With the legendary Andes mountain range spanning the full length of the western coast and the southern half of the continent comprising the famous natural landscapes of Patagonia, it’s unsurprising that South America provides some of the best National Parks and hiking trails in the world.
Whether you’re looking for one-day trails or multi-day hikes, a keen novice or an experienced hiker, there’s something here for everyone. What all these hikes have in common is the absolutely stunning views they provide of a continent with a diverse and magnificent landscape.
Here are 10 of the best and most incredible hikes in South America.
1. Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
If you’re into hiking then El Chalten in Argentinian Patagonia is the place for you. The impressive Mount Fitz Roy looms over this small town and is just a 10-minute walk from the centre you’ll find the entrance to Los Glaciares National Park. Here a variety of trails await, including the most popular hike to Laguna de Los Tres which harbours one of the best views of the iconic Mount Fitz Roy.
Best of all, entrance to the national park and all the trails are free so you can stay in town and complete multiple-day hikes, or if you have equipment choose to camp in the Park itself.
If you’re looking for something longer and more challenging than the multiple day hikes on offer, there is also the Fitzroy Loop, a 10-day trek that must be attempted with a guide but offers far greater exploration of the valley.
Note that the first image is also of Mount Fitz Roy.
2. Cerro Castillo National Park, Chile
Most people probably haven’t heard of Villa Cerro Castillo, but with some calling Cerro Castillo National Park the new Torres del Paine it won’t remain unknown for much longer.
Take a multi-day hike along the Las Horquetas Circuit, which takes you through over 50km of pure natural and wild beauty including glaciers and mountain spires. There are no lodges here, only campsites, and you’ll probably have most of the trail to yourself.
If you’re short on time, make the day hike to the most beautiful spot of the multi-day trek, the glacial lagoon sitting at the base of Cerro Castillo. It’s a challenging hike, but the turquoise blue lagoon surrounded by the snow-covered mountains is awe-inspiring and totally worth the steep trek.
3. Inca Trail, Peru
Probably the most famous hike in South America, if not the world, is the ancient Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Obviously the highlight of this hike is its finale, sunrise at Machu Picchu, but the beauty of the hike itself should not be underestimated. You’ll walk along ancient paths deep into the Peruvian countryside and high into the Andean mountains, through forests and valleys and past countless Inca ruins. However, with the trek only possible with an agency and visitor numbers strictly controlled, it can be difficult to get a spot on the Inca Trail without booking months in advance and it’s also extremely expensive. See an options on Viator.
A popular and much more affordable alternative is therefore to complete the Salkantay trek. The trek crosses the Salkantay Pass and although it is more physically demanding, you’ll experience stunning views, hidden lagoons and untouched landscapes.
4. Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina
Ushuaia is the most southerly point of South America and Tierra del Fuego, alias the Land of Fire, is one of the southernmost national parks in the world. It’s home to pristine lakes, thick forests and towering mountains, giving plenty of reasons to visit this destination in Argentinian Patagonia.
There are many hiking trails, ranging from short and easy trails to longer and steeper hikes on mountainous terrain. If you want a challenge, try the hike up to Cerro Guanaco. Completely uphill and with the final section in particular being extremely steep and usually subject to extreme wind, it’s probably one of the toughest day hikes in Patagonia, but the views from the top of the Beagle Canal and the snow-topped Chilean Andes are unparalleled and definitely worth the climb.
5. Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador
The Quilotoa Loop is a self-guided multi-day hike in the Cotopaxi region of Ecuador. The loop connects remote villages across valleys and lush green hills and culminates at the stunning azure-coloured Quilotoa Lake high up in the mountains.
Although you can visit Quilotoa Lake on a one day trip from Latacunga, the biggest city in the area and only a 2-hour bus ride from Quito, or even from Quito itself, it’s a great adventure to hike the whole loop and it will really take you off the beaten path and out into nature.
There are a few different variations of the hike, but the most common route is 30 km long and takes three days to trek from the village of Sigchos to Quilotoa.
6. Lost City Trek, Colombia
Although not renowned amongst South American travellers for its hiking, Colombia is home to one of the most historically interesting hikes on this list: the Lost City Trek in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The route to Ciudad Perdida will take you through lush rainforest and gorgeous rivers, past waterfalls and indigenous groups. Eventually, you will arrive at the Lost City, a sacred site developed by the native Tayrona people which is thought to be some 650 years older than Machu Picchu. It’s estimated that only 10 percent of the ruins are unearthed, lending to the mysterious appeal of this forgotten city.
This trek is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Colombia, but be aware that it is not for the faint-hearted. Not only is the jungle terrain challenging, but the high humidity and generally tough hiking and camping conditions make this one of the tougher treks in South America.
7. Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
The Santa Cruz Trek is a 3-night, 4-day trek through the Huascaran National Park in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru. Named after the Santa Cruz mountain that you pass along the way with its peak of 6,259 meters, the Santa Cruz trail is the most popular of the Cordillera Blanca treks.
The entire trek is at high altitude and so it’s important to acclimatize before attempting this multi-day hike. One of the best ways to do this is to do a shorter high altitude hike, and fortunately the small town of Huaraz, where you’ll start the Santa Cruz trek, has many of these on offer. One of the most popular is the day hike to Laguna 69, a bright blue glacial lake and one of the most photogenic spots in Peru.
8. Huayna Potosi, Bolivia
If you want the accolade of summiting a peak over 6000m above sea level then look no further than Huayna Potosi in Bolivia. One of only a few accessible routes that allow you to summit an Andean peak, Huayna Potosi has been dubbed the easiest 6,000-meter peak in the world.
However, don’t let that deceive you. Far more a climb than a hike, summiting Huayna Potosi is one of the more challenging adventures you can attempt in South America. The altitude sickness at this height will be very real, and so it’s important to spend a few days in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, acclimatizing before taking on the staggering 6,000-meter altitude.
However, those who do reach the summit will be rewarded with incredible views of mountain ranges that stretch all the way to Lake Titicaca.
9. Colca Canyon, Peru
Lying in the south of Peru, the Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, even deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the trek here is one of the most popular in Peru.
Lasting 2-3 days, the trek will take you down into the canyon, through the green valley floor, and then all the way back up again on an incredibly steep and tiring uphill trek on the final day. The landscape is dramatically harsh and completely different to the other hikes on the continent. As well as admiring the canyon you’ll see the distant, snow-capped Andes and be able to spot Condors flying overhead.
10. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
One of the most famous hikes in South America and up there with some of the top multi-day hikes in the world, a visit to Torres del Paine National Park is a must whilst in South America.
Found in Chilean Patagonia, it is the location of the W and O treks, the former being a “W” shape hike around the south of the park and the latter being a longer full loop of the park. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll be treated to some unreal scenery, including lakes, glaciers and mountains.
Some of the most iconic parts of the treks are Glacier Grey, which can be viewed from multiple viewpoints including some pretty epic hanging bridges, the 770m high Mirador Britanico, and the famous Las Torres Towers. The latter are three granite peaks of the Paine Massif that loom over a lagoon and are the postcard image of the National Park.
Day hikes to the park are also possible starting from the nearby town of Puerto Natales. See tour option on Viator.
South America is a continent home to unparalleled outdoor experiences, and exploring it on foot by hiking the trails listed above will reward you with the most stunning views, a huge sense of achievement and access to some of the most photogenic spots on earth. You’ll get to experience everything, from mountain tops to rainforests, arid steppes to turquoise lakes, volcanoes to glaciers. Hiking in South America really does have it all.
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