21. Monterrico, Guatemala
Starting off our list is a small, surfer’s destination on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, the “land of eternal spring.” While not being a luxury beach destination, Monterrico is definitely worth a trip. A black sand beach, it is one of the more unique beaches on the list, comprised of volcanic, thick soil that gives it it’s strange, alien appearance. Beyond having great surf, Monterrico has numerous cheap hostels for the budget-minded traveler and restaurants and bars for the nightlife-oriented backpacker. Watch out during the daytime, though, the beach becomes almost too hot to walk on barefoot!
Image credit: drstockphoto.com
20. La Libertad, El Salvador
Much like Monterrico, La Libertad isn’t a luxury beach destination. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in incredible waves, being one of the surf capitals in Central America. A surfer’s paradise, the beaches are almost always deserted of tourists, and the waves are some of the best around. El Zonte and El Tunco constitute the most frequented beaches in the area, and both have plenty to offer.
From bohemian vegan restaurants to rowdy cantinas, La Libertad is the most popular beach destinations in El Salvador. Make sure to visit the fish market directly on the pier in La Libertad, full of vendors who get their daily catch directly from the fisherman pulling up to dock behind them.
Section image credit: Helios
19. Manzanillo, Costa Rica
This pristine, sleepy little village is one of the most low-key entries on this list: the town had no paved road until 2003. Perfect for beach-side relaxation, Manzanillo is a great destination for those that like to get off the beaten path. Boasting an Afro-Caribbean vibe, the town has a few local restaurants in which to sample the fare. Across the street from the beach is the Caribbean-style Cool and Calm Café, where you can dive for your own lobster or seafood dinner! Manzanillo is also the home of a wildlife refuge, so there are plenty of nature-related activities to participate in: kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and birding all allow you to experience the flora and fauna. Take advantage of gorgeous, isolated beaches, such as Coyote Beach, which have no road access.
Image credit: Nazareth College / Tiffany Wendt
18. Viña del Mar, Chile
Arguably the most famous beach in Chile, Viña del Mar is a stunning town located next to Valparaiso. Full of students, hipsters, and young people, the town functions as a weekend getaway for folks from the Santiago. The beach is beautiful, lined with hotels and restaurants, and it seems like it goes on forever in both directions. Après-playa, there are many things to get in to, such as botanical gardens and museums to visit and historical tours to attend. Enjoy the sidewalk scene at the popular Renata Beach, or sunbathe au natural at Playa Luna. If you’re feeling lucky, try your hand at blackjack at one of the several casinos. The best time to visit is during one of the city’s annual festivals, such as the Festival of Song in February.
Image credit: Hector Garcia
17. Punta del Este, Uruguay
Known as the “St. Tropez of Latin America,” this beach resort city has it all for the high-end tourist: exclusive parties, casinos, massive luxury resorts, and beaches perfect for tanning and surfing. Full of tourists from Argentina and Brazil who have more money than they even know how to spend, it’s not a place for the frugal traveler. It is, however, an incredibly beautiful beach, complete with perfect water, sand, and sun. “La Playa de los Dedos” is the most popular beach here, located on the main strip and complete with a sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand. Don’t forget to grab a cocktail and enjoy the stunning sunset from one of the many beach bars.
Image credit: Sebast732
16. Roatan, Honduras
While not a singular beach destination in itself, Roatan, one of Honduras’ Bay Islands, offers several different beaches, from the quiet and luxurious to the touristy and crowded. West Bay is certainly one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, lined with luxury accommodations and beach cabanas. West End, a 15-minute boat ride up the coast, offers a more laid-back, backpacker-type vibe, populated with cheap hostels as well as delicious restaurants and fun bars. Let’s not forget that Roatan is one of the premier scuba diving locations in Latin America, as the water is clear, the coral is abundant, and the dive shops are cheap.
Image credit: snorkelingdives.com
15. Mancora, Peru
If you enjoy kilometers of the best sandy beaches, Mancora is the place to visit in Peru. Located in the sunniest region of the country, Mancora has excellent weather all year round, so anytime is the perfect time to visit. Enjoy the lively nightlife scene with adventure-seeking backpackers there to partake in some of the numerous activities Mancora has to offer. Learn to kite board, paddleboard, and surf, as the waves here are ideal for water sports. If having a natural spa day is more your thing, hop in a moto taxi to the hot springs for a curative mud bath. Cheap accommodation and food abounds; look for affordable “Menu del Dia” chalkboards. These are usually delicious, inexpensive meals popular with locals. Try Angela’s Place for vegetarian food.
