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15 BEST Hikes in South America

Last updated : October 28th, 2020

The most famous view on the Huayhuash of the three lagunas make it one of the best hikes in South America


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South America is home to some of the most amazing hikes in the world. For many travelers, it’s the main reason they travel the continent.

I myself traveled from north to south and east to west enjoying some of the best hikes in South America. From the high altitude Andes in Peru to the beaches in Colombia, I trekked in South America every chance I got.

Some hikes I’d never heard of before, others are famous all around the world. Some took me to extreme elevations and others had me sweating it out in the rain forest.

In this blog, I’ll share the absolute 15 best hikes in South America. The ones that made my epic 18-month journey on the continent one to remember!

What are the best hikes in South America?

1. Cerro Tronador
2. Torres del Paine W Trek
3. Huahuash Hike
4. Lost City Trek
5. Salkantay Trek
6. Quilotoa Loop
7. Dos Irmaos Hike
8. Tayrona National Park
9. Cerro Torre
10. Rainbow Mountain
11. Santa Cruz Trek
12. Mount Fitzroy
13. Vale do Pati
14. Laguna 69
15. Mirador Las Torres

1. Cerro Tronador, Argentina

A couple kiss on Cerro Tronador, Argentina
Sunset up on Cerro Tronador!

Location: Bariloche, Argentina

Duration: 2 days, 1 night

Distance: 36 kilometers (23.5 miles)

Difficulty: Medium

Type of trail: Out and back

The hike up Cerro Tronador in Bariloche was one of the best hikes I have done. Not only because it’s beautiful, but because I accidentally stumbled upon this hidden gem that’s well off the beaten path.

The overnight trail starts with a 1.5-hour drive from Bariloche. From there the trail is 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) one way to a small alpine hut. At the hut, you can choose to either stay in the hut for a fee or camp outside for free.

To camp, you do need to have high-quality alpine gear due to the location of the campsites and high winds. Bailey and I didn’t have camping gear good enough so we instead stayed in the hut. To be honest, it was so cold we were glad we did!

One the way up to the hut, you’ll trek through the beautiful Patagonian forest, see a hanging glacier, and lots of Condors. 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.

Spending the night on Cerro Tronador is something I will never forget and is easily a highlight of Argentina! This hike took a little while to organize simply because not many tourists try it, but it was worth it in the end!

2. Torres del Paine W Trek, Chile

Bailey looking over the Grey Glacier on the torres del Paine W Trek from Puerto Natales, Chile
Looking over the Grey Glacier on the section of the Torres del Paine trek between Paine Grande and Campamento Grey on the W Trek

Location: Leaves from Puerto Natales, Chile

Duration: 3 to 5 days

Distance: 88 kilometers (54.6 miles)

Difficulty: Medium

Type of Trail: Point to point

The first multi-day hike I ever did was the Torres del Paine W Trek. This epic trail ignited my love for hiking and since then, I haven’t stopped.

The W Trek is famous all around the world and every year hundreds of thousands of tourists head to Torres del Paine National Park some to hike the W Trek or the full O Loop.

This hike is famous for many reasons, however, the most common is because it is so beautiful. Amazing valleys, huge 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 vary from 14 km (8.5 miles) to 25 km (15.5 miles.) With that said, some people complete the trail in as little as 3 days.

The Torres del Pain W Trek is not an overly difficult trail even though it is fairly long. With plenty of other hikers around it is perfect for those who are less experienced.

After hiking the trail the first time in 2016, I headed back in 2019 to complete the longer version of the hike, “the O”. This trail is 8 days and takes you to what’s called the “back end” of the national park. For those who are more experienced, it’s a great option!

The W Trek is one of the most famous hikes in South America and as such, it is necessary to book in advance! To ensure you get a spot, be sure to read our guide to camping in the Torres del Paine. It outlines how to book and plan your journey!

Related read: Staying in Torres del Paine National Park is one of the best things to do in Chile. Check out our guide to the best hotels in Torres del Paine National Park.

3. Huayhuash Hike, Peru

landscape shot of the Tres Lagunas on the huayhuash circuit in Peru
The famous Tres Lagunas on the Huayhuash!

Location: A 6-hour drive outside the town of Huaraz, Peru

Duration: 8 to 12 Days

Distance: 135 kilometers (84 miles) 

Difficulty: Hard

Type of trail: Loop

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 near the town of Huaraz, this hike has an average elevation of 4,600m (15,000 feet) 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 (16,700 feet) above sea level. This hike is not for beginners as the terrain is rough and the trail is unmarked. 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. The tours range from 8 to 12 days with the longer you go, the less you hiking you do each day.

