Updated June 2019
It sounds like a simple enough question but “When is the best time to travel to South America?” is actually one of the most debatable topics in travel circles. The answer(s) depend on a huge number of factors.
First of all, there are a few things to consider when it comes to THAT ALL-ELUSIVE ‘PERFECT’ travel time:
- Brazil alone is almost as big as Australia or the continental USA. And that’s just one of 12 countries
- The peak of tourist season, therefore, depends on where you go: for Patagonia – like Antarctica – it’s November to March, whilst in the central Andes of Peru and Bolivia, it’s June to August.
- There are innumerable climates and even micro-climates all over the continent and every season offers unique experiences. Even in winter, Patagonia can be immensely rewarding
- The altitude of your destination will determine the temperature whilst the season whether or not you should expect rain or clear skies
- Given that the continent is dissected by the Equator, it means that South America’s northern and southern extremes will be experiencing opposing seasons, at any given time
If you’re a ‘glass is half-full’ kinda traveller, you’ll cleverly surmise that travelling to South America is amazing an any time of year because there will always be a region at its absolute prime.
Whether it’s summer or winter, rain season or dry season; whether there’s an abundance of snow on the Andes and wildlife in the Galapagos, cruises to Antarctica and perfectly cleared hiking trails in Patagonia: the bottom line is that the best time to travel to South America will depend solely on what you want to do and where you want to do it!
This month-by-month guide to the best time to travel to South America is an overview of what each region has to offer at specific times of the year. The options are immense and we couldn’t possibly mention them all here BUT it’ll certainly give you an idea of what regions and neighbouring countries you should be honing in on your vacation.
January –summer in Patagonia!
The Austral summer months are ideal for visiting the southern tip of South America.
Patagonia may be all about blinding white landscapes and sensational skiing in winter yet come the summer, of which January is at the very heart, and you’ll be in peak hiking season. Trails are cleared, hiking huts open and there’s a surge of flights and bus services. The most popular destination of all is Torres del Paine National Park, the wildlife hub of the south, as well as Bariloche (for mountain biking and horseback riding too) and Los Glaciares National Park, home to the spellbinding Perito Moreno glacier.
January also marks the busiest cruising month in Antarctica, a time of year when 24hr of daylight and a colossal array of wildlife create idyllic expedition conditions. This may well be the busiest and most expensive month for Antarctic cruises but warmer temps and a profusion of marine mammals make it inarguably the best month of all.
February – Brazil is hot, hot. Hot!
All eyes are on Brazil this month, with the country’s most exciting city, Rio de Janeiro being hit by Carnival-mania thanks to the continent’s most famous fiesta. Include a stint of R&R on one of Brazil’s (many) glorious beaches and you’ll take advantage of the hit summer temps. Set your sights on the volcanic islands of Fernando de Noronha in the far north-east, often rated among the most spectacular islands on earth. Despite their relative fame, the higher cost of reaching and staying here has kept the crowds at bay and kept these islands blissfully untouched. We’ve previously named this archipelago one of the top10 South America destination for the over 55s.
It’s just a short hop over to Iguazu Falls from Rio, the mightiest falls of all being not just one of South America’s most impressive natural treasures but also a very convenient connecting hub between Brazil and Argentina. Learn more about which side of Iguazu Falls is best to visit.
March – rains are easing off
Rains are still prevalent in the Central Andes but they are starting to dissipate in March and, given that the start-of-year crowds are gone, it makes this a wonderful month for cheaper and quieter travels on the centre of the continent and still-dry conditions in Central America.
A country famously known for its wilderness and love of eco-tourism, Costa Rica is all about ‘dry season magic’. From the Cloud Forests of Monteverde to the wildlife hub of the Osa Peninsula, the waves of nesting turtles in Tortuguero National Park and those startling volcanic peaks of Arenal, Costa Rica is a wild adventure paradise that’s ideal for active travellers.
