Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Despite inflation, potentially short-staffed airports, and possible baggage chaos, more than 30% of Americans plan to travel internationally this year.¹ In fact, heading abroad and beach trips are some of the most popular vacations this year according to booking data from AAA.com.²
Of course, there’s plenty of sand and sun in the U.S., but for those travelers who want to broaden their horizons, here are some of the top beach destinations to visit across the globe in the summer of 2023.
Keep in mind that we did take the Atlantic hurricane season and other rainy seasons into account (don’t expect to see too much of the Caribbean on here), choosing spots where visitors can hope to maximize their time enjoying sunny beach weather this summer.
According to a Global Travel Trends report by Expedia, Vrbo, and Hotels.com, “Two-thirds of global travelers have considered and 39% have booked trips to destinations after seeing them on streamed shows or movies.” Sicily, an island in southern Italy, has seen a 50% increase in bookings thanks to the popular TV series “White Lotus.” Perhaps the gorgeous Sicilian vistas and Taormina sunsets fed your wanderlust, and you’re ready to pack your bags and head to this Mediterranean gem.
While not every traveler can afford the $1,000+ room rates at the show’s famed hotel, the San Domenico Palace, Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel, the Italian island offers plenty of other budget-friendly hotels and vacation rentals ideal for travelers to stay at, including some options at which you can use points.
This particular island is the largest in the Mediterranean, which means there are plenty of sandy beaches to enjoy, as well as charming hilltop towns, bustling cities, olive and pistachio farms, vineyards, and more.
There are even smaller islands off the coast of Sicily: the Aeolian Islands and the famed Isola Bella — a rocky islet known as The Pearl of the Ionian — are beachy paradises just waiting to be explored.
When it comes to enjoying the best of Sicily, you’ll want to cruise through the stunning villages of the Val di Noto, such as Ragusa and Modica, take the cable car in Taormina, and don’t miss some of the most iconic beaches on the island, like the sandy San Vito lo Capo, the fishing village of Cefalù, or the dramatic cliffs of Scala dei Turchi.
Hot Tip: Be ready to brave the heat, as Sicilian summers are extremely warm.
Move over, Maldives. If you’re looking for fine white sands and crystal-clear waters, you’ll find them in Watamu. This particular coastal region of Kenya is famous for snorkeling and diving at the Watamu Marine National Park, home to a diverse population of fish, turtles, whale sharks, and dugongs.
Beachgoers can also see more than 100 different bird species along the coast as well as dolphins in Watamu’s waters. You can also explore the nearby Mida Creek’s mangroves via dugout canoe or kayak.
Kenya’s coastal areas as well as the world-famous Masai Mara both experience their dry seasons from July through September, making it easy to combine a safari with your trip to the beach. The best way to do so is to fly between Nairobi (NBO), which is closer to Masai Mara, and Mombasa (MBA), which is a short drive away from Watamu. And this summer is the ideal time to do so, thanks to the opening of the brand-new JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge, the brand’s first safari property, a space that will focus on protecting the local area’s beloved flora and fauna in sustainable ways.
While you won’t find many big-brand hotels in Watamu, there are plenty of lodging options from budget to luxe — in addition to home rentals — that would be ideal for a relaxing beach break.
Panama sits outside of the Atlantic hurricane belt, and it’s an easy escape from the U.S. where you won’t need to worry about adjusting to jet lag. Although June through November is considered rainy season in the Central American nation, the likelihood you’ll have beautiful beach days is high, especially if you visit earlier in the summer.
The San Blas Islands, an archipelago of more than 300 islands (fewer than 50 are inhabited), are ideal for a sunny vacation. The islands are also known as the Guna Yala Islands, home to the indigenous Gunas. San Blas’ beaches are best for those that want a true escape, as you won’t find typical amenities like chain restaurants or easy access to the internet as you might find in a major city like Panama City.
Start your Panamanian adventure in Panama City with a stay at Hyatt’s new Unbound property, Hotel La Compañía, an ode to the country’s colonial roots, in the heart of the capital’s historic center. Then, head to the islands by a combination of a 4×4 vehicle and a seaplane, water taxi, or sailboat charter. Many of the islands are only reachable by tour, which you can organize once you’re in Panama City.
Expect far-flung, pristine beaches and lush, tropical jungles on these remote islands. Once there, plan to snorkel or dive, as the islands are home to a reef. You can explore them directly via chartered boat or stay in local beach bungalows and small rentals around the islands (some of the most popular are El Porvenir, Isla Robeson, Corazón de Jesus, Chichimei, Isla Perro, and Nargana).
This eastern province of Sri Lanka sees dry weather in the summer, making it perfect for a beach break after you’ve explored the temples of Anuradhapura in the country’s interior and viewed herds of elephants in the wild in the protected national parks of Minneriya and Kaudulla.
Sri Lanka is a small country, meaning you can fly into the capital, Colombo (CMB), but then easily escape the summer rains there in just a few hours by driving toward the east coast. Trincomalee has long stretches of white sand, such as Uppuveli, where you’ll sunbathe and frolic on the sands alongside locals fishing. Perhaps you’ll even see some cows roaming the beach during your surf lesson!
