Off the Grid South America

Going Wild: 15 Treks in South America

Best Treks in South America - The Quilotoa Loop

Let’s think of South America as the world’s playground. Everyone has heard of the Inca Trail, but when it comes to treks in South America, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. You can get the most from your time on the continent by exploring its limits. You can cross borders on your own two feet or be at the top of a volcano before the sun has even peeked over the horizon. And that, guys, is what adventure travel is all about.

There are thousands of trails to choose from in South America. Knowing just which trek to pick can be your first big challenge. I collaborated with some extra rad adventure travelers to detail the best treks in South America so you don’t miss a single one. Let’s get to it! Some photos have been edited by me and may not reflect the style of the photographer. 

The Best Hikes & Treks in South America

Huemul Circuit | Argentina

Nearest City: El Chaltén, Argentina // Difficulty: Hard // Duration: 4 Days

The Huemul Circuit may just be 63km, but it’s considered one of the most challenging treks in South America. The first day’s scenery is forests and hanging glaciers with a night spent beside Laguna Toro. On the next day, you’ll make it to Paso del Viento at 1,550m for a glimpse at the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. On the third day, you’ll continue circling Mount Huemul, taking in glaciers and lakes along the way. Finally, the last day is an easy final stretch towards Puerto de Bahía Túnel. Idyllic scenery aside, this is a tough climb! The Huemel Circuit will have you forging rivers with a carabiner and making knee-shaking descents. But if you’re looking for an isolated trek that will give you a sense of wild Patagonia, the Huemel Circuit is serious adventure.

Cerro Torre & Mt. Fitz Roy Trek | Argentina

Nearest City: El Chaltén, Argentina // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 2-5 Days

A series of hiking trails depart from El Chaltén, the tiny town beside Los Glaciares National Park. By stringing them together, you can make a 58km circuit that passes by Piedra del Fraile, Fitz Roy, and some of Patagonia’s other darlings. This is a perfect beginner’s backpacking trip as you’re never too far away for a supply run. If you seriously forget something, most of the campsites are just a few kilometers outside of town!

Best Treks in South America - El Chalten

Huayna Potosi Trek | Bolivia

Nearest City: La Paz, Bolivia // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 2 Days

“The summit of Huayna Potosi, not far from La Paz, is considered one of the easiest mountains in the world to climb above 6,000m. On day one, you will drive up to base camp by car and from there you will go for an acclimatization hike and practice some serious ice climbing. On day two, you will make your way to Snow Camp where you have a couple hours rest before you start your summit attempt in the middle of the night. By sunrise you will reach the summit and the same day you will be back in La Paz. Don’t take this lightly, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The expeditions are cheap with $130 including all gear, guides and transportation.”  Read more about Bolivia on Traveltomtom.

Photo from Traveltomtom

Fumaça Trek | Brazil

Nearest City: Lençóis, Brazil // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 3-5 Days

“The Fumaça Trek is a magical trek where you’ll get to sleep under the stars and next to the river beds with a local guide that knows the area very well. On day one, you’ll walk from Lençóis to Rio Ribeirão where you’ll cross a mountain, pass a waterfall, then swim and camp. On day two, you’ll walk up the river until Toca do Macao, then continue to hike until you reach Cachoeira da Fumaça, a 380m waterfall where the water vaporizes before it even reaches the ground. On the last day, you will trek up to the top of the Fumaça waterfall and gaze upon the views there, after descending to make your way back to Lençóis. No matter how many visitors the National Park receives every year, it seems to be a place of great beauty and significance to its people and the rest of Brazil.”  Read more about all things travel on  Size Jinx in One.

