Best time to visit South America
Picture the scene. There are scorching deserts and icy glaciers, dense jungles and vast salt flats, bustling cities and tropical white-sand beaches. No, it’s not a children’s storybook, but a real-life continent. And there's only one continent in the world that is home to so much diverse natural beauty. It is, of course, South America.
Why would one choose to visit such a paradoxical place, you may ask? Perhaps you’re keen to hike across the sublime Patagonian glaciers or trek through the steamy Amazonian rainforest. Or maybe you’re looking to explore the fascinating history of the Incan ruins or get a glimpse of the amazing sea life of the Galápagos Islands. Whatever is top of your bucket list, it’s clear to see why South America is a dream location for adventure lovers.
But with so much diversity, comes drastic weather changes from season to season and country to country. Take July for example, seemingly an ideal month to visit the coasts of Colombia’s Cartagena where temperatures are a baking 30-35 degrees celsius, over at the Southern tip of Argentina in Tierra del Fuego, temperatures are below freezing and blizzards can make travel pretty much impossible. So knowing the best time to visit South America can be a little tricky to pin down.
Are you planning a trip but you’re unsure of an itinerary? Our team of explorers here at good trip have pulled together their top tips on choosing the best time to visit the land of llamas, lagoons and inca-redible landscapes…
The first thing to consider when planning a holiday to this continent are the seasons. Unlike other countries, there are only two seasons in South America: winter and summer. And because the continent is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, the winter season falls between roughly June and August, and the summer season runs between November and February. The summer season is also sometimes referred to as the ‘wet season,’ but the heaviest downfalls occur between January and March.
Generally, most seasoned backpackers say that the best time of year to go to South America is between September and November. This is because the majority of countries have spring-like temperatures, with longer days for exploring, and less chance of regular drizzle, as it’s just before the rainy season.
Nevertheless, given South America’s vast 17.84 million km² land, its varying altitudes and of course, the fast-changing weather, we can guarantee that there will always be somewhere that has the perfect weather conditions for your trip - no matter what time of year.
Top tip: The closer to the Equator a country is (such as Ecuador), the more tropical the climate, and more likely to remain consistent all-year round.
Summer: November - February
South America’s summer months fall roughly between November and February, where most of the continent experiences hotter temperatures and blue skies, (with the occasional tropical downpour). It’s worth noting that the jungle areas become very hot and sticky thanks to a rise in humidity, and there’s still of course the high-altitude regions which remain pretty chilly year-round.
The end of the summer season is also considered South America’s wet season, with many of the countries experiencing vast amounts of consistent rainfall between January and March, particularly those dominated by the Amazonian rainforest such as Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.
All things considered, South America’s summer weather can throw a lot of curveballs to its habitants, so packing for every occasion is highly recommended. So where in South America is best to visit during the summer months? Our advice would be…
Best places to go and things to do in the summer:
- ‘Snow place like it - If Patagonia is top of your list, then the summer months are your best chance for a smooth sailing trip. Admire the incredible glaciers and lakes of the UNESCO World Heritage Los Glaciares National Park, and for the real adventurers, why not venture all the way to “the end of the world,” the city of Ushuaia
- Mirror, mirror - Traveling to Bolivia in the wet season has one huge advantage above the rest: the dreamlike Salar De Uyuni (Salt Flats) after rainfall transforms into the world’s biggest mirror
- Rumble in the jungle - get close to nature and explore one of Ecuador’s twelve cloud forests on a jungle tour with like-minded explorers. Plus, in the rainy season, you can experience the rainforest from a whole new level - via boat!
- Party time! The world’s biggest and most famous party occurs in February; Brazil’s legendary Rio De Janeiro Carnival. Head to the streets to watch the dancers and soak up the carnival atmosphere - you won’t be able to stand still for long!
- Are you a sunworshipper? Colombia’s paradisiacal beaches are thriving in the summer months. Check out Cartagena or Santa Marta for crystal clear waters and powder-soft sand. Or if you’re up for a little adventure, why not hike to Tayrona National Park and spend a night sleeping in a hammock on the beach - don’t forget to pack your sunnies and swimsuit!
- A day trip to remember - If you’re a wildlife lover, then a trip to the Galápagos Islands is the number one destination to spot rare and wonderful sea life, from seals and tortoises, to iguanas and parrots
Winter: June - August
Visit South America between June and August and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the continent’s winter season. Though don’t be fooled by the word, because ‘winter’ in South America can still see balmy temperatures of 20-30 degrees celsius, and there’s typically less rainfall than summertime.
Of course, due to the varying altitudes, the winter months can also bring freezing temperatures and blizzards in some regions (so don’t forget your favourite beanie!) - particular in Southern Argentina, where heavy snowfall often completely shuts down travel possibilities.
So where in South America is best to visit during the winter months? We’ve popped our top suggestions below…
Best places to go and things to do in the winter:
- Peru-se an ancient city - It wouldn’t be a trip to Peru, or South America that is, without undertaking a visit to the “Lost City of the Incas.” There are many different tours that you can take to get to the ancient archeological site of Machu Picchu; from days of trekking, to trains, mountain biking, zip lines and white water rafter - and everything in between
- Hitch a hike? Chile’s Atacama Desert offers out-of-this-world landscapes of sand dunes, canyons, rock formations and staggering mountains
- What-er view! Straddling both Brazil and Argentina is the magnificent Iguazu Falls, known for its impressive water force and beautiful rainbow impressions - waterproofs are highly recommended!
- Call yourself an adrenaline junkie? Bolivia is home to what’s considered the most dangerous road in the world, aptly named ‘Death Road.’ Take a drive or cycle down this thrill seekers playground, if you dare…
- Set sail on the highest lake in the world - Lake Titicaca is an essential stop off when visiting Bolivia. We recommend cruising from Copacabana to the sacred island of Isla del Sol (the Sun Island), where the Incans believed the sun was first born
- Taste the rainbow - Have you ever seen a rock formation with 7 different colours? No? Well then, a hike up to Cusco’s Rainbow Mountain in Peru is a not-to-be-missed stop off on any tour to South America
- Surf’s up - If you’re a thrill seeker, sandboarding in Peru’s Huacachina might be just the ticket. This desert oasis in southwestern Peru, near Ica, offers epic sand dunes, a magical lagoon and a great nightlife
We’d also recommend taking into account other changing factors such as peak tourist seasons (making flights, accommodation and tours more expensive), the varying altitudes (think about how high you’re willing to go), the mosquitos, and of course, which activities and hot spots you don’t want to miss out on.
So whether you’re an adventurer looking to hike to the very top of Machu Picchu with your friends, or you just want to kick back on the Caribbean coast with your other half, there’s something for everyone on this varied continent. And if you ask us, there really is no single best time of year to visit South America, just different things to do and see. All that’s left to do now is to plan your itinerary, book those flights and pack your bags.
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