Melissa's Travels

Lesser-known Beach Retreats

In my years of traveling, I have seen a lot of beaches, yet my love for them has not waned. Beaches evoke escape and serenity and romance and childhood’s happiest moments—so many things of beauty but they can also disappoint with crowds or overdevelopment. I have been lucky enough to sample beaches on six continents, and as everyone does, I have my favorites that I return to and also the blow-me-away ones that I probably won’t see again but will never forget. I was recently asked to name a dozen fabulous and lesser known beach retreats.


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Angra dos Reis

Brazil

Brazilians don’t like to talk about Angra dos Reis with foreigners; they prefer that their paradise remain a hidden secret. The archipelago, with more than 2,000 beaches and comprising 365 islands, is one of the last unspoiled beauties in the world. I describe it as a bit like the coast of Maine except in the tropics because there are dozens of tiny islands, some with private houses and some with just a restaurant. You spend your days boating to surf beaches or snorkel spots or to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and colonial town of Paraty.

Getting There: Angra dos Reis is a two-and-a-half hour drive south of Rio, or a thirty-minute helicopter ride.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: The off-the-beaten path region is a perfect fit for intrepid travelers who like to be ahead of the crowds. Renting a villa is the most luxurious way to experience the islands, so it can be a fun destination for families or a group of friends. And to be poolside amongst Brazilian nationals, head to Fasano Angra dos Reis

Cap Rocat

Mallorca, Spain

This sexy Mallorcan property is the leading beach resort on the island where the Spanish royal family spends its summer holidays. The island itself has long attracted artists and writers and has rural areas and sleepy villages as well as a very sophisticated crowd who own lovely villas. Housed in a former military fortress, Cap Rocat feels a world away from the main town of Palma, encouraging blissful isolation but close to shopping and lots of restaurants.

Getting There: There are flights from most European capitals to Palma de Mallorca airport. The resort is a 20-minute drive away.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Cap Rocat is an ideal romantic escape for couples; children are not allowed.

Guana Island

British Virgin Islands

Few people know about Guana Island, a privately owned island in the Caribbean. It is located in the British Virgin Islands and the owners are a fascinating family who are committed to maintaining the island’s ecosystem and have brought back many expatriated species. The island is one of the last unstudied ecosystems in the Caribbean. Guests stay in lovely simple cottages; family-style meals are served in the main house. The island is great for a takeover for people who love nature and simple living. It has a roughly 30:1 ratio of acres to guest.

Getting There: Flights arrive into Tortola, and then you take a 10-minute boat ride to Guana.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Low-key couples that want to get away from it all, while still having an active vacation.

Imanta

Punta Mita, Mexico

Originally built as an Amanresort, Imanta is a hideaway on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Hidden at the end of a dirt road, the property has only a dozen rooms. Its Treehouse is one of the best honeymoon spots in North America. The hippie-chic accommodation, which was built as the owner’s residence, is tucked away a mile from the main resort, and is almost entirely without walls, floating as it is in the tree boughs. The villa comes with its own private beach, a spring-fed pool and private chef. And for those who don’t need quite so much privacy, the casas at the main resort are great choices.

Getting There: Flights arrive into Puerto Vallarta airport. Imanta is an hour-drive away.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Travelers drawn to the beauty and surf of the Pacific coast who want an intimate boutique hotel experience. The hilly property is not suitable for those with mobility issues.

Explore More

Indagare’s top picks for beach lovers on both coasts of Mexico.

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José Ignacio

Uruguay

The beach town of José Ignacio has been called the Hamptons of South America or been compared to Montauk or St. Barth’s of twenty years ago—with a boost of Latin flair. It has long been on the radar of Brazilians and Argentinians, but the Vik family (who live between Greenwich and Monaco but have Uruguayan roots) created three five-star hotels that have brought the region to the attention of choosy travelers. There is Estancia Vik, Playa Vik](lodging/playa-vik) and art-centric property, Bahia Vik, which has a hot-spot restaurant and some of the best beachfront bungalows in town.

Getting There: With no time change between the east coast and José Ignacio, guests arrive from an overnight flight without any jet lag. Flights arrive into either Punta del Este (via Buenos Aires) or Montevideo (via Miami. José Ignacio is a forty- or ninety-minute drive away, respectively.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Chic travelers and families who appreciate elevated design but a low-key, barefoot beach vibe.

