Epic South America Hikes for your Bucket List
Hiking in South America is easily one of the top bucket list destinations for any adventure traveler. Here you can find some of the best treks you will find and experience in the world, and a popular reason many hikers travel to South America.
Besides the incredible treks in South America, here you can find awesome sceneries while hiking at the edges of pinnacles, hiking through colorful mountains, experience the canyons, and explore one of the best hikes in the world such as the Inca Trail and Sant Cruz Trek.
From simple day hiking to multi-day treks that are tests of endurance, that you will certainly need some fitness preparation for hiking.
You will be amazed by these best hikes in South America, and the diversity offered but this amazing continent – from stunning turquoise lakes, summiting volcanoes, hiking isolated deserts discovering Inca ruins and even lost cities, and some of the most amazing landscapes in the world as a background.
South America is home to some of the tallest mountains in the world and for sure, it has countless epic treks to choose from, but I have done my best to collect the most epics hikes in South America that will just blow your mind!
Enjoy this South America hikes guide, and safe travels!
In this guide for Hikes in South America, you will find:
- 10 Essentials Tips for hiking in South America
- Must Pack Items to go hiking in South America
- Best Hikes in Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Other Countries in South America
- BONUS SECTION: Trip Planning Resources with all you need to plan and book your South America trip and to make your experience as easy, safe, and fun as possible
10 Essential Tips for Hiking in South America
- No Cell Phone Service: Cell phones do not work in most places in the backcountry and GPS is sometimes unreliable – Consider carrying a Satellite Phone with Maps and GPS Navigation.
- Do not hike at night: If you are camping, plan to get to your campsite before dark.
- Language Barrier: Brazil’s official language is Portuguese and the rest of South America speaks Spanish. You will find that only a few people speak English outside the large cities. Have a pocket translator is a great option.
- Difficult Hiking Trails: “Difficult Hiking Trails” are characterized by steep elevations, increasingly difficult terrain, and longer distances. Only experienced hikers should attempt these trails
- Be physically prepared: Many of these hikes are easy and can be done by anyone. A couple of the hikes are epic and I recommend following a Plan for Hiking Fitness preparation prior to attempting any long or challenging hike.
- Consider the high altitude: Many of the places listed here, are at a high altitude. Make sure you acclimate before you start your hiking, and pack an Altitude Sickness Relief.
- Bring plenty of water: Remember you will be outdoors in the sun you will need to drink a lot of water. My LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle has been my lifesaver for all my trips. I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
- Check the Weather: Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
- Travel safe: Don’t forget to buy Travel Insurance. Considering that anything can go wrong with any trip, we don’t want to risk the fun, right?
- Leave no Trace: Be a responsible traveler, it is all about enjoying nature and ensure you help to preserve the environment.
Must Pack Items to go hiking in South America
- Portable water bottle: Remember to bring and drink a lot of water and if you need to refill, have a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle is the best option.
- First-aid kit: Always remember to pack a first-aid kit for your hikes.
- Day-Backpack: I love my day-backpack and it is very handy for any hiking.
- Headlamps: Carry a flashlight or headlamp even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.
- Wear sturdy shoes for hiking: The most important thing is to protect your feet and avoid twisting your ankle and get injured. I recommend investing in a good hiking boots brand such as Teva, Salomon, or even Keens.
- Moisture-wicking clothing: These clothes help to pull the sweat away from your body and stay cool and dry during your hiking such as light hiking pants & long sleeves shirts.
- Warm-Layers: Early morning or late night can get cold so it is important to bring layers, a lightweight puffy jacket is a must!
- Packing for winter hiking: During winter make sure to have a good quality hiking jacket and pack a warm pair of pants for your hike.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses: It is always important to protect yourself against the sun. Bring a hat with a good face cover like this one and don’t forget to pack a pair of polarized sunglasses
- Bring along some food or snacks: It’s a good idea to pack trail mix or cereal bars to munch on during your hikes.
- Bring your Camera: You will see some incredible views during your hiking, so don’t forget your camera, or check some great value options here
Hikes in South America - Peru
1 - INCA TRAIL
When you think about hiking in South America, you think of the ancient Inca Trail. It is the most popular hike in South America, and possibly the world. This incredible world-renowned multi-day trek takes 4-days to complete.
This magical ancient trail was laid by the Incas from the Sacred Valley to Machu Pichu. The trek winds its way up and down and around the mountains, snaking over three high Andean passes en route, which has collectively led to the route being dubbed “the Inca Trail”.
