Sore legs and contented soul – nothing beats a good hike. In the sand, the snow or on the rocks, through the forest or along the sea, we feel happier outside. If the body’s moving, the mind is too, and the wonders of nature are the best inspiration. When it comes to hikes and treks, South America is just shy of paradise. We’re telling you here about our favourite hikes on the continent, but we’ve also turned to 10 fellow travel bloggers who share our love for the outdoors and our passion for Latin America; and we’ve asked them this question: What’s your favourite trek in South America?
Travel bloggers’ favourite South America hikes:
Mount Roraima Trek – Venezuela
South America has no shortage of spectacular hikes and treks, but this one is truly unique. Exploring Mount Roraima is a trip back in time, stepping on the world’s oldest rocks, and a trip away from the world itself, isolated above the clouds.
Mount Roraima is the highest of all tepuis – table-top mountains that only exist in the Guiana Shield, mostly in Venezuela. The Roraima tepui is split between 3 countries: Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana, but it is accessible only from Venezuela.
In the middle of the plateau at the top, a simple monument marks the triple border.
Already from the Gran Sabana, the impressive rock walls of Mount Roraima are a magnet to the eyes. From the base camp, at the foot of the rock wall, you wonder how it is even possible to climb this (there is a natural corridor that goes up along the cliff).
This place is an explorer’s dream.
But the real surprise comes when you start exploring the top. It is a very strange world made of weird-shaped rocks, crystals on the ground like random gravel, lagoons with pure water, precious plants growing nowhere else on the planet, forming tidy little gardens. Some animals, such as the tiny Roraima black frog, can only be found there as well.
This place is an explorer’s dream. It doesn’t look like anything you have seen before. The Roraima Trek comes in 2 options: 6 days or 8 days. The 6-day trek is the most common, and takes you all the way to the Triple Border.
I was fortunate to do the 8-day trek, and ventured deep into the part that belongs to Guyana, almost to the end of the northern tip of the tepui, called La Proa (“The Prow”). I definitely recommend the 8-day trek. The Guyana part of Mount Roraima is absolutely stunning and it would be too bad to miss it.
Mount Roraima is for sure one of the most incredible experiences in South America and will remain a highlight of my travels.
Julien Mordret is a relentless traveler, photographer and nature lover, founder of the Exploration Junkie travel blog where he shares his adventures and his best tips through articles, detailed guides and immersive virtual tours.
Cerro Quitasol – Colombia
If you’ve heard that Medellín, Colombia is one of the most beautiful cities in South America, wait until you see it looking down from a 2800 meter viewpoint! I love Medellín and all that the city has to offer – including its local escapes. One of my favorite places to escape the city for the day is to hike to the top of Cerro Quitasol.
It’s a challenging hike that takes you on a 1200 meter climb from the trail head to the peak while offering a breathtaking view of the city throughout the entire hike. Cerro Quitasol also takes you through remnants of an ancient civilization – one that possessed such an advanced engineering knowledge for their time, that they were able to build a stone path route up the mountain that still exists to this day.
…incredible views, historic relics, plus a couple of swimming holes
Cerro Quitasol is situated just north of Medellín and is easy to reach. All you have to do is take the metro north to the final stop at the Niquia Station and then follow Avenida 38 to the trailhead.
The hike to the top can be a steep climb depending on which route you take up, but well worth it for what you’ll find along the way, including incredible views, historic relics, plus a couple of swimming holes to cool off (so bring your bathing suit). There are places to camp out if you’d like to spend the night, or you can do the whole hike in an afternoon like we did. Either way, Cerro Quitasol is a great hike to add to your Medellín bucket list.
Paul Drecksler believes that traveling is good for your soul and good for the world. He loves bringing the world to you through videos, stories, and travel resources at TravelisLife.org.
Paul shows that hiking South America doesn’t have to be an exhausting endeavour reserved only to professional trekkers. Even without hiking gear, you can enjoy a day outside and be inspired by nature.
Chapada Diamantina – Brazil
Freshly arrived on the continent, it felt as if the world was ours and the horizon our limit. My hiking boots were new, still bearing the smell of that distant European shop. And within me, the lust for adventure was warming my heart with an exciting urgency.
Only a few days after landing in Salvador de Bahia, we took a 7-hour bus ride to Lençois. The small town along the river of the same name would be our gateway to the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Vale do Capão can also serve as a base, but that’s on the other side of the park, some 3 hours further.
