South America is tailor made for independent travellers, with the famous backpacker Gringo Trail second only to the Banana Pancake Trail in south east Asia. The region is for the most part relatively cheap, has a great transport and accomodation infrastructure for backpackers and a tailor made travel industry that takes full advantage of the diverse cultures, history and natural attractions. Machu Picchu is one of the most famous tourist sites in the world and feature on almost every gap year bucket list and there is a wealth of Mayan archaeological sites and ruins to explore, but south America is a treasure trove of natural wonders too. Iguazu falls, the Galapagos islands and Torres Del Paine among some of the highlights, and that is before you even mention the mighty Amazon! The foodie scene in south America is out of this world, and adventure junkies can spend a liftime exploring jungles, the Atacama desert, the Bolivia Salt Flats andmuch more!
Know Before You Go.
When To Go.
When talking about climate, South America is difficult to generalise. With Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana stretching out along the tropics, and Chile and Argentina stretching almost to Antarctica, it’s pretty safe to say that South America experiences a range of climates.
In very general terms, travel is possible and fine at any time of the year, but there are optimum times for doing certain activities. If you want to do some jungle trekking or hike the famous Machu Picchu trail then you are better off avoiding the rainy or wet seasons and heading there in the dry season from around May to late September. Although it is not impossible at any time of the year to do this, with the exception of the Machu Picchu trail which closes in February for maintenance. If you want to go skiing in Argentina or Chile, then the peak Ski season is June to September.
Be aware though that with these ‘peak times’, there comes with it a hike in tourist numbers and prices. They aren’t called peak seasons for nothing. So you will have to balance out ‘peak’ weather with peak prices.
South America is no longer the budget destination it used to be, particularly along the well trodden Gringo trail. Brazil in particular is very expensive and hard to travel through on a budget. There are some places however such as Colombia, which are still not as frequented by travellers as other parts and remain relatively cheaper. Either way, you will have to budget well, or drop your standards if you plan to travel through much of South America, and this will only get worse as prices are set to soar with the upcoming World Cup in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Travel throughout the region is also often stressful, tiring and eventful to say the least. The best thing to do is to do as the locals do and just go with the flow. Common sense and reasonable safety precautions are all you should need to keep you safe in the absolute vast majority of cases, but it also makes a lot of sense to read up on which areas visitors are best avoiding, as there are still parts of South America where higher than normal levels of concern are warranted. Saying that, there is still no need to be overly concerned or worried, just be sensible with your personal safety.