Life’s a beach

EX­PLOR­ING SOUTH AMER­ICA’ S BEST STRIPS OF SAND

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Features - by RICHARD VARR

WHEN ONE THINKS OF SOUTH AMER­ICA’S beaches,the im­age is of­ten as sexy and sul­try as Rio de Janeiro’s sun-soaked coast­line. The clas­sic bossa nova tune “The Girl from Ipanema” might evoke scenes of the young and beau­ti­ful sport­ing skimpy thong bathing suits and Speedo swimwear, sun­ning them­selves along one of the most pop­u­lar strips of white sand in the world. Brazil’s 4,650 miles of coast­line and trop­i­cal weather af­fords it some of South Amer­ica’s best beaches com­plete with moun­tain­ous views and blue-green seas. Yet from the con­ti­nent’s re­main­ing 11,000 or so coastal miles stem a seem­ingly end­less ar­ray of beaches — from the warm Caribbean wa­ters of Carta­gena to the glacier-fed fjords of Patag­o­nia — many within easy reach of cruise ship ports. Some beaches nes­tle within pro­tected coves while oth­ers face pound­ing At­lantic and Pa­cific surf. The wealthy of­ten flock to re­sort ar­eas in Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile, for ex­am­ple, while only ele­phant seals and pen­guins take to the un­pre­dictable cur­rents around Cape Horn. There are river­bank beaches and those seem­ingly un­touched on off­shore is­lands. With so many choices, de­cid­ing on your fa­vorite beach par­adise may not be easy, but book­ing a South Amer­ica cruise is cer­tainly a good way to be­gin. Here are some sea­side high­lights that await.

Brazil THE ONCE BO­HEMIAN IPANEMA BEACH IS WITHIN ONE OF RIO’S

most de­sired neigh­bor­hoods of trendy bou­tiques and ex­pen­sive restau­rants. Deeply tanned lo­cals slap vol­ley­balls, play soc­cer, and wake­board, usu­ally near their fa­vorite beach­side wa­ter­ing holes. The cres­cent-shaped Copaca­bana Beach, mean­while, caters to an older and richer crowd. Its stun­ning turquoise wa­ters and, on a busy day, mul­ti­col­ored um­brel­las popped open make for a spec­tac­u­lar sight.

Other Brazil­ian beaches in­clude the Praia Boa Vi­agem in Re­cife, the large city of­ten called the “Venice of Brazil” be­cause of its crisscross of canals. Beach­go­ers flock to Boa Vi­agem’s white sand, but stay out of the wa­ter ex­cept in pro­tected ar­eas be­cause of shark at­tacks.

Deep in the Ama­zon at San­tarém, more than 60 miles of fresh­wa­ter white-sand beaches — noted as the “Caribbean in Brazil” — string along the Ta­pa­jós River where it merges with the Ama­zon River. City beaches in For­taleza, one of the coun­try’s largest cities, span about 15 miles; Fu­turo Beach is the most well known.

Some beaches nes­tle within pro­tected coves while oth­ers face pound­ing At­lantic and Pa­cific surf.

Colom­bia BEACHES ARE NOT HIGH

on the list for many cruis­ers vis­it­ing Carta­gena, Colom­bia, as they in­stead opt to spend their time ashore walk­ing cob­bled streets and ex­plor­ing the walled Old Town and colo­nial build­ings. Main­land beaches are not pris­tine, but those on the Rosario Is­lands and Playa Blanca on Barú Is­land are a world away — think white sand and aqua­ma­rine wa­ter — but are just 45- and 15-minute boat rides re­spec­tively from Carta­gena.

Ecuador

FAR FROM THE CROWDS, Ecuador’s Playa Los Frailes sits about 60 miles from port of call Manta. Se­cluded, cres­cent-shaped, and brim­ming with white sand, it’s touted as one of the coun­try’s most beau­ti­ful beaches. As part of Machalilla Na­tional Park, the cove- pro­tected Los Frailes is great for snor­kel­ing and wa­ter sports.

Uruguay

OF­TEN RE­FERRED TO AS THE “Uruguayan Riviera” or “Hamp­tons of South Amer­ica,” Punta del Este is one of South Amer­ica’s most glit­tery sum­mer re­sort ar­eas. Some 250 miles east of Buenos Aires, it’s where flashy Ar­gen­tines and celebri­ties flock for the vi­brant nightlife. High sea­son brings no short­age of yachts and plea­sure boats — yet more com­par­isons to Monaco and St. Tropez.

Jut­ting out on the south­ern­most tip of Uruguay, the port city of Punta del Este nar­rows to a point and is tipped by its fa­mous light­house of the same name. On the east­side of the point, rough­surf Playa Brava stretches sev­eral miles op­po­site high-rises, fine restau­rants, gal­leries, and bou­tiques along busy boule­vards. The gen­tler waves of Playa Mansa rip­ple along a more shel­tered western cove. Nearby Playas Bikini and La Barra at­tract the party crowd, while Las Deli­cias and Pinares beaches are qui­eter, to name just a few.

Peru WHILE LIMA’S BEACHES ARE

grav­elly in spots and of­ten crowded in hot months, Peru’s north­ern beaches are places to go be­cause of year-round warm ocean cur­rents. Well-to- do crowds, young peo­ple, and surfers flock to the trendy beach town of Mán­cora, of­ten called the “Hawaii of Peru.” Nearby Punta Sal and Vichay­ito beaches of­fer sim­i­lar white sands and surf.

Patag­o­nia THE CON­TI­NENT’S SOUTH­ERN

shores yield to dif­fer­ent flocks of swim­mers. Not far from the Chilean port of Punta Are­nas, thou­sands of Mag­el­lanic pen­guins rule the sandy shore­line along Ot­way Bay. Along the grav­elly beaches of the glacier-fed Bea­gle Chan­nel, slum­ber­ing ele­phant seals grunt and snort while try­ing to feel some warmth from the Patag­o­nian sun.

Shore ex­cur­sions from Ushuaia, Ar­gentina — the world’s south­ern­most city — ex­plore Tierra del Fuego Na­tional Park where black-headed cor­morants nest along ocean-side rocky ledges, and where black-browed al­ba­tross soar along cold ocean winds.

Chile

STRETCH­ING 2,600 MILES ALONG the Pa­cific coast, Chile has sev­eral spots to test the wa­ters. While the colder south­ern coast­line is dot­ted with scenic fjords, the warmer north­ern shores are ideal for swim­ming. A light­house fronts the beach at La Ser­ena, one of Chile’s big­gest coastal re­sort ar­eas at port of call Co­quimbo. The white sands of Bahía In­glesa (English Bay) are near the Ata­cama Desert re­gion. At Val­paraíso, the up­scale beach at Viña del Mar is one of Chile’s most pop­u­lar with a busy board­walk.

You’ll find Car­ni­val dancers, sports en­thu­si­asts, and sun­bathing beau­ties along the shores of Brazil’s Copaca­bana (op­po­site page top), Ipanema (op­po­site page bot­tom), and other beaches.

Left: A rain­bow over Playa Blanca in Colom­bia; This page: A fa­mous light­house and La Mano, a sym­bolic hand sculp­ture grace the beaches of Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Surf­ing in Mán­cora, Peru; the bustling beach of Viña del Mar in Chile (be­low); and beach-bound pen­guins of Patag­o­nia make South Amer­ica’s beaches unique.

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