In Brazil, a “chapada” is like a “tepui” in Venezuela: a tableland, like a mountain flattened by the fingers of the gods. The ones in Chapada Diamantina aren’t very high but they create beautiful valleys of shallow rivers flowing on the rocky terrain. It is very rocky indeed here, and my fresh boots with their good grip came in very handy.
Some trails are short and sweet, others take the whole day.
There’s not one major trek here. It’s rather a pattern of paths going up and down, climbing the rocks and crossing the river. Some of them are popular, others are void of souls. Some trails are short and sweet, others take the whole day. None of them requires a tour, they can be done completely independently.
We found our trail on Wikiloc, a free app for hikers that describes the paths and gives recommendations. It took us the whole day and brought us to a waterfall and back, through a patchwork of landscapes.
After threading a rocky area with low vegetation, we sat down for a short snack, overlooking the valley; we then crossed a patch of forest where we saw the largest lizards, and arrived to the river. We had a dip and followed the river upstream, hopping on rocks and swimming in pools, until we reached the waterfall, Cachoeira do Sossego. Oh, we certainly weren’t alone there. We rested our sore legs and took the same way back, very happy with our first trek in South America. A promise for the rest of our trip!
Anthony writes about budget travels in South America, on the responsible travel blog Green Mochila. He wants to offer inspiration to the curious backpacker, travel stories for the online generation and incentives for a more responsible and greener way-of-travel for everyone.
Perito Moreno glacier – Argentina
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most popular destinations in Argentina and for good reason. It’s epic, easy to access, and offers one of the best hikes in Argentina. It’s important to keep in mind that it is one of the more expensive activities in Argentina (a country otherwise very easy on the budget), but the experience really is worth it if you can manage the numbers.
The only way to hike across the glacier is understandably with a knowledgeable guide. And there is only one company offering these tours which greatly reduces the crowds and masses that could easily swarm this natural wonder if there were multiple companies operating here.
There are two Perito Moreno Glacier trekking options: the shorter mini-trekking or the full day Big Ice excursion. The mini-trekking is more age and ability inclusive because you spend much less time on the ice and quickly access the glacier by the main crampon station.
…it will be a once in a lifetime experience.
The Big Ice Excursion has stricter guidelines because it is much more strenuous. The group starts with an hour to an hour and a half hike alongside the glacier, accessing it deep on the ice. The guides then weave a path across the glacier, spending much longer in total hiking and stopping for a picnic lunch right on the glacier.
Whichever trek you choose, it will be a once in a lifetime experience. Both tours end the same way, with a short cruise across the water with a view of the glacier you just conquered before you and a well-deserved glass of whiskey poured over glacial ice in your hand.
Erin has spent her entire adult life traveling and living abroad. After 10 years of living in Argentina, she blogs on Sol Salute about her life and travels in Buenos Aires and beyond.
In need of more hiking trails in Patagonia Argentina? Mount Fitz Roy awaits you in Los Glaciares National Park, a mythical monster of rock and ice. It certainly counts among the best hikes in South America.
Colca Canyon – Peru
With a depth of nearly 3,300 metres (10,800 feet), Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world. And nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Which makes the three-day hike from the rim to the bottom of the canyon and back out again so enticing.
Beginning with a spectacular five-hour, knee-crunching descent from the village of Cabanaconde to tiny Llahuar, the payoff arrives in the form of a group of natural thermal pools beside the Rio Colca. And believe us, your calf muscles will thank you for it.
Day Two involves a continuous climb of two hours before the trail levels out for a gorgeous stroll along the canyon, before once again descending sharply down to the hamlet of San Juan de Chuccho.
…you get the chance to spot Andean Condors soaring above
Once there, you’ll need a good night’s rest to prepare yourself for a pre-sunrise start the next day. It’s a five-to-six-hour climb back up to the rim with very little shade from the sun. Which can be pretty intense once it reaches its high point.
But for stellar views, it’s hard to beat. And you get the chance to spot Andean Condors soaring above as they begin to leave their nests mid-morning.
In truth, most hikers and tour groups tackle the trail in the opposite direction. But there are advantages to doing it our way. You’ll find yourself in the company of less people for a start. And the routes back out from Llahuar or Sangalle are considerably more difficult to tackle than the one from San Juan de Chuccho.
Finally, don’t be tempted to head straight back to Arequipa afterwards. Instead, stay overnight and take an early-morning trip to watch dozens of Andean Condors take flight beneath you at nearby Cruz de Condor.
Ian and Nicky are an English couple who, in 2015, swapped their busy corporate lives for one of backpacking, road-tripping and house-sitting around the world. They tell their stories on Above Us Only Skies.