You will have the chance to hike along narrow paths deep into the Peruvian countryside, with the views of the peak and ranges of the snowy mountains, and cloud forest flush – plus, walking from cliff-hugging pre-Columbian ruin to the next in a mystical experience that is a bucket list for any adventure traveler who loves hiking.
The final journey of this amazing hiking in South America is by Passing the Sun Gate and you will have the first magical sighting of Machu Picchu, one of the most phenomenal places in the world.
A permit is required to hike the Inca Trail and only 200 hikers are permitted per day. The permit must be purchased at least months in advance. The best time to hike the Inca Trail is during the dry season from May to October.
2 - SANTA CRUZ TREK
A must hike in South America is The Santa Cruz trek a 3 to 4 days trek in the Peruvian Andes Mountains.
The hike takes you through some incredible sceneries with bright turquoise lakes, tall pointy mountains, as well as flat deserted landscapes. The trail is taking you from about 3700 meters altitude and mountain landscape, and down to 2900 meters altitude and more tropical nature.
The journey is amazing and along the way, you’ll walk past the Santa Cruz mountain at towering 6,259 meters above the ocean. However, the highest point on the hike is 4760 meters.
To hike the Santa Cruz trek, you will have to get to the town of Huaraz. The easiest way to get there is by bus from Lima, the ride is about 7 hours, but absolutely worth it.
Before you start this hiking, it is recommended to spend at least a couple of days acclimatizing to the altitude in Huaraz. Do a couple of day hikes to some of the many beautiful attractions in the area.
The hike in itself is of moderate difficulty. You can pay to go with a tour that will bring you to, and from the trail, set up camp, and bring donkeys to carry food, gear, and most of your things as well.
This way, you’ll just carry a day-pack with necessities and can focus on enjoying the unique nature. If you, however, have some trekking experience, it’s absolutely possible to do the trek alone.
If you are ever in Peru, don’t miss out on this amazing trekking opportunity with views that will be hard to forget and well worth sore feet.
The best time to hike is from May to mid-September when the weather is generally good and the mountains are clear. Hiking outside this peak season will bring much more solitude, but the weather is also more inconsistent. Check the local weather conditions before you set out and be diligent in monitoring current conditions, as weather can change quickly in the mountains.
3 - COQUEIRAO TO MACHU PICCHU
Another amazing multi-day hiking in South America is Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek.
As the name suggests, this 9-day hike connects the little-known Inca City of Choquequirao with its much more famous sister Machu Picchu.
As you hike along the routes that the Incas themselves took when moving about their empire, there are Inca trails along the way… (Like the famous Inca trail, but unrestored and very captivating!) You also camp near the ruins of Inca Tambos… which are what the Incas used for inns or rest.
If that incredible and little-known Inca history is not enough to wow you – the beautiful Andes Mountains are always breathtaking, and this part of the Vilcabamba ranges are no exception.
And best of all – the Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek is virtually un-touristed hiking in South Americaa – very few people make this epic trip each year, so it’s likely that you will only meet locals and their llamas along the way.
Unless of course, you are an experienced outdoors person I would recommend doing this trek using a Cusco-based outfitter, and booking in advance as that supports the principles of responsible tourism. In addition – it is important to be properly acclimatised, and get fit! As this is a difficult trek, losing and gaining 1500 metres several times as you cross a number of river canyons, you should be both fit and also resilient.
This hiking is one of the toughest hikes in the region. It crosses several high passes, as well as the Rio Blanco which does not have a substantial bridge and can be dangerous to cross in periods of heavy rain. This trek should not be attempted by those who do not have some experience in trekking, plus a solid level of fitness. You can book this hiking with a local tour operator. Trek conditions vary according to the season.
4 - COLCA CANYON
The Colca Canyon is one of the most spectacular hiking in South America and possibly in the world. It takes you to one of the deepest canyons in the world, with 3,501 meters (10,826 feet), making it twice deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The canyon is located 130 miles outside the city of Arequipa, and it offers a couple of variants to the trek route, which can differ in duration and difficulty levels.
If you are searching for an adventure, and love a dramatic landscape, this hiking is perfect for you. The landscapes within the Colca Canyon are among the most jaw-dropping in Peru, and you can expect to see dramatic rocky faces and paths descending through the desert.