And if you’re a lover of overland travel, then you’ll find March to be quite the scoop. If you’ve heard about the famous overland route that crosses Bolivia’s Altiplano, straight through those stunning Salt Flats and right into the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert, know that March is perfect if you love a bit of adventure. Some areas of Salar Uyuni will be flooded whilst others will start drying up.
Meanwhile, Autumn in the south is starting to drench Patagonia in a blanket of wonderful colours, with visitors soaking up unprecedented visual spectacles. Expect temps to be cooler in March but with such magnificent landscapes, still plenty of hiking options, better prices and smaller crowds, a March tour of Patagonia is that mid-season gem you’ve been looking for.
April – South America is prime for the picking
The most outstanding wildlife-watching destination of South America, at the best time of year: there’s no better month to head to the Galapagos Islands. Great visibility and calm waters make for perfect sailing conditions.
Up in the central Andes, the summer rains are dissipating and all the hiking trails, especially those leading to Machu Picchu, are both passable and uncrowded, a genius double-whammy for Peru travel buffs.
May – head up to the Central Andes!
May marks the real start of the dry season up in the central Andes: whether you’re looking to explore Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia or Chile, you’ll find the conditions in May to be just about perfect. Very little chance of rain but, for a little while at least, low visitor numbers to boot.
The Inca Trail Machu Picchu will be dry this month as will all the wonderful trails along the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Pop over to Bolivia once you’ve had your fill of Cusco and you can enjoy a boat trip and stay on Lake Titicaca, where you can visit the ancient reed Uros islands. There’s very little rainfall expected this month, so take advantage of the situation and swap at least one flight (perhaps a Cusco to Puno) for an amazing overland adventure instead.
June –squeeze the most out of Peru
If you wanted to dedicate an entre month to exploring Peru, then consider June your best choice. Start in the capital, Lima, and head south to meet curious Humboldt penguins and sea lions on the Ballestas Islands, before continuing east and up over the Andes to reach the plateau once inhabited by the ancient Incas. If you’re into hiking less crowded spots, head north instead, and discover the magic of the Cordillera Blanca.
Meanwhile, you’ll find water levels are dipping dramatically in Peru’s southern Amazon basin, making for very rewarding lodge-based adventures.
In Brazil, the Pantanal and Amazon are also enjoying a dry spell in June, so wildlife lovers can have an absolute field day trekking on land by foot or on horseback. Want o see a comparison between these two unique destinations? Read our Amazon VS Pantanal guide.
July – Cold but still dry in the high Andes, picture-perfect for Central America
Nights are bitter cold in the high Andes of Bolivia but lack of rains means this is still, by far, the best time of year to visit. If you’re dreaming of Bolivian adventures, we have another gem to add to your list: Rurrenabaque. This is one of the most remote Amazon destinations of all, revered for its pink river dolphins and its very ‘out there’ feel. Up until a few years ago, you could only ever visit during the dry season since the ‘air strip’ at the Rurre airport was nothing more than a grassy strip of land. Tarmac has now arrived in this small charming town yet the remoteness of its lodges means that July is still the best time to visit.
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula basks in glorious weather in July, making this an ideal destination for a mid-year break. With so many amazing Aztec and Mayan ruins to discover, such glorious beaches and such delicious food, we’d forgive you for wanting to stay in Mexico until Christmas!
August – Still an ideal time for Amazon adventures, perfect skiing in Argentina & Chile
The Amazon will still be vying for your attention in August, especially if you have your eye on a lodge-based adventures, as opposed to a river small ship cruise. If you’re not sure which one of the two experiences is ideal for you, read our Amazon Lodge VS Cruise guide, it’ll give you a clearer idea of what each one offers.
Winter in Patagonia spells heaven for snow lovers and skiing aficionados will have plenty of options. Santiago, the Chilean capital, is surrounded by brilliant ski resorts, as is the southern Argentinian hub of Bariloche. Although winter runs from June to September, August is the month with the most consistent snowfall, so if booking your trip ahead of time (which you should be doing) this is by far the safest month to choose, if you want to have a premium powder guarantee.
