When thinking of South America’s natural wonders, the first things that spring to mind are jungle, mountains and giant waterfalls. But with over 30,000 kilometres of coastline and hot tropical climates, the continent can also rival anywhere in the world for the quality of its beaches. From the sun-drenched sands of Brazil to the Caribbean coasts of Colombia, and from the most popular coastal hotspots to the prettiest hidden coves, we have compiled some of the very best beaches in South America to hit on your next adventure.
For more highlights of this incredible region of the world, check out our South America bucket list. Also, our guide to South America small group tours picks out the best organised experiences for the trip of a lifetime.
In this article:
Best beaches in South America: Argentina
1. Mar Del Plata
“I’m going to Mar Del Plata for the weekend,” said a hostel owner we had befriended in Buenos Aires. “Where’s that?” we replied. Turns out that it’s Argentina’s biggest and most popular beach resort city. In fact, it’s the country’s second-most visited city after the capital. Who knew?
Mar Del Plata is about 400 kilometres south of Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast, and can be reached from Buenos Aires via a five-hour bus or train journey, or a 50-minute flight. Its defining feature is its seafront with an eight-kilometre stretch of beach, which gets packed out with parasols and holiday-makers, especially in peak season (February). Other nearby beaches are good for surfing or to find more peace and quiet.
Mar Del Plata is also a good choice for travelling families, with plenty of activities to try. Check out this guide to things to do in Mar Del Plata with kids for ideas.
Some 100 kilometres up the cost from Mar Del Plata is Cariló, an upmarket seaside town renowned for attracting Argentina’s wealthiest inhabitants. If you are familiar with the country’s celebrities and leading politicians, you may well spot some notable faces here.
Set within an artificial pine forest, Cariló is bestowed with wide beaches of golden sand, among the tranquility of nature. It’s a great option for a coastal wind-down. However, you’ll need to fork out for the privilege – Cariló is known for it high-end price tags.
3. Playa Bonita, Bariloche
The Patagonia region of Argentina is not where you would typically go for a beach trip, given its cold and unpredictable climate. But Bariloche, the main hub of the Lake District in northern Patagonia, has some great lakeside beach spots.
Playa Bonita is a neat stretch of sand that sits a few kilometres west of town on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. A little village of sorts is huddled around the beach, with shops, restaurants and the local favourite beer-house Kunstmann. If you’re in Bariloche the chances are you’re looking for adventure, and you’ll find it in abundance here – Playa Bonita is popular for kayaking, windsurfing and scuba diving, or just chilling out.
You can stay right next to the beachfront for great value at Bonita Lake House. It’s one of the best budget picks in our guide to the best hostels in Bariloche.
Best beaches in South America: Brazil
4. Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Possibly the most famous beach in South America, if not the world, Rio’s Copacabana needs little introduction. This huge crescent-shaped beach spans four kilometres across the neighbourhood of the same name. Sugarloaf Mountain stands tall beyond the eastern end of the beach, while more jungle-ridden outcrops of rock loom to the west, combining for an altogether mesmerising backdrop.
Through the daytime Copacabana is a hive of activity, with kids playing soccer for hours on end, and beachgoers jostling past the pop-up market stalls and cocktail kiosks. When dusk descends it only gets livelier, with music spilling out from the beachfront bars. We stopped by for a celebratory caipirinha after eating too much at Churrascaria Palace. A magical way to end our two days in Rio.
5. Quarta Praia, Morro de São Paulo
Morro de São Paulo is one of most picturesque coastal spots in the Brazilian state of Bahia. One of my oldest travelling friends always swears this place has the best beaches in the world… she has a point!
Sitting on the northern tip of Tinharé, a car-free island just south of Salvador, Morro de São Paulo is a village with a collection of small beaches. The longest of these is the palm-tree-lined Quarta Praia. Think perfect sand, stunning clear azure waters, natural swimming pools and a smattering of coral reef. The beach is identical in size to Copacabana, but with a fraction of the crowds.
6. Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande
Had we ranked this list in order of beauty, Lopes Mendes would probably have come out on top. This haven of flawless white sand occupies a secluded corner of Ilha Grande, and is only accessible by boat or via an eight-kilometre jungle hike. We took the latter option, which was challenging in the oppressive Brazilian heat but worth it for the great views and encounters with wildlife (look out for monkeys!). The path also passes many smaller beaches along the way, each its own little paradise.
Once you arrive at Lopes Mendes there is not a building in site. Only glorious sand encased by rainforest and palm trees. Bring a good supply of water; you can buy cold beers and fresh coconuts from beach vendors, albeit at a marked-up price.
