South America travel guide
South America is a continent rich in cultural diversity. First you have the ancient Inca sites such as Peru’s Machu Picchu, which exist alongside colonial Spanish and Portuguese architecture. Then you have the vibrant mix of Amerindian, European, African, and Asian traditions, which surface through an eclectic variety of music, cuisine, language, and art.
It is perhaps this ethnic diversity, coupled with the generally hot climate, and breathtaking natural scenery, which fuels the South American enthusiasm for life. Sexy samba music spices up Brazil’s sandy shores, panpipes make bustling Andean markets come to life, and throughout the continent, a bursting calendar of carnivals and fiestas turn whole nations into giant parties.
But if you find this vibrancy a little overwhelming, South America is also home to some of the most isolated natural sites on earth. Simply relax and take in the beauty of the towering Andes Mountains, the lush Amazon rainforest, and pristine tropical beaches, like the Dominican Republic’s Playa Rincón, and Argentina's Mar Azul.
The South American continent spans four climatic zones: tropical, temperate, cold, and dry. As you would expect, the weather and peak season for each country will vary depending on which area of the continent you’re visiting.
South American countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like Brazil and Argentina, generally enjoy a temperate climate, which makes them popular holiday destinations all year round. Peak season in this part of the continent is between December and March, when temperatures can easily reach 40 degrees Celsius. However, if you visit these nations in their shoulder season, between July and September, you’ll have a great chance of bagging yourself a bargain holiday and, the temperature will generally be a much more comfortable 25 degrees.
The South American nations in the northern hemisphere, such as Venezuela, also generally enjoy a hot climate all year round. Depending on your exact location, you would expect an average daily temperature of about 25 degrees. Do bear in mind though, that the regions along the Caribbean Sea, such as Venezuela's Rio Caribe, are prone to rainfall and even hurricanes between July and October, so visits at this time of year are best avoided.
The Andean countries, such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, have two main seasons: wet and dry. The wet summer season runs from approximately November through to March, when temperatures can hit a stifling 35 degrees, and rainfall is high. The dry winter season, which generally runs from April to October, is the best time to visit most Andean nations, as the temperature is typically a refreshingly warm 18 degrees, and there is little chance of rainfall.
Air travel is by far the most convenient way to journey around South America, and although this can be a costly transport option, there are several ways that you can be fairly frugal. For instance, if you wish to travel between Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, you can make huge savings with a TAM South America Airpass, which starts at about £250, and allows you up to 5 flights.
If you’d rather get around the continent on a tighter budget, buses are a cheap and generally reliable way to travel, and also offer the opportunity for a spot of free sightseeing on your journey. One word of advice though: avoid overnight buses if you can. Robberies on night buses are not uncommon, particularly in Ecuador and Peru. After dark, the best way to get around most South American cities is by taxi, and fares are generally inexpensive in comparison with European or North American rates.
Cars be also rented from most major South American cities, and it is possible to find cheap deals that include insurance and unlimited mileage. However, you’ll often find that busy cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, are heavy with traffic, while less developed countries, like Colombia and Guyana, have poor quality roads. Ideally, it’s best to use public transport to get around the continent.
If you’re travelling to Venezuela, be sure to pay a visit to Angel Falls: the world’s tallest waterfall. Take a guided tour on a curiara — a Native American canoe — and prepare to be awestruck by the 2,648 feet high waters, which gather in a magical misty spray.
On the border between Peru and Bolivia, you’ll find the famous Lake Titicaca: the largest lake on the continent, and the birthplace of the ancient Inca civilization. Visit the Bolivian side of the lake to see the spectacular Inca ruins of Pilko Kaina and the Chincana. Then travel to the Peruvian side, to see the unique floating islands of the Uros tribe, which have been constructed from Totora reeds.
If you’re visiting Brazil between February and March, make sure you join the fun of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. This spectacle of colour, costumes, music, and mayhem, is probably the biggest party on earth!
Those visiting Brazil at other times of year should not miss out on an excursion to the Pantanal: the largest floodplain in the world. Here you’ll see an abundance of unique wildlife like the endangered Hyancinth Macaw, the cuddly capybara, the rare Marsh deer, and one of the largest jaguar populations on earth.
When in Colombia, be sure to put a trip to the city of Cartagena in your holiday itinerary. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander through its cobbled streets and explore the colonial mansions, monasteries, 17th century forts and cathedrals of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you are passing through Ecuador, the legendary Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin honed his Theory of Evolution, are a must see. The wildlife here are pretty much unfazed by human presence, which means you can snorkel with penguins and swim sea lions!
- Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE)
- Rio de Janeiro Galeão Airport (GIG)
- Salvador International Airport (SSA)
- São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport (GRU)
- Brasilia International Airport (BSB)
- Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL)
- Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE)
- Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO)
- Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM)
- Caracas Maiquetía International Airport (CCS)