Cuddled close to the one you love, quietly watching as the sun slips below the horizon and turns the sky brilliant shades of red, pink and gold, can be one of a romantic vacation's most treasured experiences. With the right person, any sunset, regardless of where, could be special, but for our tastes, sand, surf and perhaps a frosty cocktail up the romance ante. Grab your sunglasses, slip into something sexy, and watch the sunset from one of the world's most romantic beaches and islands.
When asked to conjure images of Grecian islands, most likely you've imagined white buildings stacked like so many brilliant boxes, topped by shimmering blue domes with even more impossibly blue water in the distance. In fact, you've just pictured Santorini, one of the Greek Isle's most postcard-perfect islands. The island is actually a caldera, or the curved mouth of a submerged volcano, and watching the sun dip below the horizon from a restaurant in the western-facing town of Oia has become a sunset seekers' ritual. To be sure, crowds converge on Oia, and truly better vantage points can be found in the tiny village of Imerovigli, where Santorini's iconic landscape (those white buildings! those blue domes!) sprawl before you. Grab your sweetheart and a bottle of crisp white wine, and unwind at a restaurant with a view like La Maison, where we recommend booking a table in advance to guarantee a romantic sunset vista.
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil is on the tip of many travelers' tongues these days, as the nation gears up for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. To witness this vibrant city's most romantic sunset, get thee to Ipanema Beach, made famous thanks in part to the classic song, "The Girl from Ipanema." Much like the tune promises, Ipanema truly does seem to overflow with dark, tan, lovely women and their male counterparts. Arrive early and join the sun-worshiping masses and vendors that swarm the sands selling snacks and drinks, and stay as the sun sinks slowly behind the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountains that rise over the beach's western end. As night emerges, the sands begin to empty of locals and tourists and twinkling lights sparkle along the coast and mountains. Couples seeking a sense of peace and romance can embrace both at dusk.
Backpackers on the Southeast Asia circuit have long been enamored with Vietnam's tremendous history and culture, as well as its splendid stretch of beaches. These days, travel to the country is growing ever more mainstream, and it's possible to find excellent accommodation even in the smaller beach towns, such as Mui Ne, that remain off the more beaten path. This small coastal city happens to be one of the world's kite-surfing capitals, attracting a superbly sporty -- and dare we say, attractive? -- set of travelers enjoying the town's waves and shores, as well as a plethora of pop-up seafood restaurants tucked along the main road, Huynh Thuc Khang. As the sun sets, color seems to explode across the sky, a backdrop to the colorful kites of the surfers emblazoned across the sky. Set yourself up for prime sunset viewing from a bungalow porch at one of the beachfront hotels, such as the Indochina Dreams resort, whose prime location in the heart of the Mui Ne beach makes it convenient to restaurants, nightclubs and shops.
Thailand's islands and beaches are arguably some of the world's most stunning -- it's hard to choose a romantic favorite for watching the evening sunset. Still, when pressed, Sairee Beach on tiny Koh Tao Island in the Gulf of Thailand is a true stunner for its oceanfront vistas and palm-tree-lined sands as well as the uber-cool vibe of laid-back cafes, restaurants and bars lining the beach. Whether you choose to arrive in the late afternoon and linger on your beach mats to watch the sun dip below the gulf's turquoise waters, or set up camp with a cocktail at one of the beachfront bars, like FIZZ, shortly before the spectacle, you'll enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
It's really not an egregious overstatement to suggest The Maldives might just be paradise on Earth. The chain of islands dot the Indian Ocean like a string of white-sand pearls, shadowed only by perfect palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze. And of course, each island is surrounded by waters so cerulean and skies so emerald-blue they could make a grownup weep. Most of the islands are occupied by luxury resorts, such as Komandoo Island Resort, featuring ubiquitous over-water bungalows that provide the perfect perch from which to watch the sunset in a literal sea of romance. Some of the world's greatest coral reefs lie just off the island's shore; spend an afternoon snorkeling or diving to enjoy the colorful underwater riches, then kick back, cocktail in hand, on your porch to watch the sunset.