5. Time your trip wisely
With about two-thirds of South America near the equator or the tropic of Capricorn, visitors to most destinations can expect a tropical or subtropical climate all year round. Temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, while rainforest regions average maximum temperatures of about 30°C. As you get further south (and don’t forget the southern hemisphere reverses the seasons), you’ll find colder winters from June to August and milder summers from December to February, with the extreme south of the continent freezing between April and October. It’s important to plan around the rainy season in each country, particularly when travelling in the Andes.
6. Follow the festivals
South America loves a fiesta, by far the most famous being Carnaval, the legendary flesh-fest (closely associated with Rio), with official celebrations usually taking place on the days before Ash Wednesday and Lent. For something spiritual, head to Inti Raymi, a week-long Inca festival in Cusco, Peru, where thousands of revellers honour the sun god. Down in Argentina, the Feria de Mataderos lets you mingle with gauchos at one of Buenos Aires’ most exhilarating events. Be aware, when planning your movements, that some towns and villages celebrate saints’ days and other local holidays that shut down businesses and make travel difficult.
7. Stay healthy
The potential health risks in South America read like a textbook of tropical diseases. But if you prepare carefully and take sensible precautions, you’ll probably face nothing worse than a mild case of “Montezuma’s revenge” (traveller’s diarrhoea) as your system gets used to foreign germs and unhygienic conditions. That said, be sure to get health advice before you travel and arrange vaccinations in plenty of time (we’re talking ten weeks or so before you travel). The most common risks are heat stroke, and bites and stings – especially by those pesky mosquitoes, so definitely plan ahead if you’ll be in a malaria zone. Good medical insurance is, of course, essential.
8. Go wild
Visit any corner of the Amazon (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) and you’ll be treated to a unparalleled biodiversity, while the Pantanal, Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, home to thousands of animal species (jaguars and pumas among them). Splash out on a trip to Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands to see the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and flightless cormorants that Charles Darwin observed, subsequently developing his theories on evolution. Down in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, you can take a take a boat trip along Beagle Channel to see the penguins and whales.
9. Be brave about local cuisine
Your tastebuds are in for the time of their life, with each destination promising culinary riches. Even when a creation is shared between two countries, there’s often passionate debate about who does it best, as in the case of pisco sours, where the rivalry between Chile and Peru is fierce (better try both, then). As for the grub, a lot of the musts are dishes that the locals eat. As well as meaning that they’re cheap, this also guarantees you’ll be immersed in the day-to-day culture – whether that’s weighing out your own lunch alongside office workers in a comida por kilo joint in Rio or nibbling on a warming salteña in La Paz.
Explore more of South America with the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget. Compare flights, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.