The Most Beautiful Beaches in South America

Whether chilling, surfing or partying, South Americas most stunning beaches will keep you coming back
Whether chilling, surfing or partying, South America's most stunning beaches will keep you coming back | Courtesy of Gábor Kovács / Alamy
Sarine Arslanian

Obviously Rio’s the regional pin-up – and Brazil has the lion’s share of beautiful South American beaches on our list. But cast your eye beyond and, from Peru to Venezuela, Colombia to Chile, you’ll find some stunning sandy stretches. Except for two landlocked countries, all nations on the continent boast breathtaking beaches – Atlantic, Pacific or Caribbean. Whether you’d like a quiet fishing village or a remote island – or if a party shore or vibrant surf town is more your (beach) bag – here we bring you the most beautiful beaches in the whole of South America.

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Ica, Peru

The coast near the oasis town of Ica in southern Peru is ruggedly romantic: outback-dry desert interspersed with rolling dunes running to dramatic craggy cliffs and long sweeps of sand. You’ll see more sea lions than people on the beaches – the most accessible of which lie around the little resort Paracas: where honey-yellow and coral-red bays are pounded by powerful Pacific waves. But at an average 15C the water is too cold for swims without wetsuit.

Valparaíso, Chile

Chile is chilly – at least by South American standards – with temperatures in the country’s favourite beach resort of Valparaíso about the same as Brighton’s – on land and sea. And with the town’s long bays backed with skyscraper hotels, the sand is rarely empty. But if you’re after a seashore break from Santiago with plenty of bar-packed nightlife, there’s no better option. And with colourful colonial houses, steep, winding streets and edgy street art, the neighborhood of Cerro Concepción is a wanderer’s delight.

Concha, Colombia

The lush coast east of Santa Marta city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is pristine and protected as Tayrona National Park. Turtles nest on the sand, toucans perch in the trees and the sea is filled with coral. Many of the beaches are accessible only on long walking trails or by boat, but Concha is easy to reach from Santa Marta itself and while its southern end is parasol-packed, walk a kilometre north and you’ll see only sand crabs and seashells.

Playa la Piscina, Venezuela

People don’t visit Playa la Piscina for the beach – which is a tiny shoal, topped with a ruin, set between two islets. They come for the bathwater-warm, waist-high Caribbean Sea, which stretches glassy-clear and gentle as a breeze over colourful coral and soft sand for hundreds of metres in every direction. Reachable only by launch from the Playa Colorada village on the mainland, you’ll rarely see more than a handful of other visitors except at weekends.

San Andrés, Colombia

Barely a speck in the Caribbean Sea off the Nicaraguan coast and once a lair for British pirates, Colombia’s reef-fringed San Andrés is the resort island of choice for holidaying and weekending locals. With barely room for an airport it can get uncomfortably crowded in the high season between December and March. But come on weekdays between May and September before the rains, and the white sands and fish-busy reefs are tranquil.

Prainha, Brazil

Not all Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are busy with volleyball and backed with concrete towers. Prainha – in the far southern city limits is surrounded by lush rainforest and washed by powerful, bottle-green Atlantic waves. It’s a favourite for surfers who come for the curling breaks at the beach’s far southern end, then eat fresh fish or petisco bar snacks with a cold beer or caipirinha in the Mirante bar and restaurant that sits over the beach.

Itamambuca, Brazil

Framed by rainforest-covered capes, this long beach of fluffy golden sand abuts the village of Ubatuba, on the border of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states. It’s busy come the weekend when the Paulistanos, who own houses in the extensive condos that lie behind the sands, arrive with their surfboards. The rest of the time, peace reigns. There are low-key pousada hotels on the main Rio-Santos highway near Itamambuca, and at Praia do Félix, next door.

Praia das Dunas, Brazil

East of Rio de Janeiro the coast changes from rugged and rainforest-backed to flat and pocked with vast salt lagoons. The beach at Praia das Dunas (aka Foguete) near Cabo Frio town is as fine and white as caster sugar, backed with shifting dunes and washed by Caribbean-clear waves. It would take you a morning to walk its length, and if you’re here during the week you’ll share it with just a few dog walkers and solitary surfers.

Tambaú, Brazil

João Pessoa in Brazil’s northeast gets few visitors. Yet it has heaps to offer: a pretty colonial centre (crammed with colourful houses and churches) stretches of wild rainforest and a glut of gorgeous beaches. Best of all is Tambaú – backed by lively bars and contiguous with a string of strands which stretch unbroken for 19mi (30km) – between Cabo Branco lighthouse in the south and the Paraíba river in the north.

Boa Viagem, Brazil

With pricey tickets and even pricier high-season hotels, Rio carnival can be a budget-breaker. But the festival is just as big and brash in Recife in the northeast, where the parades are all for free and plush rooms on the beach in Boa Viagem cost as much as a B&B in tourist-packed carnival Rio. The beach itself is long and broad and the party continues all night in the bars that fill the streets behind.

