20 of the Best Hikes in South America

best hikes in South America

South America is a wonderland for hikers and outdoor adventurers. The continent has an abundance of natural beauty, with over 300 national parks and some of the most biodiverse environments on the planet. Whether you’re looking for a remote jungle trek or an alpine adventure, you can find it in South America. It’s impossible to list all of the incredible hiking trails the continent has to offer, but we’ve selected some hiker favorites. Here are 20 of the best hikes in South America to inspire your next adventure.

1. Torres del Paine W-Trek

Torres del Paine W-Trek

Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Distance: 88 kilometers (55 miles)

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Point to point

Starting in Puerto Natales, Chile, the W-Trek is one of the most sought-after trails in South America. The 88-km (55-mile) route takes hikers through some of the most stunning landscapes in Torres del Paine National Park. With views of granite peaks, turquoise lakes, golden grasslands, and impressive glaciers, the trail is full of unforgettable sights.

The W-Trek includes the park’s main attractions: Las Torres viewpoint and Los Cuernos del Paine. The entire length of the W-Trek is equipped with campsites and refugios. As a result, it’s a very approachable adventure and is accessible to new backpackers and those who don’t want to carry too much food or gear.

2. Inca Trail

Inca Trail, Peru

Location: Cusco, Peru

Distance: 42 kilometers (26 miles)

Duration: 4 days

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Point to point

Consistently ranked among the top treks in the world, the Inca Trail packs in gorgeous scenery and ancient Inca ruins over the course of four days. Starting in Llactapata near Cusco, Peru, hikers trek through cloud forests, Inca sites, and Andean passes on their way to Machu Picchu. One of the main highlights of the Inca Trail is watching the sunrise at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate viewpoint.

The highest point on the Inca Trail is 4,200 meters (13,776 feet), so you’ll need to prepare for the demands of high elevation hiking. Despite the high altitude, this trek is accessible to most travelers who are in good hiking shape. However, you must book your trek months in advance since permits for tourists are capped at 200 a day.

3. Lost City Trek

Lost City Trek Colombia.

Location: Santa Marta, Colombia

Distance: 46 kilometers (28 miles)

Duration: 4 to 6 days

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Point to point

Also known as La Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City Trek is a treat for jungle trekkers. The trail takes you through dense jungle in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to the lost city of the indigenous Tayrona people. The ruins date back to around 800 AD but were only discovered in the 1970s. If these estimates are correct, the settlement pre-dates Machu Picchu by about 650 years.

The trail is not technically difficult, but the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes here can be brutal. Thankfully, you’ll have the chance to cool off with a swim in the Buritaca River and streams at several points along the route. If exploring remote archaeological ruins, learning about Colombia’s indigenous cultures, and sleeping in a hammock in the rainforest sound appealing to you, make sure to put this one on your bucket list.

4. Laguna de Los Tres (Mt. Fitz Roy Hike)

Laguna de Los Tres (Mt. Fitz Roy Hike), El Chalten, Argentina

Location: El Chalten, Argentina

Distance: 21 kilometers (13 miles)

Duration: 8 to 10 hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Out and back

The trail to Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna de Los Tres is one of the top trails in El Chalten and in all of South America. This day hike has epic views from start to finish, with pristine alpine lakes, jagged peaks, hanging glaciers, and the sweeping Las Vueltas river valley. Plan to arrive at Laguna de Los Tres at sunrise to see Mount Fitz Roy and neighboring peaks as they light up in brilliant shades of red and orange with the first light.

5. Salkantay Trek

The best hikes in South America

Location: Mollepata, Peru

Distance: 75 kilometers (46 miles)

Duration: 5 days

Difficulty: Challenging

Type: Point to point

The Salkantay Trek is an alternative to the popular Inca Trail and is a perfect route for hikers who want to get off the beaten track. The trail sees fewer hikers and covers diverse landscapes, including tropical rainforests, hot springs, and glaciers. With so much incredible and varied scenery, it’s hard to choose the best parts. Some of the highlights include the Salkantay Lake and glacier, Llactapata ruins, coffee plantations, and the breathtaking Humantay Lake.

Since the cost is relatively low compared to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is a more budget-friendly way to explore the sacred Machu Picchu area. It allows more scheduling flexibility because there are no permit limitations. The Salkantay Trek is difficult and has elevations of up to 4,572 meters (15,000 feet). You’ll need to be in good shape to tackle this trail, but you can do it on your own or as part of a guided tour.

