Finding the best hikes in South America is not hard. Deciding which one to choose is. From easy to challenging and anything in-between, check out our list of best treks in South America.
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Best Hikes in South America
Thanks to the diversity of the region, from high Andes mountains to the coastal range, tropical forests to ancient ruins, every hiker and outdoor enthusiast will find a trek to like from Argentina to Ecuador, from Peru to Venezuela. Trekking South America is surely an adventure of a lifetime.
The region is vast, and we tried our best to compile a complete list, but we are most likely missing a few epic treks. So feel free to comment and let us know what top hiking in South America we should add!
Table of Content:
- Argentina Trails
- Brazil Treks
- Trek Bolivia
- Chile Trails
- Colombia Trekking
- Ecuador Treks
- Trek Peru
- Venezuela Treks
While Patagonia is obviously what comes to mind when talking about hiking in Argentina, the country is a trekking paradise in every corner you are. The Salta and Jujuy Provinces, for example, offer great trekking opportunities a well.
See below some of the best hikes in Argentina for long-distance overnight trails.
The 18-21 day trek to the Aconcagua features different options, the most popular being the ones to Plaza Francia or Plaza de Mulas. Whichever you choose, the trail is challenging due to the high elevation of. (22,840 ft / 6,960 m). This trail is popular as it will take you to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 22,837 ft (6,961 m) in the Andes mountain range about 70 miles (112 km) from Mendoza, Argentina.
Bariloche Hut to Hut
A 5-day trek through the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the challenging steep terrains is better reserved for experienced trekkers.
Less visited than the Lake District, the area is nonetheless beautiful. With 13 different refugios through the wilderness, hikers can experience this scenic Patagonia trek away from the crowd.
Fitz Roy Circuit
Located in the heart of the fascinating Argentinian Patagonia, this short hike will take you to two of the most beautiful spots in the country: the famous Fitz Roy Mount and its brother the Cerro Torre. Two legendary peaks have been on the bucket list of many travelers and hikers for decades.
The best way to visit the area is by taking a two-day hike starting from the town of El Chaltén. On the first day, you’ll get to “Laguna de Los tres” which is a gorgeous lagoon right in front of the Fitz Roy Mount. That night, you’ll walk to Poincenot campsite and spend the night there.
The next day, you’ll continue hiking through a beautiful forest till you get to the fantastic Cerro Torre. After enjoying the scenery, you can take the path back to El Chaltén and celebrate with a local homemade beer.
This trek can be completed in two days, walking around 6 hours per day. It’s not technically challenging, although you should be in decent shape as you’ll be walking about 18 miles (30 km) in total. You can hire a guide to accompany you, but you don’t need one as the path is quite well marked. The entrance to the park is free, and camping is also free, so you’ll spend little money on this adventure. Keep in mind that you’ll need proper hiking and camping gear though.
The best months to trek the Fitz Roy are from November to April. The trail is covered by snow the rest of the year. While it would be doable as a winter trek, trekkers would need a lot of specialized gear and equipment for a safe experience.
[For a Fitz Roy organized tour, click here for cost estimates]
Paso de las Nubes
The 2-day trek of 14-mile (23-km) takes you through the beautiful Lake District, with an overnight in a refugio or camping.
Quebrada de Humahuaca
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and known for its magnificent colors of the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hills of Seven Colours), different trekking options are available going through the stunning scenery of Quebrada de Humahuaca.
Refugio Frey Hike
Located in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the gentle 4-hour one-way hike leads to a gorgeous lake and stunning peaks. No permit is required for this trek better done in Spring to Fall (October to April). You can camp at either the campground or spend the night at the Refugio Frey.
An easy hike with an overnight in a refugio (to be booked through Club Andino) or camp by the glacier.
The Yungas, Calilegua National Park
The cloud forest offers trails to trekkers of all fitness levels and experiences. For long-distance trail hikes, the 3-day trek to Cerro Amarillo (12,205 ft / 3,720 m) or Cerro Hermoso (10,499 ft / 3,200 m) can be good trekking options.
A Bolivia trek might not be what comes first in mind given the proximity to Peru, but the small Andes country has plenty of great trails to offer.
Check below some of the best treks in Bolivia!
Located in the Apolobamba ranges, a challenging 7-day trek passing on the eastern side of Lake Titicaca and the Apacheta Tambillo pass.