The Lost City Trek – Colombia
La Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City Trek is one of the best adventures to have in Colombia. It is a 4 or 5 day hike through the jungle, across rivers and up and down hills. The experience is unique thanks to the local inhabitants whom you see along the way, and for the ruins of the Lost City, hidden among the trees.
The indigenous people who still live in the area today are the descendants of the people who lived in the Lost City. The Teyuna built the city deep in the forest around 800 AD (approximately 650 years before Machu Picchu was built!) and finally abandoned it during the Spanish conquest. The city was ‘lost’ to all outsiders for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered by accident in 1972, when treasure hunters stumbled across the stone steps leading through the jungle.
it really feels like you are discovering the city again just for yourself
You will need to arrange the trek through a local company based in Santa Marta, which is about 5 hours’ drive from Cartagena. Some of the tour companies have indigenous guides, descended from the Teyuna people who can teach you all about their culture and traditions along the route. I took the tour with Wiwa Tours and learned a lot from our indigenous guide.
The Lost City trek itself is at least 4 days hiking through the forest, reaching the ruins of an ancient city on the 3rd day. Climbing up the steps leading to the city you will feel your excitement build; it really feels like you are discovering the city again just for yourself. The stone terraces and carvings remain, and the view from the highest part of the city gives you an idea of how this civilisation lived. If you’re lucky, you may get to meet the Shaman who still has his home here.
On the last days of the hike, after leaving the Lost City, you retrace your steps along the same route back to the starting point. It is possible to split the final day into two, but most people complete the trek in 4 days.
Although the hike is quite challenging, the reward is definitely worth the effort!
Claire loves to travel and wants to inspire others to follow their dreams of travel by sharing her recommendations and tips on destinations, food and culture around the world. This Travel Lover is designed for women who want to travel safely and sustainably, without compromising on adventure, so come along for the ride!
Choquequirao Trek – Peru
Trekking in South America is always an adventure, with finishes at crater lakes, volcano rims, glaciers, and Inca Ruins. Yeah, it’s tough to pick a favorite, but there is one trek that stands above the rest for me. With so many amazing options, there is no trek in South America quite like the Choquequirao Trek.
Choquequirao is a 15th and 16th-century settlement of the Inca Empire but unlike Machu Picchu, centuries have spared it and it’s still a relatively unknown destination. In 2017, estimates placed the annual visitors to Choquequirao at around 5,800 compared to 1.3 million at Machu Picchu. But the thing that has protected Choquequirao from the tourist hoards is not lack of splendor but difficulty to access. While there are talks of building a cable car, at present, the only way to get to the Choquequirao ruins is on the very tough Choquequirao trek.
There is no trek in South America quite like the Choquequirao Trek.
Over the course of four days, you gain 5,290 m and lose 5,324 m more. You start off by hiking into a very steep valley, crossing the river at its bottom, and hiking right back up the other side. And with limited tree cover, the hike up can be hot and grueling.
The reward for your efforts is the chance to explore a 6 km² Inca complex complete with temples, residences, warehouses, chambers, and farming terraces. Sitting at 3,000 m, you’ll have panoramic views of the Vilcabamba range on all sides. And instead of throwing elbows as you would be at Machu Picchu, you might just get the ruins of Choquequirao all to yourself.
Travel Outlandish is an alternative + outdoor travel blog for people with outlandish ideas. They publish guides featuring alternatives to major tourist sites, wild places, and lesser-known destinations. Places that are uncrowded, authentic, and seriously awesome.
We’re happy to count with some off-the-beaten-path Peruvian destinations in this list of South America treks. As writer and passionate hiker Hilary Bradt once said: “Leave the Inca Trail to people with less imagination”.
Aconcagua base camp trek – Argentina
Aconcagua towers at a head-spinning 6,960.8 m (22,837 ft), a size that makes it rank the nº1 highest peak in the Americas. We were absolutely thrilled to hike to this beast of a rock, even though we didn’t have any intention to conquer the top. That feat we’ll leave to another time, when we are in the right mindset and have substantially more money in our pockets.
Mount Aconcagua is situated in the west of Argentina, flanking Chile. We decided to make our base in Uspallata, a cosy little town closer to the mountains, instead of travelling from Mendoza.
The Aconcagua Provincial Park accommodates all levels of hikers and nature lovers. Besides the 5 to 7-day ascent to the peak and a 3-day hike to some remote spot in the middle, there are various trails that can be done as a day trek within the park. If you don’t fancy staying overnight, the most challenging hike is the 4-hour walk to the Confluencia base camp. There’s also a shorter, snugger but spectacular 1-hour trail to a mountain lake called Laguna de Horcones.