Fumaça Trek in Chapada Diamantina National Park

Photo from Size Jinx in One

Torres del Paine | Chile

Nearest City: Puerto Natales, Chile // Difficulty: Medium // Duration: 1-8 Days

Anyone who has ever trekked in Torres del Paine is in on a secret. While you can see glaciers and mountain peaks on a day trip, the best way to truly enjoy this bit of Patagonia is on a trek. With trekking routes ranging from 4-8 days, the W Trek, the O Circuit, the Q Circuit show you the wild places in between the landmarks. Torres del Paine has gained popularity in the last few years, so going with a guide starts at $1,200. That being said, if you’re up for renting equipment, planning meals, and booking campsites ahead of time, Torres del Paine is the perfect park for solo trekking. Read more about Trekking in Torres del Paine on Travel Outlandish

Campsites in Torres del Paine - Dickson

Cerro Castillo Hike | Chile

Nearest City: Coyhaique, Chile // Difficulty: Moderate// Duration: 4 Days

“Chilean Patagonia is a real paradise for hiking lovers and Cerro Castillo hike is one of the best hikes in Patagonia. Cerro Castillo in Spanish means ‘mountain-castle’ and some of the mountain peaks do look like castles’ towers. The scenery on the hike is fantastic; pine forest, hanging glaciers, turquoise-blue lakes, mountain rivers. Cerro Castillo is a moderate unguided hike with a well-marked trail, signs and designated camping spots. The main problem of the hike is unpredictable Patagonian weather and strong wind make sure to check the forecast before you start and prepare for cold nights.” Read more on the Cerro Castillo Hike on Stingy Nomads or check out the how-to guide on Only Simple Things

Cerro Castillo Hike in Chile

Photo from Stingy Nomads

Villa O’Higgins Trek | Chile + Argentina

Nearest City: Villa O’Higgins, Chile // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 2 Days

The Villa O’Higgins Trek is the ferry journey from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla with a trek to Punta Sur. The trek should only take two days at 20km, but ferry delays are common. The best parts of this trek are navigating the Continental Ice Field and crossing between Argentina and Chile. When’s the next time you’ll get to hike from one country to the next?

Best Treks in South America

The Lost City Trek | Colombia

Nearest City: Santa Marta, Colombia // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 4-5 Days

“The Lost City Trek is a four to five day hike through the Sierra Nevada National Park in northern Colombia that reaches the Ciudad Perdida archaeological site, thought to date back to 800 AD.  The city was ‘lost’ in the Colombian rainforest when the Teyuna people apparently abandoned the city after the Spanish invasion, and was re-discovered in 1972 by local treasure hunters who found stone steps leading through the jungle.  The trek can only be taken with a guide, which can be arranged in nearby Santa Marta. It is challenging in places due to the high humidity in the forest.” Read more about the Lost City Trek on Tales of a Backpacker.

The Lost City Trek in Colombia

Photo from Tales of a Backpacker

The Salento Valley Trek | Colombia

Nearest City: Salento, Colombia // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 4 Days

“Salento, Colombia is one of the most popular gateways to the Andes, offering spectacular trekking adventures with elevations that sometimes even reach 5,000 meters. The duration of the hikes here varies from a couple of hours, to half day tours, to full day tours, to proper long tours lasting of a couple of days. One of the most beautiful treks is the four day trek that takes you from the Valle de Cocora along the Rio Quindio towards several coffee fincas right into the Nevado del Tolima, which is in the middle of spectacular volcanic terrain.”Read more on South America on the Travellers Archive.

Photo from Travellers Archive

The Quilotoa Loop | Ecuador

Nearest City: Latacunga, Ecuador // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 4 Days

Laguna Quilotoa is just a short day trip from Quito, but hiking the full Quilotoa Loop is where the real gem of the region. You can choose-your-own adventure with two weeks worth of trails. The most common route is a four day hike past agricultural communities, streams, and tiny towns you’d normally miss. Camp or spend the night in lovely bed and breakfasts along the way. On the last day, you’ll come over a crater rim to brilliant shades of blue and green, making the struggle totally worth it.  Read more about the the Quilotoa Loop on Travel Outlandish.

