The best beaches for people who don’t like sand

Surprising as it may seem to some, lying on the sand all day working on a golden tan is not everyone’s idea of a perfect holiday.

With the beach-shy in mind, we’ve come up with a list of the best beaches to explore beyond the sand and surf.

Not sure what kind of beach-goer you are? Maybe our Trip Finder tool can help.

We’ve just added over 170 new beach destinations – stocked with creative descriptions and inspiring imagery, fun facts and practical info – to help you pinpoint the sandy stretch that best suits you.

Tulum, Mexico

Seaside view of the El Castillo ruin.

Seaside view of the El Castillo ruin.

 

Riviera Maya’s Tulum has been growing in size and style for decades but still retains the bohemian charm that first attracted hippies the world over to this once sleepy village.

There’s so much to keep you busy on this stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula you won’t have to spread out your towel at all. Top of the list is a thorough exploration of the Pre-Columbian ruins perched dramatically atop 40 ft cliffs overlooking the Caribbean.

When you’re done delving into one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Mayas, there’s yoga retreats, cave diving, Mexican-fusion vegan dining and boutique shopping – and as much mezcal as you need to keep up with the pace of those Central American beats.

Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt

Wreck diving in Egypt.

Wreck diving in Egypt. © Ben eBaker

For those who find it shallow on the shore, why not search for hidden depths in the Red Sea? Snorkeling among the coral reefs of the Ras Mohammed National Park reveals sea life in colors almost too bright to be true.

If you’re willing to dive a little deeper, a real sunken treasure awaits. The Sinai seabed is the final resting place of the British Merchant Navy ship SS Thistlegorm, sunk here in 1941 and discovered a decade later by none other than Jacques Cousteau.

For drier pursuits, Sharm is only a stone’s throw from the breathtaking sites of Mount Sinai, Giza and the Nile.

Mykonos, Greece

Windmills on the Island of Mykonos.

Windmills on the Island of Mykonos.

Sitting under the scorching sun all day may not tempt you but dancing the night way in the cool sea breeze is a whole other ball game. For some of the best beach blowouts the world has to offer, look no further than The Island of the Winds.

With a reputation reaching across continents, Paradise Beach is the ultimate dance-until-you-drop party girl but, from the beachfront to downtown Mykonos, the entire island is committed to having a good time.

In the morning, a dip in the brisk Aegean waters will get you right back on your feet – or seek out a quiet narrow cobblestone street and spend your days recovering in the shade.

Railay, Thailand

Sunrise on Railay West Beach.

Sunrise on Railay West Beach. © Mark Fischer

Beach holidays can sometimes be a little lacking in the adrenaline department – unless you find yourself surrounded by the craggy limestone cliffs of the Rai Leh peninsula.

Thrill-seekers won’t have to do much seeking before they happen upon some serious rock-climbing and deep-water soloing opportunities, as well as plenty of diving, caving and kayaking. If that isn’t enough, you can literally go jump of a cliff – a 100 ft drop, to be precise.

For a total landscape change, head to mainland Krabi for a trekking expedition deep into the jungle. And then there’s always Thai massage.

San Sebastián, Spain

The San Sebastián City Hall.

The San Sebastián City Hall.

There’s one activity we can all count on when we’re bored of doing nothing: eating. And the Spanish do it well.

Welcome to San Sebastián, home of the ‘pintxo’. Spanish for thorn or spike, these delightfully small snacks stacked with fresh seafood, Iberian ham, spicy cured cheeses and pretty much anything else you can think of, are often pinched together with a skewer or toothpick (hence the name). The best part? Their petite frame means you don’t have to choose between all those mouth-watering options. Uno de cada por favor!

If you don’t know where to start, we suggest ordering a ‘Gilda’ – San Sebástian’s most emblematic pintxo, named for Rita Hayworth – at funky A Fuego Negro.

Yes, the beaches are beautiful. The architecture – from baroque to Belle Époque to forward-thinking contemporary – is stunning. But let’s face it, the countless Michelin star restaurants and tapas taverns are the true avant-garde movement of this Basque city by the sea.

Saint-Malo, France

Saint-Malo ramparts

Saint-Malo ramparts. © bortescristian

On a stormy morning, angry waves whip the top of the ramparts of Saint-Malo’s walled citadel – no beach in sight.

Low tide exposes wide, flat sands, but these are secondary to the seafaring past this port town houses in its ancient walls. Calling all history buffs. A key port in the 17th and 18th centuries, Saint-Malo became notorious for piracy and privateering. Pillaging English ships passing up the channel, Malouins accumulated as much as one quarter of all the gold in France – Louis XIV would call in when strapped for cash.

When a break from exploring is in order, take a tip from royalty. The King also counted on this corner of Brittany for a different type of treasure; oysters. The nearby fishing village of Cancale is still famous for the slimy delicacy.

Major Cay, Bahamas

Beach babe.

Beach babe.

The very thought of sand between your toes might make you cringe but this Bahamas island might be worth a few tentative steps. It’s true very little is expected of you on this tropical island country besides lying on the pearly-white sand and wading carefree in the oh-so-clear-blue waters of the Atlantic. However, it’s not every beach that can boast friendly pigs paddling around the ocean blue.

The uninhabited island of Big Major Cay, known, for obvious reasons, as Pig Beach, is home to a few dozen feral pigs and piglets.

Though no one actually knows how they got there in the first place, they have completely adapted to the beach bum lifestyle – and you can swim and sunbathe right along with them.

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