Image: Mar del Plata, Argentina
David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy
Located about 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar del Plata is crowded in the summer months with those who flee the city and is still a reasonably large town in the off-season — thus, a good mix of beach and urban culture.
updated 2/6/2009 3:57:19 PM ET 2009-02-06T20:57:19

South America’s sexiest beaches are not limited by which hotel you choose to stay at, which island you have access to or which beach club knows your name. If you are looking for exclusivity, this is not your place. However, if you are seeking boiling-hot beach culture, barely there bikinis and staggering scenery, you have come to the right place.

“If you want to come to a beautiful beach to not just sit around, but also to have a lot of fun and to meet beautiful people, then you should come to South America,” says Rio de Janeiro local, surfer and, of course, soccer player Tiago Mello Silva.

Even the most highly regarded and world-famous of South American beaches — Brazil’s Copacabana and Ipanema or Uruguay’s Punta del Este — are part of a broad, welcoming beach lifestyle that feeds off of the energy of the thousands of beachgoers from all walks of life. But what truly makes South American beaches such iconic and sexy places is not just the vibrant beach cultures, but the fact that those characteristics are combined with natural beauty nonpareil.

South America is a land of raw natural splendor and physical extremes. It is widely known that the land is home to the world's longest exposed mountain range, The Andes; the largest river, the Amazon River; and the largest rainforest in the Amazon Basin. Less known is the fact that the Amazon rainforest is in the same continent as the Atacama Desert, the driest desert outside of Antarctica; the low-lying Amazon River is not so far from Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and the formidable Andes range runs near the continent’s seemingly endless coastline. The coastline, most of which falls between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, is brimming with excellent beaches. Only two South American countries, Bolivia and Paraguay, do not have any coast. The waters are relatively warm and swimmable year-round off of every bit of the continent except for the Southern extremes of Chile and Argentina.

These powerful physical characteristics supply the foundation to the sexiness factor of South American beaches and inform the sexiness of the frequently extroverted and vivacious cultures. Brazil has the longest coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, with some 7,491 miles of waterfront real estate. The country’s beaches range from remote spots only accessible by dune buggy to world-renowned hot spots backed by massive cities like Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian scenery and beach culture are perhaps the most famous of the continent and among the most famous in the world. In Brazil, the beach is not just a place to go for recreation or relaxation; it is a way of life and a deep thread embedded in the national culture.

Uruguay is home to Punta del Este, a sandy peninsula that has long attracted an international fan base, from President John F. Kennedy to the swarms of Argentine nationals who seek the warmer waters and sandier coastline on the other side of the River Plate. Buenos Aires native and perennial Punta del Este seasonal visitor Diego Lalo says, “Punta del Este is part Buenos-Aires-sophistication and part sunny-beach-bliss. It is the perfect balance.” Moving farther north up the coast, Colombia and Venezuela both have numerous gorgeous beach destinations and a sexy culture. Many travelers do not intuitively associate these countries with sexy beaches, but that is simply because Colombia and Venezuela have been off the international tourism radar until recently. Ecuador, Peru and Northern Chile are also becoming increasingly popular as beach destinations, surfing destinations and sexy world-class beach spots. Even southerly Argentina — home to much of the storied, yet chilly Patagonia region and Aconcagua, the highest peak in the continent—brings some sensuous beaches to the table.

It should be noted that there are few major topless or nude beaches on the continent. While women, particularly in Brazil, wear tiny bikinis and men often wear Speedos, people tend to like to leave a little bit to the imagination.


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