6. Vale do Pati, Chapada Diamantina

the best hikes in South America

Location: Bahia, Brazil

Distance: 70 kilometers (43 miles)

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Point to point

Translated as the Diamond Highlands, Chapada Diamantina is a spectacular national park in Brazil’s northern state of Bahia. With hidden waterfalls, gorgeous canyons, green valleys, and striking rock formations, there are tons of exciting natural spaces to explore here. One of the park’s top hikes is the Vale do Pati trek. There are several variations, but most people opt for a four or five-day trip covering about 70 kilometers (43 miles).

Accommodation along the trail is with local families, providing a unique glimpse into the region’s culture and way of life. Go during the wet season (November to March) for the most impressive waterfall views, or during the dry season if you want to avoid the soaring temperatures and wet trail conditions.

7. Perito Moreno Glacier

The best hikes in South America

Location: El Calafate, Argentina

Distance: 1.6 to 3.2 kilometers (1-2 miles)

Duration: 1.5 to 3.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Type: Loop

One of Argentina’s famous natural wonders, the Perito Moreno Glacier is a fantastic trekking destination and one of the best hikes in South America. Perito Moreno is among the world’s largest ice fields and one of the most accessible glaciers on the planet. The glacier stretches more than 250 square kilometers (97 square miles) and towers 74 meters (243 feet) above Lake Argentino.

There are two versions of the hike you can choose from, ranging from about 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours in duration. The hikes require a decent level of physical fitness but are not overly technical. Additionally, you don’t need to purchase any specialized equipment since the tour operators provide crampons, ice axes, and helmets. It does get quite busy with tourists, but hiking on the Perito Moreno Glacier is a day you won’t forget.

8. Quilotoa Loop

The best hikes in South America

Location: Latacunga, Ecuador

Distance: 30 kilometers (18.6 miles)

Duration: 3 to 4 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Loop

Stretching through the Ecuadorian Andes, the Quilotoa Loop is a must for hikers in Ecuador. The highlight of the hike is the Quilotoa Crater Lake. This emerald lagoon is 3 km (1.9 miles) wide and 250 meters (492 ft) deep, making it an impressive sight. You can complete the loop in either direction, but most hikers choose to visit Quilotoa Lake last.

Despite its short length, the trail can be difficult due to the high elevation and variable weather conditions, with strong winds and large temperature swings. You can camp along the way or stay in hostels if you’re looking to cut down on your pack weight.

9. Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

The best hikes in South America

Location: Huaraz, Peru

Distance: 135 kilometers (84 miles)

Duration: 8 to 12 days

Difficulty: Challenging

Type: Loop

The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit in Peru is one of the most beautiful hiking circuits in the world. Considered among the region’s most difficult hikes, the circuit has an average elevation of 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) above sea level and a maximum elevation of over 5,100 meters (16,700 feet). As a result, this trek requires exceptional physical fitness and comfort with high-altitude hiking.

The incredible scenery makes the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit well worth the effort. High mountain passes, snow-capped peaks, sparkling turquoise lakes, and hot springs create jaw-dropping views along the trail. You can hike the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit on your own or with a guide. If you don’t have much experience hiking at elevation, we recommend booking a guided trip.

10. Laguna Torre

The best hikes in South America

Location: El Chalten, Argentina

Distance: 18 kilometers (11 miles)

Duration: 7 to 8 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out and back

Like Laguna de Los Tres, Laguna Torre is a classic Patagonian day hike in El Chalten, Argentina. This valley trek takes you from the mountain town of El Chalten to the Cerro Torre viewpoint and Laguna Torre, or Tower Lake. The trail offers awe-inspiring views of the Cerro Grande glacier, Margarita Waterfall, Adela range, and jagged granite peaks of Cerro Torre, Cerro Solo, and Mount Fitz Roy. The sun illuminates the mountains in the early morning, making this a wonderful sunrise hike.