The Aconcagua peak was constantly popping out at each curve of the trail.
We opted for the hike to the base camp, a steady slope on a rocky terrain without technically challenging parts. Having said that, the altitude can make any hiker prone to headaches or breathlessness; so we went slowly and left time for our body to acclimatise.
During the whole duration of the hike, the Aconcagua peak was constantly popping out at each curve of the trail; just to say hello and remind us of nature’s majestic beauty. On the way, we met with a number of mules carrying supplies, and a joyous handful of fellow hikers.
The multi-day hikes require advance booking from Mendoza, but the day hikes can be done entirely independently. Take an early morning bus either from Uspallata (8 am) or Mendoza (6 am), pay the entrance to the park and off you go! The path is well marked and well taken care of. But bring food with you, as there’s no shop nor food sellers in the park.
We’ve told our complete story about our day-hike at the Aconcagua.
Anna is a world citizen, an avid traveller, a passionate environmentalist. Writing on Green Mochila about her year backpacking through South America, she tries to encourage everyone to discover this beautiful continent and pass on her love for responsible travels.
Cordillera Huayhuash – Peru
Peru is one of the world’s top travel destinations, yet the northern half of the country goes largely unvisited by international travelers. Even for myself, it took a third visit to Peru before I ventured to any destination north of Lima.
What a reward it was when I finally did. None was more rewarding than Huaraz, a city nestled between Peru’s most majestic mountain ranges. Six hours outside of Huaraz is the stunning and remote Cordillera Huayhuash. My time there proved to be the most challenging and rewarding adventure of my life.
Over the course of 8 days, we hiked along the Cordillera at brutally high altitudes, often reaching above 5,000 meters above sea level. We covered 140 kilometers of mountainous terrain, yet not a step felt wasted. The scenery never disappointed. Each day called for an early morning wake-up, never any later than 6 AM. A hearty breakfast and many cups of coca tea later, we would embark for that days’ mountain pass.
My time there proved to be the most challenging and rewarding adventure of my life.
Each day brought new scenery and new challenges. We conquered a mountain pass every day, and each gave us unbelievable views of sparkling blue glacial lagunas and snow-capped peaks towering well above 6,000 meters in height.
For travelers and adventure-seekers looking for an off-the-beaten-path trek with scenery that can rival anywhere in the world, the Cordillera Huayhuash is a must. The best time of year to hike the Cordillera Huayhuash would be between the dry months of May to September, although the weather in the mountains is impossible to predict. It is a journey that some brave souls conquer alone, but can also be done with a trekking group through an agency.
For an all-inclusive rate for those 8 days, one would look to shell out only about $300 USD. That includes all rental equipment, porters, chefs, donkeys, and entrance fees. The north of the country has yet to catch up to the tourism boom that Southern Peru has experienced, so now is the best time to take on adventures in the lesser-visited destinations of Northern Peru.
Eli Solidum is the photographer and writer behind the backpacker blog, The Partying Traveler. There, and on Instagram, he shares his unfiltered adventures as a full-time traveler specializing in budget travel, solo travel, and having the best flippin’ time imaginable.
Looking to do more hiking in the Andes mountains of South America? Another demanding but oh-so-rewarding experience in the region of Huaraz is the Santa Cruz trek. It’s a 4-day affair that can be done independently, without a guide: perfect for fans of self-guided hiking and long-distance hiking trails.
Isla del Sol – Bolivia
Sentinel in the vast blues of Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol is one of the most picturesque spots in Bolivia. Hiking the ‘Wila Thaki’ trail will take you up winding pastoral paths, where flowers bloom in abundance and children chase sheep up sloping fields.
One of the last true homes of the Andean Incas, the lake is home to historic ruins, and some of the best preserved examples of traditional lifestyles of the region. The island was believed to be the God of the Sun, giving it its name, and has long been a significant spot in native spiritualism.
Descending into Yumani, you’ll find familiar the Bolivian staples-cobbled laneways marked by trotting alpacas and working cholitas, small bodegas selling drinks and snacks for weary hikers, and astonishing views. In one of the most beautiful countries on earth, Isla del Sol offers and alternative vista to the alien plains of the Altiplano or the rich depths of the Amazon.
The island was believed to be the God of the Sun
Following the Wila Thaki trail across the island, the hike should take around 3 hours for the moderately fit. Remember that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake on earth, at 4,000 metres above sea level, and the altitude will make the hike significantly harder if you haven’t yet had time to adjust. Even after more than a month in Bolivia, the altitude here almost got the better of me.