Lopes Mendes, Brazil

Located on Brazil’s paradise island called Ilha Grande, in other words Big Island, the beach in Lopes Mendes is a stunning white sand affair lined with almond and palm trees and crystal blue waters stretching for almost 2mi (3km). What’s best though, is this stretch of sand is very much untouched and undeveloped with not a single building in sight. All you need to bring is a good book, suntan lotion and snacks.

Montañita, Ecuador

Situated on Ecuador’s famous Ruta del Sol, Montañita is a chill beach town that offers incredible surfing, scuba diving, bodyboarding, windsurfing and waterskiing opportunities. You see travelers from around the world enjoying the town’s laid back Rasta vibe with a ceviche or cocktail in hand, while relaxing under the sun, playing beach volleyball or football, and even watching surfers who proudly wear their dreadlocks. This is also the country’s only tolerant and liberal party spot where smoking marijuana is not illegal.

Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

If you like a beach holiday with boho vibes, we reckon you’ll love Punta del Diablo in Uruguay. It’s not only nationals hitting the waves in summer – Argentinians roll up from across the border for fun in the sun, too. The name translates as the Devil’s Tip, but the living’s not what you’d call hot and naughty in this textbook South American surf town. Quite the opposite – it’s laid back in the extreme. Compared to Uruguay’s famously flashy Punta del Este, this place is peaceful perfection.

Jericoacoara, Brazil

Paradise is a place, and it’s a beach called Jericoacoara, close to the city of Fortaleza, in northeastern Brazil. Unsurprisingly, travelers who rock up with the aim of spending a long weekend often stay for weeks. It’s not necessarily the perfect spot for swimmers, as the water is quite shallow, but what makes Jericoacoara so special is the multitude of sand dunes, all facing west. Climbing them is great fun – and when you reach the summit you’re in the perfect position to watch the sun set over the darkening Atlantic.

Shell Beach, Guyana

Kept pretty off limits by mangroves and swamps, Shell Beach, in northern Guyana, is only accessible by boat from Mabaruma, the nearest town, near the border with Venezuela. But that’s no hardship if you’re passionate about wildlife – Shell Beach is a nesting place for green, hawksbill, leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles – four of the eight marine species in existence – between March and July. They are drawn by the remote, untroubled location and have, since the 1960s, been the focus of conservationists at pains to to protect them from poachers after their eggs and their meat. Watching the young hatch is a special experience, and can be arranged as part of a weekend trip from Georgetown.

Joaquina, Brazil

Florianopolis, the capital of Santa Catarina state, in southern Brazil, is immodestly endowed on the stunning-beach front: Brazilians clamour to holiday here, heading up a glamorous getaway cast from around the globe. Among the dozens of strands to choose from, photogenic Joaquina is always a winner. Being here is all about sand dunes and surf, which attract huge crowds of the young and the beautiful in summer, here to pick at fresh seafood, sip super-high-octane caipirinhas on the sands and generally look fantastic.

Anakena, Chile

Totally on its own, thousands of miles out in the Pacific, Chile’s Easter Island is more famous for its moai standing stone heads than its sandy shores. But this is not only a place for anthropologists and the intrepid outward-bound brigade. Bring a bikini and you’ll look every inch the part on stunning Anakena Beach, with its blinding white sands. Mornings are the best time to head on down as you will have it almost entirely to yourself while most visitors tour those historic statues. Not that there’s no ancient eye candy – the beach is home to six intriguing moai, looking on as they have for centuries while you work on your so-this-season suntan.

El Cabo San Juan, Colombia

Deep in the heart of Colombia’s astonishingly beautiful Tayrona National Park, El Cabo San Juan, or Cape San Juan, is a world-class paradise – even though it’s just a simple palm-backed sweep on the northeastern Caribbean coast. Its appeal lies in its remoteness. Yep, you have to earn your time in Eden, hiking for no less than an hour and a half. But no matter how sweaty you get, you’ll be as cool as a cucumber after a plunge in the pristine blue shallows. Unsurprisingly, people who’ve taken the trouble to come all this way end up hiring a hammock and staying for a starry night (or two). Pure magical realism.

Mancora, Peru

This small resort town, in the sunny Piura region of northwest Peru, is famous for its top-quality open-air restaurants with ocean on one side and desert on the other. It is also a place of pilgrimage for kitesurfers who roll up year-round, attracted by the breeze and the satisfyingly grand Pacific swell. In summer (between December and March), Peruvians and international travelers alike descend on the beach to chill out, topping up their tans while gazing at the mesmeric blue view. Happily, by day it’s not too crowded, but it gets busy after sundown, as nightclubs pull a party crowd.

Los Roques, Venezuela

Off the Venezuelan coast, Los Roques is a brochure-beautiful archipelago rinsed by the bluest Caribbean waters. Stick a pin in the map and you can’t go wrong – world-class beaches are par for the course round these parts. Snorkelers and divers are in their element on Los Roques: the National Park is known for breathtaking coral reefs by the hundred. And if you fancy doing something less strenuous – or doing nothing at all – the white sands have your name written all over them.

Alex Robinson provided additional reporting to this article.
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