If you love exploring the raw beauty and untamed outdoors of the countries you visit, you should know that the entire continent of South America is waiting for you! There are so many amazing treks in South America with each one we are about to suggest offering different ecology, landscapes, and experiences.
You will have to be prepared for some wild conditions- consider the extremes of the Andes alone! All of the treks mentioned are multi-day undertakings but some of these suggestions can be done as a day trip too. In order to get the most enjoyment, we highly recommend taking your time with these experiences.
Some of these treks we did on our own, and even the ones we hired a guide for can be done solo as well. Paying that little extra for a guide can usually make for a richer experience as long as the price is good for you!
Here are 6 amazing treks in South America from almost every country we visited.
- 1 Quick Tips
- 2 Chicamocha Canyon – San Gil, Colombia
- 3 Trail Maps
- 4 Cotopaxi National Park – Quito, Ecuador
- 5 Santa Cruz Trek – Huaraz, Peru
- 6 Cordillera de Los Frailes – Sucre, Bolivia
- 7 Tierra Del Fuego National Park – Ushuaia, Argentina
- 8 Fitz Roy/ Laguna de Los Tres – El Chalten, Argentina
- 9 *BONUS* W Circuit – Torres Del Paine, Chile
- 10 Honourable Mentions
Included with each hike mentioned will be trail maps from the handy Maps.me or Wikiloc apps, or with the contact information of our recommended tour guides.
Chicamocha Canyon – San Gil, Colombia
The best way to experience the countryside of Colombia’s heartlands. The Chicamocha Canyon trek starts you off exploring some of the most beautiful colonial towns Colombia has to offer!
There is a 3-day and 2-day version of this trek (depending on which town you start from). Head to the adventure capital of San Gil for a few days, and from there you can head to the trailhead in the village of Barichara, also worth a days visit! We began by taking the marked Camino Real down to the pueblito of Guané for lunch, and back over another range with far reaching views before spending the night in Villanueva. Staying in a small rural village like Villanueva is a fun experience not easily found. The local restaurants and pubs will provide plenty of entertainment.
The next morning was the big day. We took a putting tuk tuk to the ridge of the grand Chicamocha Canyon. This is a very long, hard day of hiking, so be ready for it! The plan was to descend to the village of Jordán for lunch and hike up the other side of the canyon to Los Santos before reaching a highway where we could catch a bus to bring us back to Barichara.
Bring lots of water! The days can be very hot so its best you start early and a hat is a must. Hiking poles can help with the steep descents down the canyon.
San Gil hostel Macondo hostel has a great staff who are willing to help you with the logistics and understanding the route better. They can also offer some information on extending this route.
Cotopaxi National Park – Quito, Ecuador
Cotopaxi National Park is simply breathtaking. The sweeping plains that blanket the basin of Volcan Cotopaxi, the second highest altitude volcano on the planet, paint a whimsical expanse where you can wander amongst sleeping giants.
Cotopaxi is an easily accessible park that offers a few fun few options! The most popular way to visit is via a day trip from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. You can easily book a one day trek up to the volcano’s glacial base camp, and maybe include some downhill biking or horseback riding on the way down! These make for some of the best day trips on any trip to Ecuador, but please hear me out when I say it is soooo worth it to stick around for at least one night inside the national park!
To some thrillseekers, that means sleeping the night in basecamp before an epic climb to the summit for ultimate bragging rights. For a much more easygoing experience, stay at one of the lodges found inside the park.
A fellow backpacker passed on a tip to stay at the incredible Secret Garden Cotopaxi. This top-notch hostel also has a great Quito location, but their travellers retreat at the foot of Cotopaxi a “hostel” is a gross understatement. The volunteers at the hostel lead incredible day hikes that you would not find a tour for in Quito.
Hiking up the blown open side of the extinct Pasachoa Volcano was one of our most epic hikes in South America. The incline is manageable (especially at altitudes of over 4500m) and the views at the top are stunning. You can see the entire expanse of Quito on one side and an endless horizon of volcanos to the other. By evening you can rest on the outdoor mesh canopy with a poncho on until your delicious gourmet meal (from a hostel??) is ready.
A lazy stay at Secret Garden Cotopaxi is highly recommended. You should book in advance as soon at least a few days in advance!
