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Best Hiking in South America
Part 5 of the series: The Best Hiking in the World
Our next stop in our series takes us to search for the Best Hiking in South America.
From the mountains of the Andes to the jungles of the Amazon. And from the warm Caribbean to the frigid Antarctic waters, we must be in the right place for some of the best hiking in the world.
Once again, we have relied upon our crackpot explorers summarizing their favorites in the region.
Warning: May cause itchy feet the only cure of which is to go on your own South American adventure.
The Lost City Trek, Columbia
by Maartje and Sebastian from The Orange Backpack
The Lost City Trek in Colombia is one of the most well-known and intensive hikes in Colombia. The multi-day jungle hike takes you deep into the Colombian jungle to the Ciudad Perdida, or the lost city. Yet this beautiful and mysterious mountain city in the jungle is not even the highlight of the Lost City Trek, as it’s the hike itself that will leave the best memories.
The Lost City – or Ciudad Perdida in Spanish – is an ancient mountain city in the Colombian jungle. The city is located at an altitude of 1200 meters in the Sierra Nevada, in the far north of the country.
The ancient city was fully designed for the mountainous environment and consists of terraces against the mountains. But there were also roads, bridges, stairs and religious sites in the highest places. The city would have been even bigger than its more famous equivalent Machu Picchu.
You can only get to the Lost City by hiking – or spending your entire travel budget on a helicopter flight. The hike takes about four to five days and you will cover about 44 kilometers. Along the way, you will see – if it doesn’t rain the entire day – the most beautiful views and jungle.
You’ll swim in rivers, pass local tribes in their villages and feel like Indiana Jones in a Jurassic Park movie set. The highest point is the Ciudad Perdida itself, making you climb 1,100 steps before entering the city. You’ll visit the Lost City on day three, after which you’ll hike back to the starting point.
–Maartje and Sebastian
The O Circuit – Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
by Alya from Stingy Nomads
The O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is one of the treks to include on your hiking bucket list. Hiking this route through the remote areas of Southern Patagonia is an incredible and sometimes challenging experience.
The trek offers a great opportunity to see the main attractions of Torres del Paine and to explore off-the-beaten-path corners of the park. The highlights of the circuit include the impressive Grey Glacier, the turquoise Pehoé and Nordenskjold Lakes, stunning views from Mirador Frances, and the sunrise at Mirador Las Torres.
In remote parts of the parks in the first half of the circuit trekkers have chances to observe Patagonian wildlife such as guanacos, huemuls, grey foxes, armadillos, condors, and even elusive pumas. Quiet early morning hours are the best time for spotting wild animals in the park.
The total distance of the O Circuit is 120 km. It takes 6 to 8 days to complete the route. The trek can be done independently, with a guide, or in a group. The circuit can be walked only during the summer season from mid-October to April. It’s essential to book campsites along the route in advance especially for the peak season between January and February.
Mount Roraima, Venezuela
by Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
Hiking on Mount Roraima in Venezuela is one of the most beautiful and unique trekking experiences in South America.
Roraima is the highest of the many Table Mountains (tepuis) located in the grasslands of The Grand Sabana of Venezuela.
A triple border point is located on top of this large flat mountain where three countries; Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana meet; you can only hike here from the Venezuelan side.
The area on top of the mountain is massive and it takes a couple of days to explore the beautiful sites and unique fauna and flora while camping in the area.
Some of the most unique sites to explore here are strange rock formations, quarts fields that look like fields of diamonds, fields with many different insect eating plants and spectacular waterfalls.
Unique animals and plants adapted on the tepuis during thousands of years of isolation. Roraima was the inspiration for Arthur Cone Doyle’s famous book ‘The Lost World’. Hiking here does feel like you have stumbled on to a lost world.
A trekking expedition to Mount Roraima usually takes between six and eight days. This trek is done camping and trekkers must carry all food and equipment for the whole route.
Hiking with a guide is compulsory here. Days one to three of the trek are spent summiting the mountain, hikers usually take two days to explore the top and take 2 days to descend.
There are many companies in the town of Santa Elena that offer all-inclusive tours; the other option is to find an independent guide in town to lead your trek.
The trek can be done all year, but April to December is the best season.
–Campbell & Alya
by Linn Haglund from Brainy Backpackers
One of the absolute best hikes in South America is the dramatic Colca Canyon outside Arequipa in Peru.
You can hike Colca Canyon with a guide over two days or longer – though some people prefer to do it on their own. If you do, you need to know that there’s a fee to enter the canyon.
You might be surprised knowing that this is the second deepest canyon in the world.
The guided hiking tours take you by bus from Arequipa, stopping at the Cruz del Condor Viewpoint, where all the non-hiking tourists stop on their tour of the canyon.
You have a large chance of seeing condors there, but the feeling of seeing them while hiking in the evening without the masses of tourists surrounding you is well worth the effort. Even though you’re not guaranteed to see them.
The hike takes you down the canyon, along the bottom passing small villages and lush fruit trees until you get to the oasis where you’ll be spending the night.
The ascent starts the next morning before sunrise – 1200 meters uphill in 3 hours are awaiting. You might walk through the clouds on the way to the top where you’ll get an astounding view of the cloudy valley below you.
