What’s the best time to visit X? When is the rainy season in Y? Central and South American countries have wildly diverse climates. At certain times of the year, you really don’t want to be visiting certain places. Here I’ll run briefly you through the seasons, weather and climate of all countries in Latin America.
Latin America’s Climate In general
Most countries are hot year round, but if you are at an altitude of anything above 2000 metres, it will start to feel cool, irrelevant of the season. Above 3000 metres and you’ll feel cold, above 4000 metres and it starts to get freezing. This is the most important consideration in terms of what clothes to pack - the altitude of the places you will visit. In South America, the “winter months” of May to September only really affect Argentina, Chile and Southern Brazil - all of these places become progressively cooler the further one travels South.
Capital city Buenos Aires is hot and humid during the summer months of November to March, but especially so during January when most locals take their vacations to get away from the sweltering heat. During winter, it can get pretty cold in Buenos Aires.
The weather in Patagonia is always unpredictable, but the summer months is by far the best time to visit. Fine weather can be found from November to April, but note that January and February can get very busy in Patagonia (ie. Southern Argentina - the same is true of Southern Chile’s Patagonia region). During the winter, most places shut down, unless you’re skiing (eg. in Bariloche), in which case the best months to visit are July and August (the depths of winter).
The North of Argentina (ie. around Salta) can be visited year round, but the driest (and best weather) is found during the winter months. Note that at this time of the year, crossing the Andes overland into Chile might not be possible due to snow though.
Belize & Guatemala
Belize’s climate is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is supposedly from mid May to November, while the dry season if from February to mid May. Remember that the rainy season means more mosquitoes - this is a tropical country. The rainy season also is the hurricane season in Belize (a marginal risk). The winter months of November to January are a little cooler than the summer months of May to September.
Guatemala essentially has the same climate as Belize. It’s not so hot and humid as much of the country consists of highlands. June is known as the rainiest season in the highlands.
The driest months in La Paz and the Western highlands are May to December - expect clear blue skies almost every day. November to March is the rainy season throughout the country. The lowlands are hot and humid year round, while the highlands are always cold (dependent on altitude), but particularly so during the winter months of June to August. At night, temperatures regularly hit minus 18 celsius around the Salar de Uyuni in winter for example.
Rio de Janeiro (and everywhere South of Rio) is cool during the winter months of May to September - it’s often not warm enough to hit the beach for example. In contrast, the weather in the summer months of December to March can be swelteringly hot in Rio and elsewhere in the South of Brazil. Expect short bursts of rainfall during these summer months in the South.
Iguazu is often hot and humid from August to April, when it also rains more often, giving a more spectacular sight of the waterfalls. May to September is drier and cooler - at the end of the dry season the falls are no where near as spectacular as during the rest of the year.
In the North of the country, May to August is the rainy season. Everywhere around Salvador and Natal will be rainy almost everyday - be warned if you’re expecting a beach holiday. If you head further West along the coast towards Fortaleza or Jericoacoara, you’ll find the weather gets progressively better as you travel West.
So May to August is winter in the South of Brazil, and the rainy season in the North East - so if you want a beach holiday in Brazil during these months, your only safe bet in terms of the weather is around Fortaleza.
If you’re a European, the simplest way for you to imagine Chile’s climate is to take a map of Europe and North Africa and turn it upside down (Chile’s climatic zones is like that of Europes, only upside down.). In the North it’s desert, in the middle it’s a warm wine growing region, in the South it’s temperate like North Europe while in the very South of Chile it’s weather approaches arctic conditions. The climate in Chile is very dependent upon the season, much as it is in Europe.
Santiago and Patagonia are usually cold and wet during the winter months of May to September - these are the months to avoid. The North of Chile is dry year round, though it is rarely hot due to the altitude.
Describing Colombia’s climate is almost impossible due to so much variation of such short spaces of distance. Bogota is generally cool year round due to it’s high elevation and Medellin is known as the “city of the eternal spring” [a lot of places are known as that I know] due to it’s year round spring like climate, though it can get rainy during October and November (it’s also rainy in the “coffee country” during these months). Cartagena and the Caribbean coast of the country is hot and humid year round, but especially so from August to November. The Caribbean coast generally sees fine beach type weather all year round. Choco, on Colombia’s Pacific coast, is the rainiest place in all South America - year round. See paisatours.com for more tips on Colombia’s diverse climate.
Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua & Honduras
All these countries have very tropical climates. May to November is the rainy season, but the Caribbean coast is far wetter than the Pacific coastlines during this period. Rain is usually in short bursts, and followed by clear skies - so there isn’t a problem if visiting during the rainy season. Note that Panama and Costa Rica are not affected by the hurricane season (July to November), while North Nicaragua and Honduras are on the outskirts of the hurricane region - occasionally hit but rarely.
Cuba & other Caribbean Islands
December to April is the dry season when it is sunniest and less humid. The hurricane season of July to November sees an increased chance of occasional prolonged torrential downpours. In Cuba and the Caribbean it’s hot and sunny all year round - hence it’s popularity as a beach vacation destination.
Hurricane damage season - one moment you’ll be playing on the beach like this, the next you get the evacuation order. Just remember it really doesn’t happen that often.
Ecuador’s climate is highly variable by region. In the highlands, February to April is supposedly the rainier season but in recent years everything has been thoroughly unpredictable all over the country at any time of year.
As for the Galapagos Islands, see the detailed section on the Galapagos Islands weather.
The “winter” months of November to April are generally drier and not so hot (notice I don’t say cooler - it’s always hot). The months of May to September are wetter, though rain is not usually prolonged in duration. The Maya Riviera (Cancun, the Yucatan and around) is hot and humid year round, but sees slightly more rain from July to September, which is also the hurricane season. During the summer months of April to September it is often unbearably, swelteringly, desert-like hot in Baja California and Northern Mexico. The tropical South West of Mexico’s climate is more akin to that of Belize and Guatemala (see that section). Throughout Mexico, the climate will vary greatly according to altitude.
November to Narch is the rainy sesason in Peru - especially so in the highlands (eg. Cuzco, Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu). Note that the Inca trail is closed during February. During the winter months of June to September, days are almost always clear, but nights can get very cold at high altitude.
Lima, and much of Peru’s coast and beaches, are almost always misty due to the la garua phenomenon - mist is especially prevalent from May to October.
In Peru’s jungle (Amazon and the Puerto Maldonado area), April to October is the dry season - the rest of the year usually sees very high temerpatures (up to 40 celsius) and torrential rain for a couple of hours a day (but that’s what the rainforest is all about, so don’t let it put you off!)
The Caribbean coast is dry year round. The Llanos and Orinoco delta regions are hot and tropical in weather, and see a rainier season from April to October. The Gran Sabana is very wet during July and August - best to avoid these months as travel overland can be very difficult. In contrast, the dry season around Angel Falls and Canaima National Park is from December to April - while the weather might be wonderful, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the trickle of a waterfall at Angel Falls (the highest in the world). The Andes region of Merida sees the best weather from March to June and September to December.
A Final Note on the Climate and Weather in Latin America
El Nino years see particularly hap-hazard climatic conditions in South America - expect a lot more rain and unpredictability, especially in the Andean countries. It’s also important to note that South America’s climate is changing - in many of the places that I have visited, the locals have noted increasing unpredictability of the weather and either shortening or lengthening of seasons. All this is due to human induced global warming - so do consider offsetting the carbon emissions of your flights.