Ausangate Trek | Peru

Nearest City: Cusco, Peru // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 4-5 Days

“Ausangate Trek is one of the hidden gems of Cusco region, so you’ll never see crowds of tourists there. Due to its scenery (colorful lakes, glaciers and the famous Rainbow mountain) Ausangate is considered to be one on the most beautiful hikes in Peru. The hike is challenging mainly because it’s a high-altitude hike; all the route is above 4,000m with two passes over 5,000m. Good acclimatization is essential. Most tourists do guided tours from Cusco with transfer to Tinque (the starting point), guides, porters and food included, the price starts from $100 but it’s possible to do it independently as the trail is quite clear almost all the way.” Campbell and Alya of Stingy Nomads on the Ausangate Trek without a Guide

Ausungate Trek in Peru

Photo from Stingy Nomads

Choquequirao Trek | Peru

Nearest City: Cusco, Peru // Difficulty: Hard // Duration: 4 Days

The Choquequirao Trek is the Inca Trail alternative you’ve never heard of. The Choquequirao archeological ruins sit high on the Quriwayrachina with steep valleys on all sides. The four day Choquequirao Trek is at low altitude, but a 1,500 meter descent into the valley followed by an 1,800 meter climb (and back again) means this isn’t an easy trek at all. Whether you with a guide or carry your own gear, exploring these rarely-explored ruins of Choquequirao in solitude makes the otherwise tough hike worthwhile. More on the Choquequirao Trek on Travel Outlandish.

Choquequirao Ruins Peru - View of the Park

Colca Canyon Trek | Peru

Nearest City: Arequipa, Peru // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 2-3 Days

“The Colca Canyon Trek in Southern Peru is a two to three day hike that takes you through indigenous villages, natural hot springs and up close with majestic condors. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and with an elevation gain of over 1,000m in a single day’s climb, the Colca Canyon is not for the fainthearted. But do not let that scare you as there is the option of going on a one-day tour and still enjoy the gorgeous canyon views – without torturing your legs.” Read more about The Colca Canyon Trek on My Turn to Travel.

Photo from My Turn to Travel

Santa Cruz | Peru

Nearest City: Huaraz, Peru // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 4 Days

The Santa Cruz Trek is an easy three to four day hike in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru. With a max elevation of 4,750 meters, the Santa Cruz is considered a gentle acclimatization hike before taking on the harder Huayhuash Circuit. Guided treks are quite cheap and gear rental is easy in Huaraz, making the Santa Cruz one of the more accessible treks in Peru. More on the the Santa Cruz Trek on Travel Outlandish

Salkantay Trek | Peru

Nearest City: Cusco, Peru // Difficulty: Easy // Duration: 4 Days

Alright, fine. Every roundup of treks in South America needs a Machu Picchu trek. Most travelers opt for the Classic Inca Trail but there are dozens of less-crowded treks that get you there. The Salkantay is one such Inca Trail alternative with all the beauty and the same famous end point. The trek begins in Mollepata. Over the course of four days, you’ll wander through small villages and the 4,600-meter-high Abra Salkantay to Hidroelectirca. At the end of your trek, it’s just a short trip to Aguas Calientes by train and a quick bus ride to Machu Picchu. Competition for trekking tours is fierce in Cusco! Treks start from $250+, but do your research and go for a company that fairly compensates their guides.

Machu Picchu View

Roraima Trek | Venezuela

Nearest City: Santa Elena, Venezuela // Difficulty: Moderate // Duration: 6 -8 Days

“The hike to Roraima Mountain at 2,810m is a very special experience. It stands out compared to other treks in South America as Roraima is a real lost world. The duration of the hike is between six to eight days— longer means more days on the top. The hike is moderate except for the day you climb to the top of Roraima — it’s quite steep and long. Roraima is a guided hike only. Without an experienced guide, you won’t be able to find anything on the top of the mountain and there are many unique things to see there like a natural jacuzzi, viewpoints, caves, pools, crystal valley, rock sculptures and more. Tour agencies’ prices for a six day hike start at $100, but with a local guide, it’s possible to do for $40-50.” Read more on the Hike to Roraima Mountain on Stingy Nomads.

Photo from Stingy Nomads

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Want to explore glaciers and mountaintops? Check out the 15 best hikes and treks in South America.

What were your favorite treks  in South America? Any you think should have made the list? Share them with me in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Rose
    May 8, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    impressive list. I am currently trekking my way through South America and this is super helpful. I wrote a guide to free hiking around Bariloche incase any other travelers are interested: https://theuprootedrose.com/blog/the-best-free-hikes-near-bariloche

    • Reply
      Taylor
      May 10, 2018 at 12:05 am

      Thanks for sharing, Rose! We missed out on most of Argentina, but these hikes seem great – especially Refugio Frey.

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