Seasonal factors such as weather can play a big part in deciding when to travel to Latin America, but, as we learn, the typical 'best time to visit' can sometimes be surprisingly deceptive...
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands can be visited year-round, but the less popular time of year to visit is during the cooler months of June to December, when the seas are a little less calm and the mornings bring a sea mist known as garúa. However, this is also the drier time of year and arguably the best from a wildlife lover's perspective as many species are particularly active – albatrosses return from months at sea to nest, blue-footed boobies perform their comical courtship dance, and the Humboldt Current brings with it nutrients that enliven the marine population. The sea temperature is lower so you'll probably need to wear one of the wetsuits provided by your boat while snorkelling, but the milder weather conditions on land can actually be rather welcome as they allow for more comfortable exploration of the islands. There are also more (and better) offers on Galápagos cruises in the cooler season; we recommend opting for a larger vessel as these are steadier, counteracting the effects of choppier seas.
Salta and the northwest Andes
Most visitors to Argentina and Chile plan their travel dates around Patagonia, so the peak tourist season across the two countries mirrors the Patagonian peak season – November to March, with the very busiest months being December, January and February. However, since these are sprawling territories with the varied weather patterns to match their dizzying latitudes, a one-size-fits-all peak season is not always a good fit for the weather in different regions. In fact, January and February are the worst time to visit northern Argentina, including Salta and the Humahuaca Gorge, where summer rains can turn mud-clogged roads treacherous. If we were going, we'd pick any time between April and October. In Chile it's a similar story, but the consistent desert climate makes Atacama truly a year-round destination.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
There's no question that the busiest – and most expensive – time of year to visit Rio is during the southern hemisphere summer, when the city revels in the baking heat, lets its hair down and plays host to the unparalleled parties of Réveillon (New Year) and Carnival, both of which send hotel prices shooting up into the stratosphere. If attending either of these events is not your main motive for visiting the city, you can really benefit from avoiding the peak Brazilian summer season. Not only is it almost too hot for sightseeing, it's also the rainy season, and what with Rio's climate being warm all year round we think the dry winter months of July to September are just as pleasant as the summer, if not more so.
Torres del Paine, Chile
With its location at the frozen heart of Patagonia, you'd be forgiven for thinking Chile's Torres del Paine National Park would be out of bounds to all but the hardiest souls out of season. But, surely thanks in no small part to that assumption, those who do brave the cold get the park virtually to themselves, and the weather is probably not as inhospitable as you might imagine. Although the austral winter (UK summer) does of course bring the lowest temperatures in Patagonia there is less wind and the skies are generally clearer; if properly prepared you may well find trekking conditions just as favourable as at warmer times of year. You're also likely to see more wildlife – in inverse proportion to the numbers of fellow tourists – and on the fringes of the season you could witness the flowering of a blanket of spring flowers or see the landscape erupt into striking autumnal reds and oranges. Indeed, given all these advantages, plus the higher chance of snapping up a special offer, our own experts generally recommend avoiding the peak season: read our Insider's Guide to Torres del Paine to find out their personal favourite months to visit.
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The iconic image of the Uyuni Salt Flats is one of a searing white desert of salt, but between around December and February each year things look very different. This is the area's wet season, when the vast expanse of the salar floods with a shallow layer of water: a mirrored pool that perfectly reflects the sky as the horizon blurs into nothingness beyond. Travelling through the surreal emptiness by jeep, you have the illusion of flying, and the only sign of land is the odd "floating" island that occasionally comes into view before drifting off again into the distance. It's such a magical experience that many who have visited at this time of year feel it's superior to the more in-demand dry season.