Not every bucket-list beach has been Instagrammed and developed to death. These are the still-unspoiled stretches of sand to get to before everyone else does
National Park, Global Treasure
Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Tayrona National Park, Colombia.PHOTO: KIRSTEN LUCE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
First-time visitors here are easy to spot: They’re the ones overloading their iPhones with photos and asking each other why they’ve never been to Tayrona before. The answer is simple:
ILLUSTRATION: GATA MARSZALEK
Getting here is not easy. It’s a three-hour drive from Cartagena—under ideal road conditions that have never existed (in reality it is more like five). Road signs for the park are almost nonexistent; roads in the park are subject to flooding. But you forget all of that when step onto the beach at Cabo San Juan, with its twin horseshoe bays filled with warm emerald water and primeval rock piles.
The only comfortable accommodations in the park’s acres are the Ecohabs, a cluster of jungle huts overlooking the water. It’s a rustic take on luxury, where the sea breeze subs in for air conditioning, and the in-house restaurant is...a restaurant (stick to simply grilled fish with coconut rice). To think of this as austerity is to get it all wrong. You’re surrounded by 30,000 acres of lush jungle and miles of unspoiled beach—everything else is just noise. —Stan Parish
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport
GETTING AROUND: Most of the park’s trails are horse trails, and horseback is the best way to get from beach to far-flung beach.
WHAT TO BRING: There are no stores in the park so B.Y.O. everything, from rum to reading material.
Europe’s Best-Kept Seaside Secret
Pego Beach, Comporta.PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER WISE
Little-known fact: Miles of uncrowded golden sand edged by cerulean-blue ocean can still be found a short drive from a major European airport.
PHOTO: AGATA MARSZALEK
Savvy travelers tend to describe Comporta in terms of other places: Tulum 20 years ago, Ibiza in the ’70s, Montauk before the Hamptons crowd moved all the way east. The comparisons follow a formula: Pick a once-undiscovered beach town and the magical era before the masses got the memo.
Comporta still has a few years before Lisbon’s recent tourist boom trickles south, but in-the-know Europeans have been coming for decades, drawn by the low-fi lifestyle and rustic, sun-scorched beauty. You’d be well advised to do as they do: Book a villa, shop the roadside farm stands, fishmongers and wine merchants, and stay in after sunset. And of course, spend your days in the sand. —Emily Eisen
PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER WISE(2)
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Lisbon Portela International Airport
WHERE TO STAY: For those who want a full-service hotel experience, the Sublime Comporta lives up to its name.
WHERE TO EAT: Restaurante Dona Bia is the platonic ideal of a Portuguese beach restaurant.
The Unknown, All-Star Trio
Koufonisia, Greece.PHOTO: MARCO ARGUELLO
The ferry ride from Piraeus (outside Athens) takes four hours each way—just long enough, it turns out, to prevent day-trippers from descending on Koufonisia in hordes. This under-the-radar archipelago is composed of two inhabited islands and a third reserved for archaeological digs.
Pano Koufonisia, the main island, boasts enough tucked-away beaches and small tidal enclaves that a private strip of sand is always within walking distance. The Hotel Aelos, set on the hill outside of town, has the whitewashed, sugar-cube look you expect from your Greek-island lodgings; book one of the first-floor rooms with a bougainvillea-wreathed terrace overlooking the pool. The beachfront bar Kalofego has the liveliest day-drinking scene, but before the sun sets, cool off at the Devil’s Eye Piscina, an Instagram-baiting swimming hole carved into the rocky coastline. Once you jump in, the only exit is through a watery passage that leads out to sea. The experience is well worth the journey. The same could be said for Koufonisia itself. —Mark Ellwood
PHOTOS: BETH KIRBY; MARCO ARGUELLO
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Athens, if you don’t mind a long boat trip; Naxos if you do.
WHERE TO EAT: The contemporary Greek food at Gastronautis is as fresh and vibrant as the young local couple in charge.
INSIDER KNOWLEDGE: A boat trip to Pori Beach on the island’s eastern tip isn’t to be skipped.
The Forgotten Jet-Set Beaches of Africa
Benguerra and Bazaruto, Mozambique
Local staff welcome guests at the Anantara Resort, Bazaruto, Mozambique.PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER WISE
In the ’60s, the tropical islands off Mozambique’s coast drew a bohemian international crowd to their pristine white beaches. Then came a long civil war. The conflict ended 25 years ago, but the southeastern African nation is just now reclaiming its bygone heyday.
Two islands—Benguerra and Bazaruto—are leading the charge. The high-end safari operator AndBeyond, recently transformed a dilapidated fishing lodge on Benguerra into 14 individual oceanfront casitas, with private plunge pools and outdoor showers. The beach bar, made from a reclaimed fishing boat, should be your first stop after a day of snorkeling at Two Mile Reef a few hundred yards offshore. Keep an eye out for dugong, a docile—but easily started—sea cow that delirious sailors of yore took for mermaids. Bazaruto, the larger island, has wider beaches and more rugged terrain: Clamber up the 300-foot sand dunes for the best views of the archipelago. Stake out one of the thatched-roof cottages in the gardens of the Anantara Resort & Spa , where you can snack on just-picked mango and feast on fresh Mozambican prawns that the rest of the world has to defrost before eating. —Mark Ellwood
PHOTOS: JODY MACDONALD; ANANTARA BAZARUTO ISLAND RESORT
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Vilankulo Airport, a short flight from Johannesburg, and shorter boat trip from the islands.
