Trekking in South America is easily some of the best hiking you can experience anywhere in the world and is one of the most popular activities for many travellers to the continent. From epic 12-days treks through mighty Peruvian mountains, to jungle journeys to reach lost cities, here are the 15 most epic treks to takes in South America.
Peru’s spectacular Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and is a truly breathtaking landscape of mountains, rivers, farmland and distant snowcapped peaks. You can trek in the canyon for two or three days, and most treks include a descent to the bottom of the canyon and a tricky ascent back to the rim. Along the way, keep an eye out for Andean Condors, the canyon’s most famous residents.
One of the most beautiful National Parks in Brazil, Chapada Diamantina is located in Bahia in northeast Brazil and is characterized by its iconic flat-topped rocky plateaus and spectacular vistas. The best way to explore this remarkable environment is on the epic Grand Circuit, a 5-day trek through the park, which offers unparalleled views and even the chance to explore underground rivers!
The wild, jagged mountains of Torres del Paine are not only one of the most spectacular natural sights in Chile, they are also perhaps one of the continent’s most iconic and recognizable landscapes. The famous W Trail through Torres del Paine is a hiker’s dream: four or five days of trekking through some of the most breathtaking natural scenery you can imagine.
When you think of trekking in South America, you think of the Inca Trail. The world-renowned trek to reach the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu takes four days and visitor numbers are limited per day. The main hiking season runs from April until October, and make sure to book well in advance if you want to experience the magic of the Inca Trail for yourself, as it fills up fast.
The multi-day trek to the summit of the spectacular Mount Romaima – located on the triple border of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana – is Venezuela’s most unique and wondrous hiking route, and is still amazingly off-the-beaten-track as well. Starting in dry savannah, and making its way through cloud forests before reaching the surreal, alien landscape of the flat-topped peak, the trek isn’t easy to complete, but the amazing views make it worth the effort.
A four-day trek through some of Ecuador’s most beautiful landscapes, the Golondrinas Cloud Forest Trek is a great option for a less intense trek, as it is almost entirely downhill. Set in a private cloud forest reserve, with profits from tourist activities going towards conservation projects, the trek starts out at around 4000 m (13,100 ft) before descending through various climatic zones to the subtropical Mira Valley.
El Choro trek is one of Bolivia’s most popular treks with backpackers, mainly due to its proximity to the capital of La Paz. Beginning at 4,725 m (15,500 ft) at La Cumbre before ascending to just under 5,000 m (16,400 ft), the trek then descends all the way to 3250 m (10,600 ft) in the humid forests of the Yungas. The route is 57 km (35 miles) long, and takes in dramatic changes in ecosystem along the way, from altiplano all the way into the jungle.
The Fitzroy Loop is easily one of the most epic treks on this list: a 10-day trek, the loop is highly technical and very difficult. The trek should really only be attempted with experienced guides, but the good news is that you can enjoy several different shorter hikes in Los Glaciares National Park if the loop seems a bit much: the two-day Fitzroy and Torres circuit trek takes in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and can be attempted solo.
Colombia’s Inca Trail, the Lost City trek is the country’s best multi-day trekking option and a perennial favourite among travellers and backpackers in the country. With 3-, 4-, and 5-day options available – although most people go with the 4-day option – the trek takes in the gorgeous forests and rivers of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, culminating in a 1000-step climb to reach the mysterious and beautiful Lost City itself.
One of the easiest hikes on this list, the one-day Cocora Valley trail is arguably the prettiest hike you can do on a trip to Colombia. The starting point is the little town of Salento, from where you take a jeep to the trailhead for the valley hike. The hike itself only takes around five hours, but includes farmland, cloud forest, and culminates in the experience of walking among a sea of the tallest palm trees in the world.
Known colloquially as ‘the alternative Inca Trail,‘ the Salkantay trek has become practically de rigueur in recent years for backpackers put off by the high prices and long waiting times to hike the Inca Trail. Salkantay is a five-day, four-night trek which passes right alongside the majestic sacred mountain of Salkantay before ultimately arriving at the legendary Machu Picchu itself.
Climbing and trekking in Ecuador’s’ ‘Avenue of Volcanos’ is some of the best on the continent, and hardcore trekkers will really want to add Cotopaxi to their CV. At just under 6000 m (19,600 ft), Cotopaxi is a tough ascent and not for the faint-hearted, but the remarkable views from the top and the chance to climb an actual volcano make it one of the most epic treks you can attempt on any trip to South America.
Huayhuash offers some of the best trekking on the South American continent, with breathtaking views of snowy peaks, hidden lakes, and rolling mountains a constant feature of the region. There are several different options for a trek in the area, but the hardcore – and easily most epic trek in Peru – option takes 12-days and over 120 km (75 miles) of trekking. It’s hard going, but the reward is to set foot in some of the most untouched regions on the continent.
Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls is one of the greatest undiscovered natural wonders on the continent, hidden deep in the jungles of a country precious few travellers ever visit. The classic five-day trek to the falls includes around 15-hours of hiking, as well as jungle boat rides, ecotourism, and the experience of seeing the majestic falls with your own eyes.
This little-known, gloriously off-the-beaten-track National Park offers around 50 km (31 miles) of beautiful hiking trails through gorgeous high-altitude valleys and moors. With stunning glacial lakes, snowcapped peaks, and panoramic vistas, El Cocuy might not be very well-known, but it offers some of Colombia’s best hiking opportunities.