Make sure to acclimatize as these hikes can be difficult, especially with a pounding headache.
Transport on your own is possible with two buses from Quito (change in Machachi) but the Pasochoa hike would be difficult to pull off on your own. Staying at Secret Garden includes this day trek.
If you want to hike or mountaineer Volcan Cotopaxi, shop around in Quito and you’ll find lots of info or book through Secret Garden. Summiting Cotopaxi requires a guide, and taking on one of the shorter peaks in the park first is highly recommended.
Santa Cruz Trek – Huaraz, Peru
Continuing on down to Peru, the trekking mecca of Huaraz is an often overlooked destination in Peru’s lesser-visited north.
Fringing the chilly Andes city of Huaraz is the immense Parque Nacional Huascaran. There are innumerable day trips that can easily be taken on with just you and your backpack. This is also highly recommended to acclimatize to the altitude, and you will need to! Laguna Cherup is a difficult uphill hike that treats you to a stunning glacier lake. This was our solo acclimatization hike before taking on the legendary, 4-day Santa Cruz trek.
It all begins with an epic drive into the national park, bombing past emerald lakes and passing over a snowy mountain peak to the town of Vaquería. The first day is an easy stroll through the valley floor, crisscrossing back and forth over the river. It’s all gearing up to the menacing pass of Punta Union. This was the first trek that really tested our fitness, but the views are that much sweeter.
You’ll spot little hares, chinchilla cuties, wild bulls, and camp mules, for whom I am oh so grateful to, bearing through the wind with you. The views once you cross the amazing Punta Union pass are astounding. We heard the sounds of crashing mountaintop glaciers crescendo all around us as we continued our descent on the Santa Cruz trail through the lower river beds and crystal pools. Thunderous waterfalls and intense river rapids are abundant as you make your way out of the national park.
Best of all is that you can finish your trek with a bath in the Huancarhuaz hot springs.
Find a good company in town with high-quality equipment. You don’t want to get stuck out there wet, cold, and uncomfortable. For example, some companies may not exactly have “toilet tents” if you care for your privacy!
If you want to find a good price, haggling will do the trick!
The trek is possible on your own but will require you carry a lot more gear. If your game for it all the power to you! First-time multi-day trekkers will want to have a guide.
Cordillera de Los Frailes – Sucre, Bolivia
Bolivia is a goldmine for treks, offering probably the best variety on the continent. We wanted to share one that is out from left field.
Many travellers gravitate to the mountain trails like El Choro and jungle treks near La Paz, skipping over some lesser known gems. Found just outside the beautiful city of Sucre is the Cordillera de Los Frailes mountain range. Most travellers will stop in Sucre, but we say set aside more time for another amazing trek in South America.
You can hike alongside ancient dinosaur footprints and into tiny indigenous villages for an incredibly rich cultural and historical adventure. Also, I’m sure you’ve seen photos of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain. Well, entire astroid craters and mountain ranges seemed to be coloured by a pastel rainbow in the Cordillera de los Frailes for incredible sights.
We took on the wonderful route dropping off in the town of Chataquila and heading down to stay the night in the indigenous village of Maragua. If you arrive early enough you can view the townsfolk partake in traditional textile weaving.
Our first day was an incredible hike, and a lot of thanks goes to the guide who we hired, Pablo! Pablo took us on a back route that was very difficult to navigate. I’m talking skirting across craggy ridgelines, climbing over waterfall soaked cliffs, even a small section of the ancient Inca Trail!
On day two, wake up early and head out into the multi-coloured crater surrounding Maragua before making your way to Quila Quila. The amazing spires of the Cordillera de Los Frailes make for a beautiful backdrop. There were some truly epic views as the sun rose to spotlight the quiet little village of Quila Quila. Before catching a local bus back to Sucre, Pablo took us to a site of pre-Columbian rock carvings of ancient people that ruled this range of the Andes before the Incans.
Check out this undiscovered haven in Bolivia!
Pablo’s Whatsapp number is +59 173 421 645. Send him a message and tell him Jordan and Lindsay sent you! Reach Greentrekkers by messaging Whatsapp +59 7 289 1838.
Hiking this route on your own is possible, but tricky. Pablo helped us with the public transport that took us out of town to our starting point. The towns mentioned have a few basic accommodations.
