In our experience, most people looking for a beach holiday in Latin America are drawn to the region not just for its outstanding Caribbean islands and golden, palm-studded coastline, but also for the culture, natural beauty and sense of adventure that accompanies them.
If you want a relaxing holiday with added wow factor, look no further: add that magic ingredient to your beach break with one of our favourite beach holiday combinations.
Best for a beach & city break: Rio and the Emerald Coast Cariocas say that "on the eighth day, God created Rio," and indeed the city’s remarkably picturesque setting does seem to have more than a touch of the divine about it. One of the highlights is simply admiring the views from vantage points such as the Christ the Redeemer statue, but you’ll find that the beaches are just as impressive up close as they are from a distance.
A stay in Rio passes like an exotic daydream of Sugar Loaf sunsets, atmospheric samba bars and refreshing green coconuts, but once you’ve left the city the dazzling delights continue on the aptly named Costa Verde, or Emerald Coast. Choose from rainforest-swathed treasure island Ilha Grande, pretty, sleepy Paratí or hedonistic Búzios, or visit all three on a heavenly coastal journey.
You might also like: Buenos Aires and Punta del Este
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most seductive cities, Buenos Aires lacks beaches but enjoys easy access to Uruguay with its fashionable resort town of Punta del Este.
Best for beach & ruins: Mexico's Mayan Riviera Liberally scattered with the lost cities of the Mayan empire, Mexico's Yucatán peninsula is the perfect destination in which to see iconic world wonders in the knowledge that you are never far from a Caribbean beach. Discover the clifftop ruins of Tulum and the enormous temples and pyramids of Chichén Itzá or venture to more remote sites that have been reclaimed from the jungle, such as Palenque and Calakmul. After these exhilarating experiences, the truly stunning beaches of the Mayan Riviera will be all the more welcome a treat.
You might also like: Honduras Copán provides one of the most important surviving records of the Mayan world, while the island of Roatán is a Caribbean dream.
Best for beach & local culture: Guatemala & Belize
Diminutive Belize, proving that often the best things come in small packages, is the perfect Caribbean foil to colourful, cultural Guatemala. The short distances mean that you can combine a vibrant whirlwind of Guatemalan sights – from extraordinary local markets to volcano-encircled lakeside villages to Mayan ruins – with relaxation on the cayes and beaches of Belize, and an altogether different cultural accent. The easygoing way of life in this English-speaking country is classically Caribbean.
You might also like: Cuba
Cuba is as intoxicating as it is fascinating. With incredible Caribbean beaches a stone's throw from wildly atmospheric cities, you will be bowled over by the rich outpourings of Cuba's lively, musical culture.
Best for beach & wildlife: The Galápagos Islands The natural wonderland of the Galápagos is also an unexpected haven for beach lovers, with miles of deserted coastline and the novel touch of being joined by sea lions and turtles as you swim. The wildlife here evolved without major predators and consequently has no fear of man, so you will be able to get up close to the exotic fauna wherever you go – making for some incredible photo opportunities. As you'll have to fly from Ecuador you may like to explore the wild Pacific beaches of the mainland, or for a Caribbean contrast why not fly the relatively short distance to Panama.
You might also like: Costa Rica
With both Pacific and Caribbean beaches, and a plethora of national parks home to exceptional biodiversity, Costa Rica offers wildlife-spotting and seaside relaxation in one uncomplicated package.
Best for beach & natural wonders: Venezuela Angel Falls, Venezuela
Take one palm-shaded coastline with a smattering of sun-drenched Caribbean islands, add a Lost World landscape in which the planet's tallest waterfall thunders from the misty summit of one of many table mountains, then subtract the tourists: you have Venezuela. This is an off-the-beaten-track country with the natural majesty to rival far better-known destinations. Combine visiting Angel Falls by canoe or light aircraft with the sheer bliss of a stay in the archipelago of Los Roques to take full advantage of its unspoilt delights.
You might also like: Iguazú Falls and the south of Brazil
A more accessible option with equal wow factor is to pair the awe-inspiring Iguazú Falls with one or more of southern Brazil's choice beach destinations, such as Florianópolis or the Emerald Coast.
Best for beach & adventure: Costa Rica & Panama
Costa Rica is an adrenaline junkie's playground, with opportunities aplenty to catapult yourself through the jungle on a canopy zip wire, battle rapids on a white-water rafting expedition or even trek up a volcano – all before recharging your batteries on a Pacific or Caribbean beach. Venture across the border to Panama for stunning Caribbean islands such as Bocas del Toro and San Blas with its autonomous population of Kuna Indians.
You might also like: Colombia Adventurous travellers dream of places like Colombia – a spectacularly beautiful and diverse country where the idyllic beaches of Tayrona, hidden in jungle, make for the perfect Caribbean retreat.