South America is a vast continent, which boasts diverse geography, providing a natural playground for adventurers. Blessed with thousands of trails and hikes, this incredible landmass offers unique opportunities to discover spectacular natural wonders and learn about the fascinating history of the region. If you’re planning to visit South America, and you’ve got your walking shoes ready, here are 12 of the best trails and hikes to consider adding to your itinerary:
1. The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru
It’s impossible to write a guide to the best hiking trails in South America without including the iconic Inca Trail. Attracting more than 2,500 visitors per day, Machu Picchu is one of the leading contenders for travel bucket list top spots. The Inca Trail is best known for its end-point, historic Machu Picchu, but the winding routes that take you to your destination are well worth discussing in more detail. The trek, which usually takes around 4 days, takes hikers through mysterious cloud forests, plunging valleys and rolling green meadows, providing a steady stream of sightseeing opportunities en route thanks to the industry and engineering expertise of the Incas. Ruins are visible along the way and the trail culminates in the breathtaking vista of Machu Picchu in all its glory. Permits are required and there is a daily limit on numbers.
2. Salkantay, Peru
An attractive alternative to the Inca Trail for those on a budget, the Salkantay Trek is a 46-mile hike, which takes in the stunning scenery of Cusco and provides the chance to visit Machu Picchu. Most people leave around 5-6 days to complete the trail, which also incorporates the famous Inca site, Llactapata. The highest point on the route will take explorers to around 4,830 metres.
3. Lost City to Teyuna National Park, Colombia
A challenging hike, which is bound to test your mettle, this 5-day trek is a little-known gem for adventurous souls keen to get off the beaten track. Starting in Santa Marta, the path runs to Teyuna National Park, covering dense forests, tropical jungles and the rumbling waters of the Buritaca River. Be prepared for undulating tracks, changes in weather conditions and something to see around every corner. It is estimated that around 10% of the Lost City’s ruins have been discovered. This is a route shrouded in mystery and intrigue, which will appeal to nature lovers and history enthusiasts, as well as hiking aficionados.
4. W Trek, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
The most well-known trek in Torres del Paine, the W Trek offers an opportunity to discover a veritable treasure trove of the natural features that make this national park one of the most unique and special in the world. A moderate trail, which takes 5-6 days to complete, the W Trek covers around 75 kilometres, treating visitors to views of granite monoliths, iridescent blue-green lakes and majestic glaciers. Highlights on this trail include the base of the Three Paine Towers, Valle Frances and Lago Grey. Peak season is December-February, so book ahead if you want to visit during this time of year.
5. Huayna Potosi, Bolivia
Ideally suited to hikers looking for a short but tricky challenge, Huayna Potosi offers seasoned trekkers a golden ticket to the peaks of the Andes. This is one of a clutch of routes that will take you to the summit of the mountains. Although it’s tough-going, the rewards are worth the effort. Starting in La Paz, the 2-3 day hike takes you right to the top of Huayna Potosi, providing magical views and a feeling that is as close as you’ll get to being on top of the world. Be prepared for a few obstacles and bonus activities en route, including ice climbing and rock climbing.
6. Cotopaxi, Ecuador
One of the most unpredictable trails in South America, Cotopaxi is not for the faint-hearted. The weather conditions, combined with an active volcano, can contribute to a few thrills and spills along the way for hikers. This route, which starts in Quito, offers the chance to enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Avenue of Volcanoes. As there are active volcanoes in the area, it’s best to be prepared for delays or changes to the schedule. If activity is detected, the park will be closed. The dry season, which runs from November to February, is the best time to visit. Pack a range of lightweight, breathable layers, waterproofs and research the best backpacking flashlight and check here before you go to prepare for this unforgettable adventure.
7. Quebrada de Humahuaca to Calilegua National Park, Argentina
A dry, desolate wilderness that runs into lush jungle and meandering rivers, the Quebrada de Humahuaca to Calilegua National Park trek covers truly unique environments, which offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including spotting puma and jaguar roaming free. A perfect example of the diversity of the geography of South America, this 6-day trek takes you from dusty plains to verdant canopies via ancient monuments and stone pyramids.
8. Colca Canyon, Peru
One of the deepest canyons in the world, Colca Canyon is a feature of many hiker’s bucket lists. Guided treks start at Cabanaconde and take in the famous Cruz del Condor, one of the best places on the continent to spot the Andean Condor. The second part of the hike takes walkers down into the canyon. This stage is followed by a quad-busting ascent.
9. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
An undiscovered wonder that is often missing from guidebooks, the Kaieteur Falls trek in Guyana is a fantastic choice for hikers looking to escape the crowds, test their mettle and enjoy spectacular views to boot. There are strict limits on numbers at the falls, which means that you won’t have to tussle with tourists to get the best snaps, and this is very much an attraction that hasn’t yet made it onto must-see lists. You don’t need to have a guide, but visitors must register with local rangers to start the trek. The trail is packed with fascinating sights and provides access to local communities. The finish line, the falls, more than justifies the effort. Kaieteur Falls is one of the largest single-drop waterfalls in the world.
10. Tercera Barranca to Sierra Baguales, Chile
A moderately difficult day hike, this trail takes in breathtaking scenery. Located close to Torres del Paine on the border of Argentina, this is a track-free wilderness, which is largely undiscovered. This is the place to be if you want to experience action and adventure combined with spellbinding wildlife spotting opportunities. This is a land where condors patrol the skies and rhea and wild horses roam.
11. Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
A jewel in the crown of Brazil’s abundant natural wonders, Chapada Diamantina National Park is located in the North East of the country in Bahia. The five-day Grand Circuit trek takes hikers through verdant forests, deep valleys, rugged, rocky plateaus and underground rivers.
12. Perito Moreno Glacier Trek, Argentina
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most iconic glaciers on the planet and it provides scintillating vistas from every angle. There are numerous paths and trails you can take to explore the land surrounding the glacier, and it’s a fabulous place to try glacier hiking and explore ice caves and luminous turquoise lakes.
South America is one of the most fascinating continents to explore on foot. If you’re planning a hiking trip, why not consider these magnificent trails and treks?