Bob Friel  /  CT&L
Petit Tabac
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This collection of eight idyllic strands clearly shows why the Caribbean is the world’s greatest beach destination. Many wonderful stretches of coast lie adjacent to the region’s resorts, but the beaches featured here are stripped down to their essence: sand and sea, usually with a sprinkling of palms to complete the fantasy.

It’s no coincidence that each is close to a coral reef — the main source of the dazzling white sand that sprinkles ashore as a sugar-soft treat for your toes. And the warm sea that bathes these shorelines is so clear that the blazing Caribbean sun hits the ocean floor nearly full strength, bouncing back to color the undersides of passing clouds with the same luminous turquoises, blues and greens that the water displays. You can’t drive to any of these spots, and you often have them to yourself. Best of all, if you haven’t seen them yet, there’s still time: Nearly all are protected as national parks so they’ll remain just as beautiful for generations to come.

MOPION
Slideshow: Caribbean way of life Mopion, a dollop of sand surrounded by a transparent sea, is quite literally a poster child for the Caribbean. It has appeared on dozens of magazine covers — including this one. Photographers lucky enough to visit St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a shoot find their shutter fingers involuntarily shaking when they see this superlative sandbar that looks almost too perfect, as if it were created for a Corona commercial. Without even a single palm tree, the only speck of shade on Mopion is from a thatch umbrella. The nearby private-island resort Petit St. Vincent sets up fantasy beach picnics here for its guests, while yachties and those staying on Mayreau or Union Island use Mopion as a snorkeling and tanning excursion.

Where To Stay Nearby: The private-island Petit St. Vincent Resort (800-654-9326; www.psvresort.com) features 22 cottages.

The Saltwhistle Bay Club (784-458-8444; www.saltwhistlebay.com) on Mayreau offers 10 suites, a restaurant, a bar and a boutique.

PETIT TABAC
In Pirates of the Caribbean, loopy but lovable Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) relates the horrors of being marooned on a tiny deserted island. Later, he’s dumped on the same spot, this time with the luscious Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who soon discovers that Sparrow’s first visit involved nothing more horrible than sitting on a perfect beach and drinking rum — much like a modern Caribbean vacation. To film this scene, the director picked Petit Tabac, a slash of soft, deep sand crowned by a shock of green palms that is one of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ shining jewels within the Tobago Cays National Marine Park.

Where To Stay Nearby: The private-island Petit St. Vincent Resort (800-654-9326; www.psvresort.com) features 22 cottages.

The Saltwhistle Bay Club (784-458-8444; www.saltwhistlebay.com) on Mayreau offers 10 suites, a restaurant, a bar and a boutique.

SANDY SPIT
Get out your crayons and draw the classic uninhabited island. Start with a patch of stubby sea grapes punctuated by palms of various heights. Completely surround the mottled green trees with a ring of sand; you’re going to need a light touch to add just the slightest hint of pink. On the island’s west side, gradually fade sky blue into cobalt to represent the gentle slope of the sea bottom as it falls into a deep channel. On the east, extend a broad turquoise lagoon out to a thick band of reef. If you’re good at detail work, fill the lagoon with sea turtles and tropical fish. If you’re not artistic at all, simply drop anchor in the BVI to see Sandy Spit in living color.

Bob Friel  /  CT&L
Sandy Spit

Where To Stay Nearby: The Fort Burt Hotel (284-494 -2587) on Tortola has 19 rooms and suites, and ocean-view dining.

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The 154-unit Long Bay Beach Resort & Villas (800-943-4699; www.longbay.com) features two restaurants, three bars and two pools.

Tortola’s Prospect Reef Resort (800-356-8937; www.prospectreef.com) is a 137-room property with two pools, three restaurants and a spa.

The Sandcastle (284-495-9888; www.sandcastle-bvi.com) on Jost Van Dyke has four beachside and two garden-view rooms.

SANDY ISLAND
Storms and currents constantly work on Sandy Island. One year the winds and waves will topple palms and scoop away sand; the next year — or even the next week — visitors will find a new stretch of beach, or that the lagoon has changed shape. What doesn’t change is the basic combination of a long sweep of sand that embraces an excellent snorkeling reef. With the green hills of Carriacou just across the channel as a backdrop, day-trippers wade into the warm water and fin over fish-filled shallows. Off the far end of the beach, away from the cluster of trees where picnickers set up their blankets, a few kicks will carry snorkelers over a deep drop-off where they can watch for big rays and passing pelagic fish.

Where To Stay Nearby: The Caribbee Inn (473-443 7380; www.caribbeeinn.com) is a 10- room hotel with a French-Caribbean restaurant.

