From the towering Andes and magnificent glaciers, to steamy jungle trails and mystical lost cities – South America offers some of the most iconic and incredible hiking trails on earth. Read on for the 15 top treks that warrant the best places to hike on any adventurer’s bucket list!

This magical continent packs so much diversity into its landscapes, providing hikers with the chance to traverse everything from ocean-sprayed coastlines and forests buzzing with wildlife, to tranquil alpine lakes and sweeping grasslands roamed by condors. With ancient Inca ruins, rumbling waterfalls, icy mountain peaks and even a portion of the Amazon rainforest on offer—this is a hiker’s paradise waiting to be explored.

Why Go Hiking in South America?

South America’s prime hiking destinations need little convincing as bucket-list goals. However for the uninitiated, here’s a snapshot of what makes this continent a hiker’s wonderland:

  • The mighty Andes(the longest continental mountain range in the world) cut through the continent offering phenomenal trails with epic vistas. Regions like Patagonia and Peru’s Cordillera Blanca contain some of the best alpine hiking on earth.
  • The ancient Inca Empire threaded through the Andes, leaving a legacy of fascinating archaeological sites and superbly engineered trails—like the fabled Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
  • Isolated stretches of the Amazon Rainforest remain accessible via guided hikes—offering encounters with wildlife like tapirs, monkeys and macaws.
  • Hiking routes cater for all generations of travelers, with everything from relaxed day hikes taking in glittering lakes, to intense multi-day challenges across mountain passes.

So whether you come for the bragging rights of conquering South America’s one of the most famous trails or simply to appreciate spellbinding scenery—set your sights on these 15 unforgettable one of the best treks in South America !

1. Inca Trail, Peru

Where is it: Near Cusco in the Peruvian Andes
Distance: 26 miles
Duration: 4 days

Arguably South America’s most iconic multi-day hike—this ancient stone path threads through cloudforest, sub-alpine terrain and shirt-grazing mountain passes to climax at Machu Picchu’s enigmatic ruins on the final morning. Expect views of distant snow-dusted peaks, sheer mountainsides blanketed in emerald rainforest and a smattering of lesser-known Inca ruins along the way.

Due to permit restrictions to protect the fragile trail, booking 6 months in advance is essential for peak times!

Don’t miss: Having Machu Picchu’s magnificent ruins all to yourself at sunrise on the final day. It’s what all that uphill hiking is for!

2. W Trek, Chilean Patagonia

Where is it: Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Distance: 28 miles (if completed as circuit)
**Duration: **4 days

Patagonia’s poster child hike—the ‘W’ offers startling glacial lakes in electric blues, jagged granite spires piercing brooding skies and grassy slopes roamed by guanaco herds. The trail’s four valleys provide varied perspectives of Paine’s sculpted granite massifs. For the full effect, complete the circuit to glimpse the icy Glacier Grey.

Be prepared for notoriously tempestuous Patagonian weather year-round. Walk-in campsites line the trail for an immersive wilderness experience amid millpond reflections.

Top tip: Book 6 months ahead for prime December-March season—or visit in shoulder season for cheaper rates and fewer crowds.

3. Salkantay Hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

Where is it: Cusco region of the Peruvian Andes
Distance: 34 miles
Duration: 5 days

A longer, more challenging yet equally scenic alternative to the Inca Trail—the Salkantay route traverses the Sacred Valley, crosses the 15,250 ft Salkantay Pass and culminates at Machu Picchu. The hike features thicker forest, bigger mountain range scenes and a glimpse of rural Andean villages vis-à-vis the Inca Trail. Expect icy mountain lakes, condor sightings and diverse Peruvian ecosystems supporting hummingbirds and spectacled bears!

High season is drier with better views—but summer showers create waterfalls and wildflowers along the way. Porters, cooks and horses can be hired to help with the challenging sections.

Insider tip: Hike the Salkayantay in reverse for less uphill sections but take care with descents!

