When it's winter in the northern hemisphere, it´s summer in the southern hemisphere. So what are you waiting for? Ditch the winter woolies, the icy winds and the glum faces, and head off for sun, sea, samba and salsa in South America. We´ve put together our pick of the continent´s top beaches - and, while Rio de Janeiro is present and correct, not ALL of these sunbathing hotspots are in Brazil.
Lopes Mendes is one of the prettiest, most tranquil beaches in Brazil — Photo courtesy of Anderson Mancini
Lopes Mendes - Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil
Lopes Mendes is often cited as the best beach in Brazil, and that´s some achievement when you consider that the coastline of this vast nation is dotted with several thousand of them. Located on the vast nature reserve island that is Ilha Grande, Lopes Mendes is a pristine three kilometer stretch of fine white sand fringed by Atlantic rainforest, and an environmental protection order means that high rise hotels and noisy beach bars are unlikely to shatter the calm any time soon. Access to the beach is by an arduous two-hour trek along a jungle path from the island´s main town of Vila do Abraao, or you can take the easy option and jump on a boat.
Ipanema Beach is where the locals come to socialise — Photo courtesy of Ivanx
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
At the opposite end of the tranquility scale, Ipanema is a fine example of the Brazilian beach as a social hub. Playfully jostling with nearby Copacabana for pole position in the popularity stakes, Ipanema is considered the more chic of the two famous stretches of sand. The beautiful beach is populated by tanned, toned and scantily clad locals who gather here to eat, drink, play sports and generally make merry, and the scene is framed by the towering Dois Irmaos mountains at the far end of the beach.
Parque Nacional Tayrona is a real off-the-beaten-track beach destination — Photo courtesy of ydnammmm
Parque Nacional Tayrona, Santa Marta, Colombia
Colombia is starting to come into its own as a tourist destination, and those who do make the effort to visit this fascinating country will be well rewarded by the beaches of Parque Nacional Tayrona. The park lies close to the town of Santa Marta, on Colombia´s Caribbean Coast (the fact that Colombia even HAS a Caribbean coast is news to many people) and can be reached by boat or coach. Simple beachfront campsites offer accommodation, and the clear waters are flanked by thick jungle - keep an eye out for colorful birdlife (and insects), and also for the Kogi Indians - distinctive in their white robes and gowns - who continue to live in the jungle.
Baia dos Porcos is a wonderful place for snorkelling and diving — Photo courtesy of Almir de Freitas
Baia dos Porcos, Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil
A volcanic archipelago located some 250 miles from Brazil´s northeastern coast, Fernando de Noranha is a top spot for swimming, scuba-diving, and dolphin spotting. The beauty of the natural landscape at spots such as Baia dos Porcos (Pig´s Bay) will take your breathaway - so calm that racing heart with a tangy caipirinha from a makeshift beach bar. Tourist numbers here are limited, so there is always plenty of elbow room on the beach.
Boipeba is the ultimate place to relax and unwind — Photo courtesy of Miradas.com.br
Boipeba, Bahia, Brazil
This tiny island in Brazil´s arid northeast is the ultimate place to relax. A far cry from the endless samba beats and gryating bodies that are syonymous with Bahian party hotspots such as Morro do Sao Paulo, here is tranquilty itself. Serene beaches, chirruping birds and cicadas, and very little else. Bliss. Access is by ferry from Morro de Sao Paulo.