Best time to visit South America

There's a time for everything on a continent contrasting humid tropics and scorching desert with Andean and Antarctic cool.
September to November is often thought of as the best time to visit South America. Several countries experience springlike conditions, with numerous wildflowers and newborn animals appearing with the rise in temperatures. Really, though, the vast size, altitude contrasts and varying weather in South America means there is no single best time of year to visit. June offers cool, dry weather in the Galapagos, a steamy 30°C in the Amazon – but snow and ice will shut down much of southern Patagonia, which is best visited from November to February. Steep contour shifts can mean balmy temperatures on Chile’s coast but a snowy 5,000m chill just 100km away.

When to visit South America

The further south you go, the more seasonal the climate, with the latitude around Buenos Aires and Santiago experiencing hot summers and chilly winters. Further south, think more Scandinavian weather conditions - cooler summers, more storms, and deep snow in winter. Remember that the southern hemisphere seasons are reversed - with summer roughly November to February, and winter in June to August. Peru is pretty much a year round destination thanks to its proximity to the equator. However, visit between January and March and you’ll be slap bang in the middle of the rainy season. The Inca Trail closes for maintenance throughout February. Northern Argentina and Chile along with southern Brazil experiencing summer temperatures all the way from November through to March and April where coastal towns and beaches tend to attract the crowds. At this time, Patagonia is at its warmest and most accessible - particularly in the far south, which gets cut off during the harsh winters. Many place here will shut up shop from June until September. South America is well known for Easter celebrations so bear this in mind if you’re planning on travelling or finding somewhere to stay without booking in advance. July and August, are often peak times for travellers wanting to undertake the Inca Trail or visit the Galapagos Island and if you’re planning on searching for Machu Pichu or wildlife watching then make sure you book six months in advance. Permits are issued around February every year - but it's never to soon to be put on the list. Several countries in South America are beautifully springlike between September and November. Expect wildflowers and baby animals, plus warmer temperatures. December finds popular coastal areas getting busier, whilst natural regions, such as the Pantanal and the Amazon, get the worst of the wet weather. Read up on the region you're planning to visit to find out if it can be accessed during this time; some areas are cut off, while others can be toured by boat - a magical rainforest experience.

1. Amazon

The Amazon is always warm and humid, with temperatures from 20s - high 30s. For trekking, avoid the wet season from January to May when the forest floods and you’ll be travelling by canoe. It’s also very humid with rain falling mainly in the afternoon. More details about the Amazon here

2. Atacama

The world's driest desert isn't all about year-round baking heat. Its high altitude on an Andean plateau with peaks rising above 6,000m means cold nights and snow at higher altitudes. September-October can sometimes bring spring rains that spark stunning floral blooms in southern Atacama. More details about Atacama here

3. Ecuador

Straddling the equator, Ecuador's seasons are wet v dry rather than summer and winter – but none extreme enough to disrupt travel. Mid-June to early September are the busiest months, along with late December to early January. The Andes will get chilly, especially at night, while May, June and August are the wettest months in the Tena region of the Amazon. More details about Ecuador here.
The Galapagos

4. The Galapagos

Seasons split into cool and dry (June-November) and warm and wet (December-June). The warmer season is arguably the best time to visit, as rain tends to fall in sharp bursts and leaves clear skies – though these islands are idyllic year-round. More details about the Galapagos here.
Iguazu Falls

5. Iguazu Falls

Dec-Feb sees the heaviest rains (and crowds). But while rain is good for the most impressive cascade volume plus getting-happily-soaked boat jaunts, it may also render San Martin Island and surrounding forest trails inaccessible. The driest months, meanwhile, can significantly reduce the flow of the falls. The best compromise for impressive water levels plus a decent chance of blue skies is Mar-Ap and Aug-Sep. More details about Iguazu Falls here.
The Pantanal

6. The Pantanal

Sep-Oct is a good time to visit this Brazilian wetland paradise – avoiding major holidays, the chilly southern winter and soggy season – when many access roads are closed. Wildlife clusters along the riverbanks in the dry season, and there is less vegetation to obscure your view. More details about the Pantanal here.

7. Patagonia

Temperatures peak in December and January – but so do crowds and prices. Oct/Nov is generally good for clear skies, spring blooms and fewer crowds. September is notoriously windy, while the winter is cold but often dry and calm – ideal to kayak amid icebergs! The summer months see much of the south snowbound and inaccessible. More details about Patagonia here.

Our top South America Holiday

Ecuador & Galapagos tailor made tour

Ecuador & Galapagos tailor made tour

Private in-depth tour of Ecuador and The Galapagos

From £6800 to £7900 23 days ex flights
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This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Responsible Travel recommends

Guy Marks from our supplier Tribes Travel suggests the best time to see Brazil's wonderful wildlife:
“The Pantanal is seasonally flooded so there are islands of dry land where the wildlife concentrates. There’s only one road down there so in the very wet season it’s hard to access – it's certainly more difficult to see jaguars, you can’t drive anywhere, and you’ve got to travel by canoe. You can do horse rides – canters through deep water are fantastic – but you want to go in the dry season really, from July until October.
If you want to go to the Amazon it doesn’t really make much difference when you go; it’s the rainforest so it rains all year. There is high water and low water, but there are advantages to both. In low water you get more walks through the forest, and at high water (Jan-May) as much as ten metres of water rise through the forest – which means you’re ten metres higher into the canopy when you’re in a boat. So the animals that live in the canopy are not absolutely miles away – you can see them much closer!”
Elena Larkin from our supplier Natural World Safaris is originally from Lima, and she shares her best time to visit Peru's magnificent highlands:
"For me personally, the best time to see the mountains is mid-late April, because it's after the rainy season and everything is green. But it's the end of summer, so it's still a bit warmer. My least favourite time is July and August when they are filled with local families as well as tourists - it's too crowded, and very cold. Also, if you arrive in Lima during April, it's just finishing summer - so it doesn't have the grey skies you can expect to find there for the rest of the year."

Festivals & events

Did you know about...?

Carnival/Carnevale (Feb/Mar)

The Rio Carnival is famous but you may have more fun and feel less touristy joining Brazilian street parties in African-influenced Salvador or boho colonial Paraty, where incredible celebrations avoid Rio's hype (and price hikes). Other countries party too. In Argentina, top Carnevale spots are the colonial northern cities of Corrientes and Gualeguaychu, with parades over several weekends.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage] [Top box - chart background: Alexander Martins Rodrigues] [Atacama: Justin Jensen] [RT recommends: Danielle Pereira] [Elena Larkin quote: Glauber Ribeiro] [Festivals and events: Team at Studio]