11. Huayna Potosí

Huayna Potosí, La Paz, Bolivia

Location: La Paz, Bolivia

Distance: 10 kilometers (6 miles)

Duration: 2 to 3 days

Difficulty: Challenging

Type: Out and back

Huayna Potosi is the most popular climb in Bolivia and is one of the most accessible peaks above 6,000 meters (19,700 feet). Although more of a mountaineering adventure than a hike, Huayna Potosi is accessible to those with no previous mountaineering experience (provided you go with a reputable guide). The climb offers incredible views of the Cordillera Real, Lake Titicaca, and the Altiplano. You’ll need to spend a few days in La Paz acclimatizing before making your summit attempt, which leaves plenty of time to explore the city and surrounding points of interest, like Lake Titicaca.

12. Mount Roraima

Mount Roraima, Bolivar, Venezuela

Location: Bolivar, Venezuela

Distance: 74 kilometers (46 miles)

Duration: 7 to 9 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Out and back

Trekking to Mount Roraima is a spectacular experience that easily ranks among the best hikes in South America. At an elevation of 2,810 meters (9,219 feet), Mount Roraima is the tallest of the Pakaraima table mountains (also called tepuis or plateaux). The mystical landscape is said to have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, The Lost World, and the movie Up.

This flat-topped mountain is located in Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil, but you can only hike there from the Venezuelan side. The trip usually takes about seven to nine days when starting your hike from Paraytepuy. Along the way, you’ll see vast savannahs, magical waterfalls, lagoons, and unique rock formations. The area is also home to many rare plant and animal species, with flora and fauna like black frogs, tarantulas, pitcher plants, hummingbirds, and orchids.

13. Dois Irmãos

Dois Irmãos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Distance: 3 kilometers (2 miles)

Duration: 2-3 hours

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Type: Out and back

Unlike the other trails on our list, this top South American hike is an urban adventure in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dois Irmãos, or the Two Brothers hike, starts at Vidigal Favela and ends at a stunning overlook on the top of Morro Dois Irmãos. The short 3-km (2-mile) trail has around 327 meters (1,073 feet) of elevation gain and is an easy adventure to add to your Rio itinerary. At the top of Two Brothers Mountain, the trail rewards hikers with an unforgettable 360-degree view of the cityscape, coastline, and famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema.

14. Cerro Tronador

The best hikes in South America

Location: Bariloche, Argentina

Distance: 36 kilometers (23.5 miles)

Duration: 2 days

Difficulty: Moderate

Type: Out and back

Often overlooked by hikers in Patagonia, this less popular trail is a spectacular hike for those who want to avoid the crowds. Located in Nahuel Huapi National Park near Argentina’s border with Chile, Cerro Tronador is the area’s tallest mountain and stands at 3,400 meters (11,155 feet) above sea level. While the summit is accessible only to those with mountaineering experience, the hike from Pampa Linda to Refugio Otto Meiling is a gorgeous two-day trek that almost any hiker in reasonable shape can do.

The trail features stunning panoramic views of the snow-capped Andes, waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, and wildlife like Andean condors. If you’re up for a longer hike, consider adding a 4-km (2.5-mile) side trip to a hanging glacier called Castaño Overa.

15. Ausangate Trek to Rainbow Mountain

Ausangate Trek to Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru

Location: Cusco, Peru

Distance: 70 kilometers (44 miles)

Duration: 5 to 6 days

Difficulty: Challenging

Type: Loop

Those who complete the Ausangate Trek in Peru say it’s undoubtedly among the best hikes in South America and even in the entire world. The six-day trek features diverse scenery and landscapes, including natural hot springs, snowy peaks, colorful deserts, and pampas grasslands. Since it’s less popular than many other hiking routes around Cusco, the Ausangate Trek is a fantastic option for hikers who want to avoid crowds of tourists and experience authentic Andean culture.

The circuit takes you past Ausangate, considered among the Cusco region’s most holy mountains, and technicolor Rainbow Mountain, known locally as Vinicunca. With an average elevation of more than 4,000 meters (13,000+ feet), this high-altitude trek requires serious stamina and sufficient acclimatization time before you begin. If you don’t have time for the full trek, you can do a challenging day hike to Rainbow Mountain from Cusipata.

