South America’s popularity as a backpacker destination is cemented in the nickname the Gringo Trail – sometimes used affectionately, sometimes less so – but nonetheless descriptive of the well worn trail that many backpackers have trodden through the continent for decades, and for good reason. South America is home to the mighty Amazon river, the largest rainforest in the world, the highest waterfall and the longest mountain range, to name just a few things. The numerous natural and man made wonders of the world, UNESCO world heritage sites and white sand beaches that will take your breath away. The Aztec and Mayan ruins are only the start of the history that can be explored on this fascinating continent, if you can tear yourself away from the flamboyant carnivals, heady samba music and indigenous and Spanish influenced folk soundtrack that seems to pervade every inch of the continent. With so much choice, the biggest problem with South America is knowing where to begin!
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.