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When to visit South America, season by season

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When to visit South America, season by season

story by: Anna Sarjeant

South America is one attractive lady; a Latin ​belleza​ that stuns her guests every month of the year. 

She may be famed for her glowing spring and seductive summers, but for those looking for a different perspective; fewer crowds and cheaper airfares, there are other months ​when the sights, cities and glistening shorelines are equally beguiling. Here's our seasonal guide for visiting South America at different - more unusual - times of the year.

​WINTER
Mendoza, Argentina
​Consider this month: July
The brunt of it: Defined by vineyards and ruby-red Malbec, Mendoza is a year-round top-choice for travellers in search of the perfect tipple. But is there anything quite as breath-taking as burnt post-autumn tones nudging the foothills of pearly white mountainside? Visit Mendoza in the early winter and you’ll be met with clear blue skies, snow-cloaked Andes and a frame of immaculate, lush green vineyards. The air is fresh, a crisp breeze rolls off the mountainside and the h​ordes have all but dispersed.  

The lowdown: As bonafide desert, Mendoza, by all accounts should be arid, but thanks to the forward-thinking Spanish settlers who implemented an artificial irrigation system, the ground is water-rich, the vines are nurtured and as a result, the wines are world-class. Bodega visits are a full-day affair, so start the morning well with medialunas, Argentina’s version of a croissant, and wash it down with a strong shot of espresso. Albeit dry, the temperature will be tittering on chilly, but robust Malbecs will soon warm the blood, as will the ​piping hot empanadas.   

The best bit: By afternoon, you’ll retreat to a roaring fire, for a few cosy hours lapping up the Mendoza’s wintery glow; the early-setting sunset dipping behind the Andes and casting the plains in a majestic blanket of light.    

Average temperature: 2-14°C

​SPRING
Santiago, Chile
​Consider this month: October
The brunt of it: It’s easy to regard Santiago as little more than a passing destination as you transfer from one long haul flight to your next American destination, but pause for a second, don’t dismiss this understated beauty just yet. As one of Latin America’s most progressive cities, surprises are found at every turn.

The lowdown: A Santiago spring presents comfortable temperatures, a dissipating humidity and an air of optimism as fragrant flowers bloom across the city. The sun shines, the crowds thin and the diversity of this eclectic metropolis can be viewed in full spectrum. Boasting a 500-year history, the grand colonial architecture sits alongside cosmopolitan cafes and sophisticated eateries, while cobbled streets lead into exotic hillside parks, European-style plazas and sublime landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral. Step inside and feel your jaw drop.

The best bit: The Plaza de Aramas is the focal point of the city and the perfect place to start. Grab a bite in one of the bustling cafes, peruse an art stall or two, or simply soak up the energy of the Santiago people. A city of beauty, history and polar-extremes, it’s always the quiet ones that surprise us the most. 

Average temperature: 7°C - 22°C


​SUMMER
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Consider this month: February
The brunt of it: From favelas to summer fiestas, Mardis Gras, Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro quite simply shines in the summer. It may be the busiest and most popular month to visit, but if​ you like heat and can stomach the pace, say 'olá' to the city of God.

The lowdown: As with most things Rio-related, favela tours are most compelling in the summer, when the city flaunts much of its magnetism. Descending onto Brazil's poorest neighbourhoods is not everybody’s cup of tea; the shanty houses cling like toppling, over-crowded collage pieces strewn across the hillside, but it’s an eye-opening experience nevertheless. The hustle and bustle of the community swallows its guests and shows them a way of life that is alien to most. Residents are happy to chat and sell their trinkets, children are wide-eyed and intrigued, but the armed police provide a constant reminder of your somewhat turbulent surroundings.

The best bit Six year old Pedro is laughing. Belly rolling sniggers complemented by an enormous gappy grin. The reason for his joy? He’s guffawing at a westerner’s poor attempt at Portuguese - unapologetically so. Pedro lives in the favela and much-like many other slum kids, attends the day centre. Go and say hi, better still, go and say olá. Just make sure you say it right, or Pedro will be laughing.

Average temperature: 24-30°C

​AUTUMN
The Inca Trail, Peru
​Consider this month: Late April
The brunt of it: Nudging the dry season, late April offers less rain and a pleasant climate. And when you’re halfway up the famed Incan mountain, legs burning and sweat pouring to a feverish degree, the weather can make all the difference between lau​ghter or tears.   

The lowdown: This is the Inca Trail. Don’t forget to look up and embrace the formidable sights that up until 1911, lay completely undiscovered in the Peruvian wilderness.  As with any thigh-burning hike, it’s far too easy to keep your head down and your eyes fixed on a monotonous step​, but in Peru, on the iconic trail, you are rewarded with astounding views. The trek isn’t solely about the penultimate ruins, you’ll pass many more en-route, entwined within rolling mountainside and dense jungle. The first day is unnervingly easy; a false sense of illusion before the back-breaking second day. It’s a constant, unwavering uphill ascent, followed by a very steep decline which takes every ounce of concentration to re-stabilise wobbly legs. You’ll sweat and you’ll curse, in equal amounts.

The best bit: You reach the ruins. You’re euphoric. The adrenaline from an over-whelming sense of achievement worth every throbbing blister that burden your feet. NB. The trail closes throughout February. Whenever you choose to go, book well in advance as permits are always limited. 

Average temperature: 18-25°C. Winds will make it seem colder.


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