Although it seems as if the whole world is being hammered by icy winds and brutal snowstorms, it is winter only in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s summer, and in South America, there is plenty of warm weather, sun, sandy beaches perfect for snorkeling, surfing and sunbathing and lush, green forests and mountains for hiking and camping.
In the mild summer weather of Patagonia in the southern part of the continent, you can zip-line through forest canopies or jet-ski across crystalline, azure lakes. In the tropical rainforests of Colombia and Venezuela, you can trek through steamy jungles to catch a glimpse of colorful birds and exotic animals. Most of South America lies in the Southern Hemisphere, but even in the Northern Hemisphere countries, the weather is generally much warmer at this time of year than in North America or Europe. Head south both to escape the cold and to have the adventure of a lifetime. Here are ten suggestions to get you started:
Los Roques Archipelago National Park, Venezuela
By far, the most pristine and lesser-known group of islands in the Caribbean, Los Roques (pronounced los RO-kays) is an atoll of 350 beach-fringed islands and cays lying 80 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. A 546-acre nature reserve was created in 1972 to protect an extensive ecosystem of islands, beaches, coral reefs, sea turtles, seabirds, marine life, mangroves and sea grass beds. The dazzlingly white sand beaches and shallow, turquoise warm waters are excellent for snorkeling, scuba diving, wind-sailing, kite-surfing, sport fishing and boating and the wide, shallow flats allow beach-goers to stroll into the ocean knee-deep far from the beach.
Most people travel to Los Roques in organized groups, specifically for fishing or diving trips, but it is possible to travel independently. Using a travel agency is advisable, given the currency-exchange, security and logistical challenges of traveling within Venezuela, but if you prefer to go it alone, flights leave daily from Caracas or Isla Margarita (Margarita Island) and hotels at various price levels are plentiful.
San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
The stunningly beautiful, forested lake district of Argentina known by locals as simply Bariloche, is famous for its crystal blue lakes and rivers dotted with green islands and its backdrop of emerald hills and the snow-capped Andes Mountains. In the Southern Hemisphere winter, it is a mecca for skiers and winter sport enthusiasts, but it is still lively during the summer months of December through April as a center for trekking, camping, forest canopy zip-lining, boating, Jet-skiing, rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, paragliding, scuba diving, canoeing, horseback riding and 4×4 off-road excursions.
Located in the center of Patagonia, with a quaint Bavarian-themed town center famous for its chocolate and dulce de leche (caramel sauce), Bariloche is an excellent base for exploring nearby mountain trails and nature reserves such as Nahuel Huapi National Park, the oldest in Argentina. Bariloche has many direct flights from Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago de Chile and can also be reached easily from most towns and cities through the expansive and generally reliable long-distance bus networks of South America.
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