Combine the cultural and historical sights of South American cities with some relaxing time on a beach! Here are our recommendations for the best city and beach combinations on the continent.
Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata
All locals in Argentina’s capital will tell you that Buenos Aires is the finest city in the world. Its mix of faded European grandeur, Latin American culture and fervent zest for life will leave you breathless. Explore the crowded and colourful San Telmo Market, the opulent colonial architecture, modern Puerto Madero’s waterfront charms and the city of the dead in Recoleta Cemetery. Dance the tango, taste the steaks, go to a soccer game. And then chill out in Mar del Plata, Argentina’s classic beach destination, a five-hour drive or train ride away. The Atlantic waves break on beaches packed with bronzing bodies, and sea lions bob and dive offshore. And be prepared to party the night away!
Guayaquil and Puerto Lopez
Tropical Guayaquil is Ecuador’s biggest city and has burst into life in the last few years. It sits on the banks of the Rio Guayas – a big, brown, turbulent monster of a rainforest river. Malecón 2000 is the riverfront focus for parading, eating, drinking and sightseeing. Discover museums, tropical gardens and the city’s most famous monuments. Colonial plazas and nightspots are close by. In contrast, sleepy Puerto Lopez, a three-hour drive to the north, couldn’t be more low-key. This delightful, authentic fishing village and beach resort on the Pacific Ocean is also the base for boat trips to Isla de la Plata – a taster for the wonderful Galapagos.
Cartagena and Playa Blanca
Cartagena is understandably Colombia’s most-visited city. Located on the northern Caribbean coast, it was the first Spanish city in South America and boasts a rich heritage of colonial buildings. The old town is surrounded by a city wall and includes Plaza Trinidad. The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas fort is magnificently intact. Built in the 1600s, it deterred pirates seeking Spanish gold shipping from here to Europe. Just a 45-minute speedboat ride away, Cartagena’s Playa Blanca beach is on pretty Isla Barú, part of an island chain that reaches into the Caribbean. A gently shelving white sand beach meets the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, which are perfect for snorkelling.
Rio de Janeiro and Copacabana
Pair Brazil’s iconic city with its iconic beach! No city compares to the natural beauty of Rio. The Atlantic Ocean flows into Guanabara Bay beneath towering Sugar Loaf mountain. Take the cable car up at sunset for unforgettable views. The nearby statue of Christ the Redeemer, atop the Corcovado mountain, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Time your visit for the famous Carnival or experience the thrill of a soccer match at Maracanã stadium. This destination duo is completed by the unique beach culture of Copacabana only a taxi ride away. The broad crescent of white sand is bordered by the rollers of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the glitzy Avenida Atlantica on the other.
Montevideo and Punta del Este
Uruguay is an often-forgotten gem tucked between Brazil and Argentina – and Montevideo is its capital and crowning glory. The country has enjoyed long-term stability and Montevideo reflects this: it is a safe, sophisticated cultural hot spot with a relaxing vibe. Fronting the Rio de la Plata estuary, Montevideo’s art deco plazas and shady parks punctuate a myriad of markets, museums and palaces. Both the steaks and the tango are the match of Buenos Aires, its near-neighbour upriver. Two hours west, Punta del Este is where the Atlantic meets the Rio de la Plata and where South America’s elite meet each summer. The beaches are full of beautiful people and the clubs are famous for their celebrities.
By Chris Robinson