You don't need an Olympic gold medallist's front crawl skills to make the most of a holiday by the sea
We’ve travelled the world and handpicked these 26 idyllic beach destinations with shallow water perfect for less confident swimmers to have plenty of fun in and out of the waves.
Siesta Key Beach, Florida, USA
With a gentle sloping profile, Siesta Key invites timid swimmers to relax and wade in. You can walk on the seafloor for quite a way out, building your confidence in the process as you gauge the water level you’re comfortable with. Back on land, the sand is powder-soft like flour, making you feel like you’re walking on a cloud.
Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica
With 1,228km (763mi) of stunning coastline and over 300 beaches, Costa Rica is an ideal beach holiday destination. While everyone has their favourite seaside spot, our vote goes to Manuel Antonio Beach. This crescent-shaped beach, set within its name-sake national park, has calm waters and gentle waves, perfect for floating on the water surface effortlessly.
Paradise Lagoon, Jericoacoara, Brazil
With the sights of tourists lying in overwater hammocks and their hands casually caressing the shimmering water, you know that this aptly named Paradise Lagoon (Lagoa do Paraiso) really is a slice of heaven. Apart from overwater hammocks, there are also overwater thatched-roof huts with swing sets for visitors to dip their toes in the water.
Playa Sirena & Paraiso, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba
Cayo Largo (Long Cay), a tiny island off Cuba’s southern coast, is made for those searching for shimmering sea fringed by long, sandy beaches. The best beaches are Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso; both are protected from the prevailing trade winds with only a little breeze to disturb the shallow waters. While you’re there, check out the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre on the northeast side of both beaches.
Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands
It may only measure six miles long, but the length is probably the only thing the ‘best beach in the Caribbean’ falls short of expectation. Sitting on the western side of Grand Cayman, this beach has that classic Caribbean combination of white sands and swimming pool-esque waters, which are shallow enough to lure in even the shakiest of swimmers.
Ten Bay Beach, The Bahamas
Eleuthera, a long and thin island in the Bahamas, is renowned for the Glass Window Bridge, a 9m (30ft) narrow piece of land separating the dark, threatening waters of the Atlantic from the calm, shallow waters of the Bight of Eleuthera.
Just 63km (39mi) south of the Glass Window Bridge lies Ten Bay Beach. Facing the Caribbean side, the beach has little depth. At low tide, you can wade over 100m (328ft) and the water will still be calf-depth.
Cavalleria Beach, Menorca, Spain
More like a giant spa pool than an ocean bay, Cavalleria Beach (Playa de Cavalleria) in northern Menorca is a hit with children and less confident swimmers. The shallow and warm waters stay lapping at your knees even as you wade 40m (131ft) out to the sea.
Odeceixe Beach, Algarve, Portugal
Functioning as a large sandbank at the mouth of River Seixe where it drains into the Atlantic, Odeceixe Beach (Praia de Odeceixe) features two contrasting sides – the riverside and the oceanside. The former is sheltered; therefore, the waters are gentle and shallow, ideal for safe swimming. The latter, however, is where the Atlantic waves pound against the shoreline and should be used by confident swimmers only.
Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
Quick, spread out your beach mat and get playing, for this white sand arc abutting the crystal clear water is so appealing that even the most hesitant bathers may attempt to wade in and tread water for the first time. Despite the name, Rabbit Beach (Spiaggia dei conigli) has no furry bunny hopping around, but that shouldn’t stop you from building a sandcastle resembling a round-eyed mammal.
Livačina Beach, Rab, Croatia
It’s hardly surprising that the locals call Rab a ‘Happy Island’. When you gaze admiringly at any of the aesthetically perfect beaches here with the sun on your face and wind at your back, it would be hard not to appreciate the good things in life and feel positive.
Livačina Beach, on the north side of the island, will delight less confident swimmers even further with its shallow sea and bath-temperature waters. Life really is good here.
Kavalikefta Beach, Lefkada, Greece
How many islands does Greece have? The Greek Tourism Board reckons that it has about 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian seas. Among the several thousand family-friendly beaches, we like the small, intimate Kavalikefta Beach the best.
Kavalikefta is located on Lefkada Island, a short hop away from mainland Greece. The beach is strewed with a few giant boulders that look like they are guarding the place, and between the boulders are pockets of shallow waters that you can assuredly wade in and splash around.
Port El Kantaoui, Sousse, Tunisia
Sousse suffered a deadly attack in 2015 when a militant opened fire indiscriminately at tourists staying in the seaside resort of Port El Kantaoui. After the tragic event, there was a sharp drop in visitor numbers as tourists shun Sousse. It’s a shame, really, for Sousse is idyllic. If you do make it here, the clean, shallow waters won’t disappoint.