16. Kaieteur Falls

The best hikes in South America

Location: Guyana

Distance: Varies

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Point to point

If you’re craving a South American jungle expedition, Kaieteur Falls should be on your shortlist. The 226-meter (741-foot) waterfall is the largest single-drop waterfall on the planet when measured by water volume. You can reach the falls by plane, but adventurous travelers should not pass up the chance for an overland expedition through Guyana’s pristine rainforests. The overland journey to Kaieteur Falls takes most hikers four to five days. The dense jungle is filled with spectacular scenery and unique wildlife like howler monkeys, pumas, and a wide range of birds, including the toucan.

17. Cabo San Juan

The best hikes in South America

Location: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Duration: 1 to 3 days

Difficulty: Easy

Type: Out and back

Tayrona National Park in northern Colombia is a paradise for nature lovers. The coastal jungle borders the Caribbean Sea and is home to jaguars, iguanas, howler monkeys, and interesting plant life. One of the best hikes in the park takes you from the entrance near Cañaveral to Cabo San Juan, which overlooks turquoise bays, lush forests, and sandy beaches.

The round-trip hike is 13 km (8 miles) long and takes about four hours. While you can easily get there and back in a day, most hikers prefer to stay longer and take in more of the stunning surroundings. There are several campgrounds in the park where you can stay overnight, including a dreamy hammock hut on Cabo San Juan. However long you plan to spend in the national park, make sure to stop for a swim at La Piscina, one of Tayrona’s most beautiful beaches.

18. Laguna 69 and Santa Cruz Trek

 

Laguna 69 and Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz, Peru

Location: Huaraz, Peru

Distance: 63 km (39 miles)

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Point to point

Starting in Peru’s hiking capital of Huaraz, the Santa Cruz Trek is one of the best hikes in South America. The trail features stunning scenery and an impressive array of Andean flora and fauna, such as orchids, bromeliads, llamas, foxes, and falcons. Over the course of four or five days, the trail will take you through Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountains, high mountain passes, turquoise lakes, and glaciers.

The Santa Cruz Trek on its own is fantastic, but it gets even better when you combine the route with a side trip to Laguna 69. Located in UNESCO-protected Huascarán National Park, this magical lake framed by snow-capped peaks is a breathtaking sight. Although you can hike the Laguna 69 and Santa Cruz Trek on your own relatively cheaply, some travelers prefer to book a guided excursion for additional support and guidance from a local expert.

19. Quebrada de Humahuaca to Calilegua National Park

The best hikes in South America

Location: Jujuy, Argentina

Distance: 63 kilometers (39 miles)

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Type: Point to point

This multi-day hike connects two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Argentina: Quebrada de Humahuaca and Calilegua National Park. Beginning in the Humahuaca mountain valley, you’ll hike from the desert town of Tilcara to San Francisco village and the Yungas forest. The diversity of scenery on this trail is exceptional, with varied terrain and landscapes ranging from colorful deserts to dense jungles and waterfalls. In addition to incredible natural beauty, this hike offers a glimpse into the region’s human history. Along the route, you can explore Quechuan villages, pre-Hispanic fortifications, and stone pyramids where locals honor Pachamama, the Mother Earth goddess.

20. Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano, Quito, Ecuador

Location: Quito, Ecuador

Distance: 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles)

Duration: 2 days

Difficulty: Challenging

Type: Out and back

At 5,911 meters (19,393 feet), this active volcano in Ecuador is one of the world’s tallest volcanoes. Climbing to the top is a bucket-list-worthy adventure that aspiring mountaineers will never forget. Although the trail is less than 8 km (5 miles), the round trip takes most people two days due to the need to acclimatize.

Summiting Cotopaxi requires some glacier climbing and technical equipment. Unless you have mountaineering experience, it’s best to go with a licensed guide who can help you with the technical aspects and increase your chances of a successful ascent. If climbing all the way to the top sounds like more of a challenge than you’ve bargained for, you can hike to the Jose Rivas Refuge below the summit for an exciting but less physically demanding Cotopaxi experience.

Conclusion

South America is one of the world’s best hiking destinations. From tropical rainforests and coastal jungles to soaring volcanoes and jagged mountain ranges, South America has diverse landscapes to suit a wide range of hiking preferences.

No matter which destination you choose, make sure to prepare well for your trip so that you can make the most of your hiking adventure. Many of the hikes on this list have challenges like high altitude or extreme heat and humidity. For tips on preparing for these environments and more, check out our blog.

Have you been hiking in South America? Let us know your favorite trails in the comments!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.