Accommodations come in the form of affordable guest houses, surfer hostels, and family-friendly vacation rentals. This particular slice of the coast is slightly further from Colombo than some of the more popular beach resorts in the south of the island, but this means you’ll see fewer tourists and enjoy a more authentic Sri Lankan vacation.
Sri Lanka is a wallet-friendly destination that can be easily combined with the Maldives, one of the world’s most sought-after high-end destinations. You can use your points to stay at a fancy resort in the Maldives, then pay affordable cash rates for lodging and activities in Sri Lanka.
Maybe you never considered Iceland as a beach destination, but for thrill-seekers and those looking to have a different kind of beach escape, Iceland offers unique, one-of-a-kind beach experiences that you may not be able to have anywhere else in the world.
While you can swim at many of Iceland’s beaches (just use your best judgment), don’t expect the traditional sand-and-sun experience here. This country is for those who are looking for a changeup from the traditional beach experience and are looking for something a little different. On Iceland’s beaches, you’ll encounter black and even red sand, stretches of shore strewn with petrified rock remains, geothermic waters, and pieces of icebergs laying on the sand.
See icy glacier blocks at Diamond Beach (be careful not to climb on them — they’re super slippery), or snap photos of the reddish sands at Rauðisandur. Those who want a break from sightseeing in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík should dip into the artificial, geothermal waters of Nauthólsvík.
Don’t miss checking out the charming lighthouse on Grotta Island or the basalt rocks jutting out of the water and angular rock formations along the coastline’s black volcanic sands of Reynisfjara Beach. And for all those AvGeeks out there (you know who you are), the rocky, gray sands of Sólheimasandur Beach are home to a plane wreck.
Hot Tip: If you’re thinking about a trip to Iceland, you’ll likely spend some time in the capital, Reykjavik. Check out our full review of the Reykjavik Consulat Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre, and Courtyard by Marriott Reykjavik Keflavik Airport to help with your planning!
While much of Thailand suffers through monsoon season in the summer months, the Gulf of Thailand, home to islands like Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao, doesn’t have its rainy season until October.
Koh Samui is a short flight away from hubs like Singapore (SIN), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), and Bangkok (BKK), and is the largest of these 3 islands. From there, you have several ferry options for arriving at the other 2 islands. Each of these islands has endless options for beaches, but as Koh Tao is the most remote of the 3, getting to some of the best beaches there requires navigating some seriously steep, unpaved, and curvy roads on a rented motorbike or via taxi.
One of the best beaches to visit on Koh Samui is Silver Beach, a golden-sand cove dotted with boulders, beach restaurants, and hotels. On Koh Phangan, youthful party animals should attend the monthly full-moon party on Haad Rin beach, while families may prefer the lesser-developed Haad Son, also known as Secret Beach. Meanwhile, in Koh Tao, snorkelers should visit Sharks Bay to see black-tip reef sharks, and sunseekers should head to Aow Leuk or the iconic Koh Nang Yuan Beach to relax on the island’s white sands.
All of these islands are relatively affordable, but if you’re looking to use points, Koh Samui has the largest selection of points properties, like the Conrad Koh Samui and the W Koh Samui. Those who prefer budget guesthouses or family vacation rentals can find optimal accommodation on any of the 3 islands.
While most of the tourists are heading to overpriced Ibiza and crowded Mallorca, those that want to vacation alongside locals should head to Cádiz in Andalusia. Cádiz is home to a charming historic center, but its coastal Atlantic location ensures it stays breezy and cooler than some other Mediterranean locations.
Head south along the coast from Cádiz and you’ll run into endless sandy stretches ideal for families, couples, solo travelers, groups of friends, and more. Enjoy the fine sands on beaches like El Palamar, Caños de Mecca, and La Fontanilla. Rarely crowded or full, these beaches feel delightfully airy and ample, a welcome change from many Mediterranean beaches in Spain, such as Alicante or Valencia, where you’ll sit umbrella-to-umbrella in the summer months.
Zahara de los Atunes is another long stretch of sand, and its nearby downtown area is complete with restaurants and boho-chic boutiques. Playa de Bolonia is one of the most famous in Europe for being impeccably clean, with pristine waters and a wild, remote feel, thanks to its location in a protected natural area, El Estrecho Natural Park. Don’t forget to climb up its giant sand dunes!
End up in Tarifa, a breezy beach town perfect for surfers, where the wind blows for more than 300 days a year, ideal for kitesurfing and windsurfing, in addition to just catching waves on your board. And even if you’re not a surfer, the hip beach clubs and trendy restaurants make Tarifa fun for everyone.
Hot Tip: You can take the train from Madrid to Cádiz instead of driving — just know it takes more than 4 hours.
Home to the famous Los Cabos, this region, the southernmost part of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, has plenty of tourist-catered resorts and hidden, beachy gems to discover. An easy flight from many cities in the U.S., the obvious choice for beachgoers is to head to Los Cabos (SJD), an area home to stunning beaches like the iconic Playa del Amor, a stretch of golden sands dotted with massive granite cliffs and rock formations along turquoise waters.