Ras Hankorab Beach, Wadi el-Gemal, Egypt
Wadi el-Gemal (Valley of Camels) is a national park hugging the Red Sea, which is teeming with coral reefs and over a thousand species of fish. Ras Hankorab Beach, located inside the national park, is a lovely half-moon beach shielded from rough waves. The water is so shallow that you’ll need to walk for over 100m (328ft) just to submerge your upper body in the water.
Diani Beach, Kenya
Kenya introduced the concept of ‘safari’ to the world and its Big Five game animals (African buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, rhino) continue to attract millions of tourists a year. But Kenya also rewards visitors with a precious string of coastal towns along the Indian Ocean. For those in search of a pinch-me haven of white sand and shallow waters, visit Diani, located 30km (19mi) south of Mombasa.
Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Swimmers often complain that the only thing stopping this beach from being named one of the best in the world is its shallow waters. But if you’re not here to practice your breaststroke, then the shallow sea really isn’t an issue.
Tsarabanjina Island, Madagascar
Assuming you can afford to splash out, and you also value privacy while splashing around in a tropical paradise, then look no further than the private island of Tsarabanjina, off the northwest coast of Madagascar. This lovely island only has 25 beach villas catered to the lucky few. There are three beaches altogether, and you shall expect nothing less than picture-perfect scenery.
Colva Beach, Goa, India
Once a stronghold of hippies, Goa still radiates a super-chilled vibe, but the holidays now are more about yoga retreats and meditation classes. Among Goa’s many beaches, Colva, a wide and flat beach at low tide, is probably the best bet for nervous swimmers. After a relaxing dip, enjoy a fish curry from a nearby restaurant to complete your delightful day.
Kanuhura, Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives
A nation of 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean, Maldives is arguably one of the best beach holiday destinations in the world. And the beautiful Kanuhura is certainly many modern escapists’ favourite hangout. This is where visitors come to do absolutely nothing for two weeks, except maybe to splash around in the clean, sparkling waters with patches darkened only by coral reefs.
Klong Dao Beach, Ko Lanta, Thailand
Thailand is proof that beach holidays can be affordable, as you can check into a beach-front resort for as little as US$30 a night. At Klong Dao Beach on Ko Lanta Island, you can even enjoy front-row seats for unforgettable sunsets at no extra cost. If there isn’t enough, the clean, warm waters will undoubtedly complete your tropical island experiences.
Sok San Beach, Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
Another highly affordable holiday destination, Cambodia is more than a few vibrant cities crammed with mopeds and motorbikes. The natural wonders you can find here include national parks and islands with sugar sands shadowed by swinging palms.
Sok San Beach, on Koh Rong Island off the Sihanoukville coast, is a virgin beach utopia with very few tourists, though we don’t think this hidden gem will stay under the radar for long.
The Gili Islands, Lombok, Indonesia
Off the coast of Lombok Island, three tiny islands, collectively known as the Gili Islands, promise a barefoot paradise to visitors who seek out this remote hideaway. All motorised vehicles are banned on the Gili Islands and transport is by bicycle or ‘cidomo’ (horse-drawn carts). Among the three islands, we like Gili Meno, the smallest and the quietest, the best.
Turquoise Bay, Western Australia, Australia
Turquoise Bay really lives up to its name with clear turquoise waters and sugar-soft sand to match, exactly the kind of place you thought only existed in holiday brochures. The wonderfully warm sea laps the edges of Ningaloo Reef, a haven for marine life, making this a top choice for shallow water snorkelling too.
Natural Pool, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
A French territory in the South Pacific, New Caledonia lies 1,469km (913mi) east of Brisbane, Australia. In the south of the main island sits the Isle of Pines (l’Île des Pins), a small haven of sun and sand. The star attraction here is the Natural Pool (Piscine Naturelle). Sandwiched between a grove of pine trees and a barrier of reef, this small bay has two openings wide enough to let in some seawater, thereby creating a natural basin perfect for shaky swimmers.
Malolo Lailai Island, Fiji
Time seems to cease on Malolo Lailai, as the glassy (and shallow) waters beckon visitors to wade in and savour the beach culture and the unique seqa na leqa (no worries) attitude that explains so much of Fiji and its way of life. This is a tropical paradise that can melt your stress away and replenish your soul.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
For well-heeled visitors with good taste, Bora Bora is the epitome of an ultimate relaxing holiday destination. The best option, of course, is to check into one of those overwater villas where you can step down from your private terrace into the fluorescent blue waters of the lagoon. Conrad, Four Seasons, InterContinental, and St Regis are all present here – some even come with a private butler who will make sure that you always have your favourite cocktail in hand.
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This article was updated in August 2021.