Despite the difficulty of the trail, I’d recommend it to anyone willing to take on the challenge as the views are out of this world. The above picture is only just one viewpoint visited over the 8 days. This is easily one of the best hikes in Peru!

4. Lost City Trek, Colombia

The famous view of the Lost City Trek near Santa Marta, Colombia
The famous view of the Lost City Trek near Santa Marta, Colombia

Location: Tours leave from Santa Marta, Colombia

Duration: 4 days

Distance: 46 kilometers (28 miles)

Difficulty: Medium

Type of trail: Point to point

The Lost City Trek is Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu. The trek involves hiking through the jungle in the hills around Santa Marta and Minca for 4 days stopping at small camps each night.

The trail isn’t easy and depending on the heat, can be brutal! However, the trail takes you to the Lost City, (aka Cuidad Perdida) a famous Inca ruin that has to be seen to be believed. You’ll tour the ruins and learn all about the Inca’s all while enjoying the magnificent views.

Although the ancient site doesn’t really compare to Machu Picchu, it’s still a spectacular trek that’s well worth doing. For one, it’s nowhere near as busy as Machu Picchu. I’d say it’s an off-the-beaten-path hike in South America only done by very few people.

Unfortunately, you can’t hike the trail on your own and you must take an organized tour with a certified guide. You can book your tour in Santa Marta or Minca, however, be wary of poor quality tours. Alternatively, you can book it online in advance and see lots of reviews for that specific tour.

Related Read: Check out some of the other best places to visit in Colombia!

5. Salkantay Trek, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru with Huayna Picchu in the backgound after completing the Salkantay Trek
Here you can see Huayna Picchu behind Machu Picchu

Location: Trek starts from Cusco, Peru

Duration: 5 Days

Distance: 78 kilometers (48.5 miles)

Difficulty: Medium/hard

Type of Trail: Point to point

It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the best hikes in South America involves the iconic Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek is only one of a few trails to the iconic Inca site, but it’s a great trek to do.

In fact, The Salkantay was historically walked by the most spiritual Incas en route to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek takes you up to 4,600m through a mountain pass next to the picturesque Salkantay Mountain. This was seen as a way to get closer to the gods by the Incas.

The entire trek takes 4 days but you’ll need to allow an extra day to see Machu Picchu too. The trail can be hiked on your own or on a tour. Bailey and I did a tour for convenience’s sake and loved it.

Of course, seeing Machu Picchu at the end is the highlight of the hike. Our tour also included a visit to Machu Picchu Mountain which was awesome! With that said, the hike itself was a noteworthy journey. One day we were hiking in snow and the next through a humid jungle surrounded by hummingbirds!

Related read: If you’re heading to Cusco to hike to Machu Picchu be sure to check out our guide to the 5 best backpackers hostels in Cusco.

6. Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Bailey looks into Quilotoa Crater near Quito, Ecuador
Bailey looks into Quilotoa Crater near Quito, Ecuador

Location: Quito, Ecuador

Duration: 3 – 4 days

Distance: 30 kilometers (18.6 miles)

Difficulty: Medium

Type of trail: Loop

One of the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador is to hike the Quilotoa Loop. This 3 to 4 day hike is an epic adventure that has you hiking between small towns and enjoying breathtaking views.

The trail is most commonly hiked in this order: Latacunga – Sigchos – Isinlivi – Chugchilan – Quilotoa and finally back to Latacunga. In between these towns you can also take buses to shorten your hiking distance. The highlight of the hike is the Quilota Crater Lake so visiting it last is what most people do.

The trail is only around 30 kilometers, but don’t let that number fool you – the trail is difficult. In fact, depending on the weather you can expect strong winds and both cold or hot temperatures.

Although some people opt to camp along the way it’s really common to instead stay in hostels. That way, you don’t need to carry a tent or sleeping bag – saving you a lot of pack weight!

Related read: Heading to Ecuador? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador!

7. Two Brothers Hike, Brazil

Sunrise at the top of the Two Brothers Hike in Rioa
The best place to watch the sunrise in Rio!

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Duration: 3 hours

Distance: 4 kilometers (2.5 miles)

Difficulty: Easy

Type of trail: Out and back

Without a doubt, the most unique hike on this best hikes in South America list is the Two Brothers Hike (aka Dos Irmos) in Rio de Janeiro.

This is a short hike that actually starts in the Vidigal Favela and ends at the top of Two Brothers Mountain overlooking Copacabana Beach. On the way up you also get to stare down at Rocinha, the second biggest favela in the world!

