Home to the second largest mountain range in the world, it’s no wonder South America offers some of the best trekking experiences on the planet. Blessed with mountain hikes, jungle treks, canyon trails and even glacier walks, it’s easy to see why hiking in South America is one of the most popular things to do. Whether you’re looking for a day hike or multi-day trek, check out the 15 best hikes in South America.
15 Best Hikes in South America
Inca Trail, Cusco, Peru
The most famous hike in South America and possibly the world, is the ancient Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This four day trail was my first multi-day trek, and sparked my love for hiking.
Whilst most people do the Inca Trail for the iconic end point, Machu Picchu, the reason this is one of the best hikes in South America is because of the trail itself. The hike takes you along ancient narrow paths deep into the Peruvian countryside and high into the Andean mountains, through majestic valleys and mystical cloud forests, and past countless Inca ruins, before reaching the majestic finale, Machu Picchu. The combination of jaw-dropping scenery, and sub-tropical jungle, alongside the friendly guides and porters is part of the reason why the Inca Trail is so popular, and is on so many peoples bucket list.
A permit is required to do the Inca Trail, and only 200 tourists are permitted a day, so permits must be purchased at least four months in advance. Note that the Inca Trail is closed every February for maintenance, but the best months of year to hike are May or October.
If you’re short on time or haven’t organised the permit for the Inca Trail, consider joining another of the best hikes in South America, the Salkantay trek, which doesn’t require a permit, but trek’s through just as beautiful scenery.
W-Trek, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
The most famous hiking route in Torres del Paine National Park is the W Trek. With views of granite towers, emerald lakes, and elevated glaciers, the W Trek is the perfect introduction to multi-day hiking.
The W Trek is a moderately difficult hike lasting around five days which covers 74 km of gentle terrain, with a few days of ascents up to 800 metres. The longest days of the hike last six to eight hours, and the entire route is serviced with refugios and campsites. Meaning you can complete the W-trek without carrying food and gear, and spend the night in a warm shared dorm. Having said that, the biggest challenge on the hike is the extremely variable weather. Patagonia is famous for experiencing all four seasons in one day, and this occurs nearly every day!
Most people walk the W Trek from east to west, starting at Refugio Las Torres and ending at Refugio Paine Grande. This way the five day route takes in three of the highlights of the Torres del Paine National Park. Firstly the base of the three Paine towers, situated next to an emerald green lake. Secondly Valle Francés (French Valley), whose landscape is dominated by a hanging glacier. Lastly Lago Grey, with cobalt blue ice floes and an enormous glacier stretching out towards the ice cap.
The most popular time of year to hike the W-Trek is December and January, so book your refugios ahead of time if you plan to visit during peak season.
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), Colombia
The Lost City of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia is one of the best places to visit in South America. Located deep in the jungles of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, these Mayan ruins were left undiscovered until 1972. Covered in thick vegetation for centuries, Ciudad Perdida is actually 650 years older than the most famous Mayan ruins, Machu Picchu.
Currently only 10% of the site has been uncovered, however due to its remote location in the depths of rebel territory it has only been safe to visit the Lost City for the past 15 years. Before that the jungle surrounding the ancient city was over run with guerrillas. The Colombian government have since stepped in and archeological site is now safe to visit, though the site remains quiet and relatively unknown.
To reach the Lost City of Ciudad Perdida you must hike 44km over four to six days. Whilst combating the tropical heat, crossing ice cold rivers with chest height water levels, conquering the steep hills and sleeping in a hammock. The Ciudad Perdida hike isn’t for the faint hearted, but the chance to spot a rare toucan, visit local indigenous communities and explore this once lost world all make the journey worth it.
There are three options for the Lost City trek, a four day, five day or six day hike. I completed the four day trek, but the five day is the most popular and covers the same trail but at a slower pace. The best time to hike to Ciudad Perdida is from December to March, during dry season when the river crossings won’t be as difficult.
Colca Canyon, Peru
South America is home to one of the deepest canyons in the world, the Colca Canyon in Peru. The overnight hike includes condors, challenging trails, waterfalls, and hot springs – making Colca Canyon, one of the top adventure travel destinations in Peru.