You can trek in the Colca Canyon for two or three days, and most treks include descent to the bottom of the canyon and a very tricky ascent back to the rim.
The scenery is rugged and breath-taking. One of the highlights, when you visit the Colca Canyon, is to visit some of the viewing points to see the most famous bird – The Condor – which can often be seen gliding on the thermal winds. It is absolutely stunning.
Your start and endpoint for this hiking are Cabanaconde, and you can find several options for accommodations – check availability and prices here.
While it’s possible to hike in the Colca Canyon all year round, the optimal time is during the dry season, from May to October. January to March normally rain a lot, while June to August has better weather. You can hike the Colca Canyon on a one-day tour from Arequipa, like this one, or go on a three-day and two-night guided trek tour like this one.
5 - SALKANTAY TREK
One of the most epic treks in South America is the Salkantay trek in Peru.
Most of the people who want to hike to the Machu Picchu will hike the Inca Trail. The big difference is that only Salkantay trek hikers have early access to the Sun Gate at sunrise, to get that first magical glimpse at the ruins of Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay trek is a challenging hike of 5 days and highly recommended for any adventure lover and hiking enthusiast! The trek is famous for the Salkantay Pass: a 4600-meter-high pass along the Salkantay glacier that must be crossed.
Throughout the hike, you’ll feel like you’re passing through four different countries. From magical snowy valleys to blue waters and an exotic jungle full of various animals, plants, and beautiful flowers.
This hike is challenging, especially with the altitude differences, so come prepared! Make sure to plan a day of rest after the hike, you will need it!
There is an age restriction to go on this hiking, children under 14 years old are not allowed to do the trek.
This hike is challenging, especially with the altitude differences, so come prepared! Make sure to plan a day of rest after the hike, you will need it!
Cusco region has 2 seasons, the dry and rainy – Dry season is from April to October, and the rainy season is from November to March. Between July to August is the peak season, and you can expect higher prices and more crowds. Book your tour in advance with Salkantay Trek’s 5-Day hike to Machu Picchu.
Hikes in South America CHILE
6 - O CIRCUIT IN TORRES DEL PAINE
This is an amazing off-the-beaten-path hiking in South America that any adventurer lover will want to add to their bucket list.
In the very south of the Andes, close to where this mighty mountain chain meets the ocean, lies some of Patagonia’s finest hiking. Torre del Paine National Park, with its glut of massive glaciers, cobalt lagoons, and magical scenery has quickly become the region’s most popular park for the adventurous hiker and no route better encapsulates its appeal than the O Circuit.
A nine- to eleven-day hiking trail, the O Circuit in Torres del Paine is the park’s hiking jewel. Each day sees you trekking across some of Patagonia’s most glorious terrain.
You’ll follow the path of tumultuous rivers as you track them to their source: glaciers that hang perilously over crystalline lakes, before climbing up and over the John Gardner Pass where dazzling views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field for as far as the eye can see await.
But the park’s most famous landmark is yours to be treasured on the final day of your hike. Wake before dawn to clamber up to the Torres del Paine, three granite towers that are most spectacular as the dawn casts orange rays across the scene.
Along the way, you’ll carry all of your belongings – camping equipment and food – and pitch up in remote campgrounds where the only sounds you’ll hear are those of the wilderness around you.
What’s more, the O Circuit connects with the more famous W trek – a five-day, marginally less challenging hike – on day four, meaning you get to experience both this iconic route and the remotest, most pristine parts of the national park, which receive far fewer visitors.
The official opening date of the O Circuit entirely depends on when CONAF (the National Forest Corporation) decides to open the trial. This normally happens in November, with the hiking season continuing until the end of March and sometimes into April. From 1st of May until 31st of October, the O Circuit is closed, except to guided groups of at least three people.
7 - CERRO CASTILHO
Patagonia is an incredible place and home of several world-renowned hiking in South America.
Cerro Castillo trek inside the Cerro Castillo National Reserve is one of the lesser-known hikes in Patagonia. Here you get to enjoy the beautiful Patagonian landscape without tourist crowds.
The trek is 53km long and it takes 3-4 days to complete. The trail starts in Villa Cerro Castillo, a small town on the Carretera Austral.
The scenery along the trail is truly spectacular; mountain peaks, indigenous forest, crystal-clear rivers, turquoise lakes, and hanging glaciers.