COMO Laucala Island

Fiji

The former private island of Malcolm Forbes in Fiji, COMO Laucala Island is—I would argue—one of the most amazing resorts in the world today. The 3,200-acre private island has twenty-five residences, including some on the beach, others high in the hills and others overwater, which allow you to dive right out of your front door. Some residences are a mile away from the others for maximum privacy. There is a world-class golf course and a fleet of boats, plus a recreational submarine.

Getting There: From the US the easiest way to get to Laucala is to fly to Nadi and then they will send their small plane for a forty-minute transfer, but you can also fly via New Zealand.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: COMO Laucala Island is the perfect spot for honeymooners or couples celebrating a special romantic milestone, but it is also great for families who travel in high style, but who don’t like to sacrifice hands-on experience with adventure along the way.

Nihi Sumba

Sumba Island, Indonesia

Further afield and much harder to reach but also a passion project is Nihi Sumba. I first heard about this very special surfers’ paradise in Indonesia when Lorenz Bäumer wrote a postcard about the “Best Wave” for Indagare in 2009. A few years later, Chris Burch (co-founder of Tory Burch) bought the small hotel on Nihiwatu beach, and he and James McBride began creating what has since been named best resort in the world by Travel and Leisure and others. When I visited this past January, I found that part of the magic of Nihi is how easy it becomes to find spaces for serenity and reflection. One morning on a walk, I had the beach to myself except for the herd of twenty Sandalwood ponies, and all over the property are private pools and day beds. The eco-friendly hotel also doubles as a charity; the Sumba Foundation aims to eradicate Malaria from the island and 90% of its funding comes from Nihi Sumba guests.

Getting There: Guests fly into Bali and then take a one-hour connecting flight to Sumba (most depart in the early morning, so an overnight in Bali is often required).

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Surfers and philanthropic travelers

andBeyond Benguerra Island

Mozambique

Mozambique is an African country that has emerged from a period of strife and now has a handful of luxury hotels cropping up, but the most incredible one is andBeyond Benguerra Island. It is one of the most spectacular resorts off the East African coast.

Getting There: International flights arrive into Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Pemba, Mozambique.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Honeymooners or couples looking for a far-flung escape, where island time is the only time.

Lord Howe Island

Australia

Lord Howe Island, a small island at the very bottom edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The result of underwater volcanic activity, the remote island is a World Heritage site and comprise a completely unique ecosystem; 70 percent of the island is untouched and it has a number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. I took my kids there ago when they were younger, because in March most of the GBR is in the rainy and stinger season, but Lord Howe is far enough south to be great for snorkeling and diving. Capella Lodge is a real barefoot luxury spot where you ride bikes to the beaches and the hotel comes and delivers food for you to do your own barbie on the beach.

Getting There: The main island is a two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane. Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore the islands’ unique topography. The bird-watching is some of the best in the world.

The Brando

French Polynesia

Tetiaroa Island in French Polynesia was actor Marlon Brando’s private paradise for many years, but after his death his family has turned it into an eco resort with a mission to protect its marine life and pristine beauty. It is now The Brando, an Indagare Adored and Indagare Impact hotel with 35 villas, which range from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. The entire island is a natural reserve and guests can take part in tons of water activities but also go out on field trips with the scientists working on the island including one of Brando’s granddaughters.

Getting There: You get there by flying from Los Angeles to Papeete in Tahiti and then taking a small private plane.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Couples and families will love it.

Mandarin Oriental, Canouan

St. Vincent & the Grenadines

Indagare Adored resort Mandarin Oriental Canouan is on the island of Canouan in the Grenadines. The closest well-known islands are Barbados and Mustique and this property mixes the feel of both of them.

Getting There: Most people fly to Barbados or Grenada and then connect to Canouan.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: People who love to play golf or fish and want to be first at the next great spot in the Caribbean.

Islas Secas

Panama

I had the opportunity to visit Islas Secas in Panama with a group of Indagare Ambassadors in 2023, and immediately fell in love with it. Staying at this private island retreat—part of a privately-owned and protected 14-island archipelago—is effectively signing up for a marine safari, with daily excursions that immerse you into the surrounding islands. Whale watching, bird watching are de rigueur, as are. Beach time here can be adventurous—scuba diving, kayaking, and snorkeling—or relaxing, including with fabulous picnics.

Getting There: The Islas Secas team will meet travelers at Panama City’s airport for a one-hour private flight to the island.

Who Should Go to This Beach Retreat: Islas Secas’s 14 casitas are ideal for a multi-generational trip.

Published onDecember 17, 2014

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