Cerro Austria Trek
A high-altitude trek in the Cordillera Real mountain range, llama pasture, and stunning lakes.
Set in the Cordillera Real, the 3-day trek passes by over ten snow-covered summits over 16,400 ft (5,000 m) high, and you can even spot Lake Titicaca on a clear day.
El Choro Trek
A hard 3-day trail that passes through 31 miles (50 km) of Cordillera Real, Parque Nacional Cotopata, and Yungas, going by 16,400-ft (5,000-m) high mountains in the Andes and through thick jungle.
Huayna Potosí Trek
Almost a climbing trip more than a trek, the 2-to-3-day trail reaches the Huayna Potosí at 19,974 ft (6,088 m).
Juri Khota Condoriri
A 4-day of moderate trek through a diverse landscape – high passes and lagoons – in the Condoriri range of the Cordillera Real.
Laguna Glaciar and Laguna Chillata Route
The challenging 3 to 4-day trek reaches the high altitude of 16,529 ft (5,038 m) at the Laguna Glacind passing by the mid-to-high mountains of Illampu and Jancohuma.
The 3-4 day trek passes by cave paintings and dinosaur footprints, making it a special trek easily accessible from Sucre.
A 2-3 day trek is one of the best hikes in Bolivia and passes along old paved Inca trails.
A challenging but very popular 13-day trek in the Cordillera Real that leads to Huayna Potosi. Over 124 miles (200 km) of incredible scenery, the distance can be shortened or extended.
The list of the best hikes in Brazil would be long given the size of the country. But anyone trekking Brazil should consider these two trails:
5-day through the Chapada Diamantina National Park, passing by the highest waterfall in the country, the Cachoeira da Fumaça, mountain plateaus, and water pools.
[For an organized tour in the Chapada Diamantina, click here for cost estimates.]
Ilha Grande Circuit
Ilha Grande is a tropical island in the south of Brazil, about 2 hours by bus from Rio de Janeiro. The island is beautiful; wide sandy beaches, lush green jungle, picturesque fishing villages, and no cars, boats are the only motored transport on the island. There are several hiking trails on Ilha Grande; they all are parts of the main circuit. The walk starts and finishes at Abraao, the main town where the ferries from the mainland arrive.
The total distance is roughly 50 miles (80 km). The trail can be completed in 5 days, but it’s advisable to have more time to enjoy the pristine beaches, spend some time chilling in a hammock, or snorkeling in the warm clear water. The scenery on the route is a combination of beaches, small bays, and jungles, every hour you reach a new beach where you can stop and go for a refreshing swim after walking through the forest. Some beaches are accessible only on foot, which makes them pretty empty.
It’s better to have a tent, but it’s possible to plan the route and stops as such that every night you stay in a hotel or cabin, there are many small villages all over the island. For campings, you pay between US$5 and US$10 per tent. You stay in small communities where you can get food, but we had a small camping stove and a couple of packs of pasta and tuna just in case. The route is marked all the way and quite easy to follow. No permits, guides, or reservations are needed.
Ilha Grande is a safe place we walked all over the island, and it never felt dangerous. There are several steep ascents and descends on the route – its primary challenge. Otherwise, it’s an easy and enjoyable walk. The weather on the island is always lovely and warm, though between February and April it rains more.
[For an Ilha Grand Circuit organized tour, click here for cost estimates.]
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
A 3-day trek takes you to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park through the freshwater lagoons and dunes of the North Atlantic coast.
[For an organized tour around Lençóis Maranhenses, click here for cost estimates.]
Paraty Wilderness Trek
A 4 to 8-day trek makes you experience Brazilian fjords.
[For an organized tour around Paraty, click here for cost estimates.]
Serra Fina Crossing Trek
A challenging trek that will take you to some of the highest areas in Brazil like Capim Amarelo Peak and Pedra da Mina Peak
The Cerro Castillo Circuit covers over 7,000 ft (2,130 m) of altitude gain and goes through some of the best Chilean landscapes.
Dientes Circuit / Isla Navarino
A challenging 4-day trek through a mostly unmarked trail, the Dientes Circuit on the Isla Navarino is the southernmost trek on earth.