Image credit: theodorescott.com
14. Montañita, Equador
This former fishing village turned hippie hangout is a great place to unwind, enjoy some waves, sip on some cervezas, and generally let loose. With magnificent, unspoiled beaches, world-class surfing, and several natural reserves, Montañita has slowly developed a reputation as a tropical paradise. From beginners to the most advanced surfers, Montañita and its beaches (there are 4) offer the perfect venue for shredding some waves. A multicultural town, it is populated by a colorful variety of locals and expats, adding to its bohemian feel. Grab a cocktail at Mar-Arena and take in the incredible sunset. Enjoy the town’s wide variety of vendors, artisans, restaurants, and its healthy nightlife, and you’ll never want to escape its beachside bliss.
13. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Punta Cana, located on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, has an epically beautiful coastline, the very same where Columbus first came ashore in the new world. Bavaro Beach is one of the notable places here, an exotic beach with an international vibe, dotted with hostels, restaurants, and bars. Get around in a gua-gua (a little van) and see waterfalls, hike jungle trails, and enjoy white sand beaches lined with palm trees. Don’t forget to check out the nearby fishing village of Bayahibe, which has some great snorkeling and wreck diving.
12. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Puerto Escondido is one of the most important beach destinations in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and after one hour there, you’ll soon see why. Catering to the more downscale and eclectic clientele than many of the more well-known Mexican beaches, Puerto Escondido is populated mostly by surfers, backpackers, and Mexican families. The beaches are most definitely the main attraction here, with several surf competitions being held here every year. Another fun activity is taking an indigenous type of steam bath called a temazcal during which you sit in a small hut with high heat and then dunk yourself into cold water.
11. Florianopolis, Brazil
Another destination that has many beaches (about 42), Florianopolis is the capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, and is mainly located on an island of the same name. Most recently, Florianopolis has become a destination for people looking for superb beaches, beautiful scenery, and an interesting and friendly mix of local and foreign cultures. The beaches on the east side of the island, such as Joaquina and Mole, are among its best surfing beaches and are popular with young, budget-minded backpackers and travelers.
Image credit: Lionel Baur
10. Cancun, Mexico
A list of Latin America’s best beaches isn’t complete without mentioning Cancun, located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Sure, its passé, touristy, and crowded, but it’s hard to deny the pure beauty of its beaches, white sand, and perfectly turquoise water. Cancun is made up of two areas: El Centro, the downtown area, and Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of hotels, nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. For those that like to party, Cancun is tough to beat. From high-end clubs with big-name DJs to dive bars with passed out drunks, Cancun has what you are looking for each time you visit. Spring break!
Image credit: Dronepicr
9. Varadero, Cuba
Only a three-hour bus ride from Havana, Varadero feels like a completely different world. Go skydiving at the old airport or scuba dive through an assortment of sunken vessels and aircraft at the Cayo Piedras del Norte. Learn to salsa, mambo, or cha-cha at the plethora of dancehalls that line the beach. For the amateur archaeologists, explore the pre-Colombian cave drawings at the Cueva de Ambrosio. You could even rent mopeds and sightsee at your own pace! And let’s not forget about some of the best cigars and rum in the world; participate in a rum tasting at Casa del Ron.
Image credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts
8. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is one the country’s top destinations due to its incredible wildlife, national park, and, of course, beautiful beach. Sidling up next to the Manuel Antonio National Park, visitors can experience the natural beauty of the area (monkeys are frequently seen crossing the roads). The natural beauty coupled with numerous activities such as surfing, snorkeling, zip lining, and sport fishing makes Manuel Antonio a must-visit destination when visiting Costa Rica. Grab a fun lunch with a jungle view in the back of an old military airplane at El Avion!