September – the perfect month of all? Indeed, it is!
South America blooms to life in September and a concoction of circumstances create what is arguably the best travel month of the whole year, just about everywhere.
In Europe and North America, September marks the back-to-school season which translates into cheaper prices and fewer tourists down our neck of the woods as most people return to their busy lives. North of the equator, the temperatures will start to drop, bringing a relief to the scorch of summer, whilst the south sees an increase in temperatures and the start of a vibrant Spring.
In Central America, the start of the rains drives a lot of people away yet the first two weeks of the month spell deserted stretches of beaches with still-perfect weather. Inland, the temperatures will cool so if you’re craving a road trip discovering ancient ruins, September will be quite ideal.
Rio de Janeiro is absolutely resplendent this month, so if you missed out on visiting during Carnival season, this could be a fabulous choice too.
October – shoulder season perfection
The shoulder season is here again and now would be a great time to visit the two largest countries in South America: Argentina and Brazil. Why? Because a tour of discovery in such extensive nations calls for several internal flights, which can add up to quite a bit. In October, you can score some incredible deals so you can fit even more into your journey.
October is also a perfect month to visit Uruguay, a lesser-visited country that is very rewarding to explore. Take a ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and discover this incredible gem that still flies well below the tourist radar. Enticing cultural and historical highlights, as well as astronomically great food, make Montevideo a crowd favourite here at Chimu.
Patagonia will start defrosting in October, so the skiing season will give way to the new hiking season, which begins here in earnest. The Spring flowering in October is simply divine and you’ll find cities like Buenos Aires brimming with stunning jacarandas in full bloom. This is also another great month for wine tours, both in Argentina and Chile.
November – visit the major capitals, enjoy the beginning of summer
It’s time to head south again. Waaaaay south.
Patagonia is fresh and resplendent in November so head down here before everyone else does. Cruise the otherworldly Chilean Fjords aboard an ice-strengthened ship and you’ll get an eyeful of migrating whales, dolphins, seals and penguins whilst you explore glaciated inlets and vertiginous glaciers. All of Patagonia is astonishing in November, with pristine hiking trails opening on a near-daily basis right about now.
In the Central Andes, discerning travellers bask in the glorious benefits of low-season travel, with smaller tourist crowds, cheaper prices and an abundance of wildlflowers in full bloom making up for the occasional rains and overcast skies.
If you don’t mind clouds, then consider cruising the Galapagos in November: the clouds won’t make for exceptional photography BUT the drop in sea temps means this month see an absolute surge in marine wildlife numbers.
Most of all, however, November is a brilliant month for visiting any of the major South American capitals, especially if you can catch the Day of the Dead festivities on the 1st of the month, most notably celebrated all over Central America.
December – tourist season is in full bloom, Antarctica is P.E.R.F.E.C.T.
If you’re an active traveller, you’ll fall in love with South America in December. From ziplining through dense forests to hiking, horseriding, white-water rafting, mountains biking, rock climbing, kayaking, surfing, snorkelling, SCUBA diving and a million other active pursuits: all are on offer in just about every corner of the continent.
December marks the height of the busiest tourist season of all, and that’s not only because everyone can escape during the Christmas holiday season. In December, South America is your ultimate oyster, with all destinations offering immense rewards. From the northernmost tip of the Andes to the southernmost corners of Patagonia, the whole continent is primed for travel in December.
As the tourist season takes hold all over South America, head to the quietest and most serene place of all: Antarctica. There’s a small window of opportunity to visit the end of the world and December falls right in the heart of it.
Packed your bags yet? Let Chimu Adventures help you plan your unforgettable jaunt through South America. We’ll help you make the most of your journey, no matter what time of year you travel. Contact us for more info.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”