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MY TOP 5 BEACHES IN THE WORLD

MY TOP 5 BEACHES IN THE WORLD

What a better way to relax than a beach!

Now even if it’s always pleasant to lay down on the beach, it’s much better if it’s on a perfect white sand one with crystal clear water…

So where to go to find yourself in these magical places?

The good news is that don’t need to go to an atoll in the Maldives, there are places far more accessible.

So here is a small selection of what I consider as the 5 most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen:

  1. ZANZIBAR (TANZANIA)

Zanzibar is a magical place: on one hand, a fascinating culture at the crossroads of civilizations, and on the other hand an incredible coastline. After discovering its capital, Stone Town, a true cultural gem, you can head to some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll see in your life.

I had the opportunity to explore the island for some weeks before I ended on this spot I still consider as “my” most beautiful beach: “Paje”.

Located on the east side of the island, it is a huge strip of fine sand with crystal clear water. The tide is very strong here as the water is shallow. It’s not the best spot to swim (too shallow at certain times of the day), but the view is simply stunning.  When the tide is low, you can enjoy pure transparent water over kilometers, and when it starts rising, the water will come through a full range of colors: incredible shades of green and turquoise blue will scroll over the hours.

Low tide base is also an opportunity to appreciate the seaweed harvest. Moreover, this spot has good wind conditions and is loved by Kyte surfers.

Another must do on this island: “The Rock” restaurant. Its setting is quite unique: you reach it by foot at the beginning of the day, and as the tide surges, the restaurant will be surrounded by crystal clear water. You will need a boat at the end of the day to get back to the mainland (or if you feel like swimming –  like me, after having emptied 2 bottles of wine 😉

Friendly Maasai on the beach (Paje)
  1. NUSA PENIDA (INDONESIA)

Indonesia is a fascinating country – it is the largest archipelago in the world with over 18,000 islands. Therefore, it is one of the best places to find incredible beaches.

The most famous beach is found on the iconic Nusa Penida, a small island located between Bali and Lombok.

But it is far from being the only one worth a visit. I’d recommend you explore: Southern part of Bali, the Gilis (Gili Trewangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) and Nusa Lembogan. And if you venture further on (till Komodo and Flores), you’ll see some of the best and most remote beaches.

Because most of the islands were shaped by volcanoes, the scenery is spectacular. I highly recommend you rent a scooter to explore Bali and Lombok.

The incredible beach of Nusa Penida
  1. TULUM (MEXICO)

Rivera Maya is the most tourist place in Mexico. It all started with Cancun, a former fisherman’s village converted into a holiday and resort center that looks more like Vegas than  Mexico. The second town to explode was Playa del Carmen… And finally  Tulum.

I remember the first time I visited this little Caribbean paradise back in 2003. A tiny village, a few huts on the beach where you could put your hammock in exchange for a few pesos. And an archaeological site with a breathtaking view over a deserted beach and turquoise water.

Unfortunately, things quickly changed: the village became a town, the Cabañas were replaced by hotels, and in 2006 a ramp was built to allow access to the beautiful beach at the foothill of the archeological site.

Hotels located on the beach have become very exclusive, and free access has been reduced by dubious commercial policies (a Mexico’s classic). Nevertheless, Tulum remains a beautiful beach and is on my top 3. Its long strip of fine beach has not (yet) been covered with concrete and it is still much more charming than Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

And all changes are not bad: last time I visited it (in summer 2017), there was a cycle path between town and the beach (located 4km away).

Another magical place of the Riviera Maya was Holbox. It is a bay located at the border between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. But yeah, I have to say that it’s been almost 10 years since I was there. Back then it was a small village next to a long perfect white sand beach. No big hotels just huts on the beach… I’m pretty sure its fate was similar to Tulum.

A vintage photo of Tulum’s ruins before the access ramp was built…
  1. RAILAY (THAILAND)

Thailand is also famous for its dreamy beaches. Between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, the country has thousands of miles of beaches. The most famous are islands such as Ko Tao, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi (next to the beach from the movie “The Beach”), Ko Lanta, etc.

But my favorite one was Railay, located near Ao Nang in the province of Krabi. It is a superb bay with impressive limestone rocks overlooking the water (A popular spot for climbers). The beach is a perfect strand of white sand. Moreover, it is a relatively quieter place in comparison with the surrounding islands.

