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Dates for Your Diary: What's happening in Latin America in 2017

There's a packed calendar of events, celebrations, carnivals, festivals and notable wildlife activity throughout Latin America. Here, we take a look at one particular highlight for each month of the year.

January - Straight to Chile!

2017 begins with new direct British Airways flights from London Heathrow to Santiago de Chile. Operating four times a week, at 14 hours and 40 minutes it will eclipse Buenos Aires as the carrier's longest non-stop flight. The news follows hot on the heels of British Airway's first direct flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and Lima, Peru in 2016 and demonstrates the growing interest in Central and South America. Chile is set to be one of the world's 'hot' destinations this year, with the new flights making it easier than ever to dash over to Santiago and begin exploring this extraordinary country. The thin strip of land is home to a dazzling Lake District, the Mars-like landscapes and salt flats of the Atacama Desert and Patagonia's magnificent national parks and boat trips at the end of the world. Oh and Santiago isn't bad either. See September's bonus entry for more.

Suggested tour: See the best of Chile on our Sereno tour, taking you from the Atacama Desert in the north, to the Lake District and Torres del Paine in Patagonia.

 

February - Party time in Brazil

It's carnival season in Brazil, when the country explodes with colour and throws the world's biggest party, to mark the beginning of lent. Lively street parties, known as blocos, take place during January and February, leading up to the main event itself, the epicentre of which is in Rio de Janeiro. Around 200 samba schools put on no-expense-spared parades through the city, reaching the fervent Sambadrome, where some 80,000 spectators await, and continuing on long into the night. 

Suggested tour: Experiencing the carnival in Brazil is one of the continents most truly remarkable (and record-breaking) experiences, something you can do yourself on our Carioca tour which takes you to the heart of the carnival and explores this incredible city (including some quieter spots) over eight unforgettable days. Alternatively, the lively carnival in the colourful city of Salvador offers more opportunities to join in with the parades.

 

March - Time for wine

With the seasons in Argentina running the opposite to ours, early March is harvest time for Mendoza's world renowned vineyards. This is an opportunity for the wine communities to come together to celebrate the arrival of the new harvest, giving it a blessing and announcing it to the world with great fanfare. The city centre hosts lively and colourful parties, resplendent with music, lights, concerts, parades and fireworks, during which the story of Mendoza's wine is told and the National Grape Harvest Queen is chosen. During this time, many bodegas throughout the region host their own individual celebrations.

Suggested tour: Combine Mendoza with the best of Argentina and Chile on our Patagonia group tour.

 

April - Travel in style

The Belmond Andean Explorer sleeper train launches in April 2017, becoming Latin America's first luxury sleeper train. It will transport passengers, in sumptuous surroundings, from the former Inca capital Cusco, down to the majestic Lake Titicaca. Here you will visit the traditional floating Uros reed islands and the tranquil Taquile island, which affords stunning views of the lake. The journey then continues on to the 'White City' of Arequipa and the breathtaking Colca Canyon, where Andean condors swoop all around you at the Cruz del Condor lookout point.

 

May - Bizarre mating dances

Aside perhaps from September, there isn't ever a bad time to visit the Galapagos. The islands go though go through a yearly cycle of nature, which present a number of exciting highlights. The month of May offers a great chance to see two of these; the flamboyant mating dances of the waved albatrosses on Española island and the blue-footed boobies' mating rituals on North Seymour. Completely uninhibited and oblivious to the amused and charmed faces of watching visitors, a bizarre process of strutting, squawking and co-ordinated posturing ensues for lengthy periods of time, all in the pursuit of finding their right mate. Waved albatrosses are famous for their 'beak fencing', rapidly (and noisily) clattering together their bills, whilst unsurprisingly the blue-footed boobies base their performances around their colourful feet. 

This is also the time that many eggs start to hatch around the archipelago, including green sea turtles, marine iguanas and land iguanas.

Suggested tour: Combine the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon Rainforest on our unforgettable 14 day Pichincha tour.

 

June - Celebrating the sun

Overlooking the former Inca capital Cusco, the vast remains at Sacsayhuaman show Inca ingenuity and design at its best. Each June 24th, three days after the winter solstice, the colourful Inti Raymi festival takes place here. This ancient tradition celebrates the sun god, the most revered of all Inca gods, with a huge reenactment of a sacred celebration from the days of the Inca empire. Hundreds of performers dress in colourful costumes (including the Emperor himself), elaborate dances are performed and sacred rituals are observed, in front of visitors and locals alike and accompanied by Andean music. It is a mesmerising spectacle, made all the more real by the authentic environment provided by Sacsayhuaman.

Suggested tour: Explore Cusco and discover the best of Peru on our comprehensive Criollo tour.

photo by McKay Savage

 

July - Whale watching

In southern Argentina, the yearly arrival of Southern Right whales will by now be in full swing, meaning you are can watch them off the shores of the Peninsula Valdes, on the eastern coast of Patagonia. The whales come to the sheltered coves of the peninsula to breed, starting in June and staying until December, though generally speaking the earlier you come the better. The Peninsula Valdes ranks as one of Latin America's very best wildlife experiences, whose abundant marine and bird life offers regular sightings of sea lions, elephant seals, flamingos and penguins. There are also visits from killer whales, who practice their spectacular method of hunting here, launching themselves onto the beach to try to snatch an unsuspecting sea lion pup.

Suggested tour: Visit the peninsula and travel to the end of the world on our Yamana Landmark tour through Argentina and Chile.

