The search for unique: Caribbean’s unrivaled beaches


Steve Blount (USA TODAY) gives an alternative list of “best beaches” with white sand and turquoise waters. He says, that “Sometimes it’s just one thing that seals the memory, a personality trait that transforms a strand from a nice place to put a blanket to unforgettable. He offers “some beaches you probably won’t see on those other lists.”

Woodlands Beach, Montserrat (shown above): Not all beautiful beaches are white. Some of the most stunning strands in the world are black; they confound expectations and offer a lesson in natural history. Beach color is chemistry: Snowy white beaches are calcium carbonate (usually from coral skeletons) while black beaches are forged in the bowels of volcanoes. The volcanoes belch up basalt rich in iron, aluminum and silicon. Look closely and you may see crystals of green and red mixed in with the black. Tiny Montserrat was rocked by eruptions from the Soufrière Hills Volcano in 1995 and 1997 that eventually caused much of the southern half of the island to be permanently abandoned. However, it does have some of the region’s prettiest black-sand beaches, including Woodlands Beach. A line of cliffs rim the sweeping arc of black sand and there are picnic tables on the heights above.

Big Sand Cay, Turks & Caicos: Remote, uninhabited and remarkable, Big Sand Cay is visited only by the occasional passing yacht and a day boat from nearby Salt Cay, which is only slightly less uninhabited. The islet is scruffy and dry, but in the spring its small bay is carpeted with mating nurse sharks parked pectorals to pelvic fins in a kind of thrashing drive-in for love-addled elasmobranchs. In addition to this display of primal procreation, 50-foot humpback whales cruise past on the way to their mating grounds — their odd, plaintive songs echoing through the water. Just offshore is Endymion Rock, final resting place of an unlucky British Navy frigate of the same name that hit the coral pinnacle and sank in 1790.

Bloody Bay, Little Cayman: Though much of the island’s coast is studded with eroded limestone — “ironshore” — the smallest member of the Cayman trio does have beaches. Sandy Point on the east end and Pirate’s Point on the west are popular for walking and sunbathing, but it’s the small, yellowish beach on the northside that stands out among the Caribbean’s coastal cornucopia. Within swimming distance of shore is one of the most prolific vertical coral walls in the region. From a depth of less than 20 feet, the wall drops nearly straight down, reaching more than 6,000 feet. [. . .]

Playa Larga, Cuba: If you’re of a certain age, you know Playa Larga by it’s other name, Bahía de Cochinos — the Bay of Pigs. This wide, sandy beach about two hours southeast of Havana is where American efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro ran aground and foundered. [. . .] The little town of Girón hosts a museum dedicated to the invasion, complete with photographs, tanks and aircraft. The historic events that unfolded here make Playa Larga unique among Caribbean beaches as the site of the only failed U.S. invasion in the region. [. . .]

Playa Navio, Vieques, Puerto Rico: Playa Navio is a small, flat sand beach, unremarkable save that, just around the small spit of land that defines its eastern edge lies the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. Launching a transparent plastic canoe from the beach at night, you quickly move into water that literally glows as plankton stirred by the wind, current and your paddle lights up the water.

The other beaches he mentions are: Cupecoy Beach, St. Martin; Palm Beach, Aruba; Blow Holes, Grand Cayman; Cat Island, Bahamas; and Maho Beach, St. Maarten.

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