Some call it a miniature heaven on earth. Down the coast from Puerta Vallarta, along the lower scoop of shoreline that traces the Bay of Banderas, lies the remote resort of Majahuitas. Accessible only by boat (the jaunt takes 30 minutes and will run you about 50 dollars), the semi-private beach is best known for its rustic splendor -- luxurious, candlelit huts and exquisite feasts cooked to order right in front of you. For those who like to mix romance with recreation, the crystal waters at Majahuitas range from 10 to 60 feet deep, making for ideal scuba diving and snorkeling.
Gracing the ten o'clock rim of the French side of tiny, tropical St. Martin, the beach on Happy Bay is still relatively undiscovered, requiring a 10-minute hike through the underbrush to find it. Once there, however, this hidden haven instantly captivates. Shrouded by bent and swaying palm trees, and boasting a flawless crescent of white sand that neatly frames the sparkly turquoise water, the beach is largely uninhabited, and therefore known for its liberal dress code. Some villas are currently in the making here, but development remains spare, so at lunchtime most sustenance-seekers stroll south to Friar’s Bay.
The achingly pretty Flamenco Beach lazes on the northwest corner of Culebra, the picture-postcard isla chiquita 17 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico. Perched next to a wildlife preserve and melting into a light-blue surf that remains waist-deep 50 feet out, this idyllic, mile-long stretch of beige sand is frequently populated by lounging lizards and dive-bombing pelicans -- but not a lot of tourists. Therein lies the romance. (Note: On the far end of the beach, abandoned military tanks sit in the brush, left over from U.S. Navy exercises in the '70s. Man your cameras accordingly.)
They say pirates once ran their bawdy business out of St. Thomas, the hilly, subtropical gem that lolls in the northern waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Centuries later, the buccaneers have gone, but St. Thomas remains one of the Caribbean’s most popular ports of call. The beach at Magens Bay is pocketed on the top side of the island and sheltered by rock formations and shade trees, a slam-dunk destination for lovers of surf, lovers of sunsets and lovers -- period. What makes Magens so romantic? Well, for starters, the beach is shaped like a heart...
For true nature enthusiasts, the beach at the southern end of Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is romance at its wildest. Getting there can be arduous -- the trip requires flying into a tiny airstrip, surviving a bumpy cab ride (or donkey-drawn carriage) and, of course, hoofing it. But the payoff is obvious: Just off the green sand beach sits a lantern-lit tent camp surrounded by a virtual eco-lab of vegetation and animal life, including scarlet macaws and monkeys. Here, enchanted visitors sip piña coladas in a thatched bar, wade in the Jacuzzi-warm surf, or bathe in a fresh-water stream that spills out from the jungle just a few clicks down. It's truly the ultimate tropical escape.
In 1854, Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenia, built a palace on the shores of Biarritz in southwest France, instantly transforming the region from an ordinary whaling town into a vacation retreat worthy of royal attention. Today, Biarritz Beach on the Bay of Biscay remains the pride of the Côte Basque, each year luring endless waves of surfers and sunbathers to its golden sands, breathtaking cliffs and vibrant nightlife. Incidentally, for those who prefer their romance indoors, Eugenia’s little beach pad is now the world-class Hôtel du Palais.
The odds were clearly stacked against it: 3,000 Greek islands are scattered about the Agaean Sea, 220 in the Cyclades group alone, just one of them the serene, beach-strewn isle of Ios. And yet it all comes down to one little cove. On the quiet eastern shore of Ios, just south of the more inhabited Kalamos Beach, lies the secluded sanctuary of Papa, a barely-there inlet whose half-moon plot of sand, placid sapphire waters and protective curve of rock-mountain walls proves once and for all that the Greek Gods -- and Mother Nature -- knew a thing or two about eros.
Some 1,000 miles east of the African mainland -- and the continent’s smallest sovereign state -- the Republic of Seychelles continues to define romance, if only by the hordes of honeymooners who swarm to its lush shores every year. Although any beach on the 115-island cluster is worth the airfare, true lovers can be found ambling on the soft, flat sands of Anse Boileau on the main island of Mahé, or along the tranquil shorelines of La Digue (made famous in Bacardi ads), where everyone knows everyone and guests at the island lodge are fetched from the ferry by ox cart.
Dangling like a dewdrop from the southern tip of India, the island nation of Sri Lanka is a topographical marvel, where rolling emerald plains gently blend into forested hills, and colorful Buddhist and Hindu temples dot the landscape like jewelry. But the beaches that fringe the perimeter of Sri Lanka are what best capture hearts, especially the sloping sands of Bentota, on the island’s southwestern ridge. Tucked between the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and a lazy blue river just behind it, Bentota Beach is a top choice among sun worshippers who know a garden paradise when they see one.
Blessed with Crayola-color vistas and dominated by the black-rock twin peaks of an ancient volcano at its center, Bora Bora, the jewel of French Polynesia’s Leeward Islands, is renowned for its on-the-water deck-bungalows, complete with steps that lead directly down into bath-warm lagoons. The magnificent Matira Point, on the southern tip of the main island, is especially mesmerizing, with its mint-blue waves, sugar-white sands and awesome views of the cloud-piercing mountains. Favorite couples' activities include botanical hikes, beach picnics and glass-bottom-boating.
Lingering in the southwestern waters of the Fiji archipelago is the volcanic island of Vatulele (pronounced vah-too-LAY-lay), a coral-and-sand wonderland on which native coconut and taro farmers mingle among high-end jet-setters and adventurous wedding parties from around the globe. An all-inclusive resort, the island is home to a dazzling variety of villa facilities, some in jungle settings, others beachside. The 110-person staff is hellbent on pampering its guests, asking them to abide by one set of island rules: no money transactions, no telephones, no TV and no shoes. Hey, no problem.
Floating among the dreamscapes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the private resort of Hayman Island, an Eden-like outpost that practically flaunts it romantic grandeur -- with sweeping, coral-lined beaches, verdant tropical foliage and a perpetually sultry climate. Visitors routinely share space with a colorful contingent of wild things (cockatoos, swans and butterflies abound), and at night the stars practically explode against the ink-black sky. High-end tourists can check out the sweet suite scene on the island’s southwestern side, with its ample villas woven among peaceful waterfalls, delicate gardens and open-air lanais.
Quietly nestled on the northern shores of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the beach at Hanalei Bay is damn near picture-perfect, with its elegant horseshoe of bright sand hugging the base of the island’s deep green mountains. Legendary for its terrific surf and intoxicating seabreeze, the striking landscape actually transforms throughout the day. In the morning, the glassy water reflects the surrounding cliffs like a three-mile mirror, and at sunset, you’d swear someone had painted the sky. Hand-in-hand beach strolls are mandatory here.
Who says you need to cross the pond to find true romance? Located toward the center of the 1,700-island shoestring of the Florida Keys, Bahai Honda State Park is something of a departure from the typical Florida beach scene -- quieter than the madness at Daytona and blissfully devoid of the blanket-to-blanket crush of South Beach. Privacy reigns here, with shallow, teal waters that stretch beyond the horizon, and hundreds of yards of virtually empty sand. For those who want to extend their romantic interlude to an overnight, the park provides 80 convenient campsites for tent-toters and RV drivers.