VENTURE OUT: Take a catamaran to Paradise Island for world-class snorkeling and a barbecue for lunch.
INSIDER KNOWLEDGE: At Anantara, opt for the Dinner by Design experience—a private table on the beach and menu tailored to your tastes.
This small cliff-side village in Baja was once a secret kickback spot for Margaritaville types who rolled down in RVs from San Diego. Todos Santos retains its undiscovered feel, but the accommodations have markedly improved thanks, in part, to all-star Austin, Texas-based hotelier Liz Lambert, who opened the Hotel San Cristóbal earlier this year. Book one of the 32 colorful rooms for the full Todos Santos experience: shuffling between the barely occupied beach and the daybed on your balcony and, later, between the pool deck and the mescal bar.
Unlike Cabo and Tulum, Todos Santos isn’t teeming with must-try restaurants and bucket-list experiences—kicking back is still the town’s main draw. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to do: Take surf lessons in mellow waves off Los Ceritos beach, or drive an hour north to La Paz, one of the last places on Earth where you can swim alongside (extremely gentle) 30-foot-long whale sharks. These excursions build up an appetite for the wood-grilled baby lamb and pork belly at Jazamango, an outdoor restaurant by the peninsula’s most famous chef, Javier Plascencia. Since opening his new joint, he has been spending a lot of time in Todos Santos. It takes exactly one visit to understand why. —Kurt Soller
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Los Cabos International Airport
WHAT TO EAT: There are no bad—or even mediocre—roadside taco stands in Baja.
INSIDER KNOWLEDGE: The Blanket Factory—a Todos Santos institution—is a must-visit for handmade, affordable textile souvenirs.
Seek Snow Instead of Sand
Lake BaikalPHOTO: DANIEL KORDAN
Lake Baikal is the giant eye-slit of water at Russia’s center—the deepest lake in the world, almost 30 times the length of Manhattan. In July, it can pass for the Mediterranean, when pine trees drop sweet-smelling needles onto pebbled beaches. But in winter, when temperatures drop to well below 0, it’s a thrilling, crystalline antidote to a week in the tropics.
Hard-core expeditioners arrive via fat-bikes, skis and kite-sails, but there are easier routes: a direct, six-hour flight from Moscow to the city of Irkutsk, or a four-night, Trans-Siberian train from the capital. The lures are romantic—billowing snowstorms, trees laced with ice, and the extreme beauty of a virgin landscape. By March, the lake’s surface ice thickens to a meter or more, making it possible to traverse Baikal on snowmobile safaris, husky dog expeditions, and hovercraft trips. The Gustavia to this Siberian St. Barths is the waterside town of Listvyanka, a one-hour drive from Irkutsk. In this western-shore fishing town, you can graze on fresh-smoked omul (a native and mackerel-like fish) in restaurants lining the corniche. There’s no luxury hotel here, not yet. But the spa experience is hard to beat: At the end of each freezing day, you get beaten by birch branches in a traditional Russian sauna, or banya, before dipping into freezing waters of the fresh—and freshening—take on the winter holiday.
day, you get beaten by birch branches in a traditional Russian sauna, or banya, before dipping into freezing waters of the fresh—and freshening—take on the winter holiday. —Sophy Roberts
473 block (Blocos) of groups aim to lead residents and tourists into euphoria at the upcoming famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival
The official Tourism Company of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro (Riotur) released the official list of the famous blocos earlier this week, confirming the events that will parade through the city during the 2018 Carnival period.
Most blocos will parade through Zona Sul (South Zone), where 128 are held, and the rest will be distributed in other regions of the city.
The number is slightly higher than the number of groups that had authorization in 2017, when 451 blocos were approved and held 578 parades.
The announcement this year came two weekends after the start of unofficial bloco testing events, which have already spread throughout the city. One of the reasons is due to some big changes in the organization and funding of Carnival this year.
The new program of the ‘Arena Carnaval Rio’, or the Blocódromo, a controversial initiative of the city hall that intends to gather revelers in the Olympic Park, in Barra da Tijuca, includes seven major blocos, among them ‘Cordão da Bola Preta’ and ‘Bangalafumenga’, and five samba schools.
Rane Souza, director at RS Language Services, is from Minas Gerais but has lived in Rio for years, and is not sure that the changes are good. “It will certainly change the feeling on the streets because most blocos are deeply rooted in the neighborhoods they were first set up,” she explains.
When asked about her bloco plans she shares, “I’ll be traveling during Carnival. I’m spending time with my folks in Minas Gerais. But, if I were in Rio I would go to: Thriller Elétrico, in Vila Isabel; Põe na quentinha, in Centro; Mulheres Rodadas, in Catete; Agytoê, Viemos do Egito, and Boitatá, in Centro.”
While officials promise there are attractions spread out between Carnival Saturday (February 10th) and Ash Wednesday (February 14th), anyone who wants to go to the Blocódromo will have to wait a little longer to know exactly what the attractions will be.
This is because the published listing does not give the name of the schools that will be presenting (one each day, from 11AM to 12 Noon) and also reserves a time slot for a “surprise attraction” (from 12 Noon to 2PM).
See the full list of 2018 Carnival blocos as a PDF file here.