Compass

Easy-to-reach islands with amazing beaches

You'll fly right over Maho Beach at St. Maarten. (Photo: takot / Flickr)

I don’t know about you, but when I go to a tropical island, I want to get to that island fast and the beach even faster. One truism in travel is that less convenient equals more beautiful, but in terms of beaches, that’s not always the case.

I’ve taken multiple connecting flights to islands only to be disappointed by the quality of the beaches. And another pet peeve is a long, arduous drive from the airport to the beach resort.

So click through this slideshow for 10 islands that are accessible via nonstop flights from major American cities—and where you can hit the beach in well under an hour (and sometimes in minutes) from the arrivals gate.

Sint Maarten/St. Martin

The island’s Dutch and French sides are distinct in terms of development and cuisine (you land on the Dutch side), but the Caribbean beaches are equally enticing in both “countries.” Orient Bay (French side), which gets progressively more clothing-optional from north to south, has a Riviera quality, with chic eateries right on the sand (shorts required).

Sample direct flight: American Airlines, New York (JFK) to St. Maarten (SXM)—4 hours, 20 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 10. Your plane will fly right over the clear turquoise waters and white sands of glistening Maho Beach.
Stay: La Samanna, managed by the esteemed Orient-Express brand, still wears the crown as the most luxurious resort on the island. It sits just above lovely Baie Longue and boasts a pair of swimming pools, lavish beach cabanas, and multi-bedroom villas—when a hotel suite is simply not enough.

Eleuthera in the Bahamas. (Photo: trishhartmann / Flickr)

Eleuthera

This quiet Bahamian island that sounds like an infection is located only 50 miles from Nassau, but you can get there nonstop from Florida. Because it’s 100 miles long, the island holds three airports, but the airstrip at the northern tip is the one most accessible to the mainland.

Sample direct flight: United Airlines, from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) to North Eleuthera Airport (ELH)—1 hour, 10 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 15 or less, and the beaches between the airport and nearby Gregory Town are pristine.
Stay: Reopened after a major renovation, the Cove, with its 58 minimalist guest rooms, enjoys 40 acres of pink sand beachfront.

Providenciales (Provo)

The calling card of this Turks & Caicos island (the chain is just south of the Bahamas) is 12-mile Grace Bay, as close to perfection as a beach can get. It’s great for swimming, standup paddle boarding, and kayaking. One by one, bright new resorts and sophisticated restaurants pop up, but Provo retains its relaxed vibe.

Sample direct flight: Delta Airlines, Atlanta (ATL) to Provo (PLS)—3 hours, 5 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 15 to Grace Bay; a bit longer for more remote strands.
Stay: One of the few North American outposts of the revered AmanResorts chain, Amanyara offers ultimate discretion with its three-dozen freestanding pavilions and villas. When you care to be social, there’s an oceanfront infinity pool, circular lounge, and a private beach—all just 25 minutes from the airport.

Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. (Photo: cogito ergo imago / Flickr)

Puerto Rico

Yeah, it’s overdeveloped and people call it cliché, but where else can you hit the beach on a layover? No immigration, no customs. Hop in a taxi, have the driver take you to Isla Verde, and park your luggage at a beachfront hotel’s front desk.

Sample direct flight: JetBlue, from Washington DC (DCA) to San Juan (SJU)—3 hours, 45 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 10, if you sprint.
Stay: The 416-room, newly upgraded Ritz-Carlton boasts a beachfront pool, a 12,000-square-foot spa, and culinary standouts BLT Steak and Il Mulino.

Big Island, Hawaii

The Big Island is gloriously geographically diverse and unspoiled. The Kona-Kohala (western) side of the island is reliably sunny and contains some of the state’s top beaches. Hapuna and Mauna Kea—they share the same names as the resorts that back them—are stunners.

Sample direct flight: Alaska Airlines, Seattle (SEA) to Kona (KOA)—6 hours, 25 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 20 or less to Kona’s coves, but the northern beaches are more impressive, about a 30-minute drive.
Stay: The facilities at the Four Seasons Hualalai are just about incomparable; the plush rooms have indoor/outdoor showers, the service is stunningly attentive without being stuffy, and the three pools include an adult water sanctuary with a swim-up bar that serves shaved ice.

