One thing I´ve noticed on my travels throughout South America is the near complete lack of decent beaches along the entire western coastline. However, the eastern side of the continent is absolutely crammed with stunning beaches, from the Yucatan / Maya Riveria in Mexico all the way to Florianopolis in southern Brazil. Which are the best beaches?
This is of course a subjective opinion, but that´s what blogs are about. Some people might consider Cancun to have a great “air conditioned” beach as it´s crammed with (North American) eye candy during Spring Break. Fair enough, but my criteria are somewhat different. I really do love beaches. A truely special beach to me should be something completely unique. My main criteria is outstanding natural beauty combined with a lack of other annoying people to spoil it.
The best beaches I´ve been to in all of South America (almost the best in the world) are those at Tayrona National Park in Colombia. It really is like God made a set of picture perfect beaches, then someone else came along with a brush and touched it up a little to make it even more scenic, to which God got angry and decided to make the sea abnormally rough for the Caribbean so that swimming is very dangerous in parts. It´s absolutely stunning, and the beaches are completely empty if you walk a little distance away from the campsites. See the Park Tayrona guide for travel tips if you´re visiting. Here’s a picture of an empty beach at Park Tayrona:
Park Tayrona, Colombia
Mexico´s Maya Riviera also has some fantastic beaches, but you have to know where to look to avoid the crowds (see the main guide). Personally, the beach at Tulum is very special, with turquoise waters backed up by Mayan ruins. If only there weren´t so many day trippers from Cancun visiting.
Belize does have some fantastic beaches also. The Cayes are open for exploration by sailboat for those that can afford it. For those that can´t, Placencia has Belize´s best beaches in my opinion, though the sandflies appear at dawn and dusk.
Working our way south down the Eastern coast, Roatan in Honduras is a good diving base with great beaches, but Nicaragua´s Corn Islands are more laid back, while Costa Rica´s Tortuguero area combines beaches with wildlife vacations perfectly. Panama´s Bocas del Torro ranks very highly in terms of the best beaches in South America, I walked for an hour beside the most beautiful of seas and saw just one snorkellor during that time. Real estate there is truely booming, so visit now before it´s spoilt. Also in Panama, Coiba Island has quite spectacular, beautiful beaches, plus and old prison to look around truely amazing snorkelling. I’d rank Coiba Island as one of my top 3 destinations in all Latin America (see the Panama section of this blog for a recent trip report to Coiba).
Colombia´s Rosario Islands are beautiful and so relaxing compared to the hectic beaches of nearby Cartagena. Many of the smaller Rosario Islands used to be owned by drugs barons, but such islands now house derelict old buildings in a serene setting. Colombia´s Park Tayrona has been mentioned already as number one in terms of South America´s best beaches. Venezuela sees some great beaches in addition - Los Roques Islands are part of a spectacular national park, while Rio Caribe on the mainland is rural, remote and idlyic. The Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname an French Guiana) do have some beautiful beaches though I´m told that the sediments from the Amazon delta further east make the sea not so crystal clear.
Brazil´s coastline from Sao Luiz all the way to Florianopolis is scattered with some stunning beaches, many of which I plan to explore in February. They say that Porto de Galinhas has one of most beautiful beaches in northern Brazil. Fernando de Noronha is idyllic, expensive and perfect for honeymoons in Brazil. Near Salvador, Morro do Sao Paulo is perfect for barefoot-getting-away-from-it-all-chilling-out-on -the-beach. Trancoso is trendy, as is Buzios near Rio de Janeiro, which itself has the trendiest beach in South America, Ipanema beach. But ask a Brazilian, and they´ll tell you that Brazil´s best beaches are found near Florianopolis, where you can also go whale watching during the right season.