12 Incredible Hikes To Do In South America

Hikes South America

South America is one of the top destinations in the world for outdoor activities and wilderness treks.

With over 300 National Parks spanning the entire continent, it can be difficult narrowing down which parks to visit and which hikes to put on your bucket list.   

After spending six months traveling through South America, we have picked out 12 of our favorite day hikes that any South America visitor should check out!

Best hikes in South America:

  1. Cuernos Lookout In Torres Del Paine, Chile
  2. Laguna 69 in Huascarán National Park, Peru
  3. El Cocuy National Park, Colombia
  4. Perito Moreno Glacier Trek, Argentina
  5. Quilotoa Lake Rim Trail, Ecuador
  6. Laguna Cerro Castillo, Chile
  7. Queulat Hanging Glacier, Chile
  8. Los Estoraques Unique National Area, Colombia
  9. Laguna Paron in Huascarán National Park, Peru
  10. Villarrica National Park, Chile
  11. Valle De Cocora in Salento, Colombia
  12. Pumalin National Park, Chile

Best Hikes In South America:

1. Cuernos Lookout In Torres Del Paine, Chile

Torres Del Paine National Park is the crown jewel of South America.

Known as one of the most beautiful places on Earth it’s no wonder that thousands of people fly into this remote region of Chile in an attempt to visit Torres Del Paine National Park.

Torres Del Paine National Park

At Torres Del Paine National park you can expect to see jaw-dropping views around every corner. But planning an overnight backpacking trip there can be difficult because campsites are often booked up months in advance.

If you’re like me and always put off things until the last minute, there are still a few day hikes that you can enjoy at Torres Del Paine National Park without needing to plan ahead.

One of the most popular day hikes at this park is the 4 miles long Mirador Cuernos trek that passes along multiple lakes, jagged mountain peaks, waterfalls, and vicuñas (wild animals similar to alpacas).

Vicuñas along the trail

Mirador Cuernos Trail is perfect for families and day visitors rewarding hikers with incredible views for relatively little work. My favorite time to hike this trek is at sunset when you might catch glimpses of pink colors in the sky.

Photography Tip: I recommend bringing along a sturdy tripod to get a sharper image, especially of the fast-moving waterfall located at the beginning of the trek.

Sunset is the least crowded time since tour groups start clearing out well before then.

Trail Summary:

2. Laguna 69 in Huascarán National Park, Peru

There is so much more to explore in Peru than Machu Picchu Ruins (although that should be on top of your bucket list as well!).

Huascarán National Park is a stunning park in Peru that spans across the massive Cordillera Blanca mountain range. Huascarán National Park is quite remote and not the easiest of places to access, but a must-visit for outdoors lovers and hiking enthusiasts.

Laguna 69 in Huascarán National Park

We loved the Huascarán region in Peru so much that we added two trails to this South America hiking post!

If you’re looking for an incredible hike but don’t want to commit to a multi-day backpacking trip, Laguna 69 is one of the most popular day trips within Huascarán National Park.

We do have to warn you that Laguna 69 Trek is not for the faint of heart and the trail climbs up deep into the Andes mountains at 15,000 feet in elevation.

If you’re interested in doing this trail, we recommend taking a few days to get used to the altitude before attempting it.  

Laguna 69 Trail

Although the Laguna 69 trek is challenging, it is totally doable as a day hike and guided tours can be arranged from one of the nearby towns like Huaraz.

Hiking Tip: The weather at Huascarán National Park can be quite unpredictable so be sure to wear proper clothing and hiking shoes. We saw a few people do this hike in shorts during a snowstorm and some folks had to turn around because they were not prepared for the altitude and harsh weather conditions.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Laguna 69, Huascarán National Park, Peru
  • Starting Point: At a campsite off Route 106
  • Length: 8.5 miles out and back
  • Time Needed: 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty: Very challenging
  • Cost: 30 Peruvian Soles (9 USD) for a park entrance pass
  • Crowd Factor: Busy

3. El Cocuy National Park, Colombia

If you love finding secret spots, El Cocuy National Park is an incredible outdoors region and a hidden gem in Colombia.

As one of the last places in Colombia where visitors can experience icefields and snow, El Cocuy National Park offers long but rewarding day hikes that lead to alpine lakes and beautiful mountain landscapes.