Chataquila to Maragua to Quila Quila (Wikiloc)
Tierra Del Fuego National Park – Ushuaia, Argentina
All the way at the end of the earth you find paradise. It may not be sunshine and warm weather, but the cold, windswept coastlines before the Antartic are truly epic. Just outside the travel hub of Ushuaia is the astounding Tierra Del Fuego National Park.
The best way to visit the park is to spend one-night camping in the park. This allows you to hike all of the trails the park has to offer, and take advantage of the two-day park pass you have purchased!
We didn’t get around to exploring every corner of the park, but we spent a solid 10 hours hiking some of its best trails! The 4-hour coastal trek over rocky beaches and through old growth forests will have you double take to see if you were just imaging that mossy, grumbling troll. Experiencing the ancient woods with all of your sense is a must; smelling the damp earth, and listening to the call of subarctic birds as the crisp breeze leaves your hairs standing. Not to mention that glaciers and jagged tooth peaks sit out at the harbour.
The reason you go this far is to see the true beauty of unspoilt nature. Every long hour to get to Ushuaia will be worth it!
The national park entrance is a little ways away from Ushuaia. Funny enough, it can be much cheaper to take a taxi if you can buddy up with more travellers. Otherwise, there are tons of bus services going in and out of the park you can hop on to.
The trail map given to you at the front office is incredibly useful. It marks parking lots and park patrol offices where ample campgrounds are provided. Pick the best ones for you based on your route because staying overnight will give you the opportunity to explore every trail in the park.
Fitz Roy/ Laguna de Los Tres – El Chalten, Argentina
Located in the heart of Argentine Patagonia, the Fitz Roy Trail is just one of the many amazing treks in El Chalten. The town is surrounded by the incredible Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The Fitz Roy trailhead is right on the outskirts of the small mountain town and is a demanding 4- hour hike one-way (8-hours total).
But what doesn’t kill you rewards you with incredible scenes of dreamy ancient forests, trickling river valleys, and sawtooth peaks of Fitz Roy that beckon in the distance. The dramatic shifts in scenery mean there is never a dull moment. The final ascent is a steep slog up loose rocks, but where Laguna de Los Tres sits beneath the inspiring Fitz Roy Peak makes for a great spot for lunch before returning back down.
All trails out of El Chalten can be done in long day trips, but you can explore side routes and mountain passes otherwise inaccessible. You can do a DIY multi-day trek as you take these routes in between the many trails, overnighting in the multiple campsites along the way. Otherwise, it is easy to stay in the town of El Chalten for a few days to explore all the treks in this incredible slice of Patagonia.
Hit the trails early so you can take your time on these long hikes. Be prepared for some unbelievably strong winds (seriously, they will push you over!). Bring lots of snacks and water to refuel for the return trip.
*BONUS* W Circuit – Torres Del Paine, Chile
Another legendary trek in Patagonia, this time on the Chilean side of the border, the W Circuit let you explore a large part of the surreal Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. The epic 3-5 day trek (depends on your speed and where you camp) offers the quintessential Patagonian experience with mammoth glaciers, picturesque mountain ranges, and turquoise lakes.
Unfortunately, we did not have the time to do this trek ourselves, but it is such an incredible, bucket list hike that it deserves mentioning. We decided to thoroughly cover every nook and cranny of Argentine Patagonia, and wrote an extensive post on Budget Backpacking in Patagonia.
The W Circuit does require a bit of planning ahead. You should plan your route in advance. Choose where to start the circuit and where to camp, and then reserve your spots ahead of time. Each campsite is owned by certain environmental organizations and you must reserve on their websites. Check out this post from the WorldlyAdventurer on Booking Campsites in Torres Del Paine.
An epic 2-day summit that surpasses 6000 feet, and with the right preparation can be tackled by the daring.
Surreal passes and descents into the jungle as this magical pilgrimage take you to the site of Macchu Pichu.
Chiloe National Park
Petrified forests team with the lore of trolls and evil witches, and swelling open ocean beaches disappear into the horizon in this whimsical national park.
Dive deep below the soaring condors as you trek in between small villages and river valleys, relaxing a thermal bath or two along the way
Thank you for sticking around and reading our post. If you have any other tips for fellow travellers we would love to hear from you in the comments below! For more stories and photos from our adventures make sure you check out our Instagram and Facebook pages @brightintheworld