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Top 8 Hiking Trails In South America
There is no better way to experience the outdoors of South America than a multi-day hike, camping in the wilderness, away from all crowds, surrounded by pure nature. Here are my top 8 multi-day hiking trails in South America.
1. PARQUE NACIONAL NATURAL EL CUCUY (COLOMBIA)
One of the most spectacular multi-day hikes in South America is the “Güicán – El Cucuy circuit Track” in the El Cucuy National Park. Most of this challenging high-altitude trail leads through the “Valle de los Cojones”, literally “Pillow Valley”. It includes glacier crossings, several passes of up to 4,800 meters in altitude, picturesque lagoons and breathtaking lava rock landscapes. The view of the range of glacial peaks on both sides of the valley, with 15 of them higher than 5000 meters, is simply jaw-dropping. It’s worth noting that this trail, which takes at least 6-7 days to complete, is only for very experienced mountaineers. You will need to be 100% self-sufficient as there are no people or houses along the way, camp-sites are more improvised than standard, trails can be poorly marked and the weather conditions is unpredictable, and often extremely cold. It’s likely you won’t see another soul for the entire week – which is perfect if you’re looking for an escape from it all!
2. CIUDAD PERDIDA (COLOMBIA)
If Cucuy sounds too cold a destination for your Colombia vacation, how about the opposite? A 5-6 day hike through the tropical rain forest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta near Colombia’s hot and steamy Caribbean Coast. On this hike you can explore a mysterious, ancient and abandoned town known as “Ciudad Perdida” (The Lost City). While the total distance (40km) of this very popular track doesn’t sound too intimidating, the walk itself is challenging due to the extreme heat and humidity, several river crossings, steep climbs of up to 1300 meters and somewhat muddy conditions along the way, especially after rainfall. Ciudad Perdida can only be reached on an organized tour, so food and accommodation (mostly camping) are provided on the trail. This strenuous hike is definitely worth it, but don’t expect a Colombian version of a Machu Picchu at the end – the ‘Lost City’ on the slope of the Upper Rio Buritaca Valley is a little different, with 170 overgrown terraces and a few well-preserved ruins. With this hike it’s all about the journey, rather than the destination!
3. THE FOUR-DAY INCA TRAIL (PERU)
The journey to Machu Picchu, the magical city of the Incas, is a must-see for anyone taking a Peru vacation. The most spectacular way to reach this ancient Inca city is by completing the world-famous 4-day Inca Trail. While the total distance is only about 39 kilometers, the journey, which can only be done via an organized tour, is not to be underestimated. The ancient trail laid by the Incas from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu winds its way through the mountains and includes three Andean passes reaching a height of nearly 4200 meters. The most rewarding part of this trail is the slow build-up of historical sites on the way: you’ll pass the ruins of Llactapaca on the first day, Runkurakay on the second, Sayakmarka and Wiñay Waina on the third, and finally Intipunku and the absolute highlight, Macchu Pichu, on the final day. If you still have any energy left and reach Macchu Pichu early enough, you might even consider climbing Wayna Picchu mountain as well – the views from the top will stay with you forever.
If you’re interested in a trip like this, let us plan your Peru Vacation – you’ll be enjoying fresh Ceviche and refreshing Pisco Sours against a background of stunning landscapes before you know it!
4. RORAIMA TABLETOP MOUNTAIN (VENEZUELA)
Roraima is the most famous of Venezuela’s flat-topped, cliff-edged sandstone mountains (also called “Tepuis”). It is located in the south-east corner of the country. The fascinating thing about Tepuis is that each one contains roughly 2000 different plant species, half of which are endemic. A 3-5 day hike will allow you to explore this wonderful world on top of Roraima – this allows 2-3 days for the ascent and descent. For the remaining day(s) on the top of the Tepui, you’ll set up camp in one of the many ‘hotels’ (sandy areas protected by cliffs) together with your guide; that’s right – you’re allowed to climb Roraima alone – but believe us, that’s a good thing, because it’s way too easy to get lost in the rocky maze up there! Excursion destinations on the top include the “La Ventana” lookout, several natural pools and the point Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil all meet up.
