Beaches and culture are two of the principal reasons people choose to take a vacation in South America. A combination of beaches and culture generally has all the makings of a perfectly balanced vacation. They’re particularly suitable for family vacations. A very common question is: “I have two weeks in South America. I want to see a bit of culture and have some time on the beach at the end. Where can I go?” Here’s some suggested travel itineraries….
Mexico is the country that first springs to mind as being perfect for a beach and culture combination vacation. Mexico city has cultural attractions and ancient ruins worthy of a few nights stay. One could also consider visiting the silver mining town of Taxco, a few hours from Mexico City, for a few nights in addition if time is not an issue. From Mexico City, catch a flight to Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most beautiful colonial towns with beuatiful churches, plazas and nearby ruins and cultural attractions. From Oaxaca, one could travel straight to the beach at Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Coast (a short flight away). Alternatively the cultural tour could be continued by travelling overland to the indigenous town of San Cristobal de las Casas for a few nights, before driving on to the spectacular jungle clad ruins of Palenque for a couple of nights. From Palenque, travel overland to Villahermosa (4 hours) to catch a flight to Cancun, and transfer to your beach resort of choice along Mexico’s extensive Maya Riviera. Those with plenty of time might even wish to consider visiting Merida (another of Mexico’s beautiful colonial towns) after Palenque. From Merida, one can travel overland to the beaches of the Maya Riveria, overnighting at the Mayan ruins of Chitzen Itza.
An alternative beach and cultural vacation combination would be to visit Guatemala in conjunction with either Belize or Mexico. A recommended itinerary would be to catch a flight to Guatemala City and transfer (40 minutes) straight to Antigua, one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Central America. Antigua is worth three or four nights stay to explore the small city. From Antigua, it’s 3 to 4 hours overland travel to Lake Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes. At Lake Atitlan, one can either relax amidst stunning surroundings, alternatively there are hiking possibilities, or visits to indigenous communities for the culturally minded. The nearby market at Chichicastenango sees amazing indigenous markets on both Thursdays and Sundays - it’s best to spend the night in a hotel beforehand, or one could visit on a days tour from Lake Atitlan. To continue the cultural tour, travel overland to Guatemala City and catch the afternoon flight to Flores, in northern Guatemala, from where it is less than an hour to South America’s most magical ruins at Tikal.
After 3 nights near Tikal, it’s probably time for the beach wind-down. One can either catch a Flores to Cancun flight, and transfer to one of the many resorts on the Maya Riviera. Alternatively, one can travel on to Belize. In Belize’s case, there’s two suggested options available. 1. Travel overland via the Cayo / San Ignacio region of Western Belize, where one might visit a jungle lodge for a few nights. After the jungle adventure, travel overland to Belize City, and catch a flight to the beach. 2. Catch a flight from Flores to Belize City, and catch an onward flight to the beach. But where should one go for a beach in Belize? San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) is the traditional beach resort in northern Belize, and the diving is excellent nearby. Alternatively, Placencia in Southern Belize is less crowded and more laid back.
Where else can one perfectly combine culture and beaches when on holiday in South America? Brazil also springs to mind, though in a slightly different manner. Fly to Rio de Janeiro for 3 or 4 nights to experience this fascinating and beautiful city. From Rio, fly north to Salvador, an African influenced town on the coast - best to stay in a hotel in the beautiful old quarter of Pelhourinho for two or three nights. From Salvador, there’s a host of nearby beach resorts and hotels nearby, including places such as Praia do Forte and Morro do Sao Paulo.
Colombia also offers great potential for a beach and culture combination vacation. Catch a flight to Bogota, where one can stay for a couple of nights to explore the old town and visit the amazing Gold Museum. From Bogota, it’s fours hours drive to Villa de Leiva, a beautiful, laid back, whitewashed colonial town. From Villa de Leiva, travel overland back to Bogota, and fly to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. Cartegena is one of South America’s most beautiful and romantic colonial cities with a stunning old quarter. Three or four nights is enough to visit Cartegena. Now it’s time for the beach. I’d recommend going to the stunning Rosario Islands for two or three nights - there’s little to do other than relax, snorkel or explore the island by boat. The Rosario Islands are 90 minutes by boat from Cartegena, where you would need to spend the night upon your return to the mainland. For further beaches in Colombia, travel overland (4-5 hours) to Park Tayrona, where you’ll discover the best beaches in South America.