Beautiful, defiant and intense, Argentina is a natural wonderland, rising up into mighty mountains, plunging down into rolling grasslands, and breaking up at the fringes in a sprawl of headlands and beaches. Everyone knows about the Andes and the Pampas, but Argentina's beaches are largely off the radar.
The country has almost 5000km (3106 miles) of coastline to enjoy, and while it isn’t as well known for its golden sands and warm waters as some other South American countries, there are some special gems here if you know where to look. Here's our pick of the best beaches to seek out while you're in Argentina.
1. Playa Unión, Trelew
The principal seaside playground near Trelew on Argentina's central coast, Playa Unión is a long stretch of white sand with dramatic waves that attract surfers and windsurfers. The beach is backed by summer homes and restaurants serving crisp, fresh rabas (calamari), and the resort has plenty of shops, bars and cafes to enjoy.
This strip of sand is a popular spot for sports such as volleyball and soccer, but be warned that temperatures can exceed 30°C (86°F) in the summer months. Visitors flock to Playa Unión from April to December to spot toninas overas (Commerson’s dolphins), a species of dolphin that is endemic to the coast of Patagonia.
2. Balneario La Florida, Rosario
For a family beach day, Balneario La Florida is Rosario's best beach. Its long strip of sand fronts the Paraná River near the Puente Nuestra Señora del Rosario bridge. There's a bathing area with lifeguards where kids can swim safely, plus beach bars, a mini-market and a restaurant. Younger children will enjoy the play area; teens will appreciate the beach's wi-fi.
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Useful amenities include changing rooms and restrooms (including bathrooms for people with disabilities), and there are picturesque food stands behind the beach selling river fish. Outside of peak season, the beach is unattended, and you can visit for free. There's a parking lot, which is well-served by public transport and has bicycle racks.
Planning tip: Rosario is a handy base for exploring the winding channels and subtropical islands of the Paraná Delta; many local operators run boat trips and rent out kayaks for independent exploring.
3. Playa Arazaty, Corrientes
Some of Argentina's best beaches are on rivers. Flanking the Paraná River just south of the Resistencia bridge, Playa Arazaty is the best river beach at Corrientes in northern Argentina. The sand is fine, there are lifeguards and boat ramps, and it's a popular spot for fishing and jet skiing.
It's a well-kept beach with bathrooms, umbrellas and showers, but visitors are advised not to take a dip until the beach is officially open, as currents can be dangerous. A bit of terraforming is done each season to reduce the risk to swimmers. Those who venture from the beach to the city of Corrientes will find colorful streets, regional indigenous crafts and elegant balconied buildings dating from the turn of the 20th century.
Detour: While you're in Corrientes, consider a detour to the nearby Parque Esteros del Iberá, a wildlife-filled wonderland of wetlands and water channels. Access is from the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, where all sorts of excursions and activities can be arranged.
4. Playa Mar de Ajo, Buenos Aires
Playa Mar de Ajo is located in the seaside town of the same name on the Atlantic coast southeast of Buenos Aires. It's a popular summer tourist destination and a good place for surfing, swimming, kite-surfing and bodysurfing, thanks to the swell caused by wind sweeping in from the South Atlantic.
Originally a 19th-century fishing village, Mar de Ajo is well set up for visitors, with street entertainers, restaurants, gaming arcades and ice cream parlors. Visitors can bring their own umbrellas and chairs to the beach or rent private tents for shelter. To get a flavor of local culture, check out the people playing tejo – a petanque-like game that uses discs rather than balls – on the sand.
5. Playa Bristol, Mar del Plata
A favorite destination for well-heeled Buenos Aires families in the 1900s, sandy Playa Bristol is the most popular beach in the busy resort of Mar del Plata, Argentina's top coastal tourism destination. If you enjoy a beach with plenty of action, this is the place to head – its refreshing Atlantic waters attract thousands of visitors daily during the humid summer high season. It's the perfect place to people-watch.
Located close to the commercial center of the city, just a 10-minute walk from Plaza San Martín, the beach curves around a picturesque bay and has a paved promenade. The area closest to the sea is public, but some other areas are privately owned. Attractions at the beach include playgrounds for children and a plaza containing sculptures and statues.
Planning tip: Don't limit yourself to the sand in Mar del Plata. The town behind the beach is dotted with relics from its golden age, including many grand old mansions along Av Carlos Alvear. Rent a bike to explore from Bicicletería Madrid on Plaza Mitre.
6. Playa Escondida, Mar del Plata
For adventurous beach-goers, there’s Playa Escondida, located 25km (15.5 miles) south of Mar del Plata, which claims to be Argentina’s only legal nude beach. Its name translates to "hidden beach" in Spanish, and it was designated as a nudist beach in 2001, although wearing a swimsuit is permitted too.
This small beach is surrounded by dunes and cliffs, and a great variety of birds and plant species can be found there. Facilities include a parking lot, places to eat, lifeguards, a pool and a beach bar. Massages, loungers, gazebos and umbrellas are available for a fee. Those who visit should follow the beach rules, which include a ban on pets and playing music on the sand.
7. Playa Catritre, San Martín de los Andes
Playa Catritre is a protected rocky beach on the shores of Lago Lácar, about 4km (2.5 miles) from San Martín de los Andes in Argentina's Lake District. It's a scenic spot, and there is an area where children enjoy splashing about, drawing lots of local families. While the beach can be reached by bus, car or bike, many visitors choose to walk from downtown to enjoy the magnificent surrounding landscapes.
The beach has a laid-back restaurant with a nice deck, and there are two camping areas for overnight stops. It's located just outside Parque Nacional Lanín, which is also well worth a visit if you're in San Martín de los Andes.
Planning tip: Bring folding chairs or a thick blanket, as the beach is a mixture of sand and small stones, which can be a bit sharp to sit on.