PLANNING A TRIP TO EASTER ISLAND, THE ATACAMA, SANTIAGO AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS. SHOULD WE BOOK FOR OURSELVES OR USE A TRAVEL AGENT? IF SO, COULD YOU RECOMMEND ONE? WHAT IS THE OPTIMUM TIME OF YEAR TO COVER ALL THESE BASES FOR A PERIOD OF ABOUT 4-5 WEEKS? A. AND J. BORDER, NORTH NARRABEEN NSW
Assuming this is your first visit to South America I'd go with a travel agent: it's just too easy to make a mistake. A specialist travel agent will likely suggest things you might not think of, or deals you might not have access to, such as new hotels that might have opening specials, and they can probably save you money in other areas as well.
Generally, the warmer season between December and June is the best time to visit the Galapagos but it depends on where your interests lie. Cooler temperatures from June to November result in an abundance of nutrients in the surrounding waters, bringing albatross, penguins and sea lions. Temperatures start to rise around October, and giant tortoise eggs hatch in December. January to April is warm and slightly drizzly and you can expect to see plenty of breeding and nesting activity. July is the mating season for blue-footed boobies, one of the highlights of the islands.
The most popular time to visit Easter Island is during the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, held over several days from late January to early February. Prices are higher but October-November and March-April are quieter and cheaper.
For the Atacama and Chile generally, March to May and September to December.
The optimum time for your visit is a compromise but probably April or October-November would work well. Four weeks is perfect.
Melbourne-based South America Tourism Office (southamericatourism.com) would be my first choice for travel agents.