The seven rules of flying to South America

Flying down to Rio or beyond? Follow our guide to tickets and turbulence

By Chris Moss
Published 7 Nov 2015, 08:00 GMT, Updated 5 Jul 2021, 12:23 BST

01 Avianca, British Airways and TAM fly direct from Heathrow to South America. If you don't live in London, always look closely at services that route via Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam; they are often far cheaper than ex-London services. Elsewhere, Madrid's Barajas Airport is to modern conquistadors what Seville was to the original explorers — Iberia and LAN fly across the continent from the Spanish capital. TAP Portugal, meanwhile, flies to many Brazilian destinations from its hub in Lisbon.

02 Check out multi-stop passes such as the TAM Airpass ($532/£337 for four flights), Aerolíneas Argentinas' Visit Argentina pass (minimum three flights, from $150/£95) and One World's Visit South America pass (minimum three flights, price varies depending on outward flight).

03 Off Brazil's northern coast, over the Amazon, and across the pampas, there are regular convection storms, caused by a collision of cool and hot, damp air systems. Don't panic: significant turbulence is absolutely normal.

04 If flying down to Patagonia, expect strong side-winds when landing, especially at Ushuaia and Punta Arenas airports. The Beagle Channel and Magellan Strait are like natural wind tunnels and the cold katabatic and ocean-borne winds often gust unpredictably. On Argentina's Patagonian coast, there can also be high winds, especially in the southern summer months (Nov-Apr).

05 Exotic stopovers. Air France flies to Cayenne in French Guiana, KLM to the islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, and the MoD's airbridge service from RAF Brize Norton to Mount Pleasant in the Falklands, from where travellers can connect to Chile with LAN.

06 Ticket prices skyrocket around Christmas. Domestic flights are also expensive during January and February in most South American countries because of school holidays. Check your destination's off- and shoulder seasons to save lots of money.

07 Don't fly everywhere — yes, distances in South America are long, but you won't see that much at 26,000ft and above. Try to do some legs of your trip overland to see the Altiplano, steppes, deserts and all the other out-of-this-world topographies.

Published in the South America guide, distributed with the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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