FRANSIQUI ISLAND
Aside from Gran Roque, which has some towering cliffs, the collection of islands 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela called Los Roques — The Rocks — is anything but rocky. The 40-some uninhabited cays are all either low-lying lengths of shimmering white sand protected by coral reefs or dense tangles of mangrove forest

bordering extensive bonefish flats. Gran Roque hosts the only permanent residents of the archipelago, which has been protected as a national park since 1972. The other islands, like Fransiqui, a five-minute boat ride from Gran Roque, are dream

destinations for day-tripping windsurfers, fly fishermen and beach aficionados.

Where To Stay Nearby: Macanao Lodge (011-58-212-979-2796; www.macanaolodge.com) is an all-inclusive eight-room hotel with a communal terrace and TV-viewing room.

TAHITI BEACH
Even though Tahiti Beach shares Elbow Cay with quaint and popular Hope Town, its secluded location at the southwestern tip of the island — and the fact that no road leads to the sand — ensures that it remains an uncrowded dream beach. Tahiti owes its South Seas moniker to the enchanted Bali Hai feel of otherworldly isolation, background of lush palms and view of Great Abaco. Visitors staying in Hope Town or who ferry over from the other Abacos hike or bike out to the beach, while those taking advantage of the island chain’s ideal cruising grounds motor over in their dinghies. Bonefish feed in the shallows, which wrap around tide-rippled sandbars — ideal for strolling and sunning — that reach into the Sea of Abaco.

Where To Stay Nearby: The Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour (800-468-4799; www.abacoresort.com) has 82 rooms, suites and villas with balconies or terraces, and an international-cuisine restaurant.

The Bahama Beach Club (800-563-0014; www.bahamabeachclub.com) features 19 fully equipped two- to four-bedroom condos and use of the Treasure Cay Hotel Resort’s amenities.

The Banyan Beach Club (888-625-3060; www.banyanbeach.com) has one-, two- and three-bedroom condos with patios or balconies.

The Lofty Fig Villas (242-367-2681; www.go-abacos.com) offers six cottages with private porches.

The 1,500-acre Treasure Cay Hotel Resort & Marina (800-327-1584; www.treasurecay.com) offers 87 rooms and suites. Golf, tennis and fishing are available.

ISLA SAONA

Bob Friel  /  CT&L
Isla Saona
The Dominican Republic’s Isla Saona is a part of the Parque Nacional del Este, and no hotels or resorts will ever crowd its magnificent palm-lined beaches. But it’s not quite an uninhabited island. Saona has a couple of tiny fishing settlements, and day-trippers from the Bayahibe, La Romana and Punta Cana resorts flock to a small village that features casual restaurants and a collection of shacks overflowing with Art Naïf. Somehow, though, the development doesn’t detract from the island’s natural attractions: great snorkeling, miles of sugary beaches, and a submerged sandbar covered with a universe of starfish. Perhaps it’s because this is the D.R., and it would seem unnatural to find any spot on land or sea where music isn’t playing and someone isn’t ready to teach you merengue.

Where To Stay Nearby: The Canoa Coral by Hilton (800-774-1500; www.coralbyhilton.com) is an all-inclusive 532-room hotel with two spas and pools, a kids’ pool and restaurants.

Located in La Romana, Casa de Campo (800-877-3643; www.casadcampo.com) has 293 rooms and suites with terraces. Rates are $183 to $312 in low season ($299 to $580 high).

Three pools, four restaurants and four bars are onsite at the all-inclusive 500-room Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach (800-898-9968; www.vivaresorts.com).

The Viva Wyndham Dominicus Palace (800-898-9968; www.vivaresorts.com) is an all-inclusive 330-room hotel with five restaurants, three bars and shared amenities with Dominicus Beach.

CONCEPTION ISLAND
Only sailors and scuba divers who set out on either liveaboards or long-range day boats know of Conception Island, one of the Bahamas’ far-out Out Islands dotting the eastern reaches of the archipelago. The sheer coral wall here is one of the most dramatic underwater sights in the world, and the two long pristine beaches not only serve as reward for those humans who make it here, but also as a prime nesting area for endangered sea turtles. The whole island, as well as neighboring Booby Cay, is protected as a national park, providing rookeries for sea birds and sanctuary for migrating species. The water surrounding Conception is about as clean and clear as it gets, and the snorkeling is superb.

Where To Stay Nearby: The Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort (800-663-7090; www.capesantamaria.com) has 20 villas on four miles of undeveloped beach.

Caribbean Travel & Life is the magazine for anyone in search of the perfect tropical getaway. Each issue presents expert insider’s advice on where to find the Caribbean’s best beaches and attractions, its finest resorts and spas, liveliest beach bars and activities, and its friendliest people.

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