With the weather on the wrong side of brisk, it’s the perfect time to escape to South America’s lesser-known beaches. From tropical Brazil to leisurely-paced Uruguay, find sunshine, sand and plenty of much-needed space.
Argentina: Pinamar and Cariló
Forget the kiss-me-quick city Mar del Plata and its faded glory days, and head to Pinamar and Cariló – two glamorous yet low-key small resorts on the Atlantic coast, 340km (211 miles) south of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. Luxurious homes exist harmoniously within the 90-year-old pine forest, and these two towns, with Mar de Ostende and Valeria del Mar nestling between them, spring to life in the summer months with local tourists filling hotel rooms and renting out private homes.
Kite surfing and beach parties
Pinamar, the larger of the pair, is home to dozens of beach clubs dotted along 8km (5 miles) of dunes, allowing you to claim plenty of grain space. Kite surfing has taken off in the past few years but you can also try your hand at sand boarding, surfing, horse riding and deep sea fishing, or even rent a 4×4 and head north to tackle the dunes yourself. Although temperatures cool in the evenings, after-beach parties around a crackling campfire are de rigueur.
Sand dunes and spas
Cariló (which means ‘green sand dune’ in the Indian Mapuche language) meanwhile, boasts 300m- (984ft-) wide dunes (which Francis Ford Coppola used as a setting for The Hamptons in 2009 film Tetro) and hotels with fabulous spa facilities. The emphasis is on couples and families being pampered to the max, then heading off to their Italian Riviera-style beach tent to while away the sunny hours in the 30-degree heat, cool cocktail in one hand, magazine in the other.
Uruguay: Punta del Diablo
It’s worth dropping into the ritzy Punta del Este for a 24-hour Eurotrash explosion, if only to say you’ve seen the thoroughly ostentatious display of enormous yachts, surgically enhanced bodies and large twinkling jewels. But, for rest and relaxation, head for the lazy fishing village of Punta del Diablo – 298km (185 miles) from Uruguay’s capital city Montevideo – a beachside spot so laidback, that it’s practically buried in the sand.
Peace and quiet
Punta del Diablo prides itself on not having any hotels – lodgings are simple two or three-roomed cabins – and just nine restaurants and bars open their doors; be sure to tuck into a super-fresh shark steak caught from the local waters. Sun worshippers and surfers mingle on the main beach, which sweeps along in front of the town centre, but venturing north or south will guarantee extra seclusion. While a stay in Punta del Diablo is one of meandering coastal walks coupled with lashings of peace and quiet, more and more cabañas are springing up, meaning its off-the-beaten-track days are numbered, albeit at an unhurried Uruguayan pace.
While Copacabana is an obvious Brazilian hotspot, the hill-top town of Trancoso in the southern part of Bahia state is a beachside beauty which has so far avoided the jostling crowds and tacky tourist attractions of the country’s more publicised coastal strips. This tropical destination is surrounded by cocoa tree plantations; vegetation lines the coast, and the clear, warm waters and small waves lapping at the feet of this fishing town are perfect for swimming and snorkelling (though a less than ideal spot for surfers) and the pristine white beach is a regular spot for yoga and meditation.
Hammocks and chocolate
Although there are some boutique hotels offering holistic treatments, the genuine Trancoso vibe is about pitching up a hammock (buy one on the beach), and soaking up this town’s relaxed spirit while gently rocking yourself off for a snooze. For trinkets and handmade gifts, head to main square Quadrado Historico, but do look out for ‘Peixe Frito’ or ‘Fried Fish’, a friendly chocolate seller called Lincoln who can be found plying his delicious, locally made wares on the beach. Trancoso provides an excellent base from which to explore other places such as Praia do Espelho, considered the most beautiful beach in Bahia; Caraíva, a native Indian village hidden in a nature reserve, and only accessible by canoe; or Itacaré for those in need of a surf fix.
Chile: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
From fishing coves to the crazy cable cars whisking you up the steeply inclined 100m (328ft) hill to reach town, Valparaíso blends quaint painted houses with its busy fishing port, as well as narrow passages and European mansions. Hills provide a pretty backdrop to the cobbled alleyways and sandy architecture of this attractive town – a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003 – and the harbour is a lovely bird watching spot.
Powerful surf and pristine parks
North of Valparaíso, Viña del Mar is a true Pacific beach experience: the waters are cool and the surf powerful enough to often warrant a red flag, so let loose your inner child, and splash around in the shallows before returning to the tufty dense sands which resemble static curling waves. Known as the Garden City, Viña del Mar is located 120km (75 miles) west of capital city Santiago, and boasts villas, three castles, pristine parks and hosts the International Song Festival every February. For more basking in the sun and frolicking in the sand, wind you way back down the coast to secluded Reñaca, an hour south of Viña del Mar, where you can certainly claim the beach as your own for the day.
Insider tip: Although January and February indicate high season across the region, prices do drop substantially in November and March, as do visitor numbers, guaranteeing more sand for your pound.