The Best Time to Travel to South America
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:
- 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.
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Photo credit: Shutterstock.
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.
Carnival in Brazil. Photo credit: shutterstock
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.
Dry season translates into warm days and cool nights in Central America so if snorkelling and SCUBA diving in Belize, Costa Rica and Honduras are on your must-do-list, pin February on your diary.
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.
April is the perfect month to visit the Machu Picchu. Photo credit: shutterstock
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.
Explore Lake Titicaca in May. Photo credit: shutterstock
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 weather changes to 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.
August, the perfect timing for skiing in the Andes. Photo credit: shutterstock
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. Photo credit: shutterstock
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.
Buenos Aires is beautiful in
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 1 st 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.
Visit Antarctica in December. Photo credit: shutterstock
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.”
Travel in September: the expert’s choice
There is no better month to travel than September: it sees a remarkable confluence of happy circumstances around the world. In the northern hemisphere, prices and blood pressures plummet as sizzling days give way to a more temperate existence. In the southern hemisphere, the chills have all but disappeared as mountain passes reopen, frozen lakes thaw and wildflowers bloom.
Sadly, for many travellers, September marks the end of travel season. It’s back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-reality drudgery. But if you can buck the trend, you’ll find that September is when those with the savvy and the means pack their bags and embark on adventure.
Boats fill the harbour and beach at Marina Grande on the Island of Capri, Italy © Javen / Shutterstock
Europe saves its true charms for September. In popular destinations such as France and Italy, the hordes of visitors have ebbed away while the citizenry has returned from its August holiday, relaxed and ready to do business. Restaurants and hotels reopen, lines for attractions are short and prices begin to drop into ‘shoulder season’ discounts.
The weather in Western Europe remains pleasantly mild, and the beaches of the Mediterranean are as sunny as ever. In Eastern Europe, you’ll find tempting deals on accommodation and have many tourist sights to yourself. The Baltic states, Scandinavia and Russia will be cooling down, but it’s nothing a few warm layers can’t handle. Turkey in particular will turn on the charm for you – you’ll be able to walk long stretches of beach and hot-air balloon over Cappadocia to your heart’s content.
North and Central America
The United States, Canada and Mexico are possibly at their most magnificent in autumn. The summer crowds have left New England and Nova Scotia, which means more lobster, seaside lounging and national-park exploration for you. Québec, central Canada and the American Midwest see an exodus of tourists during harvest season, so gear up for farmers markets and bountiful meals. The kids are back in school, so popular cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and Vancouver are much more manageable than over summer or during the December pre-holidays rush.
Everyone knows about fall in New England, but what fewer people are aware of is that September is the best month for visiting Texas and the Deep South (those cooler nights are a godsend). California and the Southwest come into their own in September, with San Franciscans actually seeing the sun for a few days.
Mexico’s beaches are suddenly deserted as the summer vacationers disappear. In the interior, the desert begins to chill out, making for much more pleasurable exploration.
Tourists depart Central America in September because that’s when the rains are at their fiercest. However, the ‘green season’ can be paradise for you, if you do a bit of planning. Book accommodation well in advance (and negotiate – you may get a bargain) and then enjoy the display of wildlife that is brought out by the monsoon. It’s also the best time for surfing some serious waves.
China and Japan are at their best in September. The nearly unbearable heat and humidity of the summer have ebbed; it’s fresh and mild in the East. The high mountains and valley passes are still easily accessible, and virtually all tourist attractions remain open. Residents of Beijing are checking their wardrobes for sweaters, while those in Shanghai are still enjoying warm evenings.
South Asia has also been cooled – by the monsoon – and it’s a great time to visit India or Sri Lanka. The oppressive heat of the Deccan plateau has moved over the Indian Ocean, leaving a subcontinent with a pleasantly cool north and a languorously warm south. It’s shoulder season in India, too, so hotel and transport prices should reflect reduced demand.
In September, peak tourism season hasn’t yet hit mainland Southeast Asia, which is gradually drying out from the wet season. On the islands, rainfall is easing and the birds are coming – meaning longer, clearer stints snorkelling, diving or sunbathing for you, without the crowds or peak prices.
Nepal and mountainous Central Asia are drying out and are on the verge of peak tourist season, so you can get in before the crowds (okay, so maybe Tajikistan doesn’t have too many crowds).
Africa and the Middle East
Those western Europeans who didn’t go to southern Spain in August went to North Africa instead. Now they’re gone, there’s more space for you on the beaches of Tunisia, in the markets of Egypt and the mountains of Morocco without elbowing past hundreds of fellow holidaymakers. September is a great time to visit Lebanon for hiking, while temperatures in the Arabian Peninsula are finally bearable again.
In September, travellers to eastern, western and central Africa avoid the blistering heat of the dry season but aren’t subject to the downpours of the true wet season. It’s a great month to spot wildlife throughout the continent. Speaking of wildlife, the Southern African region is moving into springtime in September. It’s cool and dry – perfect for hiking – and couldn’t be a better time for birdwatching and animal-spotting.
From the Darién Gap to Tierra del Fuego, South America blooms in September. In the warm north, the milder dry season is giving way to a few sprinkles; in the frigid south, the ice is melting and Patagonia is warming up to travellers. If springtime in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile don’t inspire you to tango, check your pulse.
