The Best Hikes in South and Central America For Adventure-Seekers
The most pristine and glorious hikes are probably in South and Central America. Hikers may encounter an Andean condor flying overhead, walk in a cloud forest, stroll through a lost city full of ruins, or stare over a vast canyon full of gigantic trees.
It may seem like these hikes are for full-on, experienced hikers but there is something for everyone. For those that are a bit hesitant about trekking, there is no need to worry about a challenging hike and the what-ifs that could happen, like ending up in a spur trail and having to figure out how to get back on a trail. They can easily book a hiking tour to go with an experienced guide. It is definitely recommended for those that are not used to hiking or for those traveling alone.
Whether it is a hike around an active volcano at the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, the flat plateau of the massive Mount Roraima, or the Santa Cruz trek and its snow capped peak an amazing and great hike awaits.
1. The Laguna Torre Trail in Argentina
Submitted by Erin of Sol Salute
The Laguna Torre trail is easily one of the most exciting and beautiful day hikes in El Chalten in Argentina’s Patagonia. This full-day hike is long but relatively easy. It is 19 kilometers total (there and back) and takes around 7-8 hours to complete. It is moderately difficult due to its length but overall it is relatively easy. The first half-hour is the most difficult as you ascend into the canyon from town but the rest of the hike is mostly along the river with minimal elevation gain. The views when you get there are breathtaking. Save your picnic lunch to enjoy along the shores of the laguna! For a more exclusive view, keep hiking past the laguna to the Mirador Maestri viewpoint. This privileged view of Cerro Torre and its glacier is worth the extra effort!
2. Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador
Submitted by Carley Rojas Avila from Home to Havana
Considered one of South America’s best hiking routes, the Quilotoa Loop in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador is an incredible multi-day hike that takes visitors to remote indigenous villages, through beautiful landscapes, and to the stunning Quilotoa Crater Lake along the Avenue of the Volcanoes.
This hike is of moderate difficulty, including both leisurely walks and more challenging sections, but can be completed by even beginner hikers in a relatively fit state – the most important and challenging aspect is often adjusting to the high altitude. Make sure you adjust to the altitude by spending a few days in Quito or in the sierra region of Ecuador before attempting the hike.
For beginner hikers or those with a shorter itinerary who do not want to complete the multi-day hike, consider hiking into the crater, which takes about two and a half hours. The loop trail takes hikers around the top of the crater rim and takes between four or five hours.
3. Volcano Acatenango in Guatemala
Submitted by Erin Hynes from Pina Travels
Volcan Acatenango in Guatemala is a stratovolcano that has been dormant since the early 20th century, making it safe to hike. What makes hiking Volcan Acatenango special, is that it is connected to the famous Volcán de Fuego. Since 2002, Volcan Fuego has been having many small eruptions every day. Hiking Volcan Acatenango is popular because once you reach the summit, you have a clear view of Fuego erupting!
To do this hike, you will need to travel to Antigua, Guatemala, where you can hire a guide to take you up the volcano. The Acatenango hike is challenging. It takes 6-8 hours to climb its steep incline to base camp, and then the summit. It is possible to go to the summit and climb back down in one day, but I recommend taking two days. That way, you can spend a night in base camp watching Fuego erupting under the stars. If you spend a night at basecamp, be sure to bring warm clothing, because it gets chilly!
4. Cuicocha Lake in Ecuador
Submitted by Isabella Biava from Boundlessroads.com
Ecuador is famous for its incredible biodiversity and its soaring volcanos which makes it a paradise for hikers. Hiking around Cuicocha Lake crater is one of the easiest walks and a photography playground. It is an amazing 15-kilometer walk with a relatively low elevation gain between 3100mt to 3450mt and, of course, breathtaking views.
You can reach Cuicocha lake on a public bus from Otavalo and then a taxi to the entrance. It is one of the few hikes that you can easily do on your own, even as a solo female traveler. There are no dangers and no chance of getting lost. Every now and then you would meet other hikers going in the opposite direction and cheering you up or telling you how much you have left, which sometimes is a little frustrating. It seems like it never ends although you can see the end with your own eyes. But it’s so enjoyable that you almost do not want it to end. Make sure you bring lots of water with you.
5. Monte Tronador in Argentina
Submitted by Suzanne Eston of Meandering Wild
This hike starts and finishes in the resort town of Bariloche in the Patagonian Alps. It covers everything from woodland walks with shaded waterfalls to a glacier crossing before finishing with a boat back to Bariloche. There is no road from Peurto Blest where the hike ends.
The highlight of this hike is the small hut that is home for a night under the summit of Monte Tronador on the very edge of Glacier Alerce. The sunset from here is spectacular as the light fades over the surrounding mountains.