El Cocuy National Park

However, visiting El Cocuy National Park is not as easy as just showing up and hitting the trail. We have written a detailed guide on hiking El Cocuy National Park covering the latest requirements and tips on what to expect.

Essentially you will need to:

  1. Buy a park entrance pass
  2. Get local life insurance (yes, you read that right! This is a requirement in case something goes wrong and local authorities need to rescue you)
  3. Arrange a hiking guide
  4. Arrange transportation to the trailhead

You can take care of all of these requirements in the nearby towns of El Cocuy or Guican before your trip.

Laguna Grande Trail at El Cocuy

There are currently three-day hikes that you can do at this park. During our visit, we hiked the Laguna Grande Trek which offers incredible views and the best scenery of the three trail options.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Laguna Grande Trek, El Cocuy National Park, Colombia
  • Starting Point: Behind Hacienda La Esperanza hostel
  • Length: 12 miles
  • Time Needed: Around 8 hours (guided hikes usually start at 6:00 am)
  • Difficulty: Very difficult due to length and altitude
  • Cost: Around 200,000 Chilean Pesos (65 USD) for entrance pass, insurance & local guide
  • Crowd Factor: Not very busy

4. Perito Moreno Glacier Trek, Argentina

Perito Moreno is a sprawling glacier in the southern part of Argentina.

Most people that come to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier see it from a designated viewing platform across a narrow canal, but the best way to experience it is by going on a guided trek on top of the glacier itself.

Perito Moreno Glacier Trek

Where else can you say that you’ve hiked on top of one of the largest ice fields in the world?

There are a couple of different Perito Moreno glacier tours that you can arrange from the nearby El Calafate town. The most popular tour is the Glacier Mini Trek by Hielo & Aventura Company which is a great option for beginner hikers.

What To Expect

During the Perito Moreno Glacier hike, you will be given crampons to wear on top of your shoes while trekking across the ice field. The experienced tour guides will lead groups of hikers while sharing some information about this glacier.

Hiking on the glacier

At the end of the trek, you will be given a glass of whiskey filled with fresh glacier ice, the perfect way to end the hike.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
  • Starting Point: Bajo Las Sombras port
  • Length: 1-2 miles
  • Time Needed: Around 10 hours for the entire tour including pick up and drop off
  • Difficulty: Moderate – the hike is easy but you will need to wear crampons
  • Cost: Around 8000 Argentina Pesos (106 USD)
  • Crowd Factor: Busy
Read More: All You Need To Know For Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier

5. Quilotoa Lake Rim Trail, Ecuador

Quilotoa Lake is a massive crater lake in Ecuador that is surrounded by picturesque mountains. If you’ve been to Crater Lake in Oregon, it’s very similar to that, but with a greenish tint to its color from the volcanic minerals.

Quilotoa Lake was created as the result of a destructive volcanic eruption that left an enormous caldera in its place. Now it’s become one of the most popular sights to visit in Ecuador, especially for its stunning landscape.

Quilotoa Lake

While Quilotoa Lake is accessible by car, there is a long trail that goes around the entire lake. You can take anywhere from a few minutes to hours to hike this trail, depending on your desire for exercise and weather conditions.

Unlike some other trails in South America, you don’t need a guide to hiking the Quilotoa Rim Trail, just lots of energy and perseverance!

Note: Don’t confuse this day hike with the Quilotoa Loop trail – a 4-day long backpacking trip that goes through Ecuador’s farmlands, villages, and lush landscape.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Quilotoa Lake, Ecuador
  • Starting Point: Mirador Laguna Quilotoa
  • Length: 8 miles
  • Time Needed: Around 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate – the hike is high in elevation and goes up & down
  • Cost: Free
  • Crowd Factor: Not very busy

6. Laguna Cerro Castillo, Chile

Cerro Castillo is a jagged mountain peak in the southern part of Chile along the Carretera Austral Highway.

The most popular trek in this mountain region is the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail which leads to a turquoise alpine lake with a stunning glacier as the backdrop.

Laguna Cerro Castillo

The scenery during the Laguna Cerro Castillo trail is awe-inspiring so it’s no wonder that this hike has become a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts that flock to this part of Chile during the warmer months.