4. Mount Roraima Hike, Venezuela

Where is it: Canaima National Park, Venezuela
Distance: 19 miles
Duration: 6 days

A geological oddity cloaked in myth and unique wildlife—Mount Roraima’s isolated tabletop towers sheer from the clouds. Through humid cloudforest rich in endemic plants, the hike ascends via staggering balancing boulders, glittering quartz formations and otherworldly panoramas of the surrounding tepuis (table mountains). Expect to spot strange carnivorous plants and rare orchids along the hike!

Trips run only in the November-April dry season. Be prepared to camp on bare rock and bring all supplies—this is a true, remote wilderness experience!

Top tip: Look for rare endemic frogs and the Roraima parakeet—spot it if your lucky!

5. Santa Cruz Trek, Argentina

Where is it: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Distance: 62 miles
Duration: 5 days

Tracing a lonely route across remote Patagonian backcountry—the Santa Cruz Trek loops from El Chalten village beneath Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy towards Piedras Blancas Glacier. Traverse shimmering lakes with floating icebergs, wildly twisted lenga forest and alpine meadows blushed pink with spring blooms whilst scanning for condors wheeling high above.

This stunning yet challenging trek demands competent route finding and glacial hiking experience—ice axe recommended! Wild camp in spectacular isolation aside glacial outflows.

Insider’s tip: Go in mid November for spring wildflowers and Equinox Fitz Roy lightshows!

6. Lost City Trek, Colombia

Where is it: Sierra Nevada mountains near Santa Marta, Colombia
Distance: 27 miles
Duration: 4 days

Through cloud-swathed jungle and across gushing rivers—this sweaty trek reveals the perfectly preserved ruins of an ancient Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) from Colombia’s ancestral Teyuna culture atop a mountain ridge. Camp en route in indigenous villages and climb 1200 rock steps to the ceremonial complex where shamen once performed rituals.

Birdlife including toucans abound and views across the jungle are spellbinding! The challenging hike crosses slippery boulders and river fords—a moderate fitness level will help.

Top tip: Book a tour for fascinating historical insights into this recently rediscovered site hidden for centuries!

7. Fitz Roy Ascent, Argentina

Where is it: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Distance: 19 miles
Duration: 2 Days

For unrivalled views of Patagonia’s crown jewel—attempt the lung-busting ascent to the 11,000 ft summit of Cerro Fitz Roy. The Hike starts from El Chalten village, traverse lenga forest and wildflower fields to base camp beside jewel-blue Laguna Torre, before attempting the final ascent up Fitz Roy’s sheer granite flanks.

Reaching the summit requires technical climbing skill, rest stops to avoid altitude sickness and decent enough weather to actually see the iconic pyramid-shaped summit!

Insider tip: Go in March or November for weather odds in your favor and the hiking season at it’s best!

8. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

Where is it: southwest Bolivia near Chilean border Distance: various options
Duration: 1-4 days

For otherworldly trekking across the world’s largest salt flat—look no further than northern Chile’s fantastical landscapes sculpted by volcanoes, steaming geysers and minerals. Hike across the blindingly white salt crust that perfectly mirrors the deep blue skies by clear day and starry heavens by night—occasionally flooded and hosting flammingos!

Excursion options run from day trips to extended tours with multi-day hikes up Tunupa Volcano and through colorful lakeside lagoons teeming with Andean wildlife. The high-altitude location and volatile weather bring challenges—but the landscapes seem to spring from fantasy!

Don’t miss: Catching the perfect mirror-effect reflection of the endless white flats and bright blue skies!

9. Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

Where is it: Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru
Distance: 53 miles
Duration: 10-14 days

Encircling razor-edged mountain peaks punched through with icy turquoise lakes—this challenging Andean circuit is one of Peru’s premier high-altitude routes and South America’s most dazzling alpine wonderland! Traversing high altitude passes up to 16,400ft, the circular route reveals a spellbinding backdrop as rugged as the Alps, but a fraction of the crowds.