Life is hard in Railay!
  1. SANTA GIULIA (CORSICA)

The Mediterranean is also full of amazing beaches that are as beautiful as in the tropics. Greece is probably the most famous country for its dreamy beaches, but I was quite surprised by the beauty of Corsica. The crystal clear water of Santa Giulia, near Porto Vecchio, makes it a perfect stop. Of course, the sea is not as warm as in the tropics; But bathing is still great. And then, for those who live in Europe, there’s no need to grab a 12-hour plan to get there 🙂

When the Mediterranean shows its beauty…

 

So that was my top 5 but there are many other beaches I enjoyed so much, just to name a few of them:

  • Palolem in Goa (India): A relaxing and cheap place, a great stopover on a long and intense trip to India.
  • Camps Bay in Cape Town (South Africa): a great beach in Cape Town’s classy neighboorhood.
  • The “Calanques” in the south of France: a set of creeks formed by the rock. Magical landscapes between the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and limestone rocks.
  • Utila in the Bay Islands (Honduras): One of the best snorkeling spot in the Caribbean. Corals are impressive, even if Roatan has better beaches
  • Mexico’s Pacific Coast: from Baja California to Oaxaca, Mexico offers over 2000 miles of coastline on the Pacific. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore Baja California, but some of its beaches are as beautiful as those of Rivera Maya
  • Koh Rong (Cambodia): This island is located off the coast of Sihanoukville. A relaxed and enjoyable place to be explored in a few days. Its beaches are sublime, although I suffered harsh weather conditions.
  • Perhentians (Malaysia): Perhentians Islands are located off Kota Baru. A small diving paradise, with fine sand beaches and transparent blue water.
  • Likoma (Malawi): As weird as it sounds, this island is actually on a lake. Yet its freshwaters are warm and crystal clear.
  • Copacabana in Rio (Brazil): Finding a beautiful beach in a densely populated city is not an easy task. Yet the famous Copacabana beach is a great spot, even though you won’t feel alone.

Of course, this is just a very short list based on my own experience. So now tell me what is your favorite beach to include it on my next trip 🙂

ANOTHER WAY TO DISCOVER THE KILIMANJARO AREA (MEETING THE LOCALS AND AWAY FROM THE CROWDS)

ANOTHER WAY TO DISCOVER THE KILIMANJARO AREA (MEETING THE LOCALS AND AWAY FROM THE CROWDS)

