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 forested with hanging glaciers and 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 a 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 perfect self-guided hiking or a solid 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.
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 at $130 including all gear, guides, and transportation.” Read more about Bolivia on 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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 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.
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 a 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 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 of 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
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 a 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.
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.
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 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 endpoint. 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 Hidroelectrica. 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. More on the Salkantay Trek on Destinationless Travel.
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.
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