contributed to this story.

Categories
Active Travel Beach Budget Travel Island Outdoors

The Cheapest Caribbean Islands to Find Your Paradise

A week of sun and sand may be priceless for your mental health (and your tan), but you don’t need to pay a fortune to get it. We gathered data on airfare, hotel rates, and package deals to unearth the cheapest Caribbean islands to visit, along with reasonably priced places to stay on each one. To qualify, the destination also must be ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel’s index of the cheapest Caribbean islands.

Cozumel

shopping street in cozumel mexico

This small island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is known for its white-sand beaches, colorful marine life, and the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. While you can fly directly to Cozumel from a handful of U.S. airports, including Dallas and Charlotte, you can often save hundreds of dollars by flying to Cancun instead and then taking a ferry to Cozumel from nearby Playa del Carmen.

“Regularly under the $300 mark, nonstops to Cancun can be found from most major U.S. airports at any time throughout the year,” advises Tracy Stewart, Content Editor at Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

You’ll likely find cheaper hotel nightly rates between August and November. (Note that this falls within Caribbean hurricane season.)

Where to stay: Past guests rave about the friendly service and quiet, homey vibe at Casita de Maya Boutique Hotel, where rates are regularly below $75 a night. If you’re looking for a beachfront resort experience, try the Blue Angel Resort, where you’ll usually pay less than $150 a night.

Jamaica

sea view jamaica

Eco-adventurers will find plenty to do in Jamaica, from swimming in waterfalls to zip-lining through the rainforest. Only-in-Jamaica spots to visit include the Bob Marley Museum and the Rastafari Indigenous Village. And, of course, there are plenty of beaches to relax on between excursions.

With three main tourist areas—Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril—you can price-shop for the best rates for your Caribbean vacation. Again, travel between May and October may offer lower rates because of hurricane season.

Where to stay: For hotels, try the budget-priced Westender Inn, where you can look out over the ocean from an infinity pool.

Puerto Rico

colorful buildings in old san juan

In Puerto Rico, you can split your vacation between the lush El Yunque Rainforest, the island’s wide sandy beaches, and the vibrant colonial streets of Old San Juan. A boat trip into one of the island’s bioluminescent bays is another must-do.

“If departing from most East Coast major cities, San Juan is consistently low (under $300) and [has] plenty of flight options,” says Stewart of Airfarewatchdog.

It’s easy to budget for expenses in Puerto Rico, as the local currency is the U.S. dollar. Bonus: You don’t need to pay for a passport to get there. And with a variety of hotel options all over the island, it’s not hard to find one in your price range.

Where to stay: The laid-back, beachfront Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn is a convenient jumping-off point for trips to El Yunque or San Juan, at rates typically under $150 a night. Even cheaper are the clean, no-frills rooms at Dreams Hotel Puerto Rico in the outskirts of San Juan.

Dominican Republic

beach chairs in punta cana

The Dominican Republic is probably the cheapest Caribbean island to visit if you’re looking for affordable all-inclusive deals. You’ll find dozens of packages in Punta Cana on CheapCaribbean.com, with prices such as $499 per person for air and four nights’ accommodations. Activities in the area include snorkeling, zip-lining, and off-road ATV tours through the jungle. You can also go hiking and swim in clear lagoons at the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve.

You’ll have plenty of popular resort areas in the Dominican Republic to compare prices at which include La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Samana.

Where to stay: The Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort & Spa offers a beachfront all-inclusive experience for less than $200 to $250 a night on a recent search. If you’re not up for a big resort, consider the NH Punta Cana, a boutique hotel with breakfast included and a beach within walking distance.

Curacao

Wilemstad_curacao_colorful_buildings.

You can’t go wrong with a visit to the “C” of the ABC Islands, especially during the spring or fall shoulder season, when you’ll find even more savings. And since Curacao falls outside of the hurricane belt, you can book a trip here without worrying about the storm season. Whether you visit for the numerous festivals or the pleasant beach weather year-round, on a Caribbean visit to Curacao you’ll fall in love with the local food trucks, colorful Dutch architecture, unparalleled snorkel spots, and secret beaches.

With nonstop flight options from major U.S. cities like Charlotte, New York’s JFK, and Miami, Curacao is accessible from the East Coast.

Where to stay: The island has plenty of hotel inventory with competitive nightly rates. Check out ACOYA Curacao Resort, Villas, & Spa in downtown Willemstad, which averages $133 per night. Or try the Boho Bohemian Boutique Hotel in the Pietermaai District, one of the hottest areas to stay in Curacao; it has nightly rates starting at $105.