We did the Two Brothers Hike for sunrise with a guide and it was really cool. We trekked up the mountain in the dark and then enjoyed the sunrise over one of South America’s most iconic cities.

After enjoying views and the sunrise, we explored the hustle and bustle of the favela on the way down. You can do the hike with or without a guide, however, I recommend taking a guide and doing the sunrise tour.

When it comes to the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro, the Two Brothers hike easily deserves a top spot!

8. Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park
Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park

Location: 45 minutes drive 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.

Difficulty: Easy

Type of trail: Out and back

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 stops where you can swim. You can also buy fresh coconuts perfect for quenching your thirst!

This is the most relaxing out of hikes in South America mentioned in this blog. It only takes two hours of walking to reach my favorite beach, Cabo San Juan, where there is ice cold beer for sale and crystal clear water for swimming.

Hiking in Tayrona National Park is easily done without a guide and there will be tons of other backpackers to meet along the way. For more info check out our guide on where to stay in Tayrona National Park. It’s got all the info you need!

9. Laguna Torre, Argentina

Laguna Torre, El Chalten, Argentina
Unfortunately the clouds never passed, but it’s still beautiful!

Location: El Chalten, Argentina

Duration: 6 to 7 hours

Distance: 18 kilometers (11 miles)

Difficulty: Medium

Type of trail: Out and back

Patagonia is filled with amazing things to do and one of the best is the day hike to Laguna Torre. This 18-kilometer out and back hike starts from the mountain town of El Chalten. From there, it’s a relatively flat walk to the lake.

The trail passes through some cool forest areas where you’ll hear and then hopefully see woodpeckers at work. Even if you don’t see them, just take a look at the trees – there are holes everywhere.

After a few hours, you’ll make it to the famous Laguna Torre. The lake is stunning and I’ve actually been to it twice now. Unfortunately both times I didn’t get the best weather but it was still an awesome hike!

10. Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Rainbow Mountain is beautiful in real life (although it is not quite as bright as the photos you may have seen on Instagram)

Location: 3 hours driving from Cusco, Peru

Duration: 6 hours

Distance: 13 kilometers (8 miles)

Difficulty: Medium/hard

Type of trail: Out and back

Rainbow Mountain is one of the most challenging day hikes in South America. Although only a 13-kilometer hike, the elevation gain from Cusco (3,399 meters/13,120 feet) to the top of Rainbow Mountain (5,200 meters/17,060 feet) gives most people altitude sickness.

Despite its difficulty, Rainbow Mountain is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Peru. The mountain is covered in 7 different distinct colors caused by minerals in the sand. Basically, it is exactly what it is called, a rainbow-colored mountain.

What’s so unique about Rainbow Mountain is it was only discovered in 2015! The reason? Well, global warming has begun melting the thick blanket of snow that used to cover the mountain all year round. Now in the warmer months, it’s completely exposed.

The hike is done on a day trip from Cusco that begins at the crack of dawn. For those who struggle, you can take a horse to the top and also buy oxygen bottles off locals along the trail.

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!?

Related read: Planning on visiting Peru? Check out our complete guide to traveling in Peru.

11. Santa Cruz Trek, Peru

The lake in Huascaran NP from the highest point of Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
The lake in Huascaran National Park from the highest point of Santa Cruz Trek, Peru. Photo credit – Roussien Big Stock

Location: Huaraz, Peru

Duration: 3 – 4 days

Distance: 50 kilometers (31 miles)

Difficulty: Hard

Type of trail: Point to point

The Santa Cruz Trek is a moderately difficult 3 to 4 day hike in the Cordillera Blanca just outside of Huaraz, Peru. The trail has you hiking by huge mountain peaks, emerald lakes, spectacular views, and waterfalls.

The Santa Cruz Trek is just over 50 kilometers long and involves hiking to elevations as high as 4,760 meters (15,600 feet) above sea level. Each day you’ll hike for around 6 to 7 hours camping at remote campsites. The temperatures are freezing but the hike’s beauty makes it all worth it.

This trail is commonly hiked without a guide from Huaraz and those with their own equipment can hike the trail rather cheap. If you inexperienced then you can also join guided tours that include mules to carry most of your gear and all meals.

12. Mount Fitzroy, Argentina

Laguna de Los Tres, El Chalten, Argentina
Bailey and I enjoying a calm day at Laguna de Los Tres. This place is so beautiful!

