The 19 Best Beaches in South America

aerial view of Copacabana beach
••• Rio's Copacabana Beach is one of the world's most famous strips of sand. John W Banagan

Would you believe the best beaches in South America are some of the best in the world?

South America has a long and interesting coastline that includes stretches on the Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and when it comes to beaches there are some excellent options to be found across the continent.

Some countries are better known than others for their beaches, with Brazil and Colombia particularly noted for their fabulous beach destinations, while the landlocked countries of Bolivia and Paraguay have no ocean beaches at all.

Here is a look at some of the best beaches in South America, and why they are worth visiting.

Brazil

Brazil is a country that is famous for its beaches, and the extensive Atlantic coastline offers some great variety in terms of the beaches, with some of the more exposed beaches great for watersports, and others perfect for swimming and families.

There are also beaches in cities like Rio and Florianopolis that provide a wonderful social spot as well as being places to relax.

Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha 

Located on an archipelago off the north east coast of the country, this beach has been named the best in the world on several occasions, and is a stunning short stretch of sand, protected by rocky outcroppings at each end that help ensure placid waters. It can only be reached either by boat or by climbing down the steep rocky slopes, meaning it isn't particularly good for younger children.

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro 

Undoubtedly one of the best beaches in South America. With a long strip of bars and nightclubs just off the beach, Copacabana is a beautiful stretch of golden sand that is often crammed with people making the most of their free time.

You will mainly find adults and older teenagers on the beach, with the cold water not making for an ideal swimming location, but the beach football and the constant activity during the day make this a great beach for people watching.

Jericoacoara, Ceara

This remote beach in the northeast of Brazil is one that requires a fair journey, but pays off the effort with stunning surroundings, and sunsets that are a beautiful nightly event. The sea isn't ideal for swimming, but there are several lagoons along the beach that provide better conditions, while there is also a range of good spots for surfing and windsurfing.

Peru

Peru's coastline and location close to the equator makes it a lovely destination for those looking for a beach break, with the northern coast in particular often drawing visitors. Most visitors will start in Lima, where the beach is quite narrow at the bottom of the Miraflores cliffs, but there are some great beaches along the coast worth visiting.

Vichayito 

Just a short distance from the beach towns of Los Organos and Mancora, this lovely beach is often quiet and peaceful, and offers some nice shallow water to paddle in for younger children. A little further out, the waves pick up making for fine surfing and windsurfing surroundings, while the charming village offers some nice rustic accommodation.

Punta Sal 

Backing on to hillsides thick with green jungle, this lovely village on the northern coast is ideal for a peaceful family getaway, with the southern half a curved beach protected from larger waves, making it a nice environment for swimming.

The northern half of the 6.5 kilometer beach is a little more exposed, but will often be a little more peaceful.

Cabo Blanco 

This beach is split into two by a fishing pier that stretches out into the water, which indicates one of the biggest attractions of visiting Cabo Blanco – the excellent fishing which once drew celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Marilyn Monroe. Today it is a peaceful little place with a nice stretch of sand where you can relax, and although the waves are too big for children's swimming, they are great if you are looking for a good surfing beach.

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Colombia

The only country with a coastline on both the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans in South America, there are some fabulous beaches to be enjoyed in the country.

Although Colombia was a country that struggled with security in the late twentieth century, strong leadership and policing has helped this lovely country become a popular tourist destination once again.

READ: The Best Beaches in Colombia

La Caleta, Capurgana 

Near the border with Panama and just a short boat ride from Cartagena, the beach in Capurgana may be small but it is also one of the most beautiful on the continent. A narrow strip of golden sand with just a small number of hotels, this beach is charming and peaceful, with gentle waters that make it good for swimming, while there is also great scuba diving nearby.

Playa Almejal 

Located within a national park, this isolated beach is great if you are looking for a quiet and peaceful place to relax, and the waves here are best for surfing rather than for swimming. However, there is some wonderful wildlife to be spotted here, while there is also a turtle conservation project that is also worth visiting once you have finished relaxing on the beach.

Playa Blanca 

This beach is on Isla Baru, which is accessed by a short boat trip from Cartagena, and is a long stretch of golden sand with gentle waves lapping the beach which makes it a great place to unwind. It is quite popular, so there are some choices in terms of sunbeds and beach bars when you are looking for a drink or a snack, and the south end of the beach is best for a quiet spot, away from where the day trip boats drop off the visitors.

