Why visit South America
South America is a continent of contrasts… rich in culture and steeped in history, it is the most diverse travel destination you could ever visit. And as South America travel specialists, we love to share the beauty and wonder of South America with our clients every day.
Similar to travelling in Europe, South America is a destination that you will need to return to many times over to cover everything the continent has to offer.
From the world’s driest desert and the largest rainforest to spectacular landscapes with abundant wildlife, ancient ruins, bustling cities and cultures as diverse as the riches of the region, a South America trip – or five – is something to add to your bucket list.
Whether you want to hike Inca Trails, go cruising on the Amazon river, Patagonian fjords or Andean lakes, or simply lose yourself in world heritage listed cities, South America has so much to offer.
Escaping the tourist trail in South America
There are many well-travelled paths in South America that can lead you on some amazing adventures… but we are all about escaping the tourist trail and discovering the true hidden gems. South America is such a diverse destination with endless options for exploration.
For nature lovers, you can’t beat breathtaking Patagonia for a journey into the very south of South America.
There are fjords to cruise, forests to explore, glaciers to hike and a landscape that you simply won’t see anywhere else in the world.
The iconic Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier are popular highlights… but venturing to places like the Marble Caves and Parque Patagonia will give you that ‘off the beaten track’ experience that so many travellers are looking for.
Moving to central South America, Bolivia is ethnically and geographically diverse – a true highlight of any South America travel.
Sail the serene Lake Titicaca, wander the bustling maze of the Bolivian capital, La Paz, or surround yourself in the vast emptiness of the Uyuni Salt Flats, where the sky touches the ground and all of a sudden you feel very small in this big world of ours.
When you think of Ecuador, your mind probably jumps straight to The Galapagos… but Ecuador – one of the smaller South American nations – is so much more than that.
In a single day in Ecuador you could take a stroll in the untouched Amazon and drive through a valley of active volcanoes and cloud forests before winding down to the Pacific coast in time for a seafood dinner. Ecuador is for the traveller who wants to explore colonial villages and have a deeply authentic South American experience.
When to visit South America
The weather in South America is as diverse as the experiences on offer. For travellers that means that no matter the time of year you visit, it is always the perfect time to go somewhere.
We like to look at South America as a place of two halves… between November and March we recommend you turn right at Santiago and head south.
For travel between April and October, turn left and explore the north. This isn’t a hard and fast rule as there are exceptions, but it does give you a starting point for planning your South America trip.
If you want to hike the Inca Trail, avoid February as this is the wettest month and the trail is closed for maintenance. Patagonia during May through September is very cold, with limited hotels and trails open at this time of year. However, if you are keen for a Patagonian skiing adventure, this is the time to go.
November – March
Chile, Argentina, Patagonia
The southern area of South America is best to visit in the spring and summer, or even early autumn months.
In October the sun breaks through the clouds, bringing with it the spring flowers and warmer weather.
Patagonia has particularly long daylight hours during this time, giving you many more hours to explore the wonders of the region.
Come March, the crowds start to disappear so travel during this time is quieter with fewer tourists to share your experiences with.
May – October
Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia
Each South American country has its own microclimates, with forests, mountains, deserts and islands to contend with, so it is hard to ‘guarantee’ great weather at any particular time… but from May to October, the central and northern regions of South America are your best bet.
However, there are a few exceptions…
Being on the equator, Ecuador has no seasons. Every morning at 6am the sun will rise and every evening at 6pm the sun will set. And beautiful roses bloom all year round.
The Galapagos Islands are also great to visit all year round. During some months the air will be cooler and the water warmer and the reverse in other months.
In the Amazon forest, the humidity is high all year round.
The water levels of the Amazon basin rivers also vary by up to 15m, depending on the time of year, affecting how you explore the forest.
From January through June, higher rainfall means higher river levels, which drown out nearby land trails. Exploration of the forest at this time of year is best done by boat… but watch out for the mozzies!
If you prefer to hike, July through December is the time to go. It’s low-water season, which means drier land trails. The wildlife and birds are also easier to spot at this time of the year, as are the fish, for travellers keen to enjoy the experience of fishing in the Amazon.
Top destinations in South America
Prepare to tango your way through nature’s wonderland!
The sophistication of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, contrasts with the impressive Iguazu Falls and picturesque Bariloche.
Salta is a hidden gem in Argentina for architecture lovers – and for foodies, the wine region of Mendoza is a must. The Argentines are mad for football so make sure to leave time for a football game!
Less developed than some of the other nations of South America, Bolivia is a wild and diverse combination of natural wonders, rich history and indigenous culture.
The spectacular Uyuni Salt Flats – the largest salt desert on the planet – sit within the Madidi National Park, known for its ample flora and fauna. If you like adventure – the death-defying type – try your hand at mountain biking on Yungas Road.
Dare we say that a trip to South America is incomplete if you don’t visit Chile? It is a country with so much to offer, whatever kind of adventure you are looking for.
Santiago by day is a coffee snob’s paradise… and by night the bright lights of this bustling city will dazzle you! If nature and adventure are more your thing, Chile is home to some of the world’s best national parks, stunning snow-capped volcanoes and Atacama Desert – the driest desert on earth.
The largest country in South America, Brazil beats to the rhythm of its own drum, coming alive with music, culture and the wonders of nature that South America is so blessed with.
Feel the serenity of the isolated Ilha Grande, experience the electric atmosphere of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or view the phenomenal Iguazu Falls – while 90% of the Falls sit within Argentina, the Brazilians claim that their 10% has the best view!