Trinidad & Tobago

beach with palm trees

Get two Caribbean islands for the price of one: Trinidad and Tobago are connected via a fast ferry that takes about three hours. And like the ABC islands, Trinidad and Tobago are located outside of the hurricane belt and you can experience even more savings in the late spring and fall months. Enjoy the vibrant culture, serene beaches, and rainforest landscapes.

While most nationals live on the island of Trinidad, more than half of the country’s resorts are on Tobago. North Americans can enjoy nonstop routes to the main airport, Port of Spain on Trinidad, from cities like Dallas, Houston, New York, Newark, Miami, and Toronto. (New Yorkers also have a nonstop option to Tobago.)

Where to stay: Hotel prices are well below average expectations for Caribbean resorts, with many chain properties in Port of Spain posting under $200 nightly rates. Blue Waters Inn, Half Moon Blue Hotel, and Native Abode are three wallet-friendly options on Tobago within a short distance of beaches.

Bonus Destination: Bahamas

speedboat in nassau bahamas

While this destination isn’t ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel Index, it’s worth considering a trip here to help put money back into the economy post-Hurricane Dorian … and it doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny.

This Caribbean-adjacent strand of tropical islands is a popular getaway just an hour-long flight from Miami. Most visitors fly into Nassau (on New Providence Island) or Freeport (on Grand Bahama Island); it’s worth checking fares to both airports to see which is cheaper. Consider Grand Bahama Island for a quieter, more laid-back vacation, while high-energy Nassau suits travelers looking for lots of activities and nightlife.

One way to save money is by looking into packages from sites such as CheapCaribbean.com or Expedia.

Where to stay: The Bell Channel Inn in Freeport offers basic but comfortable rooms within walking distance of the beach. Bay View Suites Paradise Island is a modestly priced option near Nassau.

More from SmarterTravel:

What to Wear on a Caribbean Island

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island Luxury Travel

Wish for Rain: The Elemental Splendor of Tofino

“I hope it rains every day you’re there.”

My friend says this as I’m leaving for Tofino, and I laugh. I’m not sure what to make of this unlikely send-off.

By the time I arrive in Tofino, this hope has manifested into dense rain that falls from a matte gray sky. I step off the plane and look up, curious about this wished-for rain, wondering what makes it the sort of guest you invite on vacation. Cold drops pummel my face, challenging the elasticity of my skin; if I were made of sand, the rain would already be carving channels down my cheeks. I shudder involuntarily as a trail of water slides past my ear and settles on the nape of my neck, sending a snaking sensation up my spine. I nestle back into my hood and wipe my face with my already-wet jacket sleeve.

The rain is steady but not dramatic—there are no thunderclaps, no lightning bolts. The impenetrable rainforest surrounding the small air strip signals that this storm is just another day of the usual water cycle commute, southbound.

I’ve packed strategically, and think I’m prepared for the weather. But I’m not. On the tarmac trudge from the plane to the one-room airport, my water-resistant jacket reaches maximum saturation. Soon, my toes are swimming inside my shoes. 

If the West, itself a frontier, has a frontier, this is it. This stretch of Vancouver Island the wildest, wettest, West—where thick forests invent new shades of green with each flicker of sunlight and you’re never far from the roar of waves that have been building strength for 4,500 miles of open Pacific before crashing into Tofino’s rocky shores. On this far left edge of North America, people rush out to meet the rain. In Tofino, home of storm-watching, cold-water surfing, and temperate rainforests, rain is the reason—it’s why people come, and why they stay. 

Tofino’s Alchemy of Rain

Tofino is the end of the road, and no one comes here accidentally. I am no exception—I’ve been dreaming of this place for years. At home in California, I live within sight of the Pacific, yet my daily glimpse is of an ocean tamed by straits and bays into tentative whitecaps or, at most, assertive lapping. In Tofino, however, the Pacific gets a true running start, and I’m ready to see this wild ocean unleashed.

In most places, storms clear a beach. But this is a place that comes alive with each deluge. Here, there’s an alchemy of rain and big waves. Roiling currents, torrential downpours, and surfers claiming every wave—this is Tofino life. Even non-surfers get in on the action; there’s no surer sight than storm-swept shorelines dotted with beachcombers suited up like New England fishing crews, savoring every minute of big weather.