5. CHAPADA DIAMANTINA (BRAZIL)
On the subject of table-top mountains, Chapada Diamantina’s extensive network of trails in the state of Bahia come to mind immediately. The best way to explore this idyllic national park on your Brazil vacation is to hike the 100km Grand Circuit, which can be completed in 5 days or, if you decide to include a few side trails as well, 8 days. Along the route, you’ll hike over dramatic plateaus, swim in fresh waterfalls, see Brazil’s highest waterfall, Cachoeira da Fumaça from both top and bottom, camp on the plains or sleep in caves like the “Toca do Gaucho” , pass tiny ghost settlements like Ruinha or diamond-era stone ruins like Igatu. Oh, and if you are lucky enough, you might even find a diamond along the way! If your idea of Brazil until now just was beaches and surf, hiking the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina will definitely open your mind.
6. PETROPOLIS – TERESOPOLIS CROSSING (BRAZIL)
Not all mountains in Brazil have a flat top, of course. For example, the Serra dos Órgãos (Organ Pipe Range) – as suggested by its name – provides the complete opposite. And indeed, these mountains in the north of Rio the Janeiro rise up in dramatical, even saw-tooth like shapes that can be seen from a far distance. The scenic 42km traverse from Petropolis to Teresopolis crosses this spectacular ridge and can be achieved in three days. Since the trail is poorly marked, it might be a good idea to hire a guide – although you are very likely to meet many rock-climbing and bouldering enthusiasts on the way, some of them staying in this climbing mekka for weeks, who can also lead you into the right direction.
7. W-TRAIL AND CIRCUIT – TORRES DEL PAINE (CHILE)
When talking about organ-pipe like mountains, three spectacular granite pillars called ‘Torres del Paine’ in the Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia come to mind immediately. Hiking the extremely popular W-Trail is the best way to explore what is possibly the finest national park in South America. The name originates from the shape of the trail – three parallel valleys (one in the West along the Grey Lake leading towards the Grey Glacier, the French Valley in the middle between Paine Grande and Los Cuernos mountains, and one in the east following the Asencio River leading to the ‘Torres del Paine’). All three valleys are connected by a trail along the shore of the picturesque Pehoe and Nordenskjöld Lakes.
Unlike most multi-day hikes, the organisation in the national parks is excellent: well-marked trails, luxurious camps and cabins, even hot meals and showers are available, so park is often very crowded. If this sounds like too much luxury for you, you might consider completing the entire loop (6-7 days) where you’ll hardly find any other soul on the trail and once again, will have to be completely self-sufficient.
Want to see Torres del Paine? Our Chile Tours take you on a journey through a country filled with diversity and natural beauty – deserts, oceans, mountains, and more!
8. PARQUE NACIONAL LOS GLACIARES (ARGENTINA)
The Glacier National Park in Argentina with its famous peaks, “Cerro Torre” and “Fitz Roy”, is an international rock-climbing mecca – but for those looking to hike rather than climb, it offers a diverse range of one-day and multi-day hikes. Most one-day hikes, which can easily be undertaken from the base town “El Chalten”, can also be combined into multi-day hikes. Why only stay at the Poincenot and De Agostini camps when you can also spend the night in El Chalten?
Nothing beats the beauty and tranquility of the Laguna de los Tres, the Laguna Torre and their respective views of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre once the bustle of the crowds has retreated to El Chalten. More remote options and even multi-day guided hikes into the Patagonian Continental Ice Field are available too, but these are only suitable for the very experienced, with the latter requiring crampons and ice-axes for the climbs, and a high level of experience and skill for the perilous river crossings.
Check out our Argentina Tours to discover the best of Patagonia and more!
Author: Michael Grubinger / Published by Johana Grisales / updated by Alistair Moore
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