 

August - Two to tango

Think of Buenos Aires and which images first come to mind? Almost certainly one of the first will be that of two passionate and impeccably dressed porteños, entwined in a stylish and sultry tango, so synonymous is the dance with this European-style city. The final stages of the World Tango Championships take place in August, when the world's best descend on the Argentine capital to strut their stuff in fiercly contested dance offs. It's not all about the professionals though, with cafes and milongas in the colourful district of La Boca offering plenty of opportunity to try your hand at tango and with shows and exhibitions telling the dramatic story of this spectacular dance. August brings colder weather, but less crowds in the famous streets of Buenos Aires, a visit to which could be combined with the Peninsula Valdes, to see the Souther Right whales (see July).

Suggested tour: Discover the city on our Pampa tour around Argentina.

tango in Buenos Aires

 

September - The shadowy snake

Taking place on 22nd September 2017, the Autumn equinox in Mexico brings a spectacular and curious sight. The most recognisable structure in the world famous Chichen Itza archaeological site, on the popular Yucatán Peninsula, is the huge El Castillo pyramid. It has nine steps and at the bottom of the great staircase, a large stone statue of a serpent's head. Twice a year, at sunset on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, a shadowy snake emerges and runs down the steps, connecting perfectly with the head of the serpent, to the delight of the watching visitors. This is no accident, the Mayans were greatly concerned with astronomy and the lunar calendar and the snake itself is held as a sacred animal. The design of the steps cause triangle-like shadows to be cast, bit-by-bit, upon the staircase, giving the impression of the serpent slithering its way down towards the head. There is perhaps no better example of Mayan beliefs and ingenuity so harmoniously at work together.

Suggested tour: Explore the Yucatán's best archaeological sites on our Palapa tour.

Chichen Itza equinox

Here's a September bonus - and it's Chile again! The country celebrates its independence day on September 18th, a time when small towns up and down the thin length of the country are bedecked in red, white and blue and special festivities and events mark the occasion. In the capital Santiago, the Parque Padre Hurtado hosts a nine-day look celebration, frequented almost exclusively by locals. In 2016 it culminated with a spectacular performance from the huasos of Chile, skilled horsemen who perform high-risk manouvers at full-speed and who drew a standing ovation from the Queen when they performed at her 90th birthday celebrations, a source of pride in Chile.

 

October - Oktoberfest in Brazil?

Brazil might not exactly conjure up thoughts of huge glass mugs filled with golden Bavarian ale and being gulped down by lederhosen-clad revelers, but for eighteen days in the small Germanic town of Blumenau, that's exactly what you'll find. Starting on the 7th, Oktoberfest takes over this peaceful haven, surrounded by rolling hills and dense forest, near Brazil's southern Atlantic coast. It's not so surprising though, given that Blumenau welcomed a sizable population of 19th century German settlers and has managed to retain the same unique architecture and European feel ever since. It is this large German community that puts on the show today, with marching bands, folk dancing, lively parties and the ceremonial crowning of the years Queen of the Oktoberfest. Things don't always turn out so well for the hosts when Brazil and Germany mix (see World Cup 2014), fortunately there are no tears to be spilled this time, though trying to not spill your beer is another matter.

Suggested tour: Blumenau can be explored on our spectacular Serra Verde train journey, which cuts through the magnificent Serra Verde mountains and was listed by The Guardian newspaper as one of the "10 most spectacular rail journeys that you’ve never heard of".

Oktoberfest Blumenau
photo by Vitor Pamplona

 

November - Day of the Dead

The start of November brings the colourful Day of the Dead holiday, celebrated throughout Mexico. Spread over three days, the festivities have a deeply significant meaning and can be as moving as they are striking. Following on from Halloween, November 1st is El Dia de los Inocentes, dedicated to remembering departed children, whilst November 2nd is the main El Dia de los Muertos, where the gates of heaven are said to allow the adults out for one day a year. The more somber elements generally take place behind the scenes, in the privacy of family homes and graveyards. However, the community then comes together to create a very public spectacle, with huge parades full of vivid imagery, such as intricately decorated sugar skulls, elaborate masks and the famous La Catrina skeleton costumes. Some of the best places to experience the Day of the Dead in Mexico are San Miguel de Allende, a four day festival set in a beautiful colonial era town, the city of Mérida, on the Yucatán peninsula and Oaxaca, famed for its night-time parades. Inspired by the spectacular fictional parade in James Bond's Spectre, Mexico City now also offers the chance to experience this unique public holiday.

Read our beginners guide to the Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead Mexico

 

December - Santa on the beach

Fancy doing something a little different next Christmas? Why not spend it on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, in the height of the Brazilian summer? The city is home to the world's largest floating Christmas tree, standing 84 metres tall in the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and thanks to clever lighting, even Christ the Redeemer himself gets dressed up for the occasion. Brazil also has its own traditional Christmas food, with turkey, salted cod, rice, nuts and salads all making an appearance in a large meal that is typically eaten on Christmas eve. However festive you are feeling though, nothing quite prepares you for the first time you see Santa Claus hanging out on the golden sands of Leblon Beach - this is definitely Christmas on the other side of the world. 

New Year's Eve is even more spectacular, when some 2 million Cariocas congregate on Copacabana beach to see in the new year and watch the spectacular fireworks show. 

Suggested tour: See Rio's wild side on our nature & wildlife tour of Brazil.

 

Have you been inspired by our 2017 calendar of special events and natural phenomena? Or is there something special you dream of witnessing in person? Why not get in touch today and see how we can help build your dream Latin America adventure! 

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