The Best Hikes in South America – My Top 8
September 22, 2017
The Best Hikes in South America
The hiking in South America is among the best in the world. For many travelers, it is the main reason for their trip and so it is important to know a few of the best hikes in South America before you go.This list is of the best hikes in South America that I completed during my 10-month journey through this beautiful continent!
- Cerro Tronador
- Torres del Paine
- Dos Irmaos (Two brothers) Hike
- Tayrona National Park
- Rainbow Mountain
- Mount Fitzroy
Location: 1.5 hours driving outside of Bariloche in Argentina
Duration: 2 days, 1 night
This hike is one of the best hikes in South America not only because it is fairly easy and includes stunning views, but because the trails are virtually empty and tourist-free.
The Cerro Tronador hike also offers some unique sights. We saw a glacier hanging over the edge of a cliff that was melting into a waterfall.
At the top was an incredible view of the snow-covered Andes mountain range and beside us, two glaciers whose deep crevices led to the unknown. The sunset was something I will never forget, its red and orange array of colors filled the voids between the mountains peaks.
This hike took a little while to organize simply because not many tourists try it, but was worth it in the end!
Not only does the Cerro Tronador make our “Best Hikes in South America List” but it also made our “Argentinian Highlights” list!
Location: Southern Chile
Duration: 5 days
This hike is famous for many reasons, however, the most common is because it is so beautiful. Amazing valleys, glaciers, and then the famous sunrise over the Torres to top it all off.
The W trek is typically done over five days as this is the ideal way to see everything without having to walk too far on certain days. Distances each day varied from 14km to 25km. It was the first hike we did on our South America trip, I would give credit to it for our desire to do more hiking throughout the remainder of our travels.
The Torres del Pain W trek is not overly difficult even though it is fairly long. With plenty of other hikers around it is perfect for those less experienced.
The Torres del Paine also offers another route which can be completed in 8 days. Info on this can be found in our Torres del Paine camping guide below.
The W trek is one of the most famous in South America and as such, it is necessary to book in advance! We have written two guides on the Torres del Paine that will help you plan your trip. They are:
Location: A 6-hour drive outside the town of Huaraz, Peru
Duration: 8 Days
The Huayhuash is the hardest hike on my list of the best hikes in South America – but also one of the most beautiful and rewarding. Located deep in the Andes mountain range, this hike averages 4,500m above sea level and offers very little flat ground. With overnight temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius, this hike had me breaking sheets of ice off my tent every morning.
Over the 8 days, you conquer 9 mountain passes taking you to over 5,100m above sea level. This hike is not for beginners as the terrain is rough and the difficulty is high. Sadly, other hikers have lost their lives on the trek.
If you too are not the most experienced, I recommend taking a guided tour. These local guides will carry some of your equipment and food, making the giant task more manageable. With that being said, the views are breathtaking and the personal reward for finishing will stay with you forever.
It is important to be prepared when hiking in South America. High altitudes and low temperatures can prove to be a challenge and as such, I recommend reading our Hiking in Peru guide that will help you prepare.
Location: A couple hours drive from Cusco, Peru
Duration: 5 Days
It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the best hikes in South America involves the iconic Machu Picchu. Historically taken by the most spiritual Incas as a route to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek takes you up to 4,600m through a mountain pass next to the picturesque Salkantay mountain.
Of course, seeing Machu Picchu at the end was a great finish, but the hike itself was a noteworthy journey. One day we were hiking in snow and the next through a humid jungle.
The entire trek took 4 days but tours are sold for 5 days to include the final day of seeing Machu Picchu.
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Duration: 3 hours
This is a short (only 1.5 hours up) hike but super interesting! The hike starts in a favela in Rio and ends at a lookout over the entire city.
We hiked Dos Irmos for sunrise with a guide and it was great. We trekked up the mountain in the dark (much cooler than in the summer sun) then enjoyed the sunrise over one of South America’s most iconic cities.
After the views and the sunrise, we explored the hustle and bustle of the favela on the way down. It is definitely possible to do this hike without a guide or tour, but I wouldn’t recommend going for sunrise as navigating the favela in the dark could be tricky and dangerous.
Update April 2018 – In recent times, violence in the favelas in Rio has risen and so it is not recommended to complete this hike without a guide.
Location: 45 minutes driving outside of Santa Marta, Colombia
Duration: 1-2 days
Distance: Varies depending on the final beach location. Cabo San Juan is only 2 hours walking from the entrance
This is an easy hike, no hills, no altitude, no snow – only palm trees and beaches. Basically, Tayrona National Park is made up of a trail along the beach with various places to camp, sleep in a hammock, or rent a cabin.
Along the hike are some pretty spectacular beaches that make for great rest stops and fresh coconuts perfect for quenching your thirst!
This is the most relaxing out of the best hikes in South America. It was only 2 hours to my favorite beach, Cabo San Juan, where there is ice cold beer for sale and crystal clear turquoise water.
Hiking in Tayrona National Park is easily done without a guide and tons of other backpackers to meet along the way.
Location: 3 hours driving from Cusco, Peru
Duration: 6 hours
Distance: 13 km
This hike was only just discovered a year or two ago! Basically, it is exactly what it is called, a rainbow colored mountain.
The hike to Rainbow Mountain is short, however, it takes you to an altitude of 5,100m above sea level at the top. To me, it sounded much more strenuous than it actually was. The altitude does pose a challenge for those who suffer from altitude sickness, but for me, it was fine as it wasn’t much of an incline. There are also horses available for hire for those who cant make the climb.
The hike is completed in a day trip from Cusco that begins at the crack of dawn.
It is not uncommon for it to rain or snow and the high altitude makes the weather unpredictable. Therefore, an organized tour is a great way to go.
Rainbow Mountain is one of the best hikes in South America because it is so unique, I mean, who doesn’t want to see a rainbow mountain!?
Location: El Chalten, Argentina
Duration: 8 hours more or less
Distance: 24 km
This free hike in Patagonia literally started from our hostel’s backyard – it doesn’t get much easier than that! It was is a longer hike with a 24km round trip (there are camping areas for those who want to split up the journey).
Although long, the hike to Mount Fitzroy is relatively flat for the first ¾. However, the last hour and a half will literally have you rock climbing to the top! Once you crawl over the last peak it all becomes worth the climb, the bluest lagoon I have ever seen with mountains in the backdrop made for a breathtaking place to have a picnic lunch.
The hike has breathtaking views the whole way and there are several spectacular lookouts that you shouldn’t skip. There is also plenty of nature around so don’t forget to keep an eye out (or should I say ear open) for woodpeckers! The forest areas along the trail are full of them!
Overall, Mount Fitzroy an amazing free hike that everyone who plans on hiking in South America should do!
Hopefully, this diverse collection of the best hikes in South America has you inspired to pack your hiking boots! Hiking in South America sure lit a fire in us and now we are obsessed hikers!
We would love to hear about any other South American hikes that you think should be on the list in the comments below! Happy hiking in South America!