TripAdvisor recently revealed the winners of its Traveller's Choice Awards 2017 including the top 25 beaches in the world. The most striking thing about the list of beaches is that no less than nine of them are in the Caribbean Sea. Not that surprising when you consider the region's fabled tropical white sand beaches are its modern mainstay, attracting millions of holidaymakers each year. But also quite startling when you think of the competition – the Indian Ocean's islands, south-east Asia, Australia and the South Pacific to name just a few.
Before visiting the Caribbean, I suspected reality might not match up to expectations and that its enduring popularity with sunseekers may have led to beaches becoming overdeveloped, crowded and commercialised, but that simply isn't the case. The sheer number of exquisite sandy enclaves in this part of the world ensures there's always enough beach space to go round, development is usually low-rise and low-key, and you don't have to stray too far to find a piece of paradise all to yourself.
For those who want to visit the pristine sands tried and tested by TripAdvisor's massive international community of reviewers, here's a guide to each Caribbean beach in the world's top 25, including places to stay and how to get there.
In at number two in the Traveller's Choice charts, Grace Bay on the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales is a diamond in a sea of Swarovski crystals. Turks and Caicos' cluster of little islands on the tail-end of the Bahamas are blessed with amazing beaches, but Grace Bay in the east of Providenciales is particularly alluring. Tufted by palms and shady casuarinas, the fine white crescent of sand is soft as flour underfoot, stretching to the horizon and dissolving into vivid teal-coloured water ideal for swimming. You can find a holiday base at one of the hotels behind the beach. Affordable options include Villa del Mar and Sands at Grace Bay, though you can stay in palatial luxury at the Regent Grand for £1,000 per night. Get to Providenciales via British Airways flights from London, stopping en route in the Bahamian capital Nassau.
Aruba, Netherlands Antilles
Part of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles islands clustered close to Venezuela's north coast, Aruba has seen a steep rise in visitors over the last few years and it seems the extra attention is well deserved. The island's Eagle Beach on its peaceful western shore has been voted the third best beach in the world in the TripAdvisor poll and it's also a favourite nesting site for sea turtles. The widest beach in Aruba stretching for 1km, its sugary sands are overlooked by many of the island's low-rise, more European-style hotels, including the immaculate Bucuti Beach Resort and Tara Beach Suites. You can travel to the little island on direct flights from the UK. Several tour operators offer package deals.
From Cayo Santa Maria in the Jardines del Rey archipelago to Cayo Largo in Cuba's protected southern waters, the country's countless coral cays are a vision of undisturbed tropical paradise. Travellers have picked Playa Paraiso on the south coast of Cayo Largo as their fourth winner in the beach beauty contest – a glittering ribbon of coralline sand that gets less visitors than neighbouring Playa Sirena and has calm shallow waters ideal for kids. Slightly remote from the mainland, Cayo Largo is very much a beach-based destination with decent all inclusives such as the Sol Cayo Largo. The island is accessible via domestic flights from the Cuban capital of Havana. Fly direct to Havana from the UK with Virgin Atlantic and consider spending a few days to sample the iconic city's unique and vibrant Cuban culture before heading onward to the pristine sands of Playa Paraiso.
The Mexican island of Isla Mujeres sits within the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea opposite the large mainland tourist resort of Cancun. It has left quite an impression on visitors, with its Playa Norte charting in the top 10 beaches in the world. A halo of dazzling sand and glowing turquoise waters skirting the north of the island, it's a vision not easily forgotten. Get there via a non-stop flight to Mexico's Cancun International Airport (CUN) and then hop on the ferry from Cancun's Punta Sam. Stay close to the beach at simple and affordable Ixchel Beach Hotel, which is a 15-minute walk north of the ferry terminal.
Seven Mile Beach
Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach was bound to pop up somewhere in the traveller's top 25. It has built a reputation as one of the region's most idyllic beaches lined with unobtrusive barefoot luxury hotels where personal butlers are par for the course. In fact, most of Grand Cayman's hotels gather around Seven Mile Beach, including international hotel chains such as Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Marriott, but there's also a dedicated dive resort – Sunset House – and the West Bay area has some smaller, more individual and affordable hotels like Cobalt Coast. Quieter the further north you stroll, the powdery sands of the west-facing beach gently shelve into sapphire waters making it ideal for a serene swim. The beach is easily reached from the island's capital George Town and the international airport, which has direct flights from Miami, in turn served by frequent flights from the UK.
Culebra, Puerto Rico
Flamenco Beach on a little islet mainly accessed by ferry from the US-owned island of Puerto Rico may seem like a hidden gem but it's regularly voted one of the best beaches on earth. Its photogenic qualities are enhanced by the verdant mountains rising behind the crescent bay's iridescent blue waters and the lack of development, aside from a camp site and smattering of villas. Fly direct to Puerto Rico from the UK and catch the ferry from Fajardo to Culebra's main town of Dewey. Flamenco Beach is a few kilometres north of Dewey and you can stay by the beach at pleasant Villa Flamenco Beach.
The ever-popular Dominican Republic does a roaring trade in beach holidays and aquatic activities so it can be a daunting task sifting out its best beaches. Thanks to TripAdvisor's crowd-sourcing, you can cut out the research and head straight for Bavaro Beach in the eastern Punta Cana province to plunge into clear reef-protected waters and pad across silken sands. Known as the Coconut Coast, the area has a collection of luxury all-inclusives close to the beach including the newly opened Sunscape Bavaro Beach. You can fly into Punta Cana International Airport from London, and be at Bavaro Beach within 30 minutes.
That local flavour that's often lacking on resort beaches gives Jamaica's Long Bay the edge, with vendors selling everything from aloe vera and coconuts to jetski rides and massages. The seven-mile-long curve of palest sand on the western tip of the island is framed by palm trees and known for its spectacular sunsets. The lively tourist town of Negril has grown up alongside offering an array of places to stay, eat and play. For a low-key option, stay at Country Country's cute cottages right on the beach. Fly from the UK into Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Long Bay is roughly a 20-mile drive from the airport.
West Bay Beach
Hugged by a long line of swaying palms, the calm water and pale soft sand of West Bay Beach has been described by Lonely Planet as pitch perfect and its offshore reef is said to be superb for snorkelling. Far enough off the tourist trail to feel like you've discovered something special, the beach indents the western-most edge of Roatan – a bay island in the Caribbean waters of Honduras. Stay close to the beach at West Bay Lodge and Spa's comfortable cottages or opt for a beachfront suite in the smart and small Grand Roatan Caribbean Resort. Reach West Bay beach by taking a direct flight to Miami where you can catch an onward flight to Roatan's Coxen Hole International Airport, which is about 30 minutes' drive from the beach.
It seems the search for the perfect beach is over, though it's worth considering that these beaches must have seen substantial footfall to make it into the world's top 25. Still, if you prefer to keep looking for your own version of paradise, the results of the Traveller's Choice Awards show the Caribbean is clearly the best hunting ground.