Arequipa is the closest city to the Colca Canyon and is situated in the south of Peru. Guided mountain treks start from Arequipa at 3am and drive a total of six hours to Cabaconde the starting point of the trek. Along the way you will stop at Cruz del Condor, the best place in South America to view Andean Condors. In only twenty minutes we saw four majestic birds fly by, and turning out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Peru.
The first day of trekking begins from Cabaconde, and involves six hours of hiking, mainly downhill, deep into the canyon. Accommodation is in bungalows often, with their own swimming pools. The second day starts early after sunrise and includes a four hour uphill hike with a 1200 metre ascent. The morning hike is tough so bring plenty of snacks as the hiking tour will only include breakfast at the top of the canyon after the ascent.
The drive back to Arequipa is filled with panoramic views of Inca terraces, and includes a stop at Chivay, to soak your weary legs in the natural hot springs. The Colca Canyon trek is classified as moderate difficulty but is great practise for more challenging hikes in South America.
Perito Moreno Glacier Trek, Patagonia, Argentina
Near Calafate, is one of the most famous and awe-inspiring natural wonders in South America. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that isn’t receding, yet it’s common to see chunks of ice crumble off the 70 metre icy wall and crash into the waters below.
Perito Moreno Glacier is surrounded by hours of walkways if you wish to view the glacier from every angle. However the best way to experience Perito Moreno is by joining the Big Ice trekking experience. You’ll don crampons and grab an ice axe to take part in one of the best hikes in Argentina.
The Big Ice trek lasts around four hours, and you’ll be able to admire the fascinating ice formations and bright blue ponds, as well as climb into ice caves, and appreciate the surrounding South American mountains. On top of that you’ll have half an hour to have a picnic in the middle of the glacier! You have to bring your own food but I guarantee you won’t experience a picnic spot like this ever again. After the hike you’ll board a boat to navigate around the southern wall of the glacier to explore another side of this spectacular hike in South America.
This day hike was one of my favourite all travel experiences whilst backpacking South America, so whilst it is pricey, it’s totally worth it! Just remember to bring warm and comfortable clothing, waterproof trousers, hiking boots, sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, hat and a backpack made from recycled material.
Cordillera de Chicas, Bolivia
The Cordillera de Chichas is a stark, desert-like mountain range in southwestern Bolivia, just outside the sleepy town of Tupiza. The deep red colour of the rock formations are reminiscent of the so-called Rainbow Mountains in China.
Tupiza’s location makes it a great for acclimatisation hikes before visiting one of best places in South America, the famous Uyuni salt flats. A hike through the Cordillera de Chichas is not difficult and can be done as a day trip from Tupiza. In fact, you can even walk to the trailhead from the center of town. Just follow the train tracks south for about fifteen minutes and then turn right after the large public gym/swimming pool. From here, head towards the mountains, and you will eventually come across some waymarkers to the various rock formations.
There is no set route, so you can wander around the area for as long as you like. Some of the more famous formations include the Valle de los Machos, the Cañon del Inca and the Puerta del Diablo, all of which can be visited in one day.
Spring and Autumn are generally the best times to visit, as skies are blue and temperatures are mild, just remember to hike early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat.
Submitted by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
Salkantay Hike, Peru
The moderate to difficult hike takes five days and starts from the small village of Mollepata, about 100 km from Cusco. The total distance of the Salkantay trek is 74 km and the hike ends at the town of Aguas Calientes, before getting the bus to Machu Picchu on the sixth day.
The scenery on the trek is truly breathtaking and diverse. In five days you go from a tropical rain forest with hundreds of birds and butterflies to glaciers with ice-cold turquoise lakes. The highlight of Salkantay trek is Humantay Lake, probably one of the most beautiful lakes you’ll ever see. Other notable spots along the way include Salkantay lake and glacier, the coffee plantations in Lucmabamba, Llactapata ruins and of course the spectacular end point Machu Picchu.
The best months to join South America hiking tours are May, August, September and the first half of October, these months avoid the cold, rain and rock slides, that will making hiking in the region much more difficult.
