For some travellers, the perfect beach is a place to kick back with a beverage and get bronzed. For others, it’s a place to party until sunrise. For the athletic, the ideal beach is a haven for volleyball, frisbee, and surfing. For wannabe paparazzi, it’s a chance to spot celebs, and for nature lovers, it’s a cherished opportunity to escape the urban rat race.
In other words, there’s no single strip of sand that suits everyone. Fortunately for visitors to South America, there doesn’t need to be.
The continent borders the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Caribbean Sea to the north – which means more stunning waterfronts than you could catch a tan on in a lifetime.
As for which ones top the list, these eight are some of the best beaches in South America. Cue the daydreams of crashing waves and caipirinhas.
Baia do Sancho | Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Ask someone to name Brazil‘s finest oceanside stretch and they’d be forgiven for breaking into a sweat. The vibrant and sexy nation has beaches to match – vibrant and sexy, not to mention bountiful – so how could you choose? The travel experts at TripAdvisor accepted the challenge, crowning Baia do Sancho the best beach in South America and the second best beach in the world. You’d be hard pressed to do much better than that.
Montañita | Ecuador
Montañita has undergone a serious transformation over its lifetime. The small coastal town started out as fisherman’s village, then became a sanctuary for surfers and hippies. In more recent years, Montañita has developed a reputation as a party town and an affordable destination for backpackers. Today surfing remains one of the beach’s biggest draws, though modern Montañita also offers a buzzy nightlife scene and excellent seafood.
Anakena | Easter Island, Chile
Saying you’ve made it to Easter Island is reason enough to add this destination to your bucket list. The Pacific isle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its 887 monolithic figures, called moai, crafted by the early Rapa Nui people. They are easily Easter Island’s main attraction, but beautiful Anakena Beach isn’t a bad second. Added bonus: a few of the island’s moai are right there, standing watch as the world’s least effective lifeguards.
Máncora | Peru
Another sleepy fishing village turned beloved beach destination, Máncora is Peru‘s top spot for seaside activities. The town is well known for its hot surfing scene, as well as a crop of resorts that cater to the Peruvian jet set. The result is a dynamic mix of chilled-out surf vibes and haute indulgences. Also a plus? Year-round sun, which means Máncora doesn’t have an empty off-season like many resort towns.
Cabo San Juan de Guía | Tayrona Natural National Park, Colombia
Tayrona Natural National Park is worth a visit for several reasons, not least of which is Cabo San Juan de Guía. To get there, you’ll need to take a significant trek (on foot or horseback) through the park’s stunningly diverse geography. Your reward for making the journey is a little slice of paradise, where you can camp or rent a hammock to stay the night. If you have cash to splash, upgrade your accommodations to the beehive huts of Ecohabs Tayrona.
Ipanema | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
We couldn’t name the best beaches in South America without mentioning Ipanema. Rio’s most celebrated beach – home to the “tall and tan and young and lovely” girl forever immortalised in song – is Brazil at its best. Here you’ll find surfing, soccer, volleyball, abundant beer vendors, and yes, plenty of the country’s famous thong bikinis. Sand, sun, sport, skin… what more could you ask from a Brazilian beach day?
Punta del Este | Uruguay
Flashy Punta del Este holds nothing back. Some call it the “St. Tropez of Latin America” – a place that won’t appeal to everyone, but is irresistable to a certain kind of beachgoer. The scene here is exclusive, seductive, and pricey to match. Visitors make a yearly pilgrimage for sunbathing, partying, chic hotels, yachts, casinos, and famous faces (like supermodel Natalia Vodianova). If splashing around in an elite playground isn’t your thing, try laidback Punta del Diablo instead.
Cayo de Agua | Los Roques National Park, Venezuela
Los Roques National Park is an archipelago made up of more than 300 tiny islands in the Caribbean. With such a prime location, it’s hard to go wrong with any beach in the area, but Cayo de Agua is particularly special. The strip of soft, white sand is flanked on two sides by water – not just any water, but the sparkling, turquoise kind that seems impossible without an Instagram filter. It’s the real deal and may, at least for now, be one of Venezuela’s better kept secrets.