Australia and New Zealand
Most of southern Australia and New Zealand are emerging from winter in September. With a quick transition to spring, both countries enjoy significantly warmer temperatures and sunnier weather. In New Zealand’s mountains, the snow hasn’t melted yet – making for glorious skiing – while in Australia it’s a great time to relax in the tropical north, drink wine in the temperate west or check out the springtime delights of Sydney and Melbourne.
First published June 2012, updated May 2019
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Where to go in September
September is a superb time to hit the road. The great shoulder season of travel offers prime conditions for exploring a vast array of big-name destinations for food and drink, culture, relaxation, or an incredible journey. So whether you want to laze on uncrowded European sands, venture through South American rainforests or circle sacred peaks in Central Asia, September has something to suit every type of explorer.
Where are the best places to visit in September for food and drink?
Travellers with a fondness for fish dishes should make a pilgrimage to West Sweden’s Bohuslän Coast towards the end of September, for the start of lobster season. The region is famed for producing the country’s finest seafood, and visitors here can spend days canoeing between rickety fishing villages sampling fresh prawns, oysters and, of course, those coveted crustaceans. Top-notch seafood dishes also await in Lima, one of South America’s culinary capitals, where ceviche (lime-marinated fish) is an essential eat.
September is also significant as the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest, kickstarts in Munich, drawing lederhosen-clad, beer-chugging crowds who dance, sing and. well, drink the night away. A more civilised prospect is on offer in Provence, as September marks the start of the annual vendange (grape harvest). Local festivals, fresh produce and fine weather mean plenty of chances to sample a flute of the region’s renowned rosé.
Hungry for more? Find more details on these foodie forays.
Where are the best places to visit in September for culture?
Sipping a Guinness in a Dublin pub is one of the Irish capital’s essential cultural experiences (and rightly so), but come September it’s another series of historic venues that take centre stage as the Dublin Fringe Festival rolls into town, bringing with it an exciting mishmash of off-the-wall theatre, film and art installations. A more active cultural soirée awaits in Tibet, where the summer rains have eased and conditions are perfect for joining devotees on the kora (pilgrimage circuit) of holy Mt Kailash.
Weather conditions are also highly favourable in Beijing during September, a period locals refer to as ‘tian gao qi shuang’ – ‘The sky is high and the air is fresh’. Visits to historical highlights including the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall – which is set against autumnal colours of scarlet, orange and gold – are far more breezy than the hot and busy summer months. Less crowded too are the honey-hued English villages of the Cotswolds, where thatched cottages, medieval stone churches and cosy riverside pubs hark back to a bygone era (especially now the bus tours have eased off).
Where are the best places to visit in September for relaxation?
Europe’s beaches are generally quieter come September, but those seeking serious seclusion should head to northern Cyprus, home to some of the Med’s most unspoilt sands. A visit in September also provides the opportunity to see turtles hatching as part of one of the eco-sensitive night tours run by Society for the Protection of Turtles. More spectacular wildlife experiences are on offer among the emerald-ringed islands that make up The Whitsundays in Australia. Snorkel in the bath-warm waters to spot dolphins, dive to glimpse manta rays or simply count sheep while dozing on some of the world’s most celebrated shorelines.
For many of us, tranquillity is often found at the dinner table, and a visit to Italy’s Puglia region is good for both the soul and, historically, the finances. Pugliese cuisine is known in Italy as cucina povera (poor kitchen), but despite this handle the Italian region’s specialities are real treasures – think thick urrata cheese, orecchiette pasta and endless varieties of breads. Memorable dining experiences are also on the menu in Corsica, home to family-run restaurants in remarkable cliff-perched towns and time-frozen villages. After lunch, stroll to one of the island’s scenic viewpoints or take to the water with a boat tour around the island’s blissful bays.
Seek out magnificent waterfalls, amazing wildlife and unique local culture in lesser-travelled Guyana © Michael Bluschke / Shutterstock
Where are the best places to visit in September for ‘the journey’?
Shrouded in old-world allure, the Silk Road is one of the classic routes for travellers seeking off-the-beaten-path adventure. September is an optimum month to get your fill: not meltingly hot in Turkmenistan’s deserts, not too snowy in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and largely free of tourist crowds around the grand tiled medressas of Uzbekistan. Equally as intrepid, though opposite in its geography, Guyana’s rainforests are magnificent at this time of year. A hike through ancient jungle to Kaieteur Falls, a 226m waterfall, is the big-ticket attraction, but adventurers will also enjoy learning about local cultures and spotting varied wildlife.
Over in Europe, two aquatic odysseys are primed for the undertaking during September. The way-marked Moselsteig footpath, which runs along the banks of the Moselle river, takes travellers on a tantalising tour of Germany’s terraced vineyards, riverside hamlets and medieval castles. Meanwhile in Greece, September poses the perfect time to hop around the Aegean. Skip the tourist ferries and catch the old cruisers to some of the region’s lesser-frequented isles and you’ll likely find a golden stretch of sand and traditional taverna all to yourself.
It’s all about the journey! Learn more about these astonishing odysseys.
Article first published August 2018, and last updated December 2019
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