North Coast Hike / Easter Island
Easter Island’s North Coast Hike can be done either as a day hike or overnight hike and is the best way to explore the upper coast of the island. For the overnight option, hikers can start at Ahu Tahai in the morning and camp at Anakena Beach for the night before returning to Hanga Roa the next day.
This hike inside Easter Island’s Rapa Nui National Park is 11 miles (18 km) long and requires 8 to 9 hours without stopping – but there are many archeological ruins and toppled Moai on the route and exploring them easily takes more than 2 to 3 hours. The trail is relatively flat but over uneven ground and follows the rocky volcanic coastline of the Northern Coast. Hikers should take care not to get too close to the cliff edges as a misstep means sheer drop into the Pacific Ocean.
There are no roads or any infrastructure on this part of Easter Island, and you can experience the island as it was when the western world discovered it. We recommend getting a local Rapa Nui guide for this hike as they know the exact locations of various ruins including Moai statues, boathouses, and chicken coops. The guides can also help in exploring the lava tube caves along the trail.
Along the route, you will maybe come across a few equestrian riders and wild mustangs – but other than that, you will have only the blue Pacific Ocean to keep you company throughout the hike. On reaching Anakena, you can swim at the beautiful beach and camp for the night. We recommend carrying sufficient water and food as you won’t be able to get anything before reaching Ahu Anakena.
O Circuit / Patagonia South America
The O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park is an 8-Day loop of jaw-dropping scenery, sweeping glacial views, and the famous three towers over a baby blue glacial lake as the crown jewel. It’s possible to do the track completely independently, carrying all of your gear, food, and self-guiding, or you can join a group, stay in the refugios, and rough it a bit less. Since this is easily the most popular hike in Patagonia, it’s necessary to book the campsites ahead of time and to get a permit as well.
The typical season runs from November to early April. Otherwise, it can be socked in with snow and almost impossible to hike. The total distance of the O is about 68 miles (110 km), and it must be hiked counter-clockwise, though there are numerous potential starting points.
The cost of the permit to enter the park is 21,000 Chilean pesos, and the fees of the campsites at the refugios range from free to 8,500 pesos per night. Most guided hikes that include staying in the Refugios are closer to $2,000+ total. This hike is also possible to shorten, known as the W, but if you think you can handle it, I highly recommend doing to full O. It’s the only way to hike all day next to the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third-largest frozen body of fresh water in the world.
By Kristin at Be My Travel Muse
W Trek / Patagonia
The Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile’s Patagonia region, is well known for soaring mountains, bright blue icebergs that cleave from glaciers, and golden pampas. Not to mention the unique wildlife that calls it home here. In the park are two popular hikes – the W Trek and the O Trek. As the names suggest these hikes are related to the shape of the trails.
Now the W Trek is the easier of the two hikes to complete and is less likely to be closed due to weather conditions such as snow covering the trail. Most hikers can easily achieve the W trek in 3 days and four nights. You won’t need a guide. If you can walk in a straight line, then you can hike the W trek. There are a few steep areas, a few rocky bits but all in all it’s an easy hike to walk. The biggest concern is the ever-changing weather, but packing correctly and you’ll be fine.
The one big thing to do before you leave home is to prebook your accommodation. There are a variety of options from lodges to campsites, and you can even hire fully set up tents from the two leading companies that own the campgrounds. You may be refused entry to the park if you do not have all your campsites booked in advance. Costs for accommodation can be as low as $10USD for a campsite to up to $250USD for a full board, bed, and hot shower. Most of the campgrounds will have a basic shop to buy emergency supplies and beer. These will cost you a pretty penny!
The main things you’ll need are your overnight gear, return bus ticket to/from the park, accommodation booked for before arrival, park entry permit to be arranged on arrival, and plenty of snacks.
The fees for the permit vary depending on the season, from CLP 11.000 from May to September (Low Season), to CLP 21.000 from October to April (High Season).
[For a self-guided organized W Trek, click here for cost estimates]
Lost City Trek
One of our favorite treks in South America was the Lost City trek through the Sierra Nevada mountains. There are three options for the 47 miles (75 km) trek – you can choose to cover the distance in a 4-day, 5-day, or 6-day trek.
None of the options could be described as ‘easy,’ it is a challenging hike, but one that’s well worth it! The terrain ranges from flat ground to thick red clay mud, more mud and rocks, and limestone paths. It requires a certain level of fitness and some experience in multi-day hikes.
