Best Hikes in SOUTH AMERICA
What are the best hikes in South America? Why choose South America as your next hiking destination?
Most countries in South America have incredibly diverse landscapes and environments, not to mention rich culture and heritage.
Hiking trails of South America run through world-class national parks, ruins of ancient civilisations, beautiful valleys, desolate landscapes, past snowy peaks and imposing volcanoes. South America isn’t short of dramatic hikes.
But what are the best treks in South America? Which South American countries are the best-hiking destinations?
Check out our article to find out!
7 best Hikes in South America
Inca Trail, Peru
Machu Picchu, the iconic mountain-top Inca citadel, is one of the best places to visit in Peru and the reason why so many tourists come to visit the country.
Machu Picchu is known for its impressive ruins and stunning view of the mountains surrounding the Temple of the Sun.
Getting to Machu Picchu is easy — just take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and then take a bus to Machu Picchu.
It is also possible to hike to Machu Picchu. The famous Inca Trail is a four-day hike, which starts at the Cusco – Aguas Calientes rail line, and terminates at Machu Picchu. Despite being quite demanding, the trail is regarded by many as the highlight of their trip to Peru.
Remember, you need to book to hike the Inca Trail, and many months in advance.
If you have missed this opportunity, there’s a good alternative to the traditional Inca Trail for reaching Machu Picchu — the Salkantay Trek. This route takes five days and starts in Mollepata, a village some 100 km from Cusco.
Ausangate and Rainbow Mountain Trek, Peru
Another great hiking option in Peru is Ausangate and Rainbow Mountain Trek. It’s more challenging and less touristy than other hikes in the Cusco area.
The hike is quite challenging due to remoteness, high altitude and steep ascents and descents. But it’s totally worth it as you get to enjoy the beautiful scenery — snowy peaks, glaciers, mountain lakes, and the highlight of the trek — Rainbow mountain.
By the way, Rainbow Mountain is one of the best places to visit in Peru.
The mountain is known for the series of stripes of various colours. It is due to the mineralogical composition of the mountain.
The whole Ausangate and Rainbow Mountain route is 70 km, and it takes 4-5 days to complete it.
The W-Trek is one of the most famous hiking routes in Torres del Paine National Park, and one of the best hikes in South America.
This national park is located in Patagonia, one of the most beautiful regions in Chile and all of South America.
Torres Del Paine National Park is known for its dramatic landscapes — jagged peaks, bright blue glaciers and lakes, and golden grasslands.
The 71-kilometre long W-Trek is one of the best ways to explore the beauty of the national park.
The route boasts magnificent views of the high granite towers, emerald lakes and glaciers of the Paine mountain range.
It takes about 4 to 5 days to complete the route. It can also be broken up into day hikes.
Ciudad Perdida Trek, Colombia
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is the archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia.
It is believed that Ciudad Perdida was founded about 800 CE, which makes it older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
The trek to Ciudad Perdida is a challenging but rewarding one.
The hike is 42 km long, and it takes about 4 days to complete it.
The route goes through the jungle and passes ancient ruins, beautiful waterfalls and little native villages.
Ciudad Perdida trek is one of the most difficult hikes in the world. The route follows a narrow path and the weather is unpredictable. The hike includes steep climbs and descents and some river crossings where the water level is high, especially during the rainy season — even chest-deep!
Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador
The Quilotoa Loop is one of Ecuador’s most popular treks and arguably one of the best hikes in South America.
Quilotoa Loop is 30 km long, and it takes three days to complete it. The route begins in Sigchos (2850 m) and ends in Quilotoa (3914 m).
The trek is not too long — only some 40 km, and it takes about 3-5 days to complete the route. Elevation gain is quite impressive, however — some 1000 metres.
The route offers views of lush green hills and Mount Cotopaxi in the distance.
The route ends with the highlight of the trip, Laguna Quilotoa, a bright blue lake within a volcanic crater surrounded by Andean volcanic peaks.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park Trek, Brazil
Known for its striking seasonal rainwater lagoons and vast desert landscape of tall, white dunes, Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses is one of the best places to visit in Brazil.
Hiking is a great way to admire the national park’s impossibly pristine landscape and its dunes dotted with thousands of turquoise freshwater lagoons.
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park Trek will take you into the heart of this unique national park. The whole route is some 40 km long, and it takes about 5 days to complete.
The best time to hike in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is after the rainy season (in June, July and August) when the thousands of lagoons are filled with crystal-clear water, making the landscape unique.
Grand Circuit, Brazil
Grand Circuit is a trek in Chapada Diamantina National Park.
Chapada Diamantina (or Diamond Highlands) is one of Brazil’s most stunning national parks, known for rugged terrain that features mesas towering over deep ravines and lush grasslands.
The vast landscape of the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina is something extraordinary indeed.
The national park boasts excellent hiking routes through its beautiful valleys. The Grand Circuit is one of the most famous ones.
This hike is not too long (some 30 km), but challenging. It includes steep slopes and river crossings.
One of the highlights of the trekking route is Mixila waterfall.
- Choose a trek according to your experience, stamina and fitness level. If you are not an experienced hiker, start small.
- Do your research before hiking. Obtain a map of the trail or check the map online. Familiarise yourself with the trail. Take note of other intersecting trails, to prevent making a wrong turn. Read a description of the trail and its sections. Make sure you check trail conditions.
- If you are planning to hike often, invest in quality gear as it would never let you down in terms of performance.
- No matter how long the hike is, you need to pack the essentials such as a paper map/smartphone offline map, water, sunglasses, sunscreen, headlamp, first-aid kit, snacks, extra pair of socks, hiking poles. The list of essentials depending on the length and difficulty of your hike. If you are going self-supported, you need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, food, plenty of water, matches, camping cooking gear and utensils and emergency shelter.
- Do not forget about blister dressings and sturdy band-aids. Compeed, Scholl, Band-Aid and Spenco 2nd Skin make great blister pads!
- Pack light. You don’t want to drag around all the unnecessary items you pack in your bag.
- Check the weather and pack accordingly. If there’s a chance of rain, pack a rain jacket and waterproof hiking shoes.
- Carry enough water and food, if you are hiking somewhere remote.
- If you are planning to reach high altitudes in your hiking trip, buy travel insurance for high-altitude trekking.
- If you are planning to hike in South America, learn some Spanish (Portuguese — if you are hiking in Brazil) and download an offline dictionary. People may not speak English outside the main tourist sites.
- Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter starts in June, spring starts in September, summer — in December, and autumn — in March. Take that into account when planning your hiking trip!