Tanzania is one of the most popular countries in East Africa. Between the white sand of Zanzibar, the famous Serengeti National Park and the massive Kilimanjaro, the main issue is to make a choice as it is difficult to see it all.
And even if you have all the time in the world, doing all these activities would burn all your savings. Because as you may know, prices are completely insane in this part of the world.
As a reference, you won’t be able to get a 4-day safari in the Serengeti for less than 800$.
The Kilimanjaro is no exception… Africa’s highest peak  (5.895 m) obviously attracts the crowds. It is indeed the only continental summit that can be climbed without prior experience.
And for the same reason it has become a huge cash machine: be ready to spend around $1400 for the 6-day ascent.
There is another alternative in 5 days (via Marangu) but I wouldn’t recommend it. Remember that the Kilimanjaro is a massive volcano (actually there are 3 volcanoes) overlooking the surrounding by about 5.000 m, so you’d be lucky to be successful in your attempt to climb these 5,000m in just 4 days (any mountain guide would consider this as a pure madness). And even the 6-day climbing has a low success rate due to the altitude challenge.
This must be an amazing experience, but I find the price to be excessive (there are much better hiking/climbing options in the Andes and Himalayas, for a fraction of the cost). And if only the funds spent would supporting local communities… But more than half of the amount paid goes straight into the pocket of corrupt politicians…
Since I had decided to make better use of my bucks, I was considering the available options, while having lunch in Moshi (a town near to Kilimanjaro). In no way, I’d pay any government fees.
I started chatting with the waiter, a young man born and raised in the region. He offered to show me the surroundings.
No sooner said than done: the next morning, we headed to Marangu by local transport. From the main road, we got into the bush. The slopes of Kilimanjaro are the habitat of a huge diversity of fauna and flora. The ground is also very fertile and you can find all kinds of culture… Among which many coffee plantations from which are extracted some of the finest coffee beans in the world.
At some point, we reached a waterfall… Before going down to check it more closely, I was required to pay the “Muzungu” tax (an half-affectionate/half-despising nickname given to white people in East Africa). 2000 shillings, less than $1, fair enough!
The first waterfall
After a short break, just enough time to take a few pictures with my new friend, we resumed our journey. We then stopped at some nice folks’ places. They had decided to set up a project aiming at showing the daily life of local tribes. Very interesting.  You can get into small huts and see how those people live. Without any feeling of being intrusive.
Traditional Hut
Nobody charged me any fee here. I just got a delicious local coffee while chatting with the people around and supported by buying some souvenirs.
We then had an”Ugali” (a typical African dish made of maize flour).
We eventually resumed our way inside the coffee plantations before entering again into the rainforest. And reached a second waterfall lost in the middle of the jungle. This one was even nicer than the first one!
A beautiful waterfall appears in the lush vegetation…
It was about time to head back to town so we slowly went back to the main road and grabbed a local bus that dropped us in Moshi about an hour later.
I was quite happy with my day. I had discovered the beautiful surroundings of Kilimanjaro and had also learned a bit more about local tribes and Tanzanians’ daily life.
As far as money is concerned, besides the fact I had spent peanuts compared to the cost of climbing the Kilimanjaro, the most satisfying point was that I felt it had been spent ethically. Indeed, rather than stuffing the already well-filled government’s belly, it was a direct support to local communities; the ones who need it the most.
Locals are trying to benefit from the tourist industry, whose revenues are so unfairly allocated. I believe it’s our duty as tourists to support them.
How to find a guide? Well, just ask around, and trust your guts. We had found a nice deal with mine: I’d pay him all transportation, meals (and some improvised beers in the middle of the afternoon) plus a $15 tip (which is better than his daily wage as a waiter). I strongly recommend ending the day with a few beers at a local bar: it’s a great opportunity to share their daily life (and learn their best-kept secrets 😉
The full day cost me around $40 ($8 for transportation, $10 for meals (local food), $15 for the guide, $1 for both waterfalls… Consider a very variable budget to be spent at the local bar at the end of the day.
Sure, you can also explore the area on your own (this is actually my preferred way of traveling), but I must admit that I would have skipped most of these lovely places if I hadn’t asked the advice of a local guide… And not to be forgotten: you will almost always be better considered if you are coming with a local.
Practical INFO:
  • Housing:
In Moshi, there aren’t many lodging options (Arusha, a much larger city, which is also the closest to Serengeti, catches most of the visitors and offers more alternatives).
I stayed at “Rafiki Backpackers”. Nice atmosphere. Dorms starting at 10$. They also offer tours on the Kilimanjaro’s slopes (coffee plantations, etc.), but the price is much higher…
  • Transport
To get to Moshi:
– EITHER by bus from Dar Es Salaam : plan at least 10/12 hours to reach your destination. Tickets can be purchased at any counter inside Dar’s “bus station”, but beware scammers: it’s a real mess!
– OR by plane (Kilimanjaro Airport is 30km from Moshi). There’s a shuttle service between Moshi and the airport (in the early morning… check timetable beforehand): a great option for about $10. Flight tickets start at $125 (fast jet).
If you can afford it just fly: apart from the unrivaled comfort, you’ll get great views of Kilimanjaro!
To get around Moshi (and its surrounding area – Machame, Marangu and Arusha), go to the “bus Stand” (which has a central location in Mawenzi Street, a few steps away from Uhuru Park). You will also find a well-stocked shopping center next to the bus station.
Finally, for an amazing view of the Kilimanjaro, you should head to the 2nd floor of the YMCA facilities (Kareem Road, slightly outside the city center). The best sunset ever!
To make the most of the mountain views, consider the period of the year. For instance, I was there in May and views were clear only at the end of the day. At other times of the year, you can only get a glimpse of the mountain at the rising sun…
In any case, seeing the sun falling on this mythical mountain is an unforgettable experience… You should go for it!
The beautiful sunset at YMCA