Storm-Watching from the Inside …

Around here, there’s nowhere more famous for pairing wild and welcoming than the Wickanninish Inn, the hotel that invented storm season. I slosh to the hotel, leaving puddles in my wake, unsure about this adventure as I drip my way through the lobby and up to my room. But after a change of clothes and a warm drink beside a hot fire, I begin to understand the wisdom of my friend’s parting wish.

The Wick, as it’s known locally, sits deep in a forest on the edge of the continent; cradled by trees and holding tight to an outcropping that extends out over the Pacific. Inside, hand-carved wooden columns and windows angled for perfect sea views keep nature close. 

Settled inside the warm hotel, I get down to the serious business of storm-watching. I stretch out by the fire and watch surfers take on the storm. I stake out the lobby, which feels more like a living room lined with soft leather chairs and dotted with driftwood tables. I divide my time between watching the waves break around the point and casually inspecting guests—young families, Italian backpackers, retirees, urban sophisticates, honeymooners. I settle onto my sheltered balcony, watching the waves crash into the outcropping just below my room. Not a view goes uninspected, not an overstuffed chair untested.

And yet, the more I watch the rain, the waves, and the dark skies, the more the storm beckons. So instead of putting back on my still-damp jacket—total rookie-wear—I suit up in one of the hotel’s Tofino-grade rubber suits and knee-high galoshes, and set off to discover that the real place to be is not watching the storm, it’s out in the middle of it. 

… And Out

Some beaches are backdrop. Tofino’s take center stage. 

Clusters of rocks frame the long stretch of beach, guarding its edges like continental bastions. As soon as I step onto the sand, this place owns my every sense. The wind catches the ocean’s spray and anoints my forehead, my lips, my nose. My cheeks tighten and flush, awake to the tingle of warm and cold pressing in from opposite sides of my skin. The briny tang rushes in on the stiff breeze; I recognize scents that have relied on the same recipe of salt water, seaweed, and sand for millions of years. There is no horizon from here, just towering whitecaps riding a heaving gray sea. 

I walk for a while and then realize staying still is the only way to take all this in. I stop, crouch down next to a tangle of brown and orange seaweed knitted slickly together, and watch the ocean. The alternating crash of the waves and the waterfall rush of the retreating water creates a rhythm that slows my thoughts and softens my breathing. 

I’ve entirely lost track of time when something, some shift in the breeze, compels me to turn around. I catch sight of the trees at the sand’s border—the trees seem to inhale me, pull me toward it. I walk closer. Here, the tangled branching torrent of the temperate rainforest tumbles down to the edge of the sand.

Standing in this in-between place, I’m struck by the sound of the sea and the rain, these two instruments of Tofino. The symphonic deluge plays the densely forested land-—droplets making each leaf sing a slightly different note—and the crashing waves maintain the baseline for an audience of anyone willing to stop and listen.

I inhale again, and smell the trees as they swap volatile organics for fresh water, flooding the air with Sitka spruce, western hemlock, cedar, and fir. This is a place to feel the earth breathing. I follow a narrow path into the forest, finding my way around the ferns that carpet the forest floor. If I stand still for just a moment too long, I suspect the forest would start to grow up around me, claiming me back.

Hiking the Rainforest

Walking through the temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park in the driving rain, shrouded in waterproof gear, I rediscover something I hadn’t realized was lost: the joy of rain.

I remember playing in the rain as a child and wondering why the adults didn’t join the fun. For a while, they’d hunker under an umbrella and watch us splash and jump, stomp and spin. And then, they’d grow impatient to get back inside, and that would be it. Fun over.

It seemed so strange to me at the time, to act like rain was a hassle instead of the sky inviting you to play. And then it happened: year by year, the delight faded. The thrill of tilting my face up to the rain, arms open to embrace every drop, was replaced by the power of forethought, of being able to imagine the stickiness of a wet jacket, the claustrophobia of soggy socks. Adulthood seemed to leave no room for the ancient pleasure of rain.

And yet, here in the forest, I discover a new form of playing in the rain. The falling drops tickle my face, but the rest of me remains responsibly dry, sheltered within this oversized fisherman’s suit. I wade through pond-caliber puddles and feel the weight of the water pushing up against my boots. I don’t go full Singing in the Rain, but I do stomp, sending out concentric waves and then watching as the water ricochets off the edges of the puddle and bounces back to meet me.

I clear the puddle and walk deeper into the woods. The rain continues, threading its way through the maze of the forest canopy. Drops shatter on leaves around me. 

