If you’re one of the lucky ones jetting off to South America to study abroad (or even just to visit), you will have the opportunity to enjoy some of the most under-appreciated sites and beaches in the world, all while everyone’s back at home or in Europe, shivering and bundling up. The seasons are flipped south of the Equator, which people often forget, so many locations are less touristy and crowded than top destinations in the Northern Hemisphere. Many sites in South America are only accessible during their summer because of their harsh winters (that’s right, it snows in South America!), so take advantage of these great places while you can.
1. Patagonia, Chile/Argentina
Comprised of southern Argentina and Chile, this area is known for its stunning natural beauty including larger than life mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and quaint alpine towns. Much of this region is nearly impossible to get to during their winter because of the snow, so the best time to go is during the summer. Warmer alpine climates make for a pleasant trekking atmosphere and allow for zip-lining through the Andes, jet-skiing across azure lakes, and even hanging out with penguins in their natural habitat (we can’t contain our excitement either). While visitors could spend months just exploring one area of Patagonia, there are so many great sites to see. Some of the top places to hit up in Chile include Tierra del Fuego, Coyhaique, and Cape Horn and the must-see places in Argentina include Bariloche, Perito Moreno Glacier, Cuevo de las Manos, Torres del Paine, and Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world, shown above).
2. Punta del Este, Uruguay
A small city in southern Uruguay, Punta del Este is a popular beach town with miles of open sand. Its scenic coastline is divided into two areas: Brava, which features white and fine sand, and Mansa, where the sand is thick and golden. Both are separated by the famous Mano de Punta del Este statue, which was designed to warn beach-goers about the dangers of the waves. La Barra is a popular region for nautical sports, fishing, and its after-hours fiestas (keep your eyes peeled, as many South American celebrities have been spotted partying it up here). Like much of Uruguay, the city has a great combination of colonial architecture and modern restaurants, shops, and casinos. If you’re looking for a break from the luxurious beach life, take a day trip into Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, which is only a short ride away.
3. Baños, Ecuador
With its plethora of outdoor activities and spring-like climate for most of the year, Baños is every adventurer’s dream. This little-known town is surrounded by huge volcanoes, mountains, and gardens and filled with great restaurants, hip shops, and natural hot springs (where the town gets its name from). Famous for the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water, its basilica is a place of pilgrimage to thank the Virgin for her many miracles and ask for her blessing. The most popular activity to do in Baños is obviously the hot springs, which are within walking distance of the town’s center. Many offer saunas, gyms, spas, and even waterslides. For those interested in adventure, there are endless opportunities to hike the surrounding volcanoes, horseback ride, take a jungle tour of the Amazon, whitewater raft, and hang from the “Swing at the End of the World”. Baños is the perfect place for those who want to get their adrenaline pumping as well as those wanting a relaxing few days.
4. Mérida, Venezuela
Located between two Andean mountain ranges, the town of Mérida is a very popular vacation place for locals and hardly touched by tourists. This beautiful town features a topographically diverse countryside and is home to four national parks, numerous state parks, rainforests, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and even a tropical beach. This area’s spring-like weather is ideal for outdoor activities, and can even get a bit chilly in the mountain villages, so be sure to pack some warmer clothing. Many people enjoy taking short day trips to other local Andean communities because this area is easy to get around and has so much to offer. Be sure to take a burro or cable car to remote mountain villages such as Los Nevados, which is a small town between Mérida and Pico Toro, the highest mountain in Venezuela.
5. Ilha Grande, Brazil
It is impossible to have a list about best summer places in South America and not mention the beaches of Brazil. However, because of its reputation as a summer paradise, many areas of this great country are overrun by tourists and take away from the overall experience. For a more removed spot, Ilha Grande, which is part of a group of 22 islands off the coast, is covered with beautiful and tranquil beaches and coves ideal for relaxing and soaking up the sun. Its beaches are constantly rated among the best in the world and are famous for their perfectly soft white sand and killer waves for surfing. With cars forbidden in its town center, visitors can enjoy strolling the quaint streets filled with charming cafes, beach-side restaurants, boutiques, and more. For those looking for a bit more action, try a sailing excursion on a pirate-themed ship, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, jungle trekking, mountain biking, or exploring the other islands. Located about three hours from Rio, visitors can easily get into the city by bus when you’re ready to move on from this beach paradise (as if that were possible).
South America has so much to offer that travelers should not stop at these five sites. From tangoing in Buenos Aires and trekking through the Amazon to lounging on the beach in Brazil and wine tasting in Chile, there is something to do for everyone during their summer. So, start booking your weekend trips and enjoy the warmth, sunshine, and beautiful scenery that South America has to offer in the summertime.