5 of the Dirtiest Beaches in the World and Where to Go Instead

See recent posts by Stefanie Waldek

A factory sits next to a beach. Steve Johnson/Flickr
A factory sits next to a beach. Steve Johnson/Flickr

When you picture a beach, you’re likely envisioning a pristine, sandy sanctuary with crystal clear waters. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with beaches. Pollution runs rampant in many parts of the world, and these natural areas suffer because of it. Herewith, we name five of the dirtiest beaches in the world -- and where you can go instead to find the paradise you’re looking for.


1. Kamilo Beach, Hawaii


You might expect the shores of a tropical island like Hawaii to have beautiful beaches everywhere, but you’d be mistaken. While many beaches are well maintained, Kamilo Beach on the Big Island has nicknames that indicate its state: Trash Beach and Plastic Beach. Ocean currents drag garbage from the sea — much of it from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — to this spot, creating a plastic nightmare in paradise.

If you’re visiting the south side of the island, where Kamilo Beach is, you can visiting the nearby Punalu’u Beach, the Big Island’s most famous black-sand beach. Just be careful when swimming, as the water can get rough.

A Luxury Hotel Pick: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

2. Juhu Beach, Mumbai, India


Despite being one of the post popular beaches in Mumbai, Juhu Beach happens to be one of the dirtiest. While it’s covered in all kinds of garbage (partially due to the tidal wall preventing it from leaving the beach), the main debris is plastic bags. There’s also the concern of wastewater entering the sea from nearby buildings.

Luckily, the city is working hard to clean up Juhu Beach and its neighbors. Versova Beach in Mumbai was once littered with heaps of garbage, but between 2015 and 2017, environmentalist Afroz Shah led a group of nearly 1,000 volunteers to clean the beach, removing more than 11.5 million pounds of debris. Today, it’s in a pristine condition, making it a great alternative to Juhu Beach.

A Luxury Hotel Pick: The St. Regis Mumbai

3. Guanabara Bay Beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


If you followed the 2016 Summer Olympics, you might recall there being an issue with pollution in the waters of Rio de Janeiro. From raw sewage to floating garbage to dismembered human bodies, terrible things contaminated the waters and sands here, with some athletes even falling ill because of the viruses and bacteria. The worst beaches in Rio are along Guanabara Bay, where swimming is often considered off-limits.

While the ocean-facing beaches in Rio like Copacabana and Ipanema are typically cleaner and safer for swimmers, we recommend driving nearly three hours east to the posh beach town of Armação dos Búzios to get away from the pollution of the city.

A Luxury Hotel Pick: Hotel Le Relais La Borie

4. Haina, Dominican Republic

Workers don hazmat suits to clean Haina. Blacksmith Institute/Flickr
Workers don hazmat suits to clean Haina. Blacksmith Institute/Flickr

The city of Haina is known to be one of the most polluted in the world, earning itself the nickname “The Dominican Chernobyl.” Its number one problem is lead poisoning — the community is located near a former lead-acid battery recycling smelter, and the lead has poisoned some 90 percent of the city’s inhabitants. But that’s not all. Industrial waste is dumped into rivers that lead to the sea, making the beaches in Haina essentially unswimmable. There’s also the tons of garbage that litters the beaches, thanks in part due to the open-air dump nearby.

As a Caribbean island, however, the Dominican Republic does have many wonderfully maintained beaches, particularly around the popular resort areas like Punta Cana. If you want to avoid the crowded beaches there, we recommend Cabarete in province Puerto Plata, which is known for water sports.

A Boutique Hotel Pick: Natura Cabana Boutique Hotel & Spa

5. Henderson Island, Pitcairn Islands Group, British Overseas Territories

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This time last year, scrambling to draft my first solo exhibition application for @blindside_ari in Melbourne, I received an exciting yet unexpected invitation from marine biologist, Dr Jennifer Lavers… Would I be interested in collaborating on some kind of artwork using material collected during the second Research Expedition to Henderson Island, she said… Your timing is impeccable, I said. My original plan had been to mine the boxes of ocean plastics accumulating in my studio via Aus/NZ coastlines since 2014, throughout which time, Lavers, an expert in marine ecotoxicology, and I, an avid beachcomber, have had a healthy dialogue. In that moment, so many things came together. Henderson Island is an extremely remote, uninhabited coral attol of the Pitcairn group, roughly in the middle of the mighty South Pacific – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, valued for its unique biodiversity and lack of human interference. What Lavers discovered on that first expedition made global headlines in 2017 – far from the untouched tropical paradise one reasonably expects to find in these far-flung waters, Henderson’s shell pink shore was choked with the confetti of man-made detritus; the highest density of plastic debris recorded ANYWHERE on the planet. After a couple minor 6 month delays or so (exhibition deadline notwithstanding), Lavers set sail on that epic voyage to Henderson Island yesterday. Bon voyage, Jenn & Crew! ✈️???????????????????????? READ the latest article @nzstuff via link in my profile, and please share it far and wide. // For this site-responsive exhibition titled PELAGIC, I’ve also invited Melbourne sound artist @sararetallick to contribute. In the same vein, though vastly different mediums, Retallick will respond to material collected by Lavers in the form of field recordings and data, creating a unique spatialized audio composition for the installation. I’m excited! // PELAGIC Blindside Gallery, Melbourne 28 August – 14 September 2019 // Image ©️ Jennifer Lavers 2015 #HendersonIsland #PELAGIC #livboylejeweller

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Though it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this uninhabited, extremely remote island in the South Pacific (somewhere between New Zealand and Chile), might be the world’s most polluted island. When scientists spent three months on the island in 2015, they discovered that 18 tons of plastic (that’s an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic) sits on the 14.4-square-mile island — it’s the highest density of garbage found anywhere in the world.

Since it’s one of the most remote islands in the world, there aren’t too many nearby beaches to recommend visiting. If you’re feeling intrepid, you can head to Henderson’s equally remote neighbor Pitcairn Island, famous as the home of the HMS Bounty mutineers.

Looking to Get Involved with Beach Cleanup Efforts? Check Out Ocean Blue Project

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