Sure, time may seem to stand still when you're relaxing on the pearl-white powder of an exotic beach, a cold drink in hand and the sound of the waves lulling you into a blissful afternoon nap. But time does indeed march on, which leaves only so many hours for the sand-and-surf exploration you crave. That's why we've put together a cheat sheet of the best beaches for 2012. So pack your swimsuit and sunscreen, and then head to one of these sand-strewn hot spots:
For the searching-for-a-salve spiritual traveler: Dead Sea, Jordan
Jordan's made a huge push recently to attract tourists, making this relatively small desert country the hottest ticket in the Middle East. Hope floats—and so will you—on the famed Dead Sea, so salty that you'll find yourself effortlessly bobbing along when lying on your back. In addition to super-buoyancy powers, the magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine, and other minerals in the water, along with the black mud on the shoreline, are reputed to ease a host of ailments, from dry skin and arthritis to allergies and stress. The best beaches in the area belong to hotels; you can buy a day pass to enjoy the resort amenities and gain access to an experience of biblical proportion.
For the end-of-the-world enthusiast: Placencia, Belize
With the Maya calendar turning a new leaf in December 2012—and plenty of conjecture that it's the end of the world as we know it—people around the globe are watching for interpretation from indigenous Maya communities, many of which are scattered in the southern part of Belize. Get a dose of beach time with your Mayan culture just north of these villages in Placencia, a laid-back town with some 16 miles of white sands and turquoise waters. Snorkelers and divers will be particularly pleased with the offerings here, with easy access to the world's second-largest barrier reef. If it is the end of our days, at least you'll go out on a vacation high note.
For the clam connoisseur: Copalis Beach, Washington
You won't find warm waters and palm trees at this Pacific Northwest beach two and a half hours west of Seattle, but you will find plenty of razor clams, remains from dozens of shipwrecks, and amazing opportunities for storm-watching. Although the population can swell more than 300 percent during fall's clam-digging season, there's still plenty of room for nature lovers who want a rustic bonfires-and-birding kind of getaway. A good bet is the recently renovated Iron Springs Resort, a local institution oozing old-fashioned charm with two dozen cabins on the cliffs of Copalis. With kitchens and a clam-cleaning station, the property makes it easy to cook up the fresh meal you've dug for dinner.
For the whole crew: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Coming off of a big year for new development, Myrtle Beach is rejuvenated in the family beach market. For starters, three airlines introduced eight new non-stop flight services to the area. The recently renovated Boardwalk also got a new addition: the 18-story-high SkyWheel. With 42 glass-enclosed gondolas, this new take on a Ferris wheel is the only one of its kind in the country. The Wonderworks Science Center, which opened in April 2011, allows guests to feel what it's like in an earthquake and hurricane, to fly a NASA space ship, and to ride a virtual rollercoaster. There's a 1,000-foot zipline and a 40-foot-tall rope course. After a $1 million renovation, the Nascar Café is now the Pat Boone Family Theater, a 600-seat theatre where a mere 50 feet separate the very back row from the stage—not a bad seat in the house. There were four new or renovated hotel projects and four new restaurant additions in 2011. A major construction project is already underway to expand the Myrtle Beach International Airport in order to accommodate the influx of tourists. It's a no-brainer for the active family on a domestic-trip budget in 2012.
For the intrepid explorer: Baisha Beach, Taiwan
Taiwan has earned a spot on many lists of top countries to visit in 2012, thanks to the culmination of a huge bike-path initiative. Two-wheeled cruisers can now see the island with an ease like never before. While you're pedaling around, don't miss Kenting National Park in the south, which hosts some fun, family-friendly beaches. The best among them is Baisha Beach, a tropical oasis that's popular but still quiet enough to feel like you've stumbled upon a real discovery. It won't stay like this forever, so pack a tent and set up camp on this little slice of beachy keen paradise, where you can indulge in fresh seafood and laze among the coconut palms.
For the sports fan: Camber Sands, UK
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London promise to captivate when they kick off at the end of July, as the world's premier competitors face off in 302 events in 26 sports. Amateur athletes who like their sports sandy can get in on the games, too, 75 miles away in Camber Sands, a dune-laden stretch of beach in East Sussex, England. Kiteboarding, kitesurfing, kite buggying, horseback riding, and cricket are all popular at this scenic spot, where the views are worthy of the applause at a medals ceremony. If you'd rather leave experiencing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat to the pros, take a book and sunbathe—with that activity, you can never lose.
For the traditionalist: Bondi Beach, Australia
When something's perennially popular, there's usually a good reason for it—and that's certainly the case at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney's stunning stretches that's always teeming with tourists and locals alike. In this time of recession and penny-pinching, it’s nice to know that your money is going to be well-spent. Here, you get all the best of beach culture: blue waters, golden sands, roaming lifeguards, casual cafes, surfer dudes in spades, friendly but competitive volleyball matches, and people of all ages just in search of a little sun. It's busy, yes, but if you want to be where it's hot—both literally and figuratively—crowds come with the territory ... and that's just another part of the appeal of this Pacific Ocean gem.
For the adventure junkie: Todos Santos, Mexico
About 45 miles north of Spring Break-packed Cabo is Todos Santos, Mexico, a town on the receiving end of the Pacific Ocean's crashing waves and the foothills of Sierra de la Laguna. It's here where you fight the swell, not the crowds, and line up shots with the local bartender instead of outside the nightclub door. Get in now while the gettin' is good—this hidden gem is still relatively undiscovered, though we suspect a year or two will be all that's needed to propel the surfing mecca into unwanted stardom. The dusty downtown is framed in old colonial-style buildings—a church, a few restaurants, and a thriving art community fed by locals and expats alike. But it's the beach and waves that garner the most attention in Todos Santos. This is the place for people who want to determine first-hand why the main wave off shore is called "Killers."
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