The path is clearly marked, with optional detours to visit Incan ruins or particularly spectacular viewpoints, and will lead you out to the port at Yumani. Here you can meet your onwards passage to Copacabana.
SJ of Listen To The Wild is a writer and long-term traveller from London. She focuses on slow travel, history and cultural exchange across 6 continents.
Not far from there, to the north of La Paz, towers Huayna Potosi, one of the most popular peaks to trek in this South American mountain range. Fans of mountain treks rank the Andes among the best places to trek in the world.
Volcan Villarrica – Chile
Chile’s active Volcano Villarrica is located in the South of Chile, near the city of Pucon.
A lot of travelers head to Pucon, the adventurous town of Chile, to hike this icy beast that needs about five hours to climb up and not less than three hours to get down. But even though hiking Villarrica Volcano is a challenging task, it is one of the most wonderful hikes in South America because of the views from the top. The tough hike makes the vista worthwhile. Also, let us not forget that Villarrica is an active volcano and, on a lucky day (or unlucky?), you can see lava from the top.
Villarrica Volcano is about 30 km away from Pucon. You would have to go on a tour for a Volcano Villarrica hike as you need experienced guides.
The trip to the Volcano would start at 3 am. After driving for an hour, you will arrive at the base of the volcano. Many groups would be gearing up for their hike along with you.
…on a lucky day (or unlucky?), you can see lava from the top.
First, you will climb up rocky terrain. Then you would trek up the ice-laden steep slopes of the volcano. The hike is about 4.8 km one-way but it feels longer due to the strong winds, rough terrain, and the sharp incline.
Choose a good tour company that has experienced guides and the right equipment to climb safely.
From the top, you see many other volcanoes shining on the horizon. The best part of the hike is yet to come. To compensate you for the hard work going up the volcano, you would be now asked to sled down the icy mountain on a plastic board.
Sit, push, slide. Follow these steps until you reach the rocky terrain again. The descent would take about three hours followed by another hour of a drive back to the town.
Though the volcano is open for hiking year-long, keep a few extra days in Pucon as the weather sometimes doesn’t allow going up.
Hiking Villarrica Volcano is one of the most adventurous hikes of my life, and I hope you go for it.
Priyanka Gupta is an itinerant travel blogger from India who left her investment banking career to travel the world and write. Read her best ideas and travel stories on her personal growth and travel blog On My Canvas. You can follow Priyanka on social media to get live updates on her journey.
Sierra Negra, Galápagos Islands – Ecuador
Our favourite trek was also one of the most difficult.
As part of our exploration of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, we had the unique opportunity to hike up the side of Sierra Negra, a Volcano on Isabela island that rises to an altitude of 1124 meters. We rode a dingy from our small yacht to the island, then hopped on an industrial tractor to carry us 30 minutes uphill to a landing where we could begin the climb.
Our guide was clearly accustomed to the altitude and the physicality, expecting us to hike up and back down in a mere 45 minutes, but it took most of that time just to make it to the top. Battling an outrageously hot sun with little shade or breeze, I had a particularly rough hike. Suffering from a mixture of heat exhaustion, altitude sickness and an asthma induced increased heart-rate, we stopped frequently, but we made it and it was magnificent.
That view was worth every excruciating step.
Atop, the second largest crater in the world opened up, spreading its vast beauty almost 10 km wide. The difficulty of the hike melted away as we stood awestruck. The lush greenery and spectacular colours inside of the crater tempted us to run across, arms wide, but we sat on the edge, relaxing in the cool grass in silence. That view was worth every excruciating step.
We had no issues on the hike down, we carried with us only gratitude. If you have the opportunity to visit Sierra Negra, we highly recommend it. Take your time, know your limits and move at your own pace. No matter the expectations or comparable achievements of others, heat and altitude affect different people in different ways, so be sure to listen to your body.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach the top, the beauty of Sierra Negra awaits your arrival.
Bitten by the Travel Bug, Destined to Explore. Writer. Photographers. World Travellers. D&J from Toronto, Canada both work full-time in the broadcasting industry but travel as much as possible. They seek out unique adventures, are drawn to ancient ruins and the beautiful serenity of animals and nature, and relate it on Make Them All Trips of a Lifetime.
When the sun sets behind the elusive line of the horizon, we sit under the starry sky, our head full of the images and the thoughts a hiking day has awoken in us. Full of gratitude for the splendours of Nature, we’re left with sore legs and contented souls, and the incomparable feeling of being small. Because hiking, like travel, humbles us and makes us realise what a tiny place we occupy in this world.
And you, what’s your favourite hike in South America? Tell us about it in the comments section!
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