Another puddle. A stream. A waterfall. The rain and the distant percussion of the ocean. I’ve stumbled onto a family reunion, water greeting the earth after a long trip. Feeding the churn of the seas, the green of the trees; creating congregations in creeks and channels—the land transforms the water, and the water transforms the land. And the water, it will continue to transform, through millions of years of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. But for a moment, it’s home. I realize I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know why. Then I understand, I’m caught up in a wish. I’m wishing for rain. 

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis experienced a version of the Ultimate B.C. package as a guest of the participating hotels and Visit Canada. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Cities Island

The 10 Best Beach Destinations in the World

You could spend hours daydreaming about the world’s best beach destinations. But how do you choose one that’s right for you?

The following list can help. All of the beaches below offer exceptional beauty, clean sand and water, and nearby tourist infrastructure—and many of them are trending upward in traveler popularity.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

grace bay beach providenciales

Providenciales is home to Grace Bay Beach, which made Tripadvisor’s list of the top 25 beaches in the Caribbean as well as SmarterTravel’s own list of the 10 best Caribbean beaches. (Tripadvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)

“Provo” is the picture-perfect Caribbean destination, one that’s been discovered but not overrun. There are clear turquoise waters, coral reefs for snorkeling, and soft white sand where you can beach comb for miles without encountering crowds. Groove to ripsaw music with the locals and savor conch fritters and jerk chicken at the outdoor island fish fry on Thursday nights.

Where to stay: The Oasis at Grace Bay offers rooms, suites, and villas just a short walk from the soft sand of Grace Bay Beach.

[st_related]6 Reasons to Visit the Turks and Caicos Islands[/st_related]

Bali, Indonesia

grace bay beach providenciales

Find your beach nirvana on the southern peninsula of Bali, where scenes from Eat, Pray, Love were filmed. Spirituality infuses many aspects of daily life here, so expect encounters with local traditions that prompt a little soul searching.

Among Bali’s best beaches are Kelingking Beach, which requires some 500 steps to access (but don’t worry, the jaw-dropping views from above are worth it); and Gunung Payung Beach, one of the island’s hidden gems.

Where to stay: Highlights of a stay at the dreamy Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa include the warm, friendly service and the infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Maui, Hawaii

tropical beach maui hawaii

Maui is among America’s most iconic bucket-list beach destinations. Its beaches—including Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua Beach—consistently rank among the best in the world. And what Maui lacks in affordability, it makes up for in beauty and novelty far beyond the perfect palm-fringed beaches.

Experience fire dancing at luaus, sunrise hikes to dormant volcano summits, and countless waterfalls along the curvy drive to Hana. And it’s now a little more affordable to get there: Southwest started regular service to Maui (and other Hawaiian destinations) from select West Coast cities last year.

Where to stay: Each spacious unit at Aston at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach includes a full kitchen and a private balcony.

[st_related]What’s the Best Island in Hawaii for You?[/st_related]

Grenada

morne rouge beach grenada

Ringed with silky white sand, Grenada, the Caribbean’s “Spice Island,” even smells like paradise with all the nutmeg grown here. While you can find cruise passengers and hawkers if you go looking for them (at Grand Anse Beach, for instance), the beauty of this island lies in its quieter corners, including Morne Rouge Beach, the underwater sculpture park, and rainforest trails.

Grenada tourism is on the rise, with growth in visitor numbers over the past couple of years.

Where to stay: The cottages and hotel rooms at Petite Anse Beachfront Hotel & Restaurant are located on a secluded beach in the northern part of the island.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

fernando de noronha brazil

A 21-island archipelago and natural UNESCO World Heritage site 224 miles off the northern coast of Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is home to three of the world’s top-ranked beaches. One of them, Baia do Sancho, topped Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in the world.

The archipelago limits the number of visitors to protect its delicate ecosystems and wildlife. Those lucky enough to experience Noronha’s secluded beaches will see crystalline waters flanked by reddish sand, volcanic cliffs covered in lush vegetation, and dramatic sightings of the local spinner dolphins.

Where to stay: Rooms at Pousada Del Mares are simple but comfortable, with a location near restaurants, beaches, and shops.

[st_related]7 Best Remote Islands for a Tropical Getaway[/st_related]

Clearwater Beach, Florida

sunset clearwater beach florida

White sand as soft as powdered sugar brings spring breakers and retirees in droves to Clearwater Beach, where restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops vie for space within sight of the calm waters. Clearwater made Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in America.