7. Lagoinha do Leste, Florianópolis
Continuing the theme of secluded beaches only accessible by boat or hiking, Lagoinha do Leste is another gem. This arc of golden sand is concealed on the remote south side of Santa Catarina Island. Peacefully isolated, it’s well cut off from the hubbub and famous nightlife of Florianópolis.
There is a choice of two hikes to reach Lagoinha do Leste, each with great views of the beach as you approach. The first is from Praia do Matadeiro (four kilometres), and the second a gentler option from Pântano do Sul (2.5 kilometres). A sleepy lagoon is set just inland from the beach, which is otherwise enclosed by dense forest and hills. Bring your own food and drink, as you may find the beach completely empty.
8. Prainha da Barra, Florianópolis
Prainha da Barra is another secret beach on the ‘magic island’ of Florianópolis, but much easier to reach. It is the smaller sister of Praia da Barra da Lagoa, one of the island’s most popular beaches. This spot is connected by regular public buses from the inland hub of Lagoa da Conceição
The bus terminates close to the south end of the main beach. Instead of following the crowds, if you cross the bridge over the small river flowing out the the ocean, then follow the path to the left, you will soon emerge out onto this hidden sandy cove. You can also follow the path beyond Prainha da Barra, and a short distance ahead you will find some gorgeous natural swimming pools.
Our guide to the best Florianópolis beaches uncovers more great spots on the island.
Best beaches in South America: Chile
9. Pan de Azúcar
The Atacama Desert dominates the landscapes of northern Chile. Its interior is the driest non-polar place on the planet. But at the Pacific Coast, a special national environment is forged where marine and desert life converge. This is Pan de Azúcar National Park, a unique habitat where you can see cacti one moment and penguins the next; and it also features over 100,000 acres of beach.
There is a fee of 5,000 Chilean pesos to enter the park. Inside, the village of Caleta Pan de Azúcar overlooks the ocean, and you can stop over at a lodge or campsite. Just a short detour from the journey between Santiago and San Pedro de Atacama, it’s a beautiful stop-off to enjoy the quiet, unspoiled scenery of dunes, ravines and endless blue ocean.
10. Playa El Faro, La Serena
La Serena is a regular stop on the journey from Santiago to San Pedro up the Ruta 5. It’s one of Chile’s oldest cities, and a popular coastal resort. We enjoyed a brief transition here on our way inland to the Elqui Valley, which is a must to visit while you’re in town.
The city has a choice of beaches, the centrepiece of which is El Faro, named after the peculiar castle-like lighthouse that stands at its centre. The beach stretches several kilometres up and down the coast, and a stroll in either direction will soon take you away from the crowds, with the best sand to the south. The bus journey from Santiago to La Serena takes around seven hours.
11. Viña del Mar
A short distance around the coast from the cultural hub of Valparaíso, Viña del Mar is Chile’s premier beach resort city. Its main strip of sand connects several beaches, from the busy and popular Playa Acapulco and Playa El Sol at the south, to the quieter Playa Salinas hidden around a headland at the north.
Along the main promenade at the southern end, the beachfront has been renovated with immaculate gardens and outdoor activity spaces. You will also find many restaurants and cocktail bars, and with the beach facing west it’s a lovely spot to walk along at sunset. If you have a spare couple of hours and want to escape the beach for a while, we highly recommend taking the free walking tour by Tours 4 tips to learn about the city’s intriguing past and hidden neighbourhoods.
Best beaches in South America: Colombia
12. Playa Blanca, Isla Barú
This beach takes a bit of effort to reach, but boy is it worth it. Playa Blanca is a postcard-perfect picture of white sand and crystal-clear, turquoise Caribbean water. Situated on the tropical island of Barú, southwest of Cartagena, it is easily accessible by shuttle bus since the opening of a bridge in recent years.
The downside to Playa Blanca is that its growing popularity has brought new waves of tourists. It can get very crowded and noisy, especially at weekends. So, for the most peaceful experience, take the earliest morning shuttle on a weekday. This guide by Our Escape Clause gives an useful background to the beach and how to visit.
13. Tayrona National Park
Featured in our South America bucket list, Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia’s nerve centres of biodiversity, a vast entanglement of rainforest opening out onto stunning tropical beaches, flanked by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and the Caribbean Sea.
El Cabo San Juan is a prime spot in the park, a couple of hours’ hike from the El Zaino entrance. This idyllic beach is lined by a wall of lofty palm trees, with turquoise waters lapping at its shores. Rocky boulders jut out at the headlands, which you can climb for a panoramic view of the surroundings. You can also stay overnight in a tent or on a hammock at the beach’s campsite.
