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MEX _ Tulum Ruins over Caribbean _ shutterstock_ FREE

“There’s so much I love about Latin America, but for me the beaches are the icing on the cake. I was hooked as soon as I discovered the Caribbean coast, with its eye-popping turquoise seas and palm-shaded bays, and after spending a year in Brazil and Mexico as a student it’s really no wonder I’ve ended up as an incurable beach bum! Here are my favourite places to escape to if, like me, this time of the year sets your mind wandering to distant and sunny shores.”
Julia Ross, Ex JLA staff

1. Anakena Beach, Easter Island

Easter Island

The only sandy spot on Easter Island, Anakena makes up in quality for what the island’s coastline lacks in the quantity of its beaches. Unlike much of the rest of the remote island, it has a true Polynesian feel that brings to mind Hawaii or Fiji, and knowing that there’s nothing out to sea for thousands of kilometres makes swimming here a profound and affecting experience. And it has one other feature to offer with which other beaches cannot compete: soaking up the sun beside you are haunting and mysterious stone statues, the moai built by an ancient civilisation for a still unknown purpose.

2. Los Roques, Venezuela

Los Roques

Do not adjust your monitor! The near-white sands and outlandishly aquamarine seas of this Venezuelan archipelago are the real deal. Situated just 40 minutes by air from capital Caracas, the more than 300 islands and cayes that make up the national park are about as close to paradise as I’ve ever managed to get.

Only one of the islands, Gran Roque, is populated, and trips can be made from here out to most of the cayes where you’ll be left to your own devices, desert island style, until the boat returns to pick you up. While there’s (blissfully) almost nothing to do on land but sunbathe, beneath the crystalline ocean lies a pristine stretch of coral reef that’s teeming with life. You don’t need anything more than a snorkel to get right in amongst the action: join the shoals of rainbow-coloured parrotfish or shimmering barracuda and you’ll feel like a miscast extra in Finding Nemo.

3. Tayrona, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park, nestled amongst tropical forest on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is a true hidden gem. To uncover its treasures you have to take a bus to the park entrance and walk the last kilometre or two along a scenic jungle path before emerging, somewhat dazed, onto the most remarkable beach. Further walks take you to dozens of other bays, and from one of them it is even possible to hike up an ancient stairway through the forest to a fascinating archaeological site (a mini version of the better-known Ciudad Perdida or ‘Lost City’). At night you can stay in a basic hut or just hire a hammock for the night and sleep under star-studded skies – the perfect way to get away from it all.

4. Trancoso, Brazil

Brazil is my favourite country, and choosing between its gorgeous beaches is no easy task. Part of the pleasure is beach-hopping across the country and finding your own favourites from an unending chain of chilled-out beach towns, each with their own distinctive character. Trancoso’s is decidedly chic and boutique – I remember it being upmarket when I was there a few years ago and I’ve heard it’s much more so now. However the top-notch accommodation, gourmet food and celebrity following will surely not have taken away from the laidback vibe of this former fishing village in the south of Bahia, with its whitewashed church on the green and its long, idyllic bay. I could have stayed forever.

5. Tulum, Mexico

Uxmal

I’d seen versions of this image many times before visiting Tulum, but thanks to some presumably patient photographers I had never realised that you can actually swim and sunbathe right in the foreground of this iconic view. But it’s true: after wandering through the Mayan archaeological site that sprawls over the clifftop, you can climb down to the beach and admire the ruins from the waves of the improbably perfect Caribbean sea.

While this is the most spectacular sight in the vicinity, the beach town of Tulum, a short walk from the ruins, is a great place to base yourself for a few days and has an equally ludicrous beach – it’s heaven! Even better is hiring a bike and exploring the nearby Sian Ka’an ecological reserve with its hidden cenotes (sacred sinkholes) and practically deserted bays. When I was there with friends, it was a disappointment if we had to share our personal slice of Caribbean paradise with a single other tourist.

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