May picks up where April left off, bringing increasing temps and clear skies in the northern half of South America and starting to plunge Patagonia and Antarctica in the opposite (rather chilly) direction. This is a truly great month to visit: May falls right between Easter and the start of the busy tourist season which starts about mid-June. However, most of the time, the central Andes already enjoy superlative weather so if you want to get out there and explore Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile with fab temps but fewer tourists, this is the month you should be honing in on.
There’s a ton of great stuff to see and do in South America in May – here’s a quick summary:
Tackle the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in May and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just won the Andean hiking lottery. Glorious!
Extend your visit to Peru by adding on an epic road trip across the Bolivian Altiplano, right through the stunning Uyuni Salt Flats and ending in Chile’s Atacama Desert. May is a much drier month, which means your chances of getting stuck in the muddy flats are infinitely reduced
As the rain recede in the Pantanal, now is a great time to go in search of amazing wildlife
City escapes are ripe for the picking in May – include a few extra days in Santiago, Lima, Buenos Aires or Rio and you’ll enjoy splendid weather for extensive sightseeing
Lace up those hiking boots and get moving – May is a time for enjoying the startling nature of the central Andes under the steam of your own leg-power
Clear skies, great underwater visibility and calm seas make cruising the Galapagos an absolute treat in May. If you want to add plenty of sea activities on your wildlife-watching journey then this is the month for you - also ideal if you know (or suspect) you may suffer sea-sickness on an island-hopping adventure. Keep reading to discover the unique Galapagos wildlife happenings in May!
Antarctica cruising season is well and truly over so check back on October for fantastic adventures to the land of penguins and fur seals
Hit the unofficial capital of Bolivia in May and you can soak up the delights of the Senor del Gran Poder Festival, the largest street party the city sees all year. Yes, it may rather fresh this time of year but as winter approaches, the clouds disappear and that is the best of all. Bolivia’s travel infrastructure can suffer greatly during the rainiest months so if you want to explore a little further, you’ll really want to visit during the driest months. Besides, the cold is easy enough to deal with – especially with so many gorgeous Alpaca wool clothing on sale here – but cold and wet is a whole other matter!
With daytime temps hovering around 20-degrees C and virtually cloudless skies, May is a great month to explore Lima’s fabulous hoods. Hit up the high-end boutique in Miraflores and enjoy an excellent seafood lunch by the seashore, check out the evening action in bohemian Barranco, visit the impressive sites in the historic centre and feast on stir-fries and dumplings in Barrio Chino. Lima has so much to more to offer than many first-time visitors realise so do fight the urge to simply pass through.
Colourful, eclectic, historic and cultural, Quito is one of South America’s quietest achievers. Ask us (secretly) and we’d say it may even be the most beautiful city in the whole continent, its anonymity actually adding to the allure. Quito has a bit of everything, you see: it’s just a short hop away from the Galapagos, framed by startling Andean peaks, nearby authentic indigenous villages and boasts a historic core (with a spectacular cathedral) that just begs to be explored on foot. Head up the teleferico for jaw-dropping views of volcanic peaks, get totally lost in the quaint colonial core and include at least 2 day-trips to very special destinations nearby.
If you know anything about the Galapagos Islands, you’d know that every single month of the year offers unique wildlife experiences. Given that May is the start of the dry season – which makes snorkelling and SCUBA diving all that more rewarding – this is a very sweet month for multi-day cruising around these amazing isles. The waved albatross returns to Española, ready to get frisky and down to mating business. There’s a lot of beak fencing, flapping of wings and stomping of feet involved in the albatross mating ritual (all very sexy, as you can imagine) and witnessing the spectacle is simply out of this world. If that’s not enough, May also sees the hatching of marine iguanas, with the baby meals attracting untold colonies of hungry birds. It’s a do or die business out here, a real Blue Planet episode played out in real life.
Don’t miss it!
Visit the indigenous villages around Lake Titicaca, Peru
Lake Titicaca is as much about culture as it is about wilderness. With May’s clear skies, the lake glistens and beckons visitors on sightseeing boat trips to the outlaying reed islands of Uros, where indigenous communities continue their life much as they have for hundreds of years.
Stargazing and trekking trips to the Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama is one of those special places that manages to overawe everyone who visits. Between the endless horizons, the ethereal lunar landscapes and the impressive array of activities (from geyser visits to horseback riding, mountain biking excursions, thermal hot-spring soaking and stargazing evenings) Chile’s magnificent ‘desert’ is a place you don’t just need to see but one you’ll want to really explore for a few days. May marks the end of the stellar shoulder season in the Atacama, a time when temperatures are ideal for all-day outings. Do note that we mean it’s still ‘warm enough’ to be out all day! As opposed to most deserts, the Atacama actually enjoys cold temps thanks to its high altitude – in the height of summer, in fact, temps barely reach the high-20s.
Cast your eyes on the endless white horizons of the Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
May is a bit of a surprise month in Bolivia, the preceding month’s rain determining whether you get to see a shining lake or a crusty desert in Salar Uyuni. Needless to say, the spectacle is amazeballs no matter what you get yet if the last few years are anything to go by, it will likely be a sensational, crusty moon-like surface. If you have time, do include two overnight stays on the Salt Fats (rather than heading here on a day trip) as you’ll get to see and experience much more the deeper into the flats you travel.
Enjoy a wildlife-watching bonanza in the Pantanal, Brazil
The largest wetlands on earth are drying up fast in May which means your chances for encountering wildlife are absolutely huge. They have nowhere to hide! Rated one of South America’s top 3 wildlife experiences of all, the Pantanal is the other side of the Amazon, the one that has all the wildlife minus all the thick vegetation which makes the latter unique yet prime wildlife hiding grounds. When you visit the Pantanal, you really need not go very far to spot creatures of all size, with giant anteaters, capybaras, caimans, a stunning array of birds and tapirs meander right past you as you sit, riverside, enjoying a refreshing caipirinha.
Be spellbound by the magical beaches and underwater life of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Viva’s own CEO just got back from a family holiday in Brazil and, aside from crazy-close wildlife encounters in the Pantanal, Rachel absolutely raved about the sparkling beaches of Fernando de Noronha. So we think you ought to know about this gem of a place! This UNESCO-listed marine deserve is one of Brazil’s hidden gems, home to some of South America’s dreamiest beaches way off the beaten path and simply exceptional snorkelling among pristine reefs teeming with colourful fish. Rachel and her fam spent a few days here at the beginning of April – and experienced only one rainy day – yet considering May is even drier you can bank on absolutely glorious sunshine, all the time.