Over on Colombia’s Pacific coast, Nuquí is an off-the-beaten-path tropical beach town secluded by some of the country’s densest jungle. Completely isolated from the rest of the country, it can only be reached by plane from Medellín or by boat from Buenaventura.
Nuquí’s beaches have a richer, darker complexion than the white sands of the Caribbean. During breeding season (July–October) you can see humpback whales off the coast, and you can further explore the area’s biodiversity by taking a guided hike into the jungle. For one of the best hidden coastal spots, a half-hour boat ride from Nuquí will take you to the pristine beach of Playa Guachalito.
Best beaches in South America: Ecuador
15. Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands
One of the world’s most iconic beaches, Tortuga Bay is a jewel of the celebrated Galapagos Islands. Famous for its biodiversity and role in Charles Darwin’s world-changing research, this precious beach of perfect white sand is home to an array of wildlife including turtles, iguanas, crabs and marine birds.
The beach is located at the south of Santa Cruz Island, and can be reached in half an hour’s walk from Puerto Ayora, the largest town on the Galapagos, where you can also visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Turtle nesting season (December–March) is a particularly special time to visit.
One of the best ways to see the Galapagos to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime destination is to take the G Adventures Complete Galapagos tour. The 17-day adventure includes a visit to Tortuga Bay! For more about G Adventures and why they’re worth it for big-ticket experiences like this, read about our Inca Trail experience with them.
16. Playa Los Frailes
Machalilla National Park is the setting for Playa Los Frailes, one of Ecuador’s most stunning and remote beaches. Easy to reach from the nearby town of Puerto Lopez, but seldom busy, Los Frailes is adorned with glorious white sands and clear waters wriggling with colourful fish.
From the town you can hire a cheap tuk-tuk to make the short journey to the beach, but the better and more adventurous route is to take the scenic hike over the clifftops and forestland. The park is free to enter, but closes at 4:30pm. Read this helpful guide by Along Dusty Roads to find out more about visiting.
Best beaches in South America: Peru
17. Punta Hermosa, Lima
Peru is well acclaimed as a top destination for adventure travel, but not everybody knows it’s also somewhat a mecca for surfing. As detailed in our Lima surf guide, the country has produced world-champion surfers and hosted many major global events.
An hour south of the capital Lima, the beaches of Punta Hermosa provide one of Peru’s prime spots for catching the waves. It’s a great place for beginners and experienced surfers alike. Punta Rocas is the most popular spot here for all-round surfing quality. Pico Alto, one of the world’s biggest waves, is a kikometre or so from the shore. Check out the video below to see how big the swell can get! But even if you’re not into surfing, it’s still a lovely spot to relax on the sand, with a choice of bars, restaurants and hotels along the coastline.
Sticking with the surfing theme, Máncora is one of Peru’s biggest draws for swell-seekers. The town’s main stretch of sand is utilised for many other activities too, such as kayaking, horse-riding and windsurfing. With sunshine all year round, the water stays warm and the vibe is always upbeat.
Máncora is also renowned as a party town. For a small place it packs in a lot of resorts, clubs and outdoor bars, and there’s something happening every night of the week. Highway 1 runs right through the town so it’s very easy to reach, although it’s a solid 19-hour journey by road from Lima. Alternatively, you can fly to nearby Talara and catch a transfer from there.
Best beaches in South America: Uruguay
19. Playa Brava, Punta Del Este
Known as the ‘Saint-Tropez of South America’, Uruguay’s coastal town of Punta Del Este is a big attraction for travellers and holiday-makers. With a swath of restaurants, museums, outdoor art markets and regular festivals, it has become a popular getaway for affluent folk from Argentina and Uruguay. The town’s best features, however, are its beaches.
Playa Brava is a vast, clean beach that’s full of activity, extending all the way along the town’s main promenade. At the south side is the famous sculpture of Le Mano (The Hand), depicting fingers reaching out from the sand. For a quieter beach, head around the western headland to Playa Mansa.
20. Playa El Alamo, Colonia Del Sacramento
We finish with one of the most quirky beach experiences of our travels, and something we stumbled upon by accident. Colonia Del Sacramento is a colourful, historic town facing Buenos Aires across Rio de la Plata. We stayed a couple of nights to explore it before making the short ferry crossing to the Argentine capital.
One evening we took a bottle of wine with some cups down to a lovely little river-beach spot, Playa el Alamo. As the sun sank into the water beyond the extruding jetty, a crowd gathered at the crest of the beach to applaud. Later we discovered that clapping for the sunset is an old tradition in Uruguay. How awesome! It’s really a pretty beach too, just right for winding down after a day walking around the town.
Map of the best beaches in South America
You can see the locations of the best beaches in South America covered in this article on the map below:
Pin it for later