Bermuda. (Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wendypiersall/)

Bermuda

When an island is just 640 miles from the U.S., it’s a quick flight, and when the island (actually, islands connected by bridges) is only 20 square miles, you’re never far from the beach. Reports of Bermuda’s pink sands are generally true; the string of strands and coves in Paget, Warwick, and Southampton parishes on the southwest shore are truly some of the world’s most scenic and swimmable.

Sample direct flight: United Airlines, Newark (EWR) to Hamilton (BDA)—2 hours, 10 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 30, if you start with the best—Horseshoe Bay Beach and Elbow Beach.
Stay: Of the 98 units at the Mandarin Oriental Elbow Beach, the most prized are the light-hued, Asian-influenced beachfront suites. Get a massage in one of the six spa suites or five beachfront cabanas.

Grand Cayman

Positioned due south of Cuba in the Eastern Caribbean, Grand Cayman is remarkably close to the States. Once there, the airport is a stone’s throw from Georgetown, the capital of the Cayman Islands, and the justifiably famed Seven Mile Beach (and all its water sports and beach toys) begins outside of town.

Sample direct flight: Cayman Airlines, Miami (MIA) to Grand Cayman (GCM)—1 hour, 20 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 15-20, to Seven Mile Beach.
Stay: The Ritz-Carlton sprawls across either side of the road that runs parallel to Seven Mile Beach, with the Residential Suites and swimming pool on the Caribbean side. A few hundred yards inland are the lobby, golf course, guest rooms, and Blue restaurant, overseen by Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin fame.

(Photo: Manuel Ebert / Flickr)

Dominican Republic

The DR’s Samana Peninsula is as beautiful as it is little known, but with new direct service into the regional airport, it’s time to experience its numerous coves and the international seaside bistros of Las Terrenas before the inevitable construction boom.

Sample direct flight: JetBlue, New York (JFK) to Samana (AZS)—under four hours.
Minutes from airport to beach: 25 minutes to the sandy crescent at Las Terrenas; more to the hidden, rustic beaches.
Stay: The all-inclusive Grand Bahia Principe, located 28 miles/45 minutes from the airport, is a great choice for families, offering windsurfing, catamarans, and kayaking on the pink-tinged beach.

Barbados

Popular and southerly (out of the major hurricane belt), Barbados is blessed with scenic surfing breaks on its east coast, and more placid resort beaches in the west. One well-publicized beach, Crane’s in the south, more than earns its accolades for its deep cove, pinkish sands, and green, wavy waters.

Sample direct flight: American Airlines, New York (JFK) to Bridgetown (BGI)—4 hours, 45 minutes.
Minutes from airport to beach: 15 minutes to Crane’s Beach; 30 or more to the so-called Gold Coast western strands.
Stay: The Crane dates from 1887 and is reputedly the Caribbean’s oldest hotel, though you’d barely notice it from its cluster of newish pink towers, glass beach elevator, and enormous fanciful pool. But the draw remains that mesmerizing sandy crescent and the resort’s spectacular views from above it.

Oahu

It’s not exactly a short haul from the mainland, but nonstops are abundant, which keeps prices manageable. Car rentals are inexpensive, and though your first destination is likely the overrun-but-fun Waikiki Beach, you should start seeing golden sands and luscious blue water within 15 minutes of the drive. The stunning hour-plus coastal trip from Waikiki to the quieter, residential Lanakai and Kailua beaches is a must if you want to see tiny offshore islands and get away from the black-socks-and-sandals set.

Sample direct flight: American Airlines, from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL)—6 hours.
Minutes from airport to beach: 25-40 to Waikiki, traffic depending. If you have to jump in the Pacific before then (or do some paddle boarding in the designated, jetty-protected lanes), Ala Moana Beach Park is on the way.
Stay: The palatial Moana Surfrider, now a Westin, has charm befitting its 100-year-old history. It also boasts a prime spot on Waikiki Beach, a legendary afternoon tea on the veranda, and one enormous banyan tree (150 feet across).

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