Cocora Valley, Columbia
by Ilona from Top Travel Sights
The Cocora Valley hike in Colombia is one of the best hikes in South America.
You can find the Cocora Valley close to Salento in Southern Colombia. The valley is famous for its wax palm trees, the tallest palm trees in the world. They can grow up to a height of 60 metres, and walking between them is one of the highlights of the hike.
At first, though, the hiking trail takes you through lush meadows and rainforests. Make sure to stop at the Casa de las Colibris. For a small fee, you can drink a hot chocolate with cheese while watching hummingbirds zip around the forest. If you’re lucky, you might even spot one of the coatis that live in the area.
From the Hummingbird House, the path takes you to a viewpoint. This is a great place to rest and enjoy the view of the valley. The forest then opens up on your way down, and you will suddenly see hundreds of palm trees.
If you are short on time or can’t do the long hike, you can also head directly to the wax palms. Going here and back again takes around one hour, so it’s perfect if you have little time and don’t mind missing out on the rainforest and hummingbirds.
To get to the Cocora Valley, catch a jeep from Salento. Jeeps depart from the town square and take around thirty minutes. Try to arrive as early as possible to ensure you get a seat.
Laguna Torre Hike, Argentina
by James Ian from Travel Collecting
The Laguna Torre hike is one of the most spectacular in all of Patagonia. The trail starts in El Chalten in Argentina, the self-proclaimed Hiking Capital of South America. The trail is quite long – 11.2 miles/ 18km round trip, out and back – but the rewards are huge!
The fist viewpoint, about half a mile in, is the Mirador Margarita, where theere is a beautiful narrow waterfall cascading down the side of a large hill.
There are also distant views of Cerro Torre (Tower Hill) and Fitz Roy peaking over the top of the nearby hills. This is a good turning back point for those with young kids or who aren’t up for a long hike.
About half way along the trail, the second major lookout, Mirador Del Cerro Torre has breathtaking views of a marshy valley with the jagged peaks of Cerro Torre and a glacier.
The trail then goes through some woods and around the marshy valley and eventually heads up a short rocky incline. At this point, the views are blocked by the ridge.
At the top, however, is a view that will literally take your breath away. Directly below is a circular alpine lake, Laguna Torre. Framing it is Cerro Torre directly behind it, with a blue glacier sliding down the side of the mountains beside it.
A couple of iridescent blue icebergs are floating in the lake, having calved off the glacier. This is one of the most iconic views in the entire continent!
The trail is located in Los Glacieres National Park. The best time to hike to Laguna Torre is (southern) late spring and summer (October to April). It is best to set out early in the morning, as the clouds often roll in in the afternoon, obscuring the peaks.
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Huayna Potosi, Bolivia
by Eddie & Kelli from Vanabond Tales
This Andean giant is just forty kilometers from La Paz, Bolivia’s high-altitude capital. Visible from the city, Huayna Potosí beckons the adventure seekers that flock here year on year. Awaiting them, the opportunity to climb above 6000 meters.
Fully supplied and guided hikes can be organized from the tour agencies found in La Paz’s tourist strip, Sagarnaga Street, for less than a couple of hundred dollars.
The three-day adventure begins at base camp with a day of acclimatization to both the altitude and the ice axes and crampons you will later use to scale a glacier on your way to the summit. Day two is relaxed, requiring only a short but steep ascent from base camp to high camp. Don’t miss your chance to use the world’s highest loo on your way up.
The final day begins just after midnight when climbers rise to make it to the summit before the sun hits the eastern peak, warming the ice and increasing the chance of avalanche.
Those who can make it to the summit are assured entrance to the +6k club and a love affair with the Andes. With experienced guides, gear rental, and door-to-door transport to the world’s highest base camp, even novice climbers have a chance to complete this incredible journey.
All you require is a good level of fitness, some basic hiking experience, and a sense of adventure.
–Eddie & Kelli
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This is just a very introductory sampling of all of the best hiking trails in South America. We will continue adding to this list as more suggestions come in.
In fact, we had so many submissions for Peru that we have posted separately. Look for it to be published later this week.
We would like to show our appreciation for all of the great travel writers for sharing their adventures. Not only are these great hikes, but they were braved by some of the most intrepid journalists today.
Follow their links for more of their advice for hiking in South America.
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More Travel Reading
But before you go, check out more guides in this series. Anywhere you are planning to spend time outdoors, we have something covered for you.
The previous posts in this series examined Australia and New Zealand Hikes that are highly recommended by some very fit Aussies and Kiwis.
But we also have a full series similar to this one. We asked some of the most experienced campers their favorite campsites in the world. Read their suggestions before you book a trip anywhere!
I would suggest starting with camping in South America, since we are on the subject.
And if you’re seriously into camping and want some help sorting out which camping fridge to choose, we got you covered.
And we cover road trips too. Here are some fellow road trippers and their favorite road trips in South America, part of a series covering road trips around the world.
And of course, no trip would be complete without the right coffee. Here is our rundown of 13 ways to make coffee. Super helpful whether or not you are camping.