Ecuador

As the name suggests, this equatorial country is one that has plenty of daylight throughout the year, and the effect of the seasons is reduced, although March, April and May are significantly wetter than the rest of the year.

Because of the location, the effect of the sun can be stronger here, so make sure you do not skimp on the sunscreen while you are enjoying the beaches here.

La Bellaca, Bahia de Caraquez

A lovely beach around two miles south of the city center, this beach is very popular among surfers, with great waves, while it isn't too rough for swimming either, although a slightly rocky sea floor means you will need to be careful. You will find a few vendors and stalls near the car parking area just off the beach, but on the whole you will have plenty of space to find a quiet area.

Montanita 

This small town is one of the most popular beach destinations in Ecuador, and with great surfing conditions, and waves that are tame enough for stronger swimmers, it is a lovely place to have a beach holiday. This is probably not the destination for young families however, as Montanita has a reputation as a party town, and this is reflected on the beaches as well as in the town itself.

Canoa 

At 17 kilometers in length, you shouldn't struggle to find a quiet spot on the beach, while the swimming conditions here are also quite good, with moderate waves meaning you'll usually only find beginner and novice surfers here, with board rentals available. If you do fancy breaking up the day, a walk up to the cliffs at the northern end of the beach provides a wonderful panoramic view over the coast.

Venezuela

Lying on the continent's north coast and facing on to the Caribbean Ocean, many people do not immediately think of Venezuela as a beach destination, but it has some great places to visit, with the islands of the north coast particularly idyllic.

The beaches here fall into the tropical zone with temperatures regularly over 25 degrees Celsius, with the dry seasons from November to April and from August to October.

Cayo de Agua, Los Roques 

Located within the Los Roques National Park, this stunning beach has beautiful white sand and tranquil azure waters that are great for swimming, although the tide can be quite strong, while it is also clear enough to make snorkeling a joy too. Reached by boat, this beach is a true Caribbean gem, and is well worth the trip if you are visiting the park.

Playa El Agua, Margarita Island

This beach is as close to the stereotype of a Caribbean paradise as you can get, with around four kilometers of golden sand lined with palm trees on one side and the beautiful blue water on the other. Despite its beauty, this isn't really a beach suitable for swimming, as there are some strong currents, and the lifeguards regularly call people back who are getting in too deep.

Choroni

This rustic beach is particularly popular with locals as well as the visitors, and has a few umbrellas and deck chairs, as well as having fairly calm waters that are great for swimming.

The beach lies in a bay which backs on to steep mountain slopes covered in greenery, with the palm trees swaying gently in the breeze making for a lovely spot.

Chile

Chile lies in the south west of South America, and with a huge number of islands and a very long coastline, there are certainly no shortage of beaches to be found in the country.

However, further south the beaches are less popular because of the climate, as the further south you go the colder the temperatures can drop, which means that the most popular beaches are found in the central and northern areas of the country.

Zapallar 

A lovely curve of golden sand which is flanked on both sides with rocks that stretch out into the ocean, the waters here quite calm and good for swimming, with plenty of local families often doing the same. The rustic surroundings of the village could easily have been transplanted from Europe, in what is a charming town as well as being a great beach location.

Cifuncho 

Just a short drive from the town of Antofagasta, this lovely beach has some sand dunes just behind the beach, that are dwarfed by the high mountains that actually come quite close to the coast here. The beach has pleasant white sands and is quite a quiet place, while the water is pleasant for swimming with calm waves, while it also has a charming little town nearby too.

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Argentina

Although Argentina does have a significant coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, for the most part there are only a limited number of beach destinations to be found in the country.

The breeze coming in from the sea also means that the waves are often quite strong, so it is important to be cautious if you are going to be swimming with children, as the currents are often treacherous.

Mar del Plata 

Argentina's rival to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Mar del Plata has beaches just yards away from the city center, and the waves here are good for those looking for good surfing and body boarding. There are plenty of facilities such as sun loungers and beach sports on those beaches nearest the city center, although at the weekend you may struggle to even find a spot to lay your towel.

Pinamar 

Unlike most cities, Pinamar was actually developed as a planned city, which means that while there are some great facilities and accommodation here, the prices can be a little steep as development here is limited. The beach itself is golden with some good waves for surfing, although again this isn't a location for those looking for good family friendly swimming due to the waves and currents.