Wherever you go in South America, you’ll find landscapes that are begging to be explored on foot, from the foothills of the Andes to the depths of the Amazon jungle. Home to many of the world’s greatest hikes (and many more that are still relatively unknown but just as rewarding), a hike is an unforgettable way to get to know a country and its culture, allowing you to experience the landscape with all your senses on high definition. Here are our top five multi-day treks in South America.
Located in the south of Peru near the beautiful city of Arequipa, Colca is one of the world’s deepest canyons (it’s more than a kilometre deeper than the Grand Canyon). It’s also home to the endangered Andean condor, which is the largest bird in the Americas. Even if you’re not lucky enough to spot one of these amazing creatures, wings outstretched to ride the canyon’s thermals, you may still spot llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and pumas. The canyon can be explored as a day trip from Arequipa, but to do so leaves you little time to absorb the magic of the place: an overnight hike is a better option, not least because of the chance to soak your tired body in natural riverside hot springs while you soak up the views. And if you’re not sure your legs are up to the task, trekking into the canyon on horseback is good alternative.
In the Cusco region of Peru, the stone citadel of Macchu Pichu sits high on a saddle between two mountains, surrounded by forest. Built as a royal estate by the Incans in the fifteenth century and abandoned to the surrounding vegetation around 100 years later, it’s considered one of the most important and spectacular archaeological sites in South America, and serves as a fitting reward for the effort required to hike the Inca Trail. Although there are various options available ranging from two to seven days, the classic Inca Trail is a four-day trek that will take you through a variety of Andean environments including alpine tundra and dense cloud forest, to a maximum altitude of more than 4000 metres and concluding early on the fourth morning as the sun comes up over the ruins. Only 500 people per day are permitted to walk the trail, and every hiker must be accompanied by a guide, so it’s a good idea to plan your trip well in advance with a reputable tour company.
Visitors to Ecuador tend to focus their time on three main highlights: the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon rainforest and the imaginary line that divides the Earth into northern and southern hemispheres and lends its name to the nation it crosses. Thanks to its position on the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, it’s also home to a cluster of 32 volcanoes, some of which are still very active, including Quilotoa, whose lake-filled caldera provides the focal point for a challenging three- to four-day hike. Each village along the 200-or-so kilometre loop offers its own delights, from the market plazas of Latacunga to the indigenous artists’ colony at Tigua, and at every turn in the trail, another stunning view. It’s also a good idea to spend several days in Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, some 200 kilometres to the north, in order to acclimatise to the altitude and explore its historic city centre.
At the southern tip of the South American continent in the region known as Patagonia, you’ll find the Torres del Paine National Park: a spectacular region that’s named for the three massive granite peaks that dominate the park’s skyline. A multi-day trek such as the world-renowned W Circuit is a great way to soak up the splendour of the park and its wildlife, which includes guanaco, puma, foxes and armadillos. In total, it’s a journey of around 200 kilometres, and takes four to five days to complete, staying in refugios which are placed at strategic intervals along the route.
From a single-day hike to a week-long expedition, north-east Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina National Park is one of Brazil’s most spectacular destinations: 1500 square kilometres of sheer escarpments, broad valleys and towering waterfalls. Of the many trails on offer within the path, the four-day Vale do Pati is considered Brazil’s finest, but the fact that it’s still relatively unknown means the valley is truly an escape from the outside world: accommodation is in local houses and the nearest village is a five-hour hike from the trail head.
This is just a taste of the many multi-day treks on offer throughout South America. Travelling with expert guides who are eager to share their knowledge of and love for the local culture and geography means a more fulfilling experience for you – ask your personal travel manager for recommendations.