South America has more than 144,000 miles of coastline, so you can really take your pick. Start with these.
Saquarema is Brazil’s beach sports hub, a quiet town molded around a lagoon that drains into the South Atlantic about 60 miles east of Rio de Janeiro. It’s home to the Brazilian national volleyball team and training center, and is a magnet for surfers from around the world, who come for the consistently towering waves that batter Itauna Beach. What Saquarema lacks in nightlife it makes up with action in and along the water.
Stay: The quirky Maasai Hotel & Beach Resort, decorated with African art and furniture, sits on the edge of the sand and is the hotel of choice of many top surfers.
The rocky, moon-like desert landscape of Chicama in northwest Peru keeps the tourists largely away, and its isolated location on Peru’s northwest coast is too remote for all but the hardiest of surfing pilgrims. If you can make it out there, you’ll have the planet’s longest left-hand wave, which stretches nearly two miles, nearly to yourself.
Stay: The Hostal el Hombre ($10 per night) is the surfer’s hangout.
Located near the Peruvian border, bustling Arica is Chile’s northernmost city. The mild, dry weather and nearly 15 miles of beach lure vacationers from throughout South America. Its tall, powerful walls of water—named El Buey and El Gringo—which barrel toward the barrier island Isla del Alcran, bring surfers from around the world. El Buey, which breaks several hundred yards from shore, can rise to heights of 25 feet. The spectacular and more dangerous El Gringo splashes onto the beach.
Stay: The modest Arica Surfhouse hostel, despite its location in the town center, is the most popular surfer’s home away from home. Private rooms go for $21 a night.