South America climate
South America can be split into four climatic zones: tropical, dry, cold and temperate. Depending on which area of the continent you’re visiting, the elevation and weather factors including rain and wind contribute to the climate variations, making it unpredictable and erratic in some areas.
When to fly to South America
Argentina and Brazil, both in the Southern Hemisphere, can be visited all year round but most people prefer to book flights to South America during peak season – mid December to early March – when the weather is hot and humid. But if you’d rather avoid paying top dollar for South America flights and accommodations, then the best time to go is in winter between the months of June and October. Chile, also in the Southern Hemisphere, has climactic variations from the north to south. The north can be visited at any time of the year while central and southern Chile should be avoided from June to September when snowfall can get heavy.
The Andean countries including Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have two distinct seasons: wet and dry, and depending on the altitude and proximity to the equator, each country’s peak season will differ slightly.
Bolivia has the most unpredictable weather in South America, thanks to its topography and altitude. Generally the best time to visit is during the dry season between May and October. Peru is another country with complicated weather due to its high elevation and close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The best time to visit is summer, from January to March when days are hot and humid.
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Getting around South America
Internal South America flights are the most convenient, but not necessarily the cheapest way to get around from one country to the next. While visiting Brazil, for example, internal flights are notoriously expensive so it’s a good idea to get a Brazil Pass which allows you to take a few internal flights and is cheaper than purchasing tickets separately. Or if you’re planning on travelling between Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, you should consider buying a Mercosur Air Pass that will allow for two stops in each country. Read more about this and other available air passes in our Air Pass travel tip.
Buses are the next most popular form of transport, to some the only form, and provide a cheaper alternative to flying and a great way to see the country. However it’s not always advisable to take overnight buses especially in Ecuador and Peru where armed robberies on night buses are not uncommon.
In addition to being expensive, hiring and driving a car can be dangerous and inconvenient but taxis in most major cities are available and can be hired for long journeys.
Cycling isn’t encouraged in the majority of South American countries – particularly in Colombia and Guyana – where the quality of the roads can be poor.
South America insider information
- For a trip that you’ll never forget, head to the mountainous region of Patagonia in Southern Argentina. Discover its Andean national parks and wildlife or visit the colonial city of Carmen de Patagones.
- See the magnificent wildlife of Brazil in the Pantanal, the largest flood plain in the world. It’s home to the endangered Hyancinth Macaw, jaguars, caimans, giant otters, giant armadillos, capybara and the Brazilian Tapir.
- Visit the birthplace of the Inca civilization in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world on the border of Peru and Bolivia. On the Bolivian side of the lake is the Isla Del Sol where you’ll find Pilko Kaina and the Chincana complex, both Inca ruins. And on the Peruvian side are the Las Islas Flotantes or floating islands, handmade from totora reeds and home to the Uros tribe.
- One of the most popular destinations in Chile is the small colonial village of San Pedro de Atacama. Visit the town’s archaeological museum that boasts well-preserved artifacts or explore the boiling geysers, sand dunes and canyons.
- On Colombia’s Caribbean coast sits the picturesque city of Cartagena. Wander through its cobbled streets and explore the colonial mansions, monasteries, 17th century forts and cathedrals of this charming place, which is now classified as a World Heritage Site.
- Snorkel with the penguins, swim around the rocks with the sea lions or just watch the mockingbirds from atop Pinnacle Rock on the remote Isla Bartolomé in Ecuador’s legendary Galápagos Islands.
- In Central Guyana lies the The Iwokrama Forest. The 916,760 acre virgin rain forest is home to some of the world’s largest freshwater fish, otters, freshwater turtle, the Anaconda, caimans, and South America’s largest cat (the jaguar) and bat.
- Visit Trinidad & Jesús, the Jesuit reducción or settlements in Southern Paraguay. In these remarkable mission towns are well-preserved Baroque ruins including monuments and churches built in the 18th century.
- A trip to Venezuela wouldn’t be complete without visiting Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, situated within the Canaima National Park. Make sure to pick up some local indigenous crafts from the Makunaima Arte Indígena in Canaima.