The payoff is amazing, but there are some challenges to hiking the Cerro Castillo trail.

Hiking Tip: The Cerro Castillo Lake trek starts on private property so you will need to buy a hiking pass before you can set a foot on the trail.

This region is also known for having harsh unpredictable weather conditions. While it can be nice and sunny at the trailhead, unpleasant snowstorms can form at the lake in a blink of an eye which can send you running back to your car so come prepared with extra layers and a rain jacket.

Cerro Castillo Trail

But despite the strenuous trek and weather challenges, it’s one of the most beautiful hikes to do in South America!

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Laguna Cerro Castillo, Aysén, Chile
  • Starting Point: Laguna Cerro Castillo Trailhead Parking
  • Length: 8.5 miles out-and-back
  • Time Needed: 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderately difficult due to steep climb and harsh weather conditions
  • Cost: 10,000 Chilean Pesos (15 USD)
  • Crowd Factor: Busy

7. Queulat Hanging Glacier, Chile

Another incredible day hike within the Carretera Austral region of South America is a trail that leads to a viewpoint of Queulat Hanging Glacier (also known as Ventisquero Colgante).

Queulat Hanging Glacier

This glacier is unique because it sits at the top of a mountain with multiple waterfalls rushing down from it.

Located in the southern part of Chile, Queulat National Park has a very diverse landscape. Personally, we found the setting very similar to Oregon with mossy evergreen forests, stunning lakes, and hidden waterfalls.

The day hike to Queulat Hanging Glacier is short and rewarding. While hikers can’t go to the glacier up close, you can view it from a designated platform that overlooks the entire glacier, an experience that will stay with you long after your South America trip!

Trail Summary:

8. Los Estoraques Unique National Area, Colombia

Packed with craggy pillars and deeply carved canyons, Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area is a sight to see in South America.

Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area

Over the years wind and water have sculpted their way through this park leaving behind orange-colored pedestals, caves, and rocky columns.

Not many international visitors know about Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area so it’s the perfect place to explore if you love to seek out hidden gems and solitude.  

There are a few day hikes that visitors can enjoy at Los Estoraques Park. Most of the trails travel in between towering canyons but a few lead up to the top of steep cliffs offering sweeping panoramic views of the park.

Trails at Los Estoraques Park

Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area is located just a few minutes from La Playa De Belen town which is very convenient. You can just drop off your stuff at a local hostel in La Playa De Belen and head out to explore this park.

Trail Summary:

9. Laguna Paron in Huascarán National Park, Peru

If you’re interested in hiking a trail in Peru that is relatively easy and doesn’t require altitude acclimation, Laguna Paron is a great option and the perfect day hike for just that.

Most people hike from Laguna Paron to Laguna Artesoncocha and back for a total of 7 miles.

This trail is mostly flat and leads around Laguna Paron, the largest lake in Huascarán National Park.

Laguna Paron

As you hike the Laguna Paron Trail you’ll be able to admire the beautiful turquoise blue tones in the water that are the result of dissolved minerals, especially colorful on a sunny day.

If you’re looking for a shorter option, there is another trail that goes up to an overlook of the lake from up top. However, you will need to scramble across giant boulders to get the best view.  

Laguna Paron overlook

Visitors can also camp at Laguna Paron overnight with permission from the security guards. We ended up spending a few days hanging out at this lake enjoying its natural beauty while traveling through South America.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Laguna Paron, Huascarán National Park, Peru
  • Starting Point: Laguna Paron Tourist Information Center
  • Length: 7 miles out to Laguna Artesoncocha and back
  • Time Needed: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Cost: 5 soles (1.50 USD) to visit the lake
  • Crowd Factor: Not very busy

10. Villarrica National Park, Chile

Villarrica National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise! Villarica region in Chile has everything you can imagine – active volcanoes, glaciers, pine forests, alpine lakes, hot springs, and even black sand beaches.

There are a few day hikes that you can do around Villarrica but our favorite was the Pichillancahue Glacier trek.

Pichillancahue Glacier

The Pichillancahue Glacier Trail is an excellent day hike because it’s only 5 miles long and very easy making it a great trek for families and kids. This trail leads hikers to experience Pichillancahue Glacier up close (you can even walk in a cave underneath it).

