Published Jul/Aug 2005

Left: At Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island, visitors grab some quiet time on Red Beach. Puerto Rico Tourism photo

This select group of six will make
your dream beach getaway a reality.
By susan kaye

hether you’re snorkeling off a Hawaiian black sand beach where clumps of lava attract schools of neon fish or slurping rum punches on the white sands of Jamaica, there’s nothing that beats the beach. Thousands of beaches strung across the palm latitudes are made for loafing, wave surfing, splashing and for storing up sun-warmed memories.

Here are six of the best beaches, stretching from Hawaii to the Caribbean.

Marvelous Mexico

For centuries, the former fishing village of Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s Pacific coast lazed on the brazen blue Pacific, unknown to the outside world. Now, it’s discovered, but just barely.

Eye-popping Playa La Ropa, commanding one mile of voluptuous Zihuatanejo Bay, is ideal for windsurfing, waterskiing and sailing. Yet two of Mexico’s finest luxury hotels look down on its honeyed shore, an idyllic spot for swimming and sunning, with a handful of seafood eateries just a Frisbee toss away.

Mornings are for lazy breakfasts on the beach at Villa del Sol (AAA four diamond hotel), a sensational resort with pools, tennis, meandering streams and the prime location at the center of Playa La Ropa.
In the afternoon, grab a cab to town to catch the boat shuttle to Las Gatas beach, at the far end of the bay. This beach is crowded with palm-thatched palapas (sun umbrellas), lounge chairs and a dozen small restaurants where the fish is cooked over propane burners. Locals don’t even think about lunch until after 2 p.m., so there’s time for a banana boat ride or a swim in the extra-calm waters before digging into a feast of fresh tuna salad, guacamole and grilled shrimp.

Isla Las Mujeres on Mexico’s Caribbean coast is a five-mile-long sliver of an island that’s only a half-mile wide. It basks off Cancún’s coast, a mere 15- to 20-minute ferry ride away. Isla Las Mujeres has long been a day-tripper’s paradise, with pedestrian streets offering a pleasant muddle of souvenir stores, pizza parlors (Pizza Rolandi is top-notch) and cantinas that serve more than their share of Jose Cuervo. It’s an effortless escape from Cancún’s party-hearty scene.

From the ferry, walk through town veering to the left–within 10 minutes, you’ll be at Playa Norte, one of Mexico’s finest beaches. The blinding white sand sinks beneath a beach blanket spread under the clatter of breezy palms. The waters are calm and so shallow that swimmers can wade out 100 feet and still be knee-deep in the warm, mica-blue waters. Lazing the day away is the program. When hunger strikes, follow the beach towards its tip to the popular open-air snack bar at Hotel Na Balam.

Rent a golf cart in town to explore the island. On the western shore facing Cancún, there’s a string of tempting beaches, as well as Garrafón, a snorkeling site so spectacular that it’s an underwater national park.

Head to Hawaii

Hapuna Bay at the northern end of the Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is home to Hapuna Beach State Park, which has been repeatedly called America’s most beautiful beach. The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel–a AAA three diamond property–has direct access to this beach.
The wide white skirts on this half-mile stretch are talcum-powder soft, and swimming is excellent here. Hapuna also is a top spot for boogie boarding and body surfing. Snorkelers make their way to the south end of the beach, where a coral reef attracts butterfly fish, angelfish and other finned beauties.

There’s a bonus to vacationing on this island and it’s the artifacts from ancient Hawaii. A few miles to the north at Pu’ukohola Heiau is an enormous stone temple that King Kamehameha built in 1790 to secure the aid of his war god. A few miles beyond, Lapakahi Historical Village chronicles early Hawaiian life.

The outstanding Outer Banks

Ocracoke Island, N.C., is not a trendy beach. There’s not even a Starbucks here. What you’ll find on this fabled Outer Banks isle are 16 miles of pristine beaches, as in totally unspoiled, thanks to ownership by the National Park Service (Cape Hatteras National Seashore). Serenity of the soul comes effortlessly as you meander miles of shorelines and grassy dunes and tumble into rolling waves made for swimming and surfing.

The ranger’s interpretive programs include not only nature walks but also pirate talks. Blackbeard the pirate favored the island as his retreat and died here in a ferocious battle.

In addition to the lulling solitude of the shore, there’s noteworthy bird-watching. This barrier island intersects the Atlantic flyway, so spring and fall bring migrating songbirds, hawks and shorebirds to join the native terns and herons. Other activities include float trips through marshes and late afternoon dolphin cruises along the Western Pamlico Sound.

Caribbean wonders

Two-thirds of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, is a National Wildlife Refuge, which is garlanded with empty beaches, the equivalent of an entire new island. Developers are circling, but for now, the beaches belong to the gulls.

The “new” beaches are anything but prosaic, despite their names. There’s the wide scimitar shape of Red Beach, narrower Blue Beach with its crystalline water, Secret Beach and sensational Green Beach, offering head-on views of the main island of Puerto Rico.

Beaches outside the reserve are yet more reasons to love Vieques. Media Luna Beach attracts families to its shady shore and shallow waters. Sun Bay, near the fishing town of Esperanza, stretches over a mile, a color wheel of turquoise water, sparkling white sand and the green of sea grape trees and feathery palms.

On a star-spangled night, board a slow-moving boat in Bioluminescent Bay, dawdling past millions of one-celled creatures glowing bright yellow. Darting fish appear like shooting stars and flashes of light will bounce off you as well when you dive in the luminous water.

Barbuda, Leeward Islands, is a liquid paradise that basks in the tropical sun north of Antigua. Its confection of pink and white beaches are celebrated as among the most exquisite in the Caribbean.

Barbuda’s southwestern edge is blanketed by one incredible beach, shimmering with the soft luminous colors of a seashell for 17 uninterrupted miles. When the urge for beachcombing strikes, move east to the Atlantic coast.

Hundreds of shipwrecks, snagged by reefs hiding beneath the ethereal waters, encircle Barbuda. The combination, with the allure of finding a treasure of gold doubloons from buried Spanish ships, makes for exciting dives.

Second only to the fame of its beaches is Barbuda’s Frigate Bird Sanctuary, said to be the largest such gathering in the world for these mammoth birds. You’ll tour the colony on a boat that threads through the mangroves in Codrington Lagoon.

These tropical beaches create an endless summer for all who have the pleasure of visiting.

Susan Kaye is a contributor from Aspen, Colo.

Above: Children play in the surf. North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film & Sports Development photo

Before You Go
See your AAA Travel agent who will help you plan a beach vacation to these or other destinations. A list of offices is at www.aaa.com.

For more information on these beaches, click online at:

• www.ixtapa-zihuatanejo.org or www.isla-mujeres.net/tourism (Mexico)

• www.bigisland.org (Big Island of Hawaii)

• www.outerbanks.org (Outer Banks of North Carolina)

• www.gotopuertorico.com or www.antigua-barbuda.org (Caribbean).

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