When going to a new destination, many of us stick to the beaten path; we'll go where the other tourists are going for the first time around. But once you’ve been to Cancun, or Montego Bay, or any other well-touristed beach spot, you may be more interested in heading somewhere a tad more under-the-radar on your next visit to the area. Or perhaps you’re the type who opts to skip the crowds the first time around. Either way, we love these seven underrated beach destinations; they’re rarely a traveler’s first choice, but perhaps they should be.
Instead of Cancun, head to Riviera Nayarit. With more than 190 miles of beautiful sandy beaches, wonderful resorts, and world-class golf, it’s surprising that Riviera Nayarit is so much less known than Mexican resort destinations such as Puerto Vallarta (its neighbor to the south) and Cancun. Punta Mita and Nuevo Vallarta are the most popular towns here, but there are also a number of charming little beach towns such as Sayulita and San Pancho that offer visitors a more authentic Mexican experience.
Where to stay: Haramara Retreat, Sayulita. This luxurious yoga retreat located on 12 seaside acres of wild vegetation just outside Sayulita is one of the most special hotels in Mexico. It is geared toward those in need of some detoxification and relaxation, with yoga and meditation classes, an open-air spa, a vegetarian and seafood restaurant, unpaved trails, and limited electricity and cell phone service.
Instead of San Juan, head to Vieques. Travelers to Puerto Rico tend to cluster around the beach resorts in San Juan – specifically, in Condado and Isla Verde. The beaches are nice enough, but the setting is undeniably urban. Meanwhile, a short 30-minute flight away, the untouched beaches on the tiny island of Vieques await. Vieques is getting increasingly popular (a W hotel even opened here) but compared to other Puerto Rico destinations, it’s still an under-appreciated paradise.
Where to stay: W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island. The W is easily the top luxury option on Vieques, and it is located on its own private (and beautiful) beach. The nice spa, sexy open bathrooms, and beautiful infinity pool make it a great pick for couples.
Instead of Ambergris Caye, head to Placencia. Most travelers headed to Belize head to Ambergris Caye, which offers easy access to Belize’s best snorkeling and diving. But its beaches can’t compare to the beaches found on the Placencia peninsula. Travelers to this area can also experience Belize’s rainforests and Mayan ruins – neither of which can be found on the cays. It is still possible to snorkel and dive from this area; the reef is a 45-minute boat ride away.
Where to stay: Turtle Inn. This romantic resort owned by the Coppola family features stunning Balinese-style villas with thatched roofs and plenty of charmingly rustic decor details (including textiles and hand-crafted furniture). With only 25 units and a sprawling layout, guests are assured of plenty of privacy.
Instead of Montego Bay, head to Treasure Beach. Montego Bay resorts have beautiful beaches and are located conveniently near the airport, so it’s no surprise this area is so popular. But those in seek of isolation should head to Jamaica’s quiet, rural southern coast, home to black-sand beaches, charming fishing villages, farms, and colorful cottages dotting the shore.
Where to stay: Jake’s. Jake’s may be trendy, but its boho-chic cottages with no phones, TV, or Internet suit this sleepy area perfectly. The spa, yoga classes, and excellent cuisine area also draws.
Instead of Waikiki, head to the North Shore. Bustling Waikiki has plenty to offer in the way of hotels, restaurants, sun, and sand, but it also has plenty of crowds. The North Shore has unspoiled beaches, laid-back surfer towns, and Shark’s Cove, one of the best snorkeling sites on the island.
Where to stay: Ke Iki Beach Bungalows, Oahu. These 11 beach bungalows are just the ticket for travelers looking for a no-frills experience on a beautiful, empty beach. There aren’t many amenities to speak of besides the hammocks and the barbecue grills – but that’s sort of the point.
Instead of Punta Cana, head to Cabarete. The beaches in Punta Cana may be utterly fantastic, but the dozens of megaresorts may make it feel too built-up for some tastes. Cabarete is a laid-back beach town and kite-surfing hub that’s popular with expats, and the cafes lining the beach turn into nightclubs come evening.
Where to stay: Natura Cabana Boutique Hotel & Spa. Natura Cabanas is a 10-minute drive from the town of Cabarete, and its eco-friendly bungalows are just steps from a virtually crowd-free private beach. The prices are remarkably fair, the food is delicious, and the yoga classes overlook the ocean.
Instead of Manuel Antonio, head to the Osa Peninsula. We love Manuel Antonio – a lot – but if you’re looking to try out a different part of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is incredibly lush and wildlife-rich. Corcovado National Park – the best National Park in Costa Rica – is located here, and the region is paradise for naturalists and adventurers.
Where to stay: Lapa Rios Ecolodge & Wildlife Reserve. Lapa Rios has 16 bungalows and is situated amid 1,000 acres of lowland tropical forest. The pool overlooks the ocean, the rustic-luxe rooms have private decks, and the (rocky) beach is a 10-minute walk away.