Submitted by Alya from Stingy Nomads
Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
Chapada Diamantina, or Diamond Highlands, is a stunning national park in the state of Bahia in Northern Brazil. Characterised by beautiful mountains, caves, canyons and hidden waterfalls, it is considered one of the best hiking destinations in Latin America.
There are dozens of hiking trails in Chapada Diamantina but one of the most popular is the two day hike to Mixila waterfall. This challenging 30 km hike includes steep slopes, boulders to climb over, and river crossings. However, the jaw-dropping views and beautiful waterfalls you’ll see along the way make the effort worth it.
The highlight of the trek is the remote and newly discovered Mixila waterfall. Hidden deep inside a narrow canyon, you must swim through several water pools to reach it. Once you’ve made your way to the end of the canyon, you’ll be rewarded with unbelievable views of a shimmering waterfall surrounded by moss-covered walls.
Although hiking in Brazil can be done at any time of the year, the waterfalls are more impressive during the wet season, from November to March. However, the cooler temperatures during the dry season (April to October) are more pleasant for hiking.
Submitted by Marjut Jogisoo from The Smooth Escape
Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
The Santa Cruz trek is of moderate difficulty, but involves some high ascents including Punta Union at 4750 metres. The hike can be done independently but joining a guided tour will mean carrying less gear and not having to worry about directions. You can pay your guide a little extra and visit the hot springs close to the end point of the hike in Cashapampa village. The perfect way to relax after completing one of the best hikes in South America.
The best time for hiking in the Andes is from April to September, during the Andean summer, when the route isn’t as slippery. The Santa Cruz trek offers some of the most stunning views of the mountains of South America, but if you want more, then combine the Santa Cruz trek with a trip to Laguna 69 (one of the other best hikes in South America!).
Submitted by Julie from Why Not Ju
Torotoro National Park, Bolivia
Torotoro National Park in Bolivia offers several hiking circuits encompassing dinosaur tracks, canyons, and caverns. A compulsory entrance fee (100 Bolivianos ~ $14.50 USD pp) exists for the National Park and it is also a requirement to hire a guide (100 Bolivianos per group), who will ensure the trails you do are suitable for your hiking level.
A favourite trek in Torotoro National Park is the five hour round trip hike to Cañon Torotoro and Vergel. The hike begins with a 3 km walk from the village to view the famous dinosaur footprints, followed by an 8 km hike to Cañon Torotoro and Vergel. Sights along the way include a natural stone theatre and a stone bridge.
Once you reach the canyon, the observation platform offers stunning views of the 300 metre deep canyon. You then descend all the way to the waterfall-fed lagoon at the base of the canyon. It’s the perfect place to relax, eat a snack and cool off with a swim in the water. After enjoying the lagoon, hike back up the 800-stair path to return to Torotoro.
Torotoro National Park can be visited all year round; however, the dry season (April – October) offers the best conditions for South America hiking trips and access to all the trails within the park. Torotoro National Park can be reached by bus from Cochabamba and is a great addition to a two week Bolivian itinerary. Consider staying a couple of days in Torotoro National Park to hike a few circuits, such as Ciudad de Itas and Cueva Humajalanta.
Submitted by Danielle Mondus from Rambling Companion
Cerro Torre, Patagonia, Argentina
The six hour round trip from El Chalten to Cerro Torre is one of the best hikes in South America. El Chalten is a small Patagonian town centred around hiking and is located four hours north of El Calafate, home to Perito Moreno Glacier.
The Cerro Torre hike from El Chalten is moderately difficult and has a total distance of 18 km. The trail starts with a short but steep uphill climb, which turns into a grassy meadow, covered in yellow dandelions. There are several lookout points along the way, showcasing beautiful views of Margarita Waterfall, Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. This is why it’s important to hike on a clear day, preferably in Spring or Summer, when there aren’t any clouds obscuring the surrounding scenery.
The final vista of the hike takes in the breathtaking Laguna Torre (Tower Lake), framed by the jagged and pointy Cerro Torre mountain, with Cerro Glacier beside it. To top it off, icebergs can often be seen floating in Laguna Torre, making this iconic view in Patagonia, that much more special. One of the best day hikes in South America, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with hikers in Patagonia.