Image credit: Rodtico21
7. Cartagena, Colombia
The location of the first Spanish colony on the American continent as well as a haven for freed African slaves, the Colombian city of Cartagena is rich with history, culture, and beautiful beaches to boot. An incredibly vibrant and lively place, it is divided up into two main zonas: the walled colonial city (“Ciudad Amurallada”) and the beachfront area of Bocagrande. The city has something for every budget, as there are plenty of economic hostels and cheap street food as well as 5-star hotels and restaurants. The best beach for swimming is the Playa Blanca, which is about an hour-long bus ride away from the city center. Insider tip: If you are looking for affordable, delicious seafood and “cocolocos” (fresh coconuts with rum added), ask for “Nelson Mandela.”
Image credit: Fabian Morón Zirfas
6. Bocas del Toro, Panama
Fall under the laid-back spell of the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama, and you won’t want to come back to reality. These beautiful islands off the Caribbean coast have some of the most beautiful and untouched and cheap beaches in the world. Still mainly unknown as a dive destination, it still offers a diverse array of aquatic life; calm conditions and competitive pricing, which makes Bocas a perfect place for scuba education. Bocas Dive Center can get you started on your scuba journey! Fishing is also a popular activity in Bocas, as there are many captains willing to take a group out. Insider tip: ask for “E.T.,” as he is one of the most reliable fishing captains in town.
Image credit: Bernal Sorborio
5. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
This former fishing village features the perfect combination of fishing, surfing, affordable accommodation and food variety, all tied up in an incredibly beautiful setting. Boasting legendary sunsets, as well as nightlife, San Juan del Sur is brimming with activity and adventure both day and night. San Juan del Sur is perfect for just hanging out, surfing, meeting new people, and just generally enjoying the laid-back vibe that the town projects. If hops and malt tickle your fancy, the town has its own microbrewery, San Juan del Sur Cerveceria, the first in the country.
Image credit: fashiondetective
4. Tulum, Mexico
It’s easy to see why this Mexican beach is so high up on the list; not only is it one of the most beautiful beaches in Latin America, but it is one of the most unique. Perched just at the top of the beach are the Mayan ruins of Tulum, a spectacular set of stone monuments and pyramids that give the beach an almost magical and other-worldly feel to it. Kite surfing is a popular activity in Tulum, with several schools offering classes, such as Extreme Control. After relaxing on the beautiful white sand beaches, make sure to visit one of the area’s cenotes, underground limestone caves that have collapsed and now allow for swimming. El Gran Cenote is the most popular, but there are dozens more just a quick ride away.
Image credit: Stephen Marks
3. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
The centerpiece of the Mayan Riviera, Playa del Carmen offers a much more relaxed atmosphere than its neighbor to the north, Cancun. Boasting a distinct European flavor, Playa del Carmen is a perfect destination for those on a budget who want to enjoy themselves without breaking the bank. The beach is pristine, hard to beat, and perfect for relaxing and tanning. Beyond the beach, visitors can go on daylong eco-tours through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and enjoy bird watching and snorkeling. While not as wild as Cancun, Playa del Carmen definitely has a great nightlife, especially in January when the world-famous BPM Festival comes into town for a week.
2. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When one thinks legendary beaches, Rio de Janeiro is most certainly one of the first to come to mind. The cultural capital of Brazil, Rio has it all: music, food, drinks, surf, etc. One could go on. Put on some Jobim, sip on a caipirinha, and you will start to get the idea. Carnaval or not, Rio de Janeiro’s beaches are party central. Ipanema, Copacabana, and the Brazilian city’s other beaches are some of the nicest in the world. The vibrant city and incredibly lush, green landscape paired with tiny bikinis, free-flowing cachaça, Brazilian dancing, and the perfect water temperature make Rio one of the world’s legendary beach cities.
Image credit: Mauricio Lima
1. San Blas Islands, Panama
Just off the Caribbean coast of Panama lie the San Blas Islands, a place so peaceful and magical that one almost feels as if you shouldn’t be there. The beaches are perfect, it isn’t crowded, and it’s secluded far from the beaten path.
Primarily accessible by boat, the islands are also home to the Kuna culture, a wonderful example of how an indigenous people can continue to flourish and practice their customs despite a rapidly advancing modern world. While there isn’t much to do as far as tourism, simply setting foot on one of these enchanting and otherworldly islands makes you think: “This is what a beach should be like.”
Image credit: Alex Barth
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