Chinese and Indian stocks? They're sooo last year. At least that seems to be the prevailing opinion among the more than 76,000 investors participating in Motley Fool CAPS, the Fool's free investor-intelligence community.

These days, many investors want to tap the growth potential of South American stocks. In fact, five of the top 50 rated stocks in the CAPS universe hail from Argentina, Chile, or Brazil.

Spring has sprung
Brazilian and Chilean markets remained hot over their winter months. So far this year, they've risen 65% and 21%, respectively (in U.S. dollar terms). Now that summer is approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, investors are hoping for a hot start to 2008.

Not all the hot companies on the continent fit in the above parameters. For instance, Credicorp (NYSE:BAP), a midsize Peruvian bank, has risen 75% so far this year. That's even more impressive when you consider the terrible year that financial stocks in the U.S., such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Citigroup (NYSE:C), have had as a result of the subprime credit mess.

In fact, another financial firm, Chile-based A.F.P. Provida (NYSE:PVD), is this month's top South American stock. Fully 106 of 107 CAPS investors who have rated the stock believe it will outperform the market going forward.

Here are several more of the top South American stocks right now, all of which carry CAPS' maximum five-star rating.

Company

Country

A.F.P. Provida

Chile

Banco Bradesco (NYSE:BBD)

Brazil

Sociedad Quimica y Minera

Chile

Tele Norte Leste Participacoes  

Brazil

Companhia Paranaense de Energia

Brazil

Data from Motley Fool CAPS.

Please bear in mind that these stocks are not formal recommendations. Instead, they're offered as jumping-off points for further research. Researching five-star CAPS stocks such as these has proven to be an effective tool for investors.

Bringing South America to you
The Fool was so intrigued by investment opportunities in South America, we recently sent members of our Motley Fool Global Gains team to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to meet with local companies and get a better understanding of investing opportunities in the region. Among the companies they're visiting are MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI), known as the eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) of South America, and Cresud, an Argentinean farm products manufacturer.  

You can see what CAPS investors have to say about MercadoLibre or Cresud, or sign up to receive free updates from the Global Gains team in South America in the field below.

If you'd like a guide to help you navigate the international stock markets, then Motley Fool Global Gains is made for you. Take a free 30-day trial of our international investing service.

Fool contributor Todd Wenning is ranked 581 out of 76,000-plus CAPS players and speaks broken Spanish. He does not own shares of any company mentioned. Cresud is a Global Gains pick. eBay is a Stock Advisor choice. JPMorgan Chase is an Income Investor selection. The Fool has a disclosure policy.