Colombia is a country that has undergone a transformation… and it is worth the trip to see just how amazing it has become.
From the colourful colonial Cartagena to the street art of Bogota, the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, the underground salt cathedral at Zipaquirá and the hydro-electric dam at Guatape, there are so many opportunities to escape the tourist trail.
What Ecuador lacks in size, it makes up for in biodiversity. It sits precisely in the middle of the world, located on the equator.
The capital city of Quito is a melting pot of the traditional and the contemporary, famous for entertaining street arts, delicious street food, happening jazz bars and a history that dates back to the Incas. The Amazon covers nearly half of Ecuador, so no trip to the country is complete without some Amazon exploration.
We all know the history of The Galapagos – the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory on the evolution of species – and the 19 islands that make up the region offer many delights.
A haven for wildlife, the way the plants and various animal species have adapted to each island is absolutely fascinating. You can choose to stay on land or on water… and enjoy close up encounters with much of the wildlife including the famous marine iguanas, sea lions and more.
Located at the very south of South America, Patagonia straddles the Southern Andes of both Chile and Argentina.
It’s a destination we recommend to so many of our travellers… the epitome of escaping the tourist trail in South America.
Patagonia is a land of natural beauty – towering massifs and stunning glaciers, perfect volcanoes and serene lakes.
It is a hikers’ paradise – perfect for beginners and experienced hikers alike. We’ve also made the call that the 1200km Carretera Austral is the world’s best road trip… a beautiful and rewarding journey.
Peru is so much more than just Machu Picchu… it is a country blessed with fine food, a deep historical identity and idyllic landscapes.
Of course, trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an experience to never forget… but you will also be inspired by the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, Cusco. With its cobbled streets lined with the remains of exquisite stone walls built by the Inca, it is the perfect precursor to a visit to Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley, Arequipa and Colca Canyon are natural wonders worthy of mention.
South America Luxury Travel
South America offers luxury in both comfort level as well as in phenomenal experiences and locations. Luxury accommodation is scattered across the continent… colonial houses that have become boutique hotels… train tracks that now accommodate luxury rail experiences… and remote wilderness that houses luxury lodges.
The Atacama Desert in Chile offers a huge array of choice for luxury accommodation set within a desert oasis. Most options include all experiences and meals but our picks are Alto Atacama or Tierra.
Further down south in Patagonia, The Singular and Explora are experiences within themselves as much as they are luxury accommodation.
For a luxury experience, a private caravan on the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia will give you a private chef and guide as you sleep under the stars on the salt pan. Or a view of Iguazu Falls from the balcony of your room, enjoying a morning cup of tea before the park opens to the public.
Self drive South America
While we don’t recommend it to everyone, or every destination in South America, if you have an appetite for adventure then we will make it happen.
Driving gives you the freedom to explore as you wish and you can stop to explore side roads or lose yourself in the countryside.
Our top destination to self-drive in South America is through Patagonia, particularly the Carretera Austral, where the roads and scenery are open and the driving is easy. We have even had clients drive the entire Ruta 40 from Bolivia to the bottom of Patagonia.
If you want to make it happen… we will find a way.
South America Private Tours
This is where we excel as South America travel experts. Private tours are our thing…
…and when it comes to how we organise private tours, nothing is off the table. Whatever ideas or interests you have, we will find the tour guide to give you that experience.
We’ve sent clients on frog watching tours, exploring forests and even tracking down Welsh speaking villages.
None of that excites you? Well then, give us the spark of an idea… a random thought… a place you have read about but can’t remember the name of… we’ll pull it together with our first-hand knowledge to plan your dream journey.
We have partnerships with a range of trusted tour companies on the ground in South America… the beauty of private tours is that you are really looked after from beginning to end, like our client Robert discovered when travelling Peru….
“Everyone has been incredibly efficient and reliable. Also very, very personal and almost nurturing! Michael, this morning, stepped me through each sign in the Lima terminal, just so I would know where to walk when I return to Lima. I am capable of reading the signs, but it was just his gentle way of looking after me.”
Nearby South America
Combining a South American adventure with a trip to Antarctica just makes sense.
Ideally, you will have an itinerary that weaves you through a variety of South American destinations, bringing you ultimately to Patagonia where you can cruise to Antarctica.
Antarctica is a place that gets under your skin unlike anywhere else on earth. It is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and most remote continent on the planet… and a journey through its icy walls is honestly life changing.
The still waters are the gateway to calving glaciers and rolling icebergs. You will be entranced by the silence as penguins, whales and seals pass by.
We know how lucky we are to have travelled to Antarctica multiple times… it is our passion and a journey we know so well. And it’s a passion we love to share!
With its mix of Spanish and African roots, Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands… and in our opinion the most exciting for travellers.
Behind Cuba’s history and political climate are friendly people and an old-world charm.
From the modern capital of Havana, with the paint peeling from its colonial buildings, to the ‘First City’ of Baracoa, the beauty of the national park in the Viñales Valley and the UNESCO World Heritage listed old quarter of Trinidad…
…Cuba is bountiful in ‘off the tourist trail’ adventures for keen travellers.
From South America we recommend travelling to Cuba via Panama. A transit tour of the Panama Canal will add six hours to your journey, but is well worth it. We can arrange a transit tour to pick you up and drop you back to the airport, timing the tour with your flights.