While hiking this route, hikers have great chances of spotting wild animals such as South Andean deer, guanacos, red foxes, Patagonian skunk, and the elusive puma. The best season for trekking Cerro Castillo is November to March. Hikers have to carry camping gear and food. If you are planning to go hiking in Patagonia, Coyhaique is a big city and the last place with good infrastructure on the way down to south till El Chalten in Argentina or Puerto Natales in Chile.
There are no shops or restaurants inside the park, and you need to make sure you are self-sufficient during your hiking and bring your own equipment and food with you. Drink water can find during hiking on rivers, lakes, and falls.
There are 5 designated campsites with very basic facilities in the reserve where you can camp.
The best time for hiking in Patagonia is from December to March, with nice and warm during the day, days are long. Between June to August, the night temperatures go down below zero, and the days are cold and short. April and September are the months with the most rain probably the worst time for hiking. March, October, and November are quite cold though the temperature even at night stays above 0°C and it doesn’t rain too much.
Hikes in South America ECUADOR
8 - QUILOTOA LOOP TREK
Another must-hike in South America and one of the highlights in the Andres Mountains in Ecuador is the ring-shaped Quilotoa Loop Trek.
This hike starts or ends at the amazing Quilotoa Lake – an incredible crater lake in the Cotopaxi province.
While trekking you will have an excellent opportunity to explore the Ecuadorian Andean landscape and hike through a mix of wilderness, farmland, and pastures. Most of the people who live in the villages along the route maintain the traditional local culture and practices, and they are very well prepared to receive hikers.
This trek is relatively short distances from the Quilotoa Loop and it makes for pleasant hiking days, with plenty of downtimes at the villages to relax or explore. Theoretically, it is possible to complete this in one day, but it is more enjoyable if broken into three sections, with each a day hikes.
The route will guide you from the low end of the valley in Sigchos, crossing the valley floor and a river each day before climbing to reach the other side. Over the full route, you’ll ascend from 10,000 to 12,500 feet after ending at Laguna Quilotoa, a crater lake inside an extinct volcano.
You can find inexpensive hostels spread across this hiking route, and hikers can pack light, without having to carry camping gear and meals.
It is important to acclimate to the Quilotoa altitude before you hike! The lake sits around 12,000 feet high in the Andes mountains. The best time to hike Quilotoa Loop is between the end of June and the beginning of September as it is a dry season in Ecuador, but December till February is also a very popular period. You can visit the Quilotoa Lagoon on a Full-Day tour from Quito or book a multi-day trip from Quito.
9 - RUCU PICHINCHA VOLCANO
One of the most challenging yet stunning hikes in South America is trekking to the stop of the Rucu Pichincha peak on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador.
Rucu Pichincha is one of three summits of the Pichincha volcano, an active giant that towers over the high-altitude city of Quito. The summit clocks in at 4,700 meters, or over 15,000 feet.
It’s a 4-7 hours hike, depending on your skill level and how well your body deals with the high elevation. The Rucu Pichincha hike takes you through lush Ecuadorian mountains offering sweeping views of the city below. The trek itself involves some scrambling at the very end, making it that much more exciting when you reach the summit.
At the top, you’re awarded a 360-degree view of the sprawling metropolis and countryside below. It truly feels like you’re on top of the world—or looking out of a plane window. The sense of accomplishment is like no other, and the reward more than makes up for the grueling hours of ascent.
Aside from the incredible views at the summit, the popularity of the Rucu Pichincha hike is also due to its location in Quito.
The hike is easily accessible from the city, making it one of the most popular things to do for adventure travelers. While some sites recommend you go with a guide, you can also go without a guide. As long as you follow precautions for the high elevation—like bringing lots of water, headache medicine, and going at your own pace—you should be fine!
It is best to start hiking in the morning because it often rains and gets cloudy and foggy in the afternoon. The weather changes very frequently, so make sure you’re prepared with the right gear. Give yourself a few days to get acclimated to Quito’s high altitude. You can check the best options for accommodation in Quito here.
Hikes in South America OTHER COUNTRIES
10 - CHAPADA DIAMANTINA: BRAZIL
One of the best hikes in Brazil and in South America, the Chapada Diamantina. Located in Bahia in northeast Brazil and is characterized by its iconic flat-topped rocky plateaus, spectacular vistas, and untouched nature.
Only a few international travelers visit the Chapada Diamantina National Park – part of it is when people think of Brazil, the first destination it comes into their minds are Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. But at Chapada Diamantina is where you can find some of the most spectacular mountain trails in South America, and on the planet!
