When the temperature in Canada drops well below freezing and the snow drifts start to pile up around the house, it’s hard not to daydream about lounging in the sun on a faraway South American beach with a fruity cocktail in hand. If you’ve got the vacation time, there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the seemingly endless winter behind and jetting off to South America.

The instant you step off the plane and the wave of heat hits you, you’ll want to run for the nearest beach and bury your toes in the sand. The real question is: Which one do you choose? Here are some top picks for beaches in South America that will make you forget the ice at home:

You Can Be the Girl (or Guy) From Ipanema Beach

Yes, that song famously covered by Frank Sinatra was written about this beach in Rio de Janeiro. What genre could better convey the seductive beauty of Ipanema than bossa nova? It’s become a popular location for supermodel photo shoots, as everyone looks stunning against the backdrop of this Brazilian paradise.

This is definitely a sand beach rather than a water beach, due to strong currents and rough surf, so if you’re hoping to spend the afternoon playing mermaid in the ocean, this is not the beach for you. If, however, your idea of nirvana is lying on a beach reading or listening to music while getting a great tan, this is as close to heaven as you can get.

Average winter temperatures: 30 Celsius

M-M-M-My Tayrona

A place that will really get you humming is Tayrona National Park in Colombia. Prepare to sing the praises of each of the many beaches around the park.

If you want the cream of the crop, check out the beaches of Arrecifes and La Piscina. Like Ipanema, the water near Arrecifes is too rough to be great for swimming, but the scenery is astonishingly beautiful, and it’s all too easy to fill your entire digital camera with shots of the lush jungle behind you. Take a short hike to the north, and you’ll arrive at La Piscina, a quiet, serene beach where you can swim and splash to your heart’s content.

Average winter temperatures: 27 Celsius

Live and Let Dive

Lazing around in warm ocean waters is all well and good, but what if you want a little more oomph to your week in the sun? Travel to Carayaca, Venezuela, and head to the beach at Chichiriviche De La Costa, one of the best spots in the entire country for snorkelling and scuba diving. Rent the equipment you need right on the coast, and spend every day submerged just beneath the water–or take advantage of special guided trips like deep dives and night dives. With elegant beach homes available for rent, you can find the perfect balance between leisurely enjoying the sun on your patio and adventurously diving in to explore the ocean life around you — pun definitely intended!

Average winter temperatures: 26 Celsius

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini… Beach

Ask anyone what their dream beach vacation looks like, and it’ll probably include an extremely handsome or beautiful island stranger — perhaps one bearing a resemblance to Channing Tatum or Megan Fox. You may not be able to snag a date with either one of these celebrities, but you can almost definitely score some celebrity sightings at Bikini Beach in La Barra, Uruguay.

January is the high season, so you may have to fight for a spot on this popular beach. However, once you do, count the many celebrities you see walking by. From models to movie stars to reality TV personalities, you’ve got a decent chance of catching a glimpse of someone you recognise. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get an autograph or a selfie together! Rock out with the rock stars on this soft beach.

Average winter temperatures: 24 Celsius

As you pack up your beach towels and admire your glowing new tan, you’ll happily remember that you’re one week closer to summer back home. And thanks to that much-needed trip south, you can happily hold on to those South American memories until the sun finally peeks its head through the winter clouds.

Which beach spot is your personal favourite?