With extraordinary landscapes, ancient cultures and some of the world’s most famous heritage sites, South America is an alluring and exotic destination for international travelers. From the islands of the Galapagos to the ruins of Machu Picchu and the wonder of Iguazu Falls, the continent is full of bucket-list-worthy experiences.
South America covers a large expanse of land and comprises a wide variety of countries and national cultures, so it’s difficult to experience the whole continent in one tour. Choosing the right destinations for your group depends a lot on the experience of your travelers and the types of places they’re interested in seeing.
To give you a head start on planning travel to South America, we asked three tour operators for some of their insights on the continent.
Shane Matlock, product manager for Latin America
Timothy Chan, public relations manager
Vantage Deluxe World Travel
Karen Hansen, director of interactive creative services
What are your top-selling itineraries to South America?
Matlock: We have two: Chile and the Mountain Lakes and Vineyards goes from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, over Andes mountains into Chile and down from Santiago into German- and Swiss-like villages on the Argentina side. It’s 11 nights.
The Galapagos and Machu Picchu tour starts in Lima and then goes to Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Then we take them to Quito, Ecuador, and to the equator. Then they go to the Galapagos on a four-night cruise. The total tour is 14 nights.
Chan: Our Land Galapagos and Inca Discovery tours are among our top-selling itineraries in South America. Guests on our 10-day Galapagos trip encounter incredible wildlife, snorkel and swim with sea turtles and manta rays, hike the Sierra Negra Volcano and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station.
On our eight-day Peru trip from Lima to Cusco, guests sample seafood in Lima, explore ruins in the Sacred Valley, conquer the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and learn ancient traditions at the Planeterra-supported Women’s Weaving Co-op.
Hansen: Our Peruvian Amazon and Machu Picchu cruise is aboard a brand-new river ship that has been designed specifically for upscale American travelers. It goes along the Amazon but also goes to Machu Picchu. No matter where you go, you’re going to be able to enjoy a level of luxury that previously wasn’t available in this part of the world. It’s a 13-day trip with 27 guided tours.
What is the best time of year for groups to travel to South America?
Matlock: The offseason in Europe is the best time to go. December is the peak season for them, especially Chile, Argentina and Brazil — that’s summertime for them. So January through April is a great time to go. You’re going to get incredible weather.
Chan: South America is truly a year-round destination. When to go really depends on where the traveler is going on the continent and what they’re looking to get out of their vacation time. Keep in mind that South America’s seasons are opposite of North America’s seasons; so when it’s winter here, it’s summer down there. Precipitation can be a key consideration, as some regions have wet and dry seasons.
Hansen: We look at South America as a year-round destination. The climate is fairly temperate, so it’s usually good touring weather no matter where you go.