The trail starts in a gentle pine forest but soon after you’ll find yourself hiking on bare rocks and across a volcanic landscape that looks like something from Mars.

From this trail, hikers can also get a glimpse of the Villarrica volcano, one of the most active volcanos in Chile that you can often see spewing smoke in the air. 

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Villarrica National Park, Chile
  • Trail Name: Pichillancahue Glacier Trail
  • Length: 5 miles
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Cost: 5000 Chilean pesos (7.50 USD)
  • Crowd Factor: This trail is the closest hike to Villarrica and Pucon cities so it can get busy
Read More: Top Hikes To Do Around Villarica and Pucón, Chile

11. Valle De Cocora in Salento, Colombia

For those interested in something a bit more unique, Valle De Cocora is one of the most fascinating places in South America.

Valle De Cocora is a lush valley in Colombia’s coffee region that is home to some of the tallest palm trees in the world.

Trails at Cocora Valley

Most visitors make a day trip out to Valle De Cocora by signing up for a tour from the nearby Salento town. You can also drive there yourself if you have a car, and want to avoid the crowds.

There are several day hikes that visitors can do at Valle De Cocora. The most popular trek is a beginner-friendly hike that goes through rolling hills filled with skinny, towering palm trees.

Valle de Cocora

The other option is to take a longer loop that gives you the chance to explore more of Colombia’s lush landscape.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Cocora Valley, Salento, Colombia
  • Starting Point: El Bosque de Las Palmas
  • Time Needed: 30 minutes to 5 hours depending on the trail you choose
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Cost: 3000 Colombian Pesos for an entrance ticket (1 USD) plus transportation there
  • Crowd Factor: Busy

12. Pumalin National Park, Chile

Patagonia region in South America is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world but one area in Patagonia that often gets overlooked is the Pumalin National Park.

At Pumalin National Park you can walk across scenic suspension bridges, and explore mossy rainforests, volcanoes, alpine lakes and so much more.

Thanks to the conservation efforts of Douglas Tompkins (the adventure enthusiast who started The Northface clothing brand) Pumalin National Park is now one of the largest National Parks in all of South America.

Volcán Chaitén at Pumalin National Park

Most of the trails at Pumalin National Park are short which is perfect for quick day adventures. My favorite trail at Pumalin was Volcán Chaitén which leads to a viewpoint of an active volcano smoking in the distance.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Sendero Volcan Chaiten, Pumalin National Park, Chile
  • Length: 3.4 miles round trip
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Can be difficult due to 2000 feet of elevation gain
  • Cost: Free
  • Crowd Factor: This is one of the most popular trails at Pumalin Park so it can get busy

Which of these trails was your favorite? We would love to hear in the comment section below!

Looking for more South America inspiration? Don’t forget to check out some of our other popular posts to spark your travel lust:

  1. 20 Of The Most Beautiful Places In South America
  2. 15 Of The Best Cities To Visit In South America
  3. 10 Best Things To See & Do In Cuenca, Ecuador
  4. 10 Incredible Things To Do In Peru That You Shouldn’t Miss
  5. The Ultimate Guide To Patagonia National Park in Chile

Interested in stepping up your photography game? Here is the camera gear that I carry everywhere I go to create amazing travel photos:

  • Main camera: Sony a7c Camera. The Sony a7c is tiny, light, full-frame, and durable – in other words, amazing!
  • Polarizer Filter: Hoya 40.5 mm Filter. Polarizing filters reduce glare in water, protect the lens from getting scratched and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside. Having a polarizing filter is a must-have if you plan to photograph lakes, oceans, rivers, and waterfalls.
  • Wide Lens: Sony 16-35 mm F4. Great for capturing wide panoramas, nature landscapes, and cramped city streets. Mounts to any Sony mirrorless camera and features autofocus, image stabilization, and incredibly sharp images.
  • Lightweight Travel Tripod: Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod. A good tripod is essential for capturing images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects when shooting waterfalls. The Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is very sturdy, light, and folds small so you can take it on all of your adventures!
  • Memory Cards: SanDisk Extreme 256 GB. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme is ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.
  • Camera Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery Set. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize my camera is out of battery. Always keep your batteries charged with this camera charger set.
  • Camera Bag: Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something you should definitely invest in! Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it.

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