Location: El Chalten, Argentina

Duration: 7 – 8 hours

Distance: 21 kilometers (13 miles)

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Type of trail: Out and back

My favorite day hike in Patagonia is the hike to Laguna de Los Tres commonly called the Mt Fitzroy hike. This free hike in Patagonia literally started from our hostel in El Chalten – it doesn’t get much easier than that!

The hike to the lake is just over 10 kilometers each way proving to be a long day hike. 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. As you first see Mt Fitzroy and Launa de Los Tres you’ll be amazed!

The hike is spectacular the entire way and there are several lookouts to stop at. 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 is an amazing free hike that everyone who plans on hiking in South America should do!

13. Vale do Pati, Brazil

Views from the Vale do Pati viewpoint
Views from the Vale do Pati viewpoint

Location: Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

Duration: 4 – 7 days

Distance: 40 – 60 kilometers (25 – 37 miles)

Difficulty: Medium/hard

Type of trail: Point to point

Brazil was the country we hiked the least during our trip through South America. To be honest, I’m not sure why, however, I’m so glad we did a couple!

One of the best hikes we did in Brazil and the only multi-day trail was the famous Vale do Pati hike in Chapada Diamantina National Park. This epic trail was unlike any other on this list. No mountain views, beaches, or jungle – just epic canyons, giant waterfalls, and the sound of nature. Seriously, this trail is so off-the-beaten-path and easy to get to yourself!

Vale do Pati can be hiked in a few different ways however, we did the 5-day trek and used this awesome guide from Travelsauro. Going off of his recommendation we skipped the shorter 3-day tours and enjoyed an epic adventure. Of course, if you’re not the most experienced hiker you can do tours.

The trail is most commonly hiked from the town of Lençois around 6 hours by bus from Salvador. This is what we did and we actually loved exploring Chapada Diamantina National Park from this tiny town!

14. Laguna 69, Peru

Bailey takes a photo at Laguna 69 in Peru
Laguna 69!

Location: Huaraz, Peru

Duration: 8 to 10 hours

Distance: 12 kilometers

Difficulty: Hard

Type of trail: Out and back

Above I said that Rainbow Mountain was “one of” the hardest day hikes on this list. Well, Laguna 69 tops that and takes the crown for the hardest day hike. This awesome but challenging day hike from Huaraz has you hiking only 12 kilometers but climbing 800 meters (2,600 feet) in elevation from 3,800 (12,500 feet) meters to 4,600 meters (15,100 feet.)

What makes it hard is the fact it’s straight up and you really don’t get time to acclimatize. By the top, I had started to get a headache and once I was done I was feeling the pain of altitude sickness.

Of course, I didn’t take altitude medication because I never think I need it until it’s too late! Oh well, I know for next time!

Once you do reach the lake, you’ll be amazed it literally shines blue! Honestly, it’s so breathtaking!

Laguna 69 is most commonly hiked on a tour. However, they aren’t really tours. Instead, it’s basically just transport, that costs around $13 USD. Almost everybody opts for this option in order to get to the trailhead which is about 1.5 hours from Huaraz.

15. Mirador las Torres, Chile

Las Torres viewpoint in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The Las Torres Viewpoint at sunrise!

Location: Torres del Paine National Park

Duration: 8 to 9 hours

Distance: 18 kilometers (11 miles)

Difficulty: Hard

Type of trail: Out and back

Last but certainly not least is the famous Mirador Las Torres hike. This one day hike is actually part of the Torres del Paine W and O treks. However, many people simply can’t get campsites or accommodation on the trail so they opt to do the day hike.

In my opinion, it’s a great option as you’ll get to see the highlight of the trail, Mirrador Las Tores, in one day. I will warn you though, it’s a hard hike.

The best way to hike the trail is by getting one of the early buses from Puerto Natales or even better, staying at a hotel in Torres del Paine National Park.

The entire trail takes 8 to 9 hours if you hike up and back in a day. Another option is to stay in the Refugio called Chileno for a night. If you do, you can hike up to Las Torres the next morning at 3 am and spend the famous sunrise at the viewpoint (pictured above.) I’ve actually done this twice and loved it both times.

Before you go…

Bailey and I hiking in Huaraz!
Thanks for reading! (Views on the Huayhuash!)

South America is filled with amazing hikes just waiting to be explored. The best part is, many of them aren’t overcrowded and they’re cheap to do.

Hopefully, this diverse collection of the best hikes in South America has you inspired to pack your hiking boots. If you have any questions about any of the hikes on this list, please leave them below!

Thanks for reading! If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out all our South American blogs!

-Daniel

About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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