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South America is a captivating continent, as much for its vibrant cities and exceptional sights, as for the Latin flavour that permeates every aspect of the culture. Expect to hear music everywhere you go, because it's an integral part of South American culture. Mambo, salsa, cumbia, tango—these delightful rhythms will quickly become familiar to you.
Also expect to be immersed in two of the world's most romantic languages: Spanish and Portuguese. Spanish is the official language of the majority of the continent's countries, while Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. In remote areas of certain countries, you may be fortunate enough to hear some of the continent's indigenous languages, like Quechua, Guaraní, Aymara, and Mapudungan.
Finally, expect each of the continent's 13 countries to offer a totally unique travel experience. For example, Bolivia is the poorest country on the continent, but the richest in terms of indigenous cultural traditions. Many Bolivians do wear the colourful traditional clothing—and the bowler hats—that you often see on postcards. And it's in Bolivia where many travellers explore the mighty Amazon, on boats and ecological cruising expeditions. In the richer countries of Chile and Argentina, modernity is much more apparent. The cities are more cosmopolitan, and the way of life often seems almost European.
This is a continent of rainforests, waterfalls, mountains, spectacular beaches, beautiful cities, and remnants of the planet's most fascinating ancient civilizations. South America is a cultural, historical, and geological smorgasbord that is too often at the bottom of one's list of must-see travel destinations. Put it at the top of yours.
From Canada, the only airline that flies direct to South America is Air Canada, and departures are available only from Toronto, and only to select destinations in South America, such as Santiago (Chile), and Sao Paulo(Brazil). From other parts of Canada, you can opt to fly to Toronto and connect to a direct Air Canada flight, or you can travel via the United States, on any number of US and South American airlines, including Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, LAN, TACA, and Avianca.
Flights to South America from Canada will almost always cost over $1,000 CAD for a round-trip ticket, so the only thing to keep in mind when planning a trip is that the earlier you book, the better your chances are of staying close to that $1,000 mark, and the better your chances are of getting a flight with only one connection. If you're planning on travelling to different cities and countries while in South America, it's usually a more economical choice to book a roundtrip ticket to/from your first destination, and then use the budget airlines on the continent for travelling around while you're there. An openjaw ticket (flying from Canada to one city in South America, and flying home from another) is usually very expensive. Brazil is the only South American country with all-inclusive resorts—and there are only a few—so, if you'd simply like a relaxing beach vacation in South America, this is an option.
South America stretches all the way from just above the equator to the continent's subpolar tip, which is only 1,200 miles from Antarctica. The continent's coastline areas are subject to the influences of oceans—the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean on the east and northeast, the Caribbean Sea on the north, and the Southern Ocean on the south. It makes sense, then, that there are great variations in climate across the continent. Brazil, for example, enjoys a mainly tropical climate. Argentina is subtropical in the north, but subpolar in the south. You have the arid Atacama Desert in Chile and Peru. You have the rainy Amazon basin that covers much of the north-central part of the continent, and encompasses areas of several countries.
The best time to travel to South America therefore depends on which countries you're planning on visiting. For example, the southern countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay are best visited when it's summer there (January through March). The coast of Brazil is lovely and warm year-round. You'll likely want to avoid the rainy seasons in the more tropical northern countries. Do a little climate research before you book your trip, and then book accordingly.