The best beaches in South America

South America is certainly no stranger to stunning beaches but pinpointing the best bathing spots on the continent comes a little harder to judge. Whether you want bronzed and beautiful company or a hidden cove all to yourself, South America – from Colombia’s Caribbean Sea to Uruguay’s Atlantic coast – can provide you with beachside cabanas, cocktails and unbeatable diving sites often thrown in. Without making waves, here’s our rundown of the best beaches South America has to offer.

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Brazil | Photo: Vinicius Cainelli

1. Playa Manzanillo, Colombia

Easily worth the travel time, Playa Manzanillo has unique history as the one-time hideout of Welsh privateer and spiced rum icon, Captain Morgan. Closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia, Playa Manzanillo can be sought out on the remote island of San Andres and is considered the most beautiful beach in Providencia. Just 300 metres long, Playa Manzanillo can win you over with its reef-fringed waters and a tranquil atmosphere that turns lively on certain nights for bonfire gatherings and live reggae music. Discover more on gay Colombia with our selection of favourite places outside of Bogotá.

2. Shell Beach, Guyana

On the somewhat lengthier side of things is Shell Beach, laid out along 144 kilometres of north-eastern Atlantic coastline in the Republic of Guyana. One for nature lovers, a visit to Shell Beach almost guarantees native wildlife sightings, from Giant Leatherback turtles and manatees in the water to tapirs and howler monkeys towards the inland swamp and mangrove forests. Difficult to get to because of its position between ocean and swamp, Shell Beach has retained its off-the-beaten-track feel and has prioritised conservation since the 1960s. Access the beach by boat from Mabaruma, the nearest town on the border to Venezuela, or arrange a turtle-hatching trip from Georgetown.

Photo: Alex Azabache

Photo: Alex Azabache

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For those that want a party in tropical surrounds, look no further than Brazil’s Ipanema Beach, one of the best-known stretches of sand on the continent

3. Ipanema Beach, Brazil

For those that want a party in tropical surrounds, look no further than Brazil’s Ipanema Beach, one of the best-known stretches of sand on the continent and immortalised in song by Frank Sinatra. Though the water is rough and somewhat dangerous, the beach is a hive of activity, filled with people playing volleyball and soccer or sunbathing in view of the Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains. Find the 2-kilometre beach just south of Rio de Janeiro and split by ‘postos’ to demarcate each subculture; posto 9 is where you’ll find the best bodies, posto 10 is for sports, while posto 8 tends towards the domain of favela kids. The gay community meanwhile will congregate around Praia Farme, particularly on weekends. Take to the big city after a weekend in Ipanema with our Rio de Janeiro travel guide.

Ipanema Beach, Brazil | Photo: Raphael Nogueira

4. Punta Sal, Peru

Next, a little Peruvian number split into two parts on the north coast; Punta Sal Chica and Punta Sal Grande. The former comes curved and shielded by two capes while the latter is longer with equally calm and balmy waters, heated to an optimum 24°C all year round. Blessed by the warmth of El Nino and the contrast of the Humboldt Current, Punta Sal benefits from sunny days and cool breezes, as well as the opportunity for humpback sightings between June and October. A popular spot for local families, the resort town is a relaxed choice, allowing for fishing, diving and great seafood away from the bustle of Mancora. Want to know how to plan 2 weeks in Peru? See our ultimate Peru itinerary – from Lima to Machu Picchu.

5. Galapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay, Ecuador

Not just your average beach, the Galapagos Beach on the island of Santa Cruz is like something from another world, a distant 800 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador. So far from urban civilisation, this Tortuga Bay beach is a wildlife stronghold, once admired by Charles Darwin prior to publishing his theory of evolution. Still, very much inspirational, Galapagos Beach is home to turtles, iguanas, sea lions and pelicans, many of which are endemic to the islands. When you arrive on Santa Cruz, walk half an hour south of Puerto Ayora to find the beach, popping in at the Charles Darwin Research Centre on the way before seeing turtles nesting from December to March. Learn more of the biodiversity and culture of Ecuador here.

Galapagos | Photo: Simon Berger

Galapagos | Photo: Valeria Cahuasquí

6. Cabo de la Vela, Colombia

Also not among the most easy-to-reach beaches in the world, Cabo de la Vela is one to graft for. Drive two hours on dirt roads and over sand dunes into Northern Colombia to reach La Guajira peninsula that juts into the Caribbean Sea. It’s there you’ll find 5 kilometres of golden sand met by emerald waters and very few people. Being so remote, Cabo de la Vela doesn’t offer any 5-star hotels but it does allow for hammock lounging and camping out under the stars with nothing but desert and sea in every direction. Famous worldwide as a top kitesurfing destination, Cabo is the place to try your hand at the sport, breaking only for a hill climb up the Pilon de Azucar or a trip to the Ojo de Agua pools.

Cabo de la Vela, Colombia | Photo: Giannino Pareja

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Anakena is in the more Polynesian part of the island, also hosting to its own collection of six moai stone heads, erect for centuries on the sand

7. Anakena Beach - Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island may not give you a ream of choices when it comes to beaches but the two beaches it does have are beautiful enough to make up for it. Though the majority of the island’s coast comes rocky and rugged, Anakena Beach offers a tranquil reprieve shaded by coconut palms that lean outwards in postcard perfection. Located in Rapa Nui National Park, Anakena is in the more Polynesian part of the island, also hosting to its own collection of six moai stone heads, erect for centuries on the sand.