The most pristine beaches in the area are at Caladesi Island State Park, an undeveloped paradise accessible only by ferry.

Where to stay: The family-owned Barefoot Bay Resort & Marina overlooks Clearwater Bay and is just a short walk from the beach.

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Crete, Greece

elafonissi beach pink sand crete greece

The 2018 release of the Mamma Mia! sequel brought the buzz back to the magical Greek Isles, where the storyline is set. Crete isn’t as popular—or pricey—as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still offers plentiful sun, sand, and history.

You can split time between the island’s rich culinary culture, ancient ruins, and alluring beaches. Laze in sheltered coves or on the top-rated Elafonissi Beach, a nearly mile-long protected stretch of white sand with shallow turquoise lagoons and sea turtles.

Where to stay: The intimate Theodore Boutique Hotel has just nine rooms, most with full or partial sea views.

[st_related]10 Gorgeous Beaches You’ve Probably Never Heard Of[/st_related]

St. Lucia

white sand-beach saint lucia caribbean

A favorite of honeymooners, St. Lucia is growing more popular with tourists of all types. Last year, this exclusive tropical paradise saw a record-setting number of visitors.

In between adventures such as swimming in waterfalls, hiking to the summit of Gros Piton, and kayaking to Pigeon Island, you can relax on St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches. Traveler favorites include Anse Mamin and Jalousie Beach.

Where to stay: The all-inclusive Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort offers a little something for everyone, from half a dozen swimming pools to a spa and wellness center.

[st_related]9 Fun Things to Do in St. Lucia[/st_related]

Praslin Island, Seychelles

anse lazio beach praslin island seychelles

Secluded and romantic, the 115-island Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, has a mystical draw. Seychelles’ beaches, including Anse Lazio on Praslin Island, are among the most photographed in the world.

Anse Lazio is a sweeping white crescent framed by granite rocks and tropical rainforest. It’s isolated but worth the effort to get to Anse Lazio, where solitude and nature reign. Or hop a 15-minute ferry from Praslin Island to La Digue to see the stunning pink sands of Anse Source d’Argent.

Where to stay: Hotel Cote d’Or overlooks a stunning white beach on Praslin Island and offers activities such as canoeing, beach volleyball, and even archery.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

myrtle beach south carolina at night

Myrtle Beach is one of the most family-friendly and affordable beach destinations in the U.S. Here you’ll find 60 miles of sandy shores with nonstop fun for kids, plus reasonably priced condo-style accommodations that parents love.

There’s always something happening in Myrtle Beach, from the opening of new restaurants and breweries to special events year-round.

Where to stay: One of the newest hotels in town, South Bay Inn and Suites, is an ideal option for families with its indoor water park and convenient boardwalk location.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Outdoors

The 15 Best National Parks in Australia

From densely forested mountains and otherworldly rock formations to hidden waterfalls and pristine beaches, many of Australia’s most spectacular landscapes are preserved within its national parks. The term “Australia national parks” is a little confusing, as most of them are actually managed by states and territories rather than the federal government—but regardless of who’s in charge, the best national parks in Australia are a must-visit for any traveler who loves hiking, scenic drives, or outdoor adventure.

Below are a few of the most beautiful national parks in Australia, including both well-known spots and hidden gems.

Whitsunday Islands National Park, Queensland

whitehaven beach whitsunday islands.

With its pure white sand and azure waters, Whitehaven Beach is the jewel in the crown of Whitsunday Islands National Park. The park is a mecca for snorkeling and scuba diving (the Great Barrier Reef isn’t far away), and there are several walking tracks with stunning coastal viewpoints. Not up for all that activity? Plant yourself on the beach to soak up the sunshine and sea breezes.

Karijini National Park, Western Australia

karijini national park gorge.

Rivers have carved dramatic gorges into Karijini National Park‘s ancient red rocks, which date back more than 2.5 billion years. Visitors can hike along the rims of the gorges or down into them, then cool off with a swim in one of the park’s natural pools.

Great Otway National Park, Victoria

rainforest stream great otway national park.

Encompassing part of Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, Great Otway National Park offers not only stunning coastal scenery but also lush forests verdant with ferns, moss, and eucalyptus trees. Hike the Great Ocean Walk to the 12 Apostles (located in neighboring Port Campbell National Park) to experience the coast up close, or take shorter walks through the forest to discover the park’s numerous waterfalls.

Nambung National Park, Western Australia

pinnacles desert nambung national park.

