16 of the world’s best coastlines

CNN  — 

Coastlines are one of the most alluring of our planet’s geographical features.

The clash of land and water is often mesmerizing, as are the plants, animals and human activities that flourish along a shore.

In classic novella “Heart of Darkness,” seafaring author Joseph Conrad wrote that all coasts are shrouded in mystery, with an invitation to “come and find out” what they have to offer.

Here are 16 of the world’s best coastline destinations, scattered across six continents and three oceans:

Cinque Terre, Italy

This rugged Italian shore inspired Dante’s vision of Purgatory in his poem “Divine Comedy,” but to modern visitors, the Cinque Terre is absolute heaven.

Protected within the confines of a national park, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s made up of a cluster of five coastal villages that really do seem lost in time.

The villages are linked by the famous Sentiero Azzurro, as well as other hiking trails that lead to secluded beaches.

Turquoise Coast, Turkey

The Turquoise Coast curves around the southwest of Turkey.

Known as Lycia in ancient times, the big bend along Turkey’s southwest shore is one of the lesser known gems of the Mediterranean Sea which flaunts many attractive coastlines.

Its bays really are turquoise, especially otherworldly lagoon Ölüdeniz, or “Dead Sea,” near the amazingly photogenic Fethiye.

Sailing is a great way to discover the coast’s many secluded bays and coves.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur stretches across the California coastline between Carmel and San Simeon.

A coast that inspired works by Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, photographer Ansel Adams and even the Beach Boys must have something special, and Big Sur doesn’t disappoint.

The vertiginous drive along Highway One connects legendary Hearst Castle with redwood groves, rustic chic hotels, cliff-edge restaurants, and those cute little sea otters at Point Lobos.

Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

The Giant's Causeway was the first World Heritage site in Northern Ireland.

Long before popular TV series “Games of Thrones” was filmed here, the Antrim Coast was renowned for its stark, natural beauty.

The Giant’s Causeway, an estimated 40,000 basalt columns created by an ancient volcanic eruption, is one of its stand out sites.

Visitors can hike the shore on the Causeway Coast Way, a 51-kilometer trail that includes the vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

Malabar Coast, India

The Malabar Coast is over 845 kilometers long.

Stretching from Goa to India’s southern tip, the fabled Malabar Coast was once renowned in for its fabulous riches and wealthy seaports.

Nowadays travelers come here to relax on its sun-splashed beaches, cruise the coastal canals in luxury houseboats and slumber in the posh oceanfront resorts of Goa and Kerala.

Skeleton Coast, Namibia

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Skeleton Coast, Namibia
02:01 - Source: CNN

Where else can you see lion stalking sea lions and elephants thundering down a beach but this super-secluded stretch of the Namibian coast north of Swakopmund?

Scattered with shipwrecks, sand dunes and remote fishing camps, the Skeleton Coast is also great for safaris of the surfing or wildlife kind.

Garden Route, South Africa

Tsitsikamma National Park -- part of South Africa's Garden Route National Park.

This stretch of coast takes its name from the unique fynbos vegetation that blankets many of its hills, vales and headlands.

While there are certainly swank beach resorts here, the main allure is unencumbered nature and outdoor adventure, marine mammal encounters, wilderness hikes like the Otter Trail, and the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, measuring 216 meters.

Great Ocean Road, Australia

The 12 Apostles -- a collection of limestone stacks located along the Great Ocean Road.

Australia’s most eclectic coast stretches 243 kilometers between Torquay and Warrnambool along the southern shore of the state of Victoria.

Although it’s most renowned for spectacular sea stacks the Twelve Apostles, this stretch of waterfront also boasts the lauded Bells Beach of surfing fame, wildlife rich Cape Otway, and historic sites like Flagstaff Hill.

Nā Pali Coast, Hawaii

Na Pali Coast is literally translated as "the cliffs."

It’s no wonder Steven Spielberg chose Kauai’s north shore to shoot the original “Jurassic Park” movie, Nā Pali just feels primeval.

With cliffs rising up thousands of feet that plunge straight into the ocean, secluded jungle waterfalls and beaches that can only be reached by hiking for half a day, it’s a stunning sight to behold.

Kayak camping the coast is the best way to experience its edgy, end of the Earth vibe.

Andaman Coast, Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar

Thailand's Koh Phi Phi Leh -- one of many stunning islands on the Andaman Coast.

While the Andaman Coast is most closely associated with Thailand’s southwest shore, it actually elongates all the way from southern Myanmar to northern Malaysia.

Along the way are popular beach resorts like Phuket, Krabi and Langkawi, legendary dive spots like the Similan Islands, as well as under the radar treasures such as Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago.

Beagle Channel, Chile and Argentina

The Beagle Channel separates Argentina's Tierra del Fuego archipelago from remote Chilean islands.

Named after the Royal Navy ship that took Charles Darwin on his global voyage of discovery, the channel runs around 240 kilometers along the south side of Tierra del Fuego island.

Flanked by snow-capped peaks, thick sub-polar forest, and tidewater glaciers tumbling down from the Cordillera Darwin ice field, the shore largely uninhabited shore offers a glimpse of planet Earth the way it must have been before mankind.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

The Tulum ruins in the Riviera Maya are one of most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

It might be mayhem during spring break, but Mexico’s Yucatan coast has far more to offer than rowdy beach bars.

Here travelers can visit seaside Mayan ruins, snorkel half-sunken cenotes (natural limestone caverns) swim with whale sharks, or scuba dive in the world’s second longest barrier reef.

Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

The Dalmatian Coast boasts one of the most dramatic shorelines in Europe.

Croatia’s drop dead gorgeous Adriatic shore became an overnight sensation following the dissolution of Yugoslavia – and for good reason.

The coast is spangled with medieval walled towns like Dubrovnik and well-preserved Roman ruins such as Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

Off shore lie 78 islands that can be explored by sail boat, motor yacht or ferry, while cool natural attractions like the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park are located inland.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat's coral reefs are considered among the best in the world.

Positioned at the far eastern end of Indonesia, Raja Ampat, or the “Four Kings,” and its pristine coral gardens are one of the holy grails of global scuba diving, but there’s plenty to see on shore as well.

Comprising more than 1,500 small islands, the region also flaunts secluded white sand strands, limestone caverns and jungles that harbor flamboyant birds of paradise.

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Kenai Fjords was designated a national park in 1980.

The astonishing Kenai Fjords on the Gulf of Alaska are renowned for icebergs and tidewater glaciers.

Whether on a day cruise from Seward or a week-long kayak expedition, visitors are sure to have close encounters of the wildlife kind with whales, bear, moose and all the other creatures that call this region home.

Costa Verde, Brazil

Costa Verde is also known as the "Green Coast."

Beyond Ipanema and the lofty Cristo Redentor statue lies an even more spectacular stretch of Brazilian shore, the “Green Coast” between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Named for its lush tropical Atlantic forest, the coast flits back and forth between party beaches and secluded strands, resort towns and uninhabited islands.