Here you can find hundreds of amazing places to visit – from valleys, canyons, rivers, caves, cliffs, villages waterfalls, and much more. The best way to explore this remarkable and unique environment is on the epic Grand-Circuit, a 5-day trek through the National Park, which offers stunning views and even the chance to explore underground rivers.
This is a challenging 30 km hiking that includes trekking in steep slopes, boulders to climb over, and even river crossing, you will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views and many waterfalls along your hike.
During this hiking, you will go through the jungle, visit the houses of the locals, camp next to a river, and enjoy wild nature. Since there is no one set way to go, the treks don’t feel overcrowded. But because of this, it is a great option to hire a local guide.
The best place to stay is at Lençois, a quench small town, with plenty of pousadas (B&B) to choose from, and great options for cafes and restaurants. You can check here the best options and availability for accommodations.
Hiking in Brazil can be done at any time of the year, but the waterfalls are more impressive during the wet season, from November to March. Some routes require a guide, while others are easy to complete on your own, however, it is recommended to have your own GPS.
11 - MONT RORAIMA: VENEZUELA
Impressive hiking in South America, Mount Roraima is surrounded by three different countries – Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana – and it is part of Venezuela’s 30000-square-kilometer Canaima National Park, which is the site of the highest peak of the country of Guyana’s Highland Range.
Mount Roraima is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateaus in South America.
At first glance, the main difference between Roraima and other mountain ranges is that it looks a lot like a giant tabletop, with all four sides formed from sheer cliffs roughly 400 meters (1,312 feet) tall.
For your hiking, you can hire a Pemón, the Indians guide in the village of Paraitepui. Although the path to reach the plateau is well marked and popularly traveled, it is easy to get lost on top of the mountain, as there are few distinct trails. Also, there are few distinct trails and the near-constant cloud cover on top and the uncanny rock formations make visual references problematic.
From Paraitepui, most hikers take one day to reach the base of the mountain, and then another day to follow “La Rampa” a natural staircase-like path, up to the top. Another two days are typically needed for the return, and many people spend one day and night on top of the mountain, making five days in total.
Longer treks can reach the northern portion of the tepui, mostly in Guyana, with less explored and more intriguing sites such as Lake Gladys, although this offers more dangers than its more popular southern part and should only be attempted by well-supplied groups.
The dry season is from April to December but the trek can be done all year round. Santa Elena might be dry but expect rain on the mountain. It is usually raining every day of the year on top of Roraima. A guide is mandatory to hike the Mount Roraima.
TRIP PLANING RESOURCES
PLANNING A TRIP TO SOUTH AMERICA
If you are going to travel to South America, pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your trip:
SOUTH AMERICA GUIDE BOOK & MAP
Here are some excellent guidebooks and maps to help in preparation for your trip to South America.
RENTAL CAR FOR YOUR TRIP TO SOUTH AMERICA
If you are planning to rent a car for your trip to South America, I recommend requesting a quote and comparing prices from different rental car providers to get the best deal.
WHERE TO STAY IN WHEN YOU GO HIKE IN SOUTH AMERICA
You can find many options for accommodations when traveling around South America. From hostel options to luxury resorts – it depends on your travel style and budget.
A very popular accommodations style in South America is the “pousadas” the Bed and Breakfast. Normally owned by a family, where they offer basic accommodations and a delicious fresh breakfast.
Make sure you book your accommodations from a reliable source, where you can also make cancelations within 24-hours – Booking.com is my first option, and I recommend it because of the thousands of reliable options.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO SOUTH AMERICA
Your trip plan should start from when is the best time to travel to South America.
When you are thinking about the best time to visit South America, you need to consider that the seasons correspond to the southern hemisphere which basically means that:
- SUMMER runs from December to March
- FALL from April to June
- WINTER from July to September
- SPRING from September to December
Consider that some destinations are closer to the Equador and for that reason, they are warmer all year round, such as Peru and Ecuador. Besides the seasons, take into consideration the wet and dry seasons.
Make sure you check the weather before you make a decision on when it is the best time to visit South America.
TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE YOU GO HIKE IN SOUTH AMERICA
It doesn’t matter if you going on a relaxing vacation, or on an exploration adventure trip. Things can go wrong on any trip, and never travel anywhere without having travel insurance. I recommend reliable travel insurance through World Nomads before your trip.