No lazy beach days here! From crawling under boulders to swimming through caves and day-long hikes to horseback rides, the lengths travelers have to go to in order to reach some of the world’s best beaches are great. But they’re not without reward. The 10 beaches on this list may be hard to reach, but once you step onto their shores, you’ll see why they’re worth the trek.
Kalalau Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, United States
We start our beach trek at the rugged and majestic Na Pali Coast of Kauai, where the scenery will steal anyone’s breath. And getting a glimpse of it is no easy feat. After all, this sweeping coastline is largely inaccessible by land; most will only gaze upon it from a helicopter, catamaran or movie theater seat. But there is one way to make the trek on foot – an 11-mile hike along the Kalalau Trail, which crosses cliffs and traverses five valleys before dipping to sea level and ending at Kalalau Beach. The trail is known for being treacherous, but those who conquer it will arrive at this hard-to-reach beach and get a chance to feast their eyes on some truly stunning scenery from a rare vantage point. Hikers can camp behind the beach, but a permit is necessary, and timing is key as the beach typically gets swept away with the winter surf.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia
Stretching more than four miles along Whitsunday Island, Whitehaven Beach has received its fair share of accolades for its beauty, eco-friendliness and cleanliness – and with good reason. Protected by the Whitsunday Islands National Park, the beach sits along the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and features pristine white sand (mostly white silica) and crystal blue water, making it one of the most photographed locales in Australia. But you’ll need to put in a little extra effort to get here. Hop on a catamaran, helicopter or seaplane from Hamilton Island to witness this beauty firsthand.
The beaches of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
No official roads lead to Cabo Polonio; a horseback ride, a healthy walk or a cruise in a four-wheel-drive vehicle are the only modes of transportation that will bring you over the dunes to this village and its beaches. That is, after you first take a four-hour bus ride from Montevideo. Largely devoid of electricity and running water, Cabo Polonio has fewer than 100 residents and sits on a sandy peninsula that serves up different beach experiences on either side – one side features serious waves, while the other is more sheltered and offers calm waters ideal for swimming. In the off-season, you may even be the only one on these beaches. Don’t miss the lighthouse, which was built in the late 1800s, and the colony of sea lions that call Cabo Polonio home.
Beach on the other side of Emerald Cave, Koh Mook, Thailand
Would you swim through a dark cave for a good beach day? If you want to witness the secluded beauty of this beach on Koh Mook, that’s what you’ll have to do. This trek will test your dedication as a beach-goer, but chances are you won’t be alone on your journey — visiting this cave and its beach is a popular tourist activity. After getting to the small entrance of Morakot Cave (Emerald Cave) on the western side of Koh Mook, visitors swim through the 260-foot cave to get to the beach on the other side. But this labor-intensive trip pays off — the cave empties out onto a beautiful beach paired with an emerald-colored pool, punctuated by towering cliffs.
Chesterman Beach, Tofino, British Columbia, Canada
Surrounded by pretty houses and bed and breakfasts, Chesterman Beach is one of the top beaches in Tofino — a district situated along Vancouver Island’s western coast. Once you’re in the area, Chesterman isn’t difficult to access, but getting to Tofino is where the adventure lies. Visitors have a few travel options from mainland British Columbia: fly into Tofino on a local jet or seaplane, take the Tofino Bus, book a shuttle, or take a ferry (departing from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen) to Nanaimo then drive. Once you make your way to this beach, you’ll be treated to almost two miles of white sand, tidepools full of marine life, an ideal place to learn to surf (surf schools offer up lessons), and a chance to walk out to Frank Island at low tide to get a panoramic view of the beach backed by snow-topped mountains.
New Chums Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
If you decide to visit New Chums Beach, one of the only undeveloped beaches left in this area, you’ll work for your beach time. After more than half an hour of walking through the bush, you’ll need to wade through a lagoon at the northern tip of Whangapoua Beach, then continue along the track that will lead you to New Chums where you’ll finally get a peek at the beach — and a moment of understanding why you put in all that effort. Ringed by giant Pohutukawa trees, this secluded beach is only about half a mile long and perfect for surfing, getting a look at some sea life, or just a peaceful walk on the white sand.
Devil’s Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Quick, but chock full of adventure, the 15-minute trek to Devil’s Bay begins at the parking lot at the top of The Baths and passes through vegetation and giant boulders before arriving at the bay and its beach. Crawling, climbing ladders and wading through water are all requisite activities along the way, but at the end of this boulder-filled path is arguably one of Virgin Gorda’s most stunning beaches. This geological wonder is a popular tourist spot, so it’s best to go early or late to avoid crowds and take full advantage of what’s often described as some of the best snorkelling you can find.
Kynance Cove Beach, Lizard, Cornwall, England
The short path down to Kynance Cove Beach is steep and you’ll need to check the tides before visiting — after all, the beach gets completely submerged under water during high tide. But if you time it right, you’ll be able to enjoy this sandy cove flanked by stunning red and green rocks and met with turquoise water. Who needs to head to the Caribbean when you have Kynance Cove? Take your time along the path — it features some of the rarest plant and animal life in the U.K. — and don’t miss a chance to check out the rock formations and caves. The area is also well serviced with green toilets and a cafe that’s typically open from about April to November.
Playa Cocalito, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
If you’re looking to make like a castaway, Playa Cocalito is the place to do it. You won’t see any crowds on this Costa Rican beach — largely because it’s difficult to get here. If you can’t get a boat ride from a local fisherman or guide (who will reportedly sometimes barbecue fish on the beach for you), you’ll walk at least an hour and a half through jungle from Montezuma. A suspension bridge and plenty of local flora and fauna are all part of the journey. If you’d rather take a horseback tour from Montezuma, that’s also an option. Peppered with driftwood and palm trees, Playa Cocalito is deserted and beautiful with smooth sand and calm waters that are great for swimming. Don’t miss the El Chorro waterfall (to the north of the beach) with its lava rock swimming pools.
Rauðisandur Beach (Red Sands Beach), Westfjords, Iceland
While many of Iceland‘s beaches are covered in black sand, Rauðisandur is a stunning stretch of golden-red (where the beach gets its name). As with most locales in Iceland, the journey to get here begins with a long drive (the Westfjords are remote) and continues with a stomach-flipping drive down the twists and turns of a steep, gravel road. After you make your way to the small parking lot near the beach, you’ll need to go on a half-mile walk, then wade through a “river” of shallow (but freezing) ocean water to get to the beach. But once you arrive, the beauty and tranquility of Rauðisandur make every step worth your while.