Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria February
Semana Santa March/April
Inti Raymi June
Tango BA Festival y Mundial August
It's peak season in Brazil and Argentina. Expect higher prices, bigger crowds and sweltering temperatures as city dwellers head to the coast. This is also the most popular time to travel to Patagonia.
Santiago a Mil
This long-running theater and dance fest features dozens of shows and events around the Chilean capital, staged by international and local companies. The 17-day event begins in early January and is held throughout the city, including in free outdoor venues.
Festival Nacional del Folklore
Near the city of Córdoba, the town of Cosquín hosts Argentina's National Festival of Folk Music during the last week of January. It's the country's largest and best-known folk festival.
The sizzling summer is still in full swing in the southern half of the continent, with exorbitant prices and sparse accommodations during Brazilian Carnaval. Elsewhere, it's fairly wet in the northern Andes and the Amazon region.
The famous bacchanalian event happens across South America, though the pre-Lenten revelry is most famous in Brazil. Rio and Salvador throw the liveliest bashes, with street parades, costume parties and round-the-clock merriment. Carnaval runs from Friday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in February or early March.
Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria
Celebrated across the highlands in Bolivia and Peru, this festival features music, drinking, eating, dancing, processions, water balloons (in Bolivia) and fireworks. The biggest celebrations take place in Copacabana (Bolivia) and Puno (Peru). The big day is February 2.
Although its northern neighbor hogs all the attention, Paraguay is also a great place to celebrate Carnaval – especially in Encarnación, which throws a riotous fest on every weekend in February. Come for the costumed parades, pounding rhythms and partying through the late hours (www.carnaval.com.py).
Festival de Viña
One of the largest and most important music fests in Latin America, this Chilean blockbuster has been going strong since 1960. Expect to see top stars as well as rising talents on the international scene – Shakira was one of many who came to fame during the event. It kicks off in late February in Viña del Mar (www.festivaldevina.cl).
While the weather is still warm in the south, the crowds thin and prices fall a bit at beach destinations. It's still rainy in the northern Andes.
Throughout Latin America, Holy Week is celebrated with fervor. In Quito (Ecuador), purple-robed penitents parade through the streets on Good Friday, while Ouro Prêto (Brazil) features streets 'painted' with flowers. Ayacucho hosts Peru's most colorful Semana Santa, culminating in an all-night street party before Easter.
Celebrated in Tarabuco (Bolivia) on the second Sunday in March, hordes of indigenous folks gather to celebrate the 1816 victory of local armies over Spanish troops with ritual dancing, song, music and chicha (corn beer) drinking.
Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia
In Argentina's wine country, Mendoza hosts a renowned five-day harvest festival with parades, folkloric events, fireworks, the blessing of the fruit and a royal coronation – all in honor of Mendoza's intoxicating produce.
After Carnaval, this is Montevideo's liveliest fest, and is essentially a celebration of gaucho culture – those tough-looking, leather boot-wearing cowboys from Uruguay's interior who manage to make oversized belt buckles look cool. Come for rodeo events, concerts, open-air barbecues and craft fairs.
Chile's rock fest kicks off in Santiago in late March or early April, and features an impressive line-up of homegrown and international groups on par with the North American version of Lollapalooza. Buy tickets early for the best deals.
In Lethem (Guyana), Easter weekend means good fun at the rodeo. Some 10,000 visitors come to watch the blend of Wild West meets indigenous traditions. There's roping, saddle- and bareback riding (broncos, bulls) and a beauty pageant (www.visitrupununi.com/event/rupununi-rodeo).
In the Andes, crowds and high-season prices mark Holy Week, a boon of national tourism in March or April. Elsewhere on the continent, you'll find generally fewer crowds and good post-summer prices.
Buenos Aires and Rio head into low season, with cooler weather and lower prices; the rain begins to taper off in the Andes, making it a fine time to go trekking.
In Caracas, Diablos Danzantes (Dancing Devils) features hundreds of diabolically clothed dancers parading through the streets to the sounds of pounding drums. The Venezuelan fest, which blends Spanish and African traditions, takes place on Corpus Christi, 60 days after Easter (May or June).
A fascinating indigenous pilgrimage to the holy mountain of Ausangate, outside Cuzco, takes place around Corpus Christi (May or June). Though relatively unknown outside Peru, it’s well worth checking out.
High season in the Andean nations corresponds with the North American summer (June to August), when the weather is also sunniest and driest. Book major tours (such as hiking the Inca Trail) well in advance.
This millennia-old indigenous celebration of the solstice and harvest is celebrated in many Andean towns. In Cuzco it's the event of year, attracting thousands of visitors for street fairs, open-air concerts and historical reenactments. In Ecuador, Otavalo is the place to be.
Bumba Meu Boi
This traditional fest, celebrated across Brazil's Maranhão region in late June, blends African, indigenous and Portuguese traditions. Hundreds of troupes take to the streets in São Luís, dancing, singing and reenacting one of the region's great creation myths.
Sao Paulo Pride
It's official: São Paulo throws the largest gay-pride parade on the planet, attracting some three million people. There are street fairs, concerts, film screenings and exhibitions in the days leading up to the big parade – which usually happens on Sunday in mid-June.
