• Original mazurek salar de uyuni.jpg?1475686644?ixlib=rails 0.3
    The Best Time to Visit South America's Top Destinations
    The idea to take a long-term trip through South America lodged in my brain a year and a half before I actually packed my bags. As a photographer, I try to time my travels with the perfect light and weather conditions, so—to avoid getting stranded by a monsoon or stuck hiking through snow in Patagonia—I carefully planned my entire seven-month South American adventure around the continent’s best travel seasons. (I may or may not have made a spreadsheet.) In January (midsummer in South America), I booked a one-way flight to Patagonia and then spent the next half year traveling back north, chasing the weather. The point is that I’ve done the hard work; all you have to do is book a flight!

    Here’s my south-to-north guide to the best time to visit five of South America’s most popular destinations.

    Anna Mazurek is a travel photographer and writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow her adventures and travel advice on Instagram and at TravelLikeAnna.com.

    Photo by @annamazurekphoto

  • Original mazurek patagonia torres del paine.jpg?1475686451?ixlib=rails 0.3
    1. Patagonia (Argentina and Chile): January
    I landed in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, in late January. The summer months, December through February, are the best time to trek in Patagonia, but keep in mind that the price of lodging increases along with the temperatures. Book your accommodations ahead of time unless you want to camp! Crowds thin in the shoulder months, November and March, though beware that transport options to and from the big parks also decrease as the weather cools, making trekking more challenging. I hiked in Torres del Paine, a park known for its rapidly changing weather, in early February, shortly after landing in Patagonia. I encountered a little rain, a little snow, and lots of wind—which is considered good weather there. Remember to pack for all weather conditions no matter the season.

    Plan your trip with our guides to Argentina and Chile

    Photo by @annamazurekphoto
  • Original mazurek lakesdistrict bariloche.jpg?1475686448?ixlib=rails 0.3
    2. Lakes District, Argentina: February
    Argentina’s Lake District is an outdoor-adventure wonderland at any time of year. I arrived in the resort town of Bariloche in late February, which is the prime season for everything from hang gliding to wildflower-spotting and indulging in local berries and fruits. (Most berries are harvested between October and March.) Nights start to cool again in early fall—March—although the days remain warm. Plan your trip based on the activities that interest you. If you want to bike, climb, fish, or trek, stick to the summer months. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the surrounding slopes from June to August (the region’s biggest resort, Cerro Catedral, is open from mid-June to mid-October).

    Photo by @annamazurekphoto
  • Original mazurek salar de uyuni.jpg?1475686446?ixlib=rails 0.3
    3. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: November or May
    Plan your visit to Bolivia’s famous salt flat based on whether you want photos of them dry (winter) or flooded with water (summer). My initial plan was to visit in early April, at the end of the wet season. Unfortunately, I was stranded in northern Chile for several days after the Bolivia border was closed due to heavy rains, which arrived late in the season. When I finally arrived at the flats, they were—surprisingly—nearly dry. Winter (May to October) is the more popular dry season, when the flats are dry and cracked. Rains move in during November and last until April, lowering prices and offering a chance to see the flats flooded, which creates a vast mirror of the sky. Nights are chilly any time of year—a great excuse to stock up on alpaca sweaters! If you visit during the wet season, be sure to add a few buffer days to your travel time. Muddy conditions can make roads unpassable.

    Photo by @annamazurekphoto
  • Original mazurek machu picchu.jpg?1475686443?ixlib=rails 0.3
    4. Machu Picchu, Peru: May
    To avoid the largest crowds, I visited the sacred Inca city on a weekday in late April. At 6 a.m., the view was postcard-perfect: The ruins were wrapped in a picturesque cape of fog.  Visit any time between May and October if you want to snap a photograph of Machu Picchu with a backdrop of clear blue skies. Crowds swarm the area during the peak season, from June to August, when days are warm and nights are cool. Keep in mind that even during the sunniest months, there’s always a chance of heavy mist and fog, especially in the early morning. If you’re crowd-averse, consider visiting in September/October or April/May when most schools are in session. The rainy season starts in November. Avoid visiting between January and March when rainfall is the heaviest. The Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance.

    Plan your trip using our guide to Peru

    Photo by @annamazurekphoto
  • Original 9336153248 16b1cff42c z.jpg?1475513496?ixlib=rails 0.3
    5. Galápagos Islands: May
    My plan to visit the Galápagos Islands in early May fell apart when my camera gear broke in Peru. I begrudgingly cut my trip short to get my gear repaired back in the United States. But after all my planning, I know the Galápagos travel seasons by heart: I’ll visit in April or May when the weather is warm and the animal activity high (it’s the mating season for sea lions, birds, and land tortoises). December through May is both the warmest time of the year and the rainy season. Expect a daily shower or two. You’ll see fewer fish this time of year, but it’s the best time to view turtles nesting on beaches. Those prone to seasickness should visit when the water is calm, from February through April.  The arctic Humboldt Current moves in during the dry season (June to December) bringing with it cooler weather. Although the wind and seas are rougher during these months, it’s the best time to spot fish and other underwater marine life—if you dare plunge into the cold water. The plus side? You might see penguins, chasing the cold arctic waters.

    Photo by Paul Krawczuk
  • Original original open uri20151005 24794 svo9qf.jpeg?1475521284?ixlib=rails 0.3

Heading to South America? A Seasonal Guide to Planning Your Trip

The best times to visit the continent's most popular destinations