This hike takes five days to complete although starting in Pampa Linda can remove the first two days of walking. It is not an easy hike and a guide is needed for the glacier crossing.
My top tip is to find a guide in Bariloche who can accompany you as some parts need local knowledge.
6. Inca Trail To Machu Picchu, Peru
Submitted by Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across The World
The official Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is easily the most interesting hike in South America – so much so that you need to book it months in advance! Known as the Camino Inca in Peru, the hike follows the route that the Inca would walk to reach the sacred city in the heart of the Andes. The landscape during the hike is stunning: you will be admiring the snow capped peak of the Andes, and depending on the season different vegetation. You can visit archeological sites along the way and finally reach Machu Picchu on the very last day.
This is a moderately challenging four-day hike, during which you will spend three nights sleeping in campsites at high altitudes. While the hike is not difficult per se, the altitude (you walk over 4000 meters above sea level on the second day) makes it so.
The official Inca Trail is the only one that guarantees you will see the sunrise over the site: after a 3:00 am wake up call, you will walk to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku), where you can admire the view of the sun shedding light over Machu Picchu, and then enter the site from there.
The Inca Trail is a guided hike for which you need a guide and special permissions granted by the Peruvian government and only sold to tour companies. Only a limited number of people are allowed to walk it daily, so permits run out fast and if this is an experience you want to do, you must make sure to book it well in advance (at least 6 months). Hikers should also consider the Choquequirao Trek which is an alternative route to Machu Pichu, one that is considered a challenging hike!
Make sure to pack as light as possible for your hike: porters will carry the majority of your belongings and there is a limit of 7 kilograms per person. Bring warm clothes as it gets really cold at night!
7. Ausangate Trek in Cusco, Peru
Submitted by Megan Anderson of Packing up the Pieces
A few hours south of Cusco towers a mighty “Apu,” or mountain, is one of the most powerful gods of the indigenous people of Peru. This mountain boasts a most stunning hiking trail: the Ausangate trek. The standard circuit trek takes six days and includes incredible mountain passes, alpine lakes, thousands of alpacas, a stop at the wildly popular Rainbow Mountain, two different hot springs, all while never dipping below an altitude of 4,000 meters.
This intrepid hike is difficult, but you will be rewarded with some of Peru’s most diverse scenery without the crowds. Make sure to include a sleeping bag warm enough to sustain the freezing high altitude nights and to hike with a buddy. Avoid coffee and instead sip on coca leaf tea to help ease the altitude sickness. There are no shops or villages en-route, so make sure to carry enough food for five days and enough fuel for a reliable camping stove.
The Ausangate trek with Rainbow Mountain is a bucket-list hike for adventurous women traveling through South America.
8. Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Submitted by Victoria Heinz of Guide Your Travel
The Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro is one of the most well-known landmarks in the world. The statue sits at the top of the Corcovado Mountain and attracts thousands of visitors every day. Most tourists will take a train to the statue but hiking is actually another fantastic option. You can enjoy the scenery and take in the breathtaking views of the city from above. The train can also be quite crowded and you might have to wait for a while to get on. The hike takes around 2 hours and begins at Parque Lage which is a park located in the city. The trailhead is clearly marked so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the trail. There is a security checkpoint at the beginning of the hiking trail where you have to give your details to the guards which gives them an overview of who is currently on the trail. The trail starts off easy but gets more and more difficult. It is manageable but does involve some light climbing in some places. Make sure to bring plenty of water. This is a great hike and the breathtaking views of the Jesus statue are more than worth it.
9. W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Submitted by Julia Williams from The Cure for Curiosity
One of the most scenic hikes in South America is the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park down in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile. This amazing four to five-day point-to-point hike takes you through stunning mountains, turquoise glacial lakes, gushing rivers, calving glaciers, and more!
The W Trek is perfect for women as it is well-traveled, offering an element of safety, but without the crowds, due to limits on the number of visitors and accommodations available at any one time. To have the trails mostly to yourself, plan your W Trek in Torres del Paine from East to West. This is the opposite direction of everyone doing the O Trek, a longer trek within the park that can only be done in one direction.
Just make sure to plan and book ahead as reservations for accommodations in the park do book up months in advance!
These are just some of the best hikes in South and Central America! Think of the National Park Chapada Diamantina in Brazil that is as big as some countries and has the most diverse landscape to explore or Puerto Natales, a port city in Chile that is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park and the Patagonian mountains, and do not forget about Santa Marta in Colombia, or Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua!
These hikes may are not only for an experienced hiker and a newbie shouldn’t be afraid. After all, the only way to conquer a challenging hike is to just bite the gun and do it. But it does not mean to go into it blindly.
Explorer Chick has a bunch of tips on how to pack, prepare for a hike, and even how to train for a trek. So get your hiking boots ready, grab a trail map, head to a trailhead, and conquer that mountain!