Submitted by James Ian from Travel Collecting
Laguna de los Tempanos, Ushuaia, Argentina
The southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, is the capital of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. The most well known place for hiking in Ushuaia is Tierra del Fuego National Park but the most beautiful trail in the region is the one day hike to Laguna de Los Témpanos.
The hike is 13 km long, and takes around six to seven hours to complete, with a 600 metre elevation gain. The Laguna de Los Témpanos hike starts on the outskirts of Ushuaia and takes you over the valley with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and Glacier Vinciguerra. Once you cross the river you reach sub-antarctic woods. Towards the end of the hike, the forest opens into a clearing with a stream and waterfall and after the last climb up the moraine, you reach the lagoon. Give yourself extra time to hike to the glacier to explore some of the fascinating ice caves.
The best time of the year to hike in Ushuaia is during summer (December – February) to avoid the snow and rain that can make the trail extremely muddy.
Submitted by Sandra from BlueMarble Vagabonds
Mount Roraima, Venezuela
The incredible flat mountain top of Mount Roraima is the highest of the many table mountains (tepuis) scattered over the grasslands of the Gran Sabana of Venezuela. Mount Roraima is often called an ‘island in the clouds’ and is said to be the inspiration for Arthur Cone Doyle’s famous book ‘The Lost World’. The top of the mountain is huge and is shared by three countries; Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. However, Mount Roraima can only be hiked from the Venezuelan side.
Each of the tepuis contain their own unique fauna and flora, as they have been in complete isolation for millennia. The top of Mount Roraima is covered in strange rock formations, quartz fields that look like fields of diamonds, carnivorous plants, fingernail sized toads, and towering waterfalls.
The Mount Roraima trek takes eight days to complete and includes three days ascending, three days exploring the top of the mountain and two days descending. Camping is the only option on Mount Roraima, but the hike cannot be done independently and a guide is required. There are plenty of places to organise all-inclusive tours in Santa Elena, which is the jumping off point for the Roraima hike, and although the trek can be done all year round, April to December is the best season for hiking in South America.
Submitted by Campbell Louw from Stingy Nomads
Laguna 69, Huaraz, Peru
Home to the Andes mountains, there are plenty of incredible treks in Huaraz, the hiking capital of Peru. Located an eight hour drive north of Lima, Huaraz is off the beaten track, but is great if you’re yearning for authentic Peruvian culture surrounded by the snowcapped mountains of South America.
A popular hike in the region is the one day trek to Laguna 69. Even though the return trip takes only five to six hours to trek, the Laguna 69 hike is considered difficult due to the elevation gain of 800 metres to reach the top of the lagoon at 4600m. However, the hard work is worth it for the view of the cerulean blue lagoon surrounded by tall white mountains.
The Laguna 69 trek is one of the best hikes in South America, and a must do experience on any Peru itinerary. However if you have more time, why not combine this hike with the four day Santa Cruz Trek and explore more of the Peruvian mountains.
Submitted by Sean Lau from LivingOutLau
Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador
One of Ecuador’s highlights, the Quilotoa Loop is a must do hike in South America. There are a few variations of the hike, but the most common route is 30 km long and takes three days to trek from Sigchos to Quilotoa (3914m).
The challenging hike requires six hours a day of trekking through mountainous terrain coupled with an elevation gain of just less than 1000 metres. The views along the hike are of lush green hills, and Mount Cotopaxi in the distance, ending with the highlight, Laguna Quilotoa, a bright blue lake within a volcanic crater.
The hike is self guided but not as well marked as it could be, so download the Maps.me app and plan ahead as much as you can. Camping is possible but there are also some great hostels along the route including Llullu Llama in Isiniví which even has a hot tub to soak your weary legs after the day’s hike!
The Quilotoa Loop can be hiked all year round, and whilst challenging, the vistas make it worth adding Ecuador’s most popular hike to your South American bucket list.
Submitted by Sue Cockell from Sue Where? Why? What?
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