Be prepared with full camping gear, supplies and adequate acclimatization for a strenuous and autonomous multi-day adventure—demanding yet uniquely fulfilling for hardcore adventurers!

Insider tip: Acclimatize with a few overnight stops—as rapid gains above 12,000 ft elevate risks of altitude sickness on this trek!

10. Sao Jorge Trek, Brazil

Where is it: Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
Distance: 28 miles
Duration: 4 days

Plunging swimming holes, hidden oases with sparkling cascades—this challenging hike through Brazil’s ‘Mountain of Diamonds’ reveals the water-sculpted sandstone landscapes of Chapada Diamantina National Park. Follow trails out of Lençois town through rain-washed canyons shaded by fruiting jacaranda and baobab trees, wild camp beside streams to the soundtrack of frogs, before ascending the summit of Pico do São Jorge for phenomenal views stretching to the coast!

Bring your own camping gear and be prepared for slippery granite terrain and countless river crossings. The friendly mountain town vibe and natural rewards make it all worthwhile!

Insider tip: Pack lightweight shoes you don’t mind submerging during river crossings!

11. El Chalten Day Hikes, Argentina

Where is it: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Distance: variable day hikes
Duration: variable

Forardownright gobsmackingly perfect mountain scenery—look no further than Argentine Patagonia’s trekking capital of El Chalten. Encircled by towering granite sentinels like Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, the tiny town offers unlimited world-class hiking. Test your lungs and legs on thigh-burning ascents rewarded with iceberg-flecked aquamarine lakes, explore hidden valleys blanketed in fiery autumn colors or wander through quiet lenga forests spotting condors overhead.

Choose from relaxed valley strolls to challenging mountain summit routes—unbeatable Himalayan-rivaling views await without the crowds!

Top trip: Combine Lago Torre with cerro Torre basecamp—an unforgettable full day hike showcasing this regions very best!

12. Cotopaxi Volcano Climb, Ecuador

Where is it: Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
Distance: 9 miles
Duration: 1-2 days

South America’s highest active volcano beckons the high-altitude hardy—presenting a chance to summit snow-draped slopes at 19,300 ft for unparalleled views over the Andes. The two-day climb from Cotopaxi National Park to the windswept crater involves technical equipment, crampons, ice axes and determination to battle extreme temperatures, altitudes and even blizzards!

Reaching the top means joining an elite club, boasting dizzying views as your reward. Training well in advance will maximize your shot for the summit!

Top Trip: Pair the climb with a visit to secretive mushroom-shaped Inca ruins—or enter some ice caves!

13. Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Where is it: Cotopaxi Region, Ecuador
Distance: 38 miles
Duration: 3 days

Crossing the Northern Andes backbone between volcanic peaks, the Quilotoa Loop takes a high altitude circuit around Ecuador’s spectacular central caldera lake of the same name. Backdropped by the ice-draped Antisana, trails here rove through indigenous villages seemingly unchanged in centuries, wild flower-flecked meadows frequented by llamas and terraced farmlands hewn from the mountainsides.

Expect dizzying overlooking valley views, a challenging yet gradual acclimatized high-altitude hike and fascinating encounters with Ecuador’s native Quichua people—this is the Andes distilled into one great hike!

Highlight: Gazing across surreal green crater lake Quilotoa itself—consider sleeping a night in a local village nearby!

14. Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

Where is it: Yunnan Province, China
Distance: 9 miles (one way only)
Duration: 1-3 days

Carved by the surging Jinsha (Upper Yangzte) River along an epic chasm amongst Yunnan’s soaring peaks—the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike presents China’s ultimate mountain panoramas. The trail, pinned vertiginously to sheer cliff walls, allows hikers to soak in the full majesty of Haba Snow Mountain’s 18,000 ft glacier-draped dome framed by Yulong Snow Mountain further north. Expect ethereal bamboo forests, hanging updrafts, shear drops to the raging river below and a dose of Chinese mythology!

