South America is a super popular gap year destination – with a temperate climate, tons of fun outdoor adventures, affordable prices, and many rich local cultures, it’s got everything you could want! Events like Carnival in Brazil, activities like trekking the Amazon, and sites like Machu Picchu get all the hype. But there are lots of beautiful beaches in the continent as well, which don’t get as much publicity. Head to the coast for the chance to soak in the sun, surf, socialize, or just relax.
These 4 beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in South America.
Punta Tombo (Argentina)
This remote peninsula in southern Argentina is the perfect destination for nature lovers. If you’re spending your gap year in Argentina, prepare yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: every fall, over one million Magellanic Penguins return to this beach for the mating season. This small penguin is only found in South America, and you’ll see hundreds of nests and hatching chicks – certainly an Instagram-worthy scene! Settle down on the beach for the afternoon and simply watch the little guys that surround you. If you’re lucky, one might even get close enough to touch! Once you’ve “oohed, aahed,” and marveled at this natural wonder, turn your attention to the water – Punta Tombo is also a great place to spot whales, orcas, and elephant seals.
If you get tired of roughing it in the wild and are looking for a little luxury and a lot of relaxation, head to the beach town of Mancora. It’s always summer on this stretch of sand, which gets lots of sun almost every day of the year. This secluded spot offers pristine beaches, turquoise water, and lots of palm trees. Two strong ocean currents meet in Mancora, making it a great destination for surfers. If you’re on a gap year, need a little break, and like to pamper yourself, spend a night at one of the town’s upscale resorts, where you can treat yourself to a gourmet meal, massage, and evening in the jacuzzi. For a bit of adventure, head out on the town – although small, Mancora is brimming with restaurants and nightclubs and comes alive at night.
This urban beach in downtown Rio de Janeiro is beautiful for its crowds and culture. Although the beach features expanses of sand and great surf, its real attractions are the vibrant community and cultural opportunities. During your gap year in Brazil, head to Ipanema any day of the week and you’ll find crowds of Brazilians sunbathing, surfing, and playing beach volleyball. If you’re feeling a little lonely after weeks of solo travel, Ipanema is the perfect place to socialize and make new friends! Once you tire of the sun, head into the surrounding neighborhood to shop at the fun boutiques and enjoy some Brazilian barbeque. If you’re in town on a Sunday, visit the Ipanema Hippie Fair – this street market, which originated in the 1960s, is the perfect spot to admire local arts and crafts and pick up a few souvenirs.
Cabo Polonio (Uruguay)
If you’re not too tired from hiking to Machu Picchu or surfing in Brazil, head to Cabo Polonio, an isolated village on the coast of Uruguay. Inaccessible by car, you’ll have to make the 6 kilometer trek to this spot on foot or by horseback. Trust us, it’s worth it! A national park, Cabo Polonio is home to sea lions, seals, sea turtles, and a small forest of enormous, umbrella-like evergreen trees. If you’re staying for a few days, rent one of the small beach cottages nestled in the sand dunes. This is the perfect spot to hang out with the locals and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of the village. Go for a dip in the Atlantic before making the hike back out to the real world.
These South American beaches each offer a stunning vista that will certainly captivate you. With so much to offer – including incredible nature, exhilarating outdoor activities, and unique culture – each of these beaches will enrich your gap year in South America.
Hannah is bound for France on a study abroad adventure this fall! Until then, she is enjoying reading stories from abroad while working at Go Overseas and being the office all-star baker.