Although the rainy season in the region occurs during summer, most of the rain tends to fall in September, so a summer trip, especially in June or July, should provide plenty of lazy beach days under the sunshine.
Those who want a dash of culture along with their beach break should head to the colorful village of Todos Santos, backed by the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. Nearby, surfers can catch big breaks at beaches like Cerritos or Pescadero, both located on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Those with a penchant for the finer things should keep an eye on the St. Regis Los Cabos, as well as the Four Seasons Cabo del Sol and the Park Hyatt Los Cabos, all of which will hopefully open their doors in 2023.
Sustainable travelers looking to get off the beaten path, away from the more tourist-catered beaches of Los Cabos, can take a day trip from La Paz to the uninhabited island of Espíritu Santo, designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve and located in the calmer waters of the Sea of Cortez. Summer is mating season for the local sea lion population — but that’s not the only wildlife you’ll see. Enjoy the diverse bird and marine life located on the island by walking along the cacti-lined paths or snorkeling beneath the waves.
Hot Tip: Check out our post on the best beaches in Mexico for more summery Mexican travel inspiration.
Portugal continues to emerge as an affordable destination for U.S. travelers. And TAP Air Portugal — the country’s flag carrier — is ready, increasing the number of flights between its home base in Lisbon and cities across the U.S., including Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington, D.C. (IAD). Now that you know it’s easy enough to get there, let’s talk about the beaches.
Just outside of Lisbon, there are plenty of stretches of sun and sand, from beach towns like Cascais and Estoril to the famed surf hubs of Nazaré and Peniche, which are just north of the Portuguese capital.
But some of the best beaches in Portugal are in the south in the Algarve region. The area is especially ideal for families, with large resort options like the Conrad Algarve and Pine Cliffs Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Algarve.
Marinha Beach is one of the most popular in the area, featuring calm, emerald waters and backed by towering, rocky cliffs. Make sure to snap a photo of the double-arched rock formation in the sea: Arco Natural. This beach is busy and popular in the summer months, so if you’re looking to escape the crowds, consider heading to one of the Algarve’s islands — like Armona Island or Tavira Island — by ferry. Both of these islands feature long stretches of sand that feel delightfully less crowded than the mainland beaches.
When most Americans think of a Greek beach escape, islands like Santorini or Mykonos often come to mind. But they may not realize that these islands are crowded and expensive, especially during the peak summer months. Instead, vacation where the locals do and head to Peloponnese, a peninsula that’s just a short drive from Athens.
Peloponnese’s beaches rival those of Greece’s most famous islands, featuring white sands and transparent waters, often much less crowded than ones you find on some of the busier, more traveled islands. If you want to go fully Greek, visit Voidokilia Beach, which is actually shaped like the Greek letter omega (Ω). The sands are set along the Gialova Lagoon, which is one of the best bird-watching spots in the region.
And it’s not just beaches you can see in Peloponnese. The area is home to some quaint villages and beautiful natural sites, too. For example, visiting the village of Nafplio is a must. Its emblematic Venetian castle, seaside promenade, and neoclassical architecture have led locals to deem it one of the most romantic destinations in Greece. Nearby, soak in the sun on Arvanitia Beach. Though pebbly, it’s a peaceful place to hang out and enjoy the views, located directly below a castle.
For a wilder feel, the long sands of Valtaki and Selintsa (separated by a shipwreck) are ideal for relaxing. And if you’re up for an evening beach stroll, you may even spot sea turtles nesting there.
Hot Tip: Peloponnese is just a couple of hours away from Athens (ATH) by car, which is infinitely easier than catching additional connecting flights (Greek airports can be very chaotic in the summer months) and figuring out the ferry system.
Yes, you can always enjoy a summer breach break at home in the U.S. But there’s something to be said about international sands, whether you’re on mainland Europe or visiting far-flung islands, that feels like a true escape. Enjoy a beach break abroad this summer and you might just fall in love with a brand-new destination you hadn’t previously considered before.
And you may end up surprised — a jaunt to southern Portugal or Sri Lanka may actually be more affordable than that beach rental in California, Cape Cod, or Northern Michigan when all is said and done.
The best beaches to visit in summer are the ones that offer sunshine and little rain. Whether you love a beach with all the amenities (beach chairs, restaurants, and shops) or a more remote beach experience, there are plenty of beaches worldwide that are ideal for summer visits, from beaches in Portugal to Sri Lanka to Thailand to Mexico.
In July, head to destinations like Portugal, Spain, Greece, Panama, or western Mexico if you want to enjoy sunny weather. Skip anywhere that’s rainy or excessively humid, like parts of Florida and many areas of the Caribbean.
In August, visit countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, or Portugal. Although many of the beaches will be crowded and the weather is hot, these countries have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, especially during the summer months like August.
This depends on your interests. If you want to escape the tourist crowds, head to Trincomalee in Sri Lanka or the remote San Blas Islands in Panama. For a true adventure and cooler temperatures, visit Iceland. Or, for a more traditional summer beach experience, head to Portugal, Spain, or Greece.
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