All three trek options cost COP 950,000, so the only thing to consider is how much stamina you have to trek through the thick jungle. We chose to do the 5 Day trek and enjoyed our experience. You can book the trek with one of the five certified tour companies located in Santa Maria. Included in the price of your tour will be your guide, all meals, and accommodation. Campsites are simple but clean and comfortable with either bunk beds or hammocks.
The best time of year for the trek is the dry season. Dry trails and shallow rivers make the trek a bit easier plus, it’s nicer to trek with blue skies than on rainy days! That said, treks do run all year round, so no matter when you visit Colombia, you can head to Santa Marta and join the trek at any time of the year. This trek cannot be done independently, only as a guided trek.
[For a 3 to 5-day Lost City organized tour, click here for cost estimates]
El Cajas National Park
The park located close to Cuenca offers different trails from a couple of hours to several days. El Cajas offers a different landscape than most of Ecuador, featuring endless rocky terrains, tall cliffs, and lakes.
The 4 to 5 days on the Condor trek provides the best opportunity to watch condors and pumas in their natural environment. A beautiful trek in its own right, the trail passes by paramo highlands, glaciers, lagoons, and ends with stunning views at the Cotopaxi National Park.
Cotopaxi National Park
Most tourists hike within the Cotopaxi National Park where there are different trails and places to camp. If you want to experience being close to an active volcano, you can hike up to the first shelter, which shouldn’t take more than one hour to reach.
El Altar Trek
A 3-day trek crossing the Sangay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you reach a yellow lagoon called the Altar, all surrounded by snowy summits.
Laguna Cuicocha Trek
Situated 16 miles (25 km) from Otavalo, trek around the crater lake sitting by the Cotacachi Volcano.
Latacunga / Quilotoa Loop
Got a few days to spare? Rather than making a quick day trip to the crowded Laguna Quilotoa, experience it better on a few days’ treks. The Quilotoa Loop refers to some 124 miles (200 km) of trails that end up at Laguna Quilotoa. The trails wind through remote Andean towns and grassy landscapes, stopping off in towns like Chugchilan, Sigchos, and Isinliví along the way. Rather than camping out at the end of a long day of trekking, you can choose to stay in one of the many hostels and hotels along the loop that offer some of the coziest accommodation and homiest traditional food you’ll find anywhere in Ecuador.
Trails aren’t exceptionally well marked, but the trek is doable without a guide if you spend time each morning getting a thorough briefing of the trail ahead. Room and board start from $15/day at the hotels along the Quilotoa Loop. With most treks ranging from 3-5 days, you can complete the hike without spending much at all.
While the Quilotoa Loop isn’t tricky, be sure to give yourself a few days to acclimate if you don’t want to get hit by the high altitude (12,840 ft / 3,914m). Laguna Quilotoa is one of those “not the destination but the journey” kinds of places. While the high point of the trek is winding up at the brilliant blue crater lake, it’s the days spent in the middle of nowhere getting there that make it unique.
From Taylor of Travel Outlandish
A 14-day trek through the Amazon forest to admire the world’s largest single-drop waterfall at 742 ft (226 m).
Any Peru travel for outdoor enthusiasts will surely include one of the many famous Peru treks. Trekking Peru is so popular, we dedicated a full post just for top treks there.
But here is a quick list of these top treks in Peru, South America:
Alkipo-Ishinca Trek / Huaraz
A 3-day alternative trek to the crowded Santa Cruz trail. The road goes over the 16,400 ft (5,000 m) Alkipo Pass and passes by stunning glaciers.
Ausangate Trek / Cusco
A moderate 6-day trek from Cusco, the Ausangate Trek to the Rainbow mountain is a great alternative away from the crowd of Machu Picchu.
Choquequirao Trek / Cusco Region
This stunning 4-day trek down to the Apurimac River reaches the Choquequirao ruins at 10,827 ft (3,300 m) and has been called the “other” Machu Picchu trek.
Colca Canyon Trek / Arequipa
A 2-day strenuous trek due to the elevation and steep climb in a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the trail takes you through waterfalls and ruins, descending from 10,830 ft (3,300 m) to 6,890 ft (2,100 m).