Hike as a rewarding return day trip—or overnight in cliffside guesthouses for a multi-day assault of your legs and vertigo tolerance! Go in Autumn for ideal climate.

Top Tip: Dodge treacherous high-season crowds by hiking in shoulder seasons—for peerless scenery without the tourist hordes!

15. Laguna de los Tres, Argentina

Where is it: Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina
Distance: 9 miles
Duration: 1 Day

No superlative does justice to the culminating panorama at Laguna de Los Tres—a shimmering alpine lake caressed by icy neon blue glaciers and towered over by the mighty Mount Fitz Roy. The tough 8-mile uphill hike is rewarded a hundredfold upon reaching the turquoise waters reflecting the jagged granite spire in perfect symmetry.

Aim to reach the lagoon in the golden afternoon hours for the finest light on Fitz Roy’s silhouette and reflections in the still waters—just mind your footing ogling all that eye candy! Seasons are reversed below the equator—so visit October to April.

Insider tip: Extend with side trips to pretty Poincenot campsite or Los Torres viewpoint—more top Fitz Roy looks!

Planning Your South American Hiking Adventure

Preparing well is key to an epic yet safe hike in South America. When undertaking multi-day mountain treks, consider important factors like best time of year, hiring guides, managing altitude and acclimatization, packing proper gear and understanding difficulty ratings.

The best times to hike in South America differs by destination, as the continent spans a huge latitude. Generally spring (Sept-Nov) and fall (March-May) see ideal weather either side of the summer rainy season. Popular trails like Patagonia, Peru and Ecuador are best in the dry season, while winter can work for tropical locales like Brazil.

Hiring local guides for remote trails in the Andes or Amazon is always recommended – they ensure proper altitude acclimatization on multi-day treks while sharing insider knowledge of flora, fauna and terrain. The Inca Trail legally requires guides, while challenging routes like Ecuador’s Cotopaxi technically demand mountaineering expertise for summit attempts.

Acclimatizing over several days is vital before tackling major passes like the Inca Trail’s Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,780 ft. Allowing your body to adjust prevents debilitating altitude sickness. Some iconic five days treks in Peru like the Salkantay enable gradual adaptation while trekking through different altitude zones.

While day hikes in South America’s picturesque national parks are easily achievable solo, guided tours allow you to carry just a daypack, removing heavy gear strains over long distances and tricky terrain. Local pack horses are commonly available for multi-day hikes too!

The optimal hiking seasons across South America also coincide with outdoor hot spring blooms. After full days tackling challenging mountain trails, rest and rejuvenate weary muscles in steaming thermal pools surrounded by nature. Peru and Chile offer particularly scenic soaks with glimmering night skies.

With so many world-class hiking routes crammed into one magical continent, South America promises life-changing trips for every breed of wanderer!

Summary of The Best Hikes in South America

  • Inca Trail (Peru)
  • W Trek (Patagonia)
  • Salkantay Trek (Peru)
  • Roraima Hike (Venezuela)
  • Santa Cruz Trek (Argentina)
  • Lost City Trek (Colombia)
  • Fitz Roy Ascent (Argentina)
  • Salar De Uyuni (Bolivia)
  • Huayhuash Circuit (Peru)
  • São Jorge Trek (Brazil)
  • El Chalten Day Hikes (Argentina)
  • Cotopaxi Volcano Climb (Ecuador)
  • Quilotoa Loop (Ecuador)
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge (China)
  • Laguna de los Tres (Argentina)

South America’s paths less traveled offer intrepid hikers extraordinary adventures through astonishingly diverse landscapes—if your inner mountain explorer craves the road less traveled by, set your sights on these amazing hikes! With ancient mysteries, daring summits, lost worlds, alien terrains, mythical beasts and trails traversed for centuries—cue the goosebumps and gear up for the ultimate adventure!

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