Easter Island | Photo: Sofia Cristina Córdova Valladares

Easter Island, Chile | Photo: Stephanie Morcinek

8. Praia do Forte, Brazil

Eighty kilometres from Salvador way up in northeast Brazil, Praia do Forte does the unexpected by outshining all the other amazing beaches in the country. On the Atlantic Ocean and boasting clear waters, natural rock pools and its own ecological reserve, Praia do Forte is a keeper, in proximity to a number of chic shops and restaurants in the neighbouring village. Walk the main drag of Alameda do Sol before veering off to the sea-turtle reserve or castle ruins, saving day two for exploring Sapirange forest reserve by bike, zipline or on foot, enjoying canoeing in the lagoon and rockpooling on the beach while waiting for the sky to turn red and the full moon to creep up over the Rio Timeantube.

Praia do Forte | Photo: Pamita

9. Playa El Agua - Isla Margarita, Venezuela

Four kilometres of white sand lined with coconut palms, Playa El Agua is reason enough to visit Venezuela’s Isla Margarita. Along the beach, you’ll find cosy bars and restaurants for whiling away an afternoon, while mornings come more extreme thanks to bungee jumping and flying excursions to get a birds-eye-view of the island’s epic mountain scenery. Unchecked development on the island may have changed its landscape and created urban sprawl around the largest town of Porlamar but there’s still a lot to redeem Isla Margarita, including its easy air connections to Caracas and its plentiful (and cheap!) lodgings. Read up on things to do in Venezuela with our handy adventure guide.

Isla Margarita, Venezuela | Photo: Cesar Cede

Isla Margarita | Photo: Martha Dominguez

10. Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Another of the best beaches in South America belongs once more to Colombia, this time within the 150-square-kilometre Tayrona National Park, the entire length of which touches pristine Caribbean coast. In Tayrona there are a series of world-class beaches to choose from, including Canaveral Beach for the easiest access and also Arrecifes, La Piscina and El Cabo which can only be reached by hike. The awkward entry is worth it, however, particularly for avid snorkelers or those who wish to rent a hammock and sleep under the stars. Besides beaches, Tayrona is a great place to see the biodiversity of the rainforest that thrives in between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and the ocean.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia | Photo: Olimpo Avila Salazar

11. Punta Carnero Beach, Ecuador

One of the beaches in South America known for surfing and sunsets in equal measure, Punta Carnero lies just 10 minutes’ drive from Salinas as one of the most convenient beach getaways in Ecuador. As well as being a regular host of international surfing competitions, Punta Carnero is said to be the finest sundown spot in the country, particularly on the rocky headlands towards the southeast end. Though the water is rough, strong swimmers will enjoy the waves, and sunbathers have the added entertainment of regional birdlife and whale watching between September and October.

12. Punta del Este, Uruguay

A livelier offering from southern Uruguay is the beach resort town of Punta del Este, a place brimming with casinos, nightlife and a yachting scene led by Brazilian and Argentinian elite. In the high season between December and February, the town can get pretty wild before changing its tune completely so that the main beach of Playa Brava comes almost deserted by low season. Time your arrival to suit your vacation style, mingling with millionaires at one of the town’s summer festivals or finding solitude among the coves farthest from town, such as Playa Mansa around the western headlands. Stay busy with our choice of the best things to see and do in Uruguay.

Punta del Este | Photo: Ernesto Velazquez

13. Lopes Mendes - Angra dos Reis, Brazil

Voted among best South American beaches by Vogue Magazine itself, Lopes Mendes plays a little hard to get. From Palmas village on the island of Ilha Grande, you’ll have to trek a steep, muddy jungle trail for 20 minutes before reaching it, finally being rewarded with three kilometres of beachy perfection, completely undeveloped and with only palm and almond trees for shade. If the sounds of crystal blue water lapping the shore is not enough to keep you amused, try trekking back through the jungle to discover Brazilian wildlife and other hidden coves you might’ve missed on the way down.

Lopes Mendes | Photo: Alexsandre Almeida

14. Los Roques, Venezuela

A series of 350 islands all hosting their own version of utopia, Los Roques is one of Venezuela’s many national parks, known specifically for its abundance of marine life and picture-perfect beaches. Whichever island you choose it’s unlikely you can go wrong, opting to take it slow on white-sand shores or leap into the clear waters for diving and snorkelling among protected coral reefs.

Photo: Keegan Checks

15. Playa Huina - Bahia Solano, Colombia

The last of the best beaches South America has to offer belongs to Playa Huina, Colombia, on a 1.5-kilometre stretch of Pacific coastline, accessible via boat from Bahia Solano, the nearest town. Along the town’s main street you can stock up on fresh produce, craft coffee and even a cocktail or two, though it is nature that steals the show in the region thanks to the rich marine life and dense jungle surrounding. Consider waterfall treks or river canoeing inland or head straight to the open ocean for snorkelling, surfing, whale watching and beyond.

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Photo: Aviv Perets

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