Inca Trail Trek / Cusco
The ultimate trek South America can offer, and the most famous trek in Peru, the 4-day Inca Trail reaches Machu Picchu through fantastic scenery up to 4,200 m. A permit is required and must be booked months in advance.
The star of trekking in Peru, the Inca Trail is the most famous Machu Picchu trek. The UNESCO World Heritage Site trek takes 4 days of moderation trekking to a maximum altitude of 4,200 meters. With that popularity comes crowd, permit, and guide requirements. The Inca Trail hike is popular for good reasons, but if you are looking at less busy trails with stunning landscapes, or something cheaper than the average Inca Trail cost, there are plenty of trek alternatives. Inca Trail permits are booked months ahead, and a limited number of permits are available per day.
Lares Trail / Cusco
One of the alternatives to the Inca Trail, the 3-day Lares Trail is less visited than its most popular counterpart. The trail goes up to 13,780 ft (4,800 m) but is less challenging. No permit is needed.
A challenging 5-day trek to Machu Picchu that will take you to the Aguas Calientes on the way to the famous ruins.
Santa Cruz Trek / Cordillera Blanca
The Santa Cruz Trek is one of the most popular treks in Peru, a one-way 4-day trek in the Cordillera Blanca that reaches 15,616 ft (4,760 m) at Punta Union Pass.la
Mount Roraima is a special place indeed. In Canaima National Park on the border of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana, this flat-topped tepuy mountain provided the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, and Disney’s Up. The trek is a 6-day hike across the plains of the National Park, including a grueling ascent through the humid jungle and clambering up waterfalls to reach the flat surface of the mountain.
The first two days aren’t particularly hard, but there is little shade. The ascent and descent were most challenging for me, as I feared falling as we climbed down the waterfall. However, seeing the tepuy mountains grow closer and exploring the surface it does feel like you are in another world. The top of the mountain is above the clouds, so it is often shrouded in an eerie mist. There are endemic plants and animals here which are found nowhere else, deep pools of water and caves filled with crystals, as well as a window where you can see right down into the clouds below.
Venezuela is not the safest place to travel. I don’t recommend traveling there at all at the moment. It may still be possible to do this trek from Santa Elena, the town on the Venezuela-Brazil border. You need a guide to do the trek, which can be arranged in Santa Elena with prices starting at around €300 for a reputable company.
Porters carry most of the equipment and camping gear, but you need to take your sleeping bag and personal items. It gets cold on the mountaintop, but the elevation is only 9,186 ft (2,800 m), so altitude shouldn’t bother you here. However, the heat and humidity may make it difficult, and avoid the rainy season when the waterfall is too big to climb, and the paths become flooded.
The trek is about 35 miles (56 km), with an elevation gain of 4,987 ft / 1,520 m plus another potential 1 miles (20 km) for the hike to the triple border point & back on the top of the mountain, and any extra exploration on top of the mountain.
[For a Mount Roraima organized trek, click here for cost estimates.]
Trekking in South America: Travel Guide
Find below some trekking and travel tips:
- Altitude sickness can be deadly and is a major concern due to the high elevations of most treks. Add a few days to acclimate, and become knowledgeable about acute mountain sickness (AMS), especially High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). How to recognize and how to prevent. Diamox tablets can lessen some of the symptoms but do not treat or prevent the impacts, talk to your doctor to see whether it’s safe for you to use.
- Plan ahead of the time Some of the most popular trails might require trekking permits like for the Inca Trail so book ahead.
- Insurance: Ensure that your travel insurance does include trekking as a sport, as well as high altitude trails. Many traditional travel insurances don’t offer or have altitude limitations. Which means you might not be protected as you expect.
- Pack in layers: Layers, layers, layers. Even more important given the remote trails and ever-changing weather conditions.
- Trekking Gear: Three items are a must, but your packing list should include adequate equipment:
- a waterproof, windproof jacket. Not sure what to get? Click here to find your lightweight waterproof jacket before your next trekking adventure.
- waterproof shoes with good footing
- trekking poles
- Check out our trekking gear list for ideas
- Independent Trekking or Organized Trek: You might be able to trek independently but you might have to hire a guide and secure a permit for others. You might want to go on an organized trek for more comfort or ease of planning.
We hope you found some interesting South America treks on this list. And remember, if you have any other South America hiking trips to suggest, we would love to hear from you.
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