The sleepy fishing village of Yelapa boasts the kind of beach that you only see in adverts: with powdery white sand and clear azure water. The charming village is also virtually untouched by tourism and can only be reached by a thirty minute boat-ride from the nearby city of Puerto Vallarta.
The best place to stay is Hotel Lagunita, which offers simple beachside cabins and a swimming pool. Tuck into a seafood meal at the Marlin Restaurant and keep an eye out for the “pie-ladies,” who walk the beach with plastic boxes filled with delicious dessert pies.
Hotel Lagunita, Barcina 3 La Playa, Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico +52 01 322 209 5056
Quepos, Costa Rica
This small, nondescript town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast earns its place on this list because it is a gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, a breathtaking destination that contains unblemished beaches, a deep rainforest and coral reefs. The park houses an incredible range of wildlife including white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths and iguanas. The reserve also boasts four impressive beaches and some gorgeous hiking trails. The dry season running from December to March is the peak time to visit.
Described by the late Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes as the “most beautiful city in the Caribbean,” Cartagena blends bright architecture and picturesque cobbled streets with a carnival atmosphere. The city is bursting with life and you’ll find street performers and music on practically every street. History buffs will also find plenty to love in the city, including the iconic cathedral and San Felipe de Barajas Castle, the vast pyramid-shaped fortress that overlooks the Caribbean Sea.
About an hour’s boat ride from the city you’ll find the Rosario Islands, which are blessed with picture-perfect beaches and deep turquoise waters.
Jutting out into the Pacific, the resort city of Salinas is the westernmost city on mainland Ecuador and has established itself as one of the country’s major tourist hubs. Salinas has two long stretches of beach, which are lined by the lengthy, elegant pier. The resort also has excellent nightlife in the high season between December and April.
La Chocolatera is the furthest point in the city (and the country) and offers panoramic views of the surrounding ocean. Converging currents lift the sandy bottom of the sea and give it a distinctively brown hue, hence the name. La Loberia is a nearby nature preserve that sea lions use as a refuge. If you’re planning a trip later in the year, migratory humpback whales pass Salinas during the months of June and September.
La Chocolatera, Salinas, Ecuador +593 9824603
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Less than 90 minutes by slow boat from mainland Brazil, Ilha Grande is an island paradise blessed with gorgeous beaches, a verdant forest and breathtaking hiking trails. You won’t find any roads or private cars on the island and with patchy internet coverage, the island is the perfect destination for a digital detox. The lack of development is linked to the island’s unusual history – Ilha Grande was once used as a leper colony and later as a maximum-security prison.
The Lopes Mendes Beach on the southeastern shore is one of Brazil’s most beautiful. Abraão is the island’s biggest village and boasts an elegant 19th-century church. The island now has a number of hotels, with Paraíso Azul Retiro being the most luxurious.