The feast of San Juan is all debauchery in Iquitos, Peru, where dancing, feasting and (unfortunately) cockfights go until the wee hours on the eve of the actual holiday of June 24.
July is one of the coldest months in the far south (not a good time to visit Patagonia or Buenos Aires). It is, however, a great time to plan a wildlife-watching trip in the Pantanal.
Founding of Guayaquil
Street dancing, fireworks and processions are all part of the celebration on the nights leading up to the anniversary of Guayaquil's founding (July 25). Along with the national holiday on July 24 (Simón Bolívar's birthday), Ecuador's largest city closes down and celebrates with abandon.
Fiesta del Santo Patrono de Moxos
Running from July 22 to the end of the month, this spirited festival transforms Bolivia's sleepy San Ignacio de Moxos into a hard-partying town. Expect processions, outrageous costumes (including locals dressed as Amazon warriors), fireworks and plenty of drinking.
It's dry in many parts of the continent, making August a fine time to visit the Amazon, the Pantanal or the Andes. It's chilly to freezing south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
El Día de La Virgen del Cisne
In Ecuador's southern highlands, thousands of colorfully garbed pilgrims take to the roads each year around August 15 in the extraordinary 70km procession to Loja, carrying the Virgen del Cisne (Virgin of the Swan).
Tango BA Festival y Mundial
World-class tango dancers perform throughout Buenos Aires during this two-week festival. Competition is fierce for the title of 'world's best tango dancer.' You can also hone your own moves at classes and workshops.
Feria de las Flores
The Flower Festival brings sweet smells to the Colombian city of Medellín. Highlights include concerts, a gastronomy fair, a horse parade, orchid exhibits and the Desfile de Silleteros, when farmers parade through the streets laden with enormous baskets of flowers.
Festival de Música del Pacífico Petronio Álvarez
In Cali, one of Colombia's best fests celebrates Afro-Colombian music and culture over five days in mid-August (http://petronio.cali.gov.co), when more than 100 groups light up the city. You'll find infectious rhythms and welcoming, dance-happy crowds.
The weather remains dry and sunny (but chilly) in the Andes, though you'll find fewer crowds. September is also a good (less rainy) time to visit the Amazon.
Fiesta de la Mamá Negra
Latacunga (Ecuador) hosts one of the highlands' most famous celebrations, in honor of La Virgen de las Mercedes. La Mamá Negra, played by a man dressed as a black woman, pays tribute to the 19th-century liberation of African slaves.
Bienal de São Paulo
One of the world's most important arts events showcases some 3000 works by more than 100 artists from across the globe. It runs from September to December in even-numbered years, and is mainly based in Parque do Ibirapuera.
Heavy rains make for tough traveling in Colombia, while the Andes generally have milder weather. In Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, temperatures are mild, making it a pleasant time to visit.
Cirio de Nazare
Belém's enormous annual event brings one million to the streets to take part in the procession of one of Brazil's most important icons. Fireworks, hymns and one massive flower-bedecked carriage creaking through the throngs are all part of this wild spiritual gathering.
Celebrating the historical legacy of Brazil's substantial German immigrant population, Oktoberfest features 17 days of folk music, dancing and beer drinking. It's considered the largest German fest in the Americas and goes down in mid-October in Blumenau.
Rainier days are on the horizon in the Amazon. Generally November nets better prices, good weather and fewer crowds than December in most parts of South America.
The traditional city of Puno in Peru hosts dozens of colorful fiestas throughout the year. One of the best is Puno Day, where costumed dancers, military parades and folk bands celebrate the legendary emergence of the first Inca, Manco Cápac, from Lake Titicaca.
Hmong New Year
For something completely different, head to the small village of Cacao (French Guiana) to celebrate the Hmong New Year with a thriving community of Laotians. Traditional singing and dancing, Laotian cuisine and beautifully embroidered costumes are all part of the experience. Held in November or December.
Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata
Launched in 1950, this cinematic event is one of the most important film festivals in Latin America. Running for nine days in mid-November, the fest screens an international lineup of features, shorts, documentaries and experimental works.
Buenos Aires Jazz Festival Internacional
BA's big jazz festival (www.buenosairesjazz.gob.ar) showcases the talents of more than 200 musicians to play in 70 different concerts around town. Jazz musicians of all kinds are featured – emerging and established, avant-garde and mainstream, national and international.
Fiesta de la Tradicion
San Antonio de Areco celebrates Argentina's gaucho culture in this lively mid-November fest, with live music, crafts, regional foods and impressive displays of horsemanship.
December marks the beginning of summer, with beach days (and higher prices) on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. It's fairly rainy in the Andes.
Founding of Quito Festival
Quito's biggest bash is a much anticipated event, with parades and street dances throughout the first week of December. Open-air stages all across town fill the Ecuadorian capital with music, while colorful chivas (open-sided buses) full of revelers maneuver through the streets.
Brazil's biggest 'off-season Carnaval' is this Salvador-style festival held in Natal in December. It features raucous street parties and thumping trios elétricos (amplified bands playing atop mobile-speaker trucks). You can get in on the fun by joining one of the blocos (drumming and dancing processions).
There are many great spots in South America to celebrate New Year's Eve, but Rio is a perennial favorite. Some two million revelers, dressed in white to bring good luck, pack the sands of Copacabana Beach to watch fireworks light up the night sky.