No visitor to Nambung National Park should miss the Pinnacles, where powerful winds have sculpted limestone into rock formations up to 11 feet high, jutting up into the surrounding desert like jagged teeth. But other parts of the park offer very different landscapes, including beaches and heathland full of wildflowers.

Maria Island National Park, Tasmania

kangaroo on maria island tasmania.

Maria Island is one of the best national parks in Australia not only because of its stunning natural landscapes—don’t miss the dramatic Painted Cliffs—but also because of its human heritage and unique wildlife. You can still see the remains of the convict community that once existed on this island; now its only residents are kangaroos, wombats, Cape Barren geese, wallabies, and the rare Tasmanian devil—many of whom were brought to this remote island to give them a safe habitat.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

walkers uluru-kata tjuta national park.

Uluru gets all the attention as one of Australia’s most recognizable icons, with its massive red bulk rising out of the desert, but many travelers don’t know that there’s another striking geological formation just 30 miles away: the domes of Kata Tjuta. Both are sacred to the local Aboriginal people, and together they give Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park its name. Take time to walk around the base of the formations and admire the way the sunrise or sunset casts a glow over the red rock.

Royal National Park, New South Wales

hikers royal national park.

One of the world’s oldest national parks, Royal National Park was established in 1879. Though it’s an easy day trip from Sydney, the park’s diverse landscapes are worth a little more time. Visitors can explore beaches, sandstone cliffs, eucalyptus rainforests, waterfalls, and Aboriginal sites as they drive or hike around the park.

Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia

naracoorte caves national park.

Four of the 28 caves at Naracoorte Caves National Park are open to the public, each with a unique focus. Victoria Fossil Cave features the remains of thousands of animals; Alexandra Cave has impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations; Blanche Cave is home to a large bat population; and Stick-Tomato Cave has two chambers open to self-guided public touring. Specialty tours focused on photography and adventure are also available.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

kakadu national park swimming hole.

Stretching across more than 7,500 square miles, Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia and takes at least a few days to explore. Highlights include swimming in the plunge pools around Gunlom Falls, seeing Aboriginal rock art along the path to the Ubirr lookout, and scanning for birdlife on a cruise through Yellow Water Billabong. 

Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales

three sisters blue mountains national park.

Blanketed in seemingly endless eucalyptus forest, Blue Mountains National Park is a popular day trip or weekend escape from Sydney. Many visitors base themselves in Katoomba, where you can view the famous Three Sisters rock formation and ride in a cable car nearly 900 feet above the forest at Scenic World—but the whole park is full of hiking trails and scenic drives to explore.

Springbrook National Park, Queensland

natural bridge waterfall springbrook national park.

Waterfalls, streams, and creeks carve their way through verdant rainforest at Springbrook National Park, part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Don’t miss the short hike to the Natural Bridge (a unique rock arch over a waterfall); consider coming back after dark to see the glow worms that live in the area. Numerous other walking trails are available in the Springbrook plateau section of the park.

Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

bungle bungles punululu national park.

The Bungle Bungle Range is the main draw at Purnululu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s part of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region. These otherworldly banded sandstone domes are shaped like giant beehives and believed to be hundreds of millions of years old, sculpted by streams and rivers eroding the delicate rock. You can walk among the Bungle Bungles or take a scenic flightseeing ride to appreciate them from a whole new angle.

Grampians National Park, Victoria

hiker grampians national park.

One of the most beloved Australia national parks, Grampians is famous for waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art paintings, and sweeping mountain views. Popular hikes include the routes up to the Pinnacle lookout, the climb down to the base of MacKenzie Falls, and the multi-day Grampians Peak Trail, which lets you sample the myriad views the park has to offer.

Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Tasmania

dove lake cradle mountain national park.

One of Tasmania’s most popular spots for hiking and natural beauty, Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park protects craggy mountains, pristine lakes, and mossy rainforests. As its name suggests, the park consists of two separate areas: Cradle Mountain in the north and Lake St. Clair in the south—and they’re both worth a visit. Don’t miss the Dove Lake circuit trail for views of iconic Cradle Mountain itself.

Coffin Bay National Park, South Australia

beach coffin bay national park.

Want to get away from it all? Head to the windswept shores of Coffin Bay National Park, where certain areas are only accessible via four-wheel-drive vehicle. Popular activities include relaxing or fishing on Almonta Beach, hiking or kayaking around Yangie Bay, and surfing off of Mullalong Beach.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.