Looking for the most challenging hiking trails in South America? Some of the hikes are internationally renowned, with the Peruvian Andes often being hailed as home to some of the best trails, but there are also many other countries with hikes worth checking out as well.
Some of these hikes are challenging, so make sure you take altitude and weather into account when planning your journey, as these factors can often catch out those who are new to hiking.
The Inca Trail, Peru
This is a four-day route where the number of people who hike the trail is limited, and during the main hiking season between April and October, it is best to book well in advance to have the chance to make this unique journey to the remarkable historic site.
Torres Del Paine's W Trail, Chile
The rugged steep slopes of the Torres Del Paine are one of the most iconic sights in Chile, and the W Trail is probably the best way to get an up-close view of these lovely peaks.
There are eco-friendly accommodation options along the trail, while most people complete this route in around four or five days, with amazing scenery to be enjoyed every day along the route.
Ciudad Perdida Trek, Colombia
Often considered to be the Colombian equivalent of Machu Picchu, this remote location within the Sierra Nevada mountains can only be reached on foot, and the starting point for this trek is usually the town of Santa Marta.
This is quite a challenging trek through the jungles, and the final climb up to the terraces of the city means you may find your legs aching when you take in the lovely views from the hilltop site.
Fitzroy Loop, Argentina
If you are craving beautiful glaciated mountain tops, then the Fitzroy massif in Patagonia is a great destination, and this loop route takes in some amazing views, including several of the best viewpoints in the national park.
There are also some lovely Andean lakes along the ten-day route, but as this is quite a technical and demanding trek, it is best to do this trek with one of the local trekking companies.
Chapada Diamantina Grand Circuit, Brazil
Located in Bahia in the northeast of Brazil, Chapada Diamantina is one of the most beautiful areas of the country, with stunning mountain views which take in the distinctive steep slopes and flat plateaus at the top of these mountains.
The Grand Circuit is a five-day route that takes in some of the great highlights of the park, including some steep climbs up switchback trails, and the chance to see some amazing underground lakes and rivers.
The Condoriri Trek, Bolivia
This high altitude trek is one which necessitates some acclimatization in La Paz before embarking, but once you are used to the altitude it provides some superb mountain scenery in the Royal Cordillera mountains.
There are some interesting trekking peaks which can be completed as side trips, including Pico Austria, which stands at 5,300 meters above sea level, with organized trips usually the best option for those visiting the area.
Golondrinas Cloud Forest Trek, Ecuador
This trek is usually a good option for those who are not experienced trekkers, as the journey begins in the Paramo and follows a four-day route down through the cloud forest from around 4,000 meters above sea level to the subtropical zone at around 1,000 meters above sea level.
The amazing wildlife including the Andean Condor and the Paramo Wolf are among the species that can be spotted in this beautiful natural exploration of the region.
Ausangate Circuit, Peru
The Inca Trail may be the premier trail hiking South America, but this route south of Cusco has some spectacular scenery in the Cordillera Vilcanota mountains, and usually takes around two weeks to complete.
At the moment this rarely visited area provides a more authentic look at Peru and how the highland population lives, while there are some stunning campsites located along the route.
Illampu Circuit, Bolivia
Illampu is one of the highest mountains in Bolivia, and this is a route that can be completed in around seven days and includes some delightful views of the Laguna Glaciar, along with the snow capped mountains.
This can either be done as a well prepared independent trip or with a guide and involves some fantastic changes in the surroundings, from dry and dusty paths up to the snow-capped mountain tops.
Huayhuash Circuit, Peru
A great trek that not only takes in stunning blue mountain lakes beneath soaring peaks but also takes visitors through some charming Quechua villages in the high mountains.
This is rightly regarded as one of the best treks in the world. Cerro Jyamy is one of the trekking peaks in the area that provides a nice summit walk, and there are a few companies that provide organized treks here.
The Salkantay To Machu Picchu Trek, Peru
The journey to Machu Picchu on foot is not one that has to be done on the Inca Trail, and this alternative route is one that has developed because of the limited spaces available on Peru's most famous route.
Beginning in the foothills beneath Mount Salkantay, this journey is a five-day hike, taking in some beautiful mountain peaks and glacial lakes, before walking into Machu Picchu with the hundreds of other daily visitors.
Valley Of The Volcanoes Trek, Ecuador
This route is one that takes in some of the volcanic terrains in the area around Cotopaxi, one of the largest volcanoes in South America, which is also just a short journey from Quito. There is some high altitude walking as you climb up to the glacier on the slopes of the volcano, while a lovely walk around an eroded volcanic crater makes for some very distinctive views.
El Morado Glacier Trek, Chile
This is a trek that can be carried out either as a one or two day trek and is an ideal introduction if you are new to trekking in South America. Passing through a lovely glacial valley on the way up to a lake at the foot of the glacier, you can camp for the night before crossing over to explore the Morales Valley on a two-day trip.
Kaieteur Falls Trek, Guyana
The small nation of Guyana on the northeast coast of South America is a lovely place to visit, and the Kaieteur Falls is certainly the most impressive of the sights in the country. This trek usually takes four or five days, and takes visitors through some sensational Amazon jungle, before reaching the falls themselves, which are often claimed to be the highest single-drop waterfall in the world.
Mount Roraima Summit Route, Venezuela
Straddling the border between Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil, Mount Roraima is a mountain which has a very distinctive shape, with steep and often vertical sides surrounding a large flat plateau at the top. Starting off in the savanna and then walking up steep trails to get to the top of the plateau, this journey takes in some of the charming indigenous settlements and is a fascinating insight into the region.
Ingapirca Trek, Ecuador
Also known as the Ecuadorean Inca Trail, this three-day hike finishes at the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, and takes visitors along paths that are up to a thousand years old, once used by messengers traveling between different Inca settlements. You will meet some of the indigenous population as you walk, while the best option is often to go with an organized trip which will have donkeys to help carry equipment and food.
Huella Andina, Argentina
This ambitious long-distance trail between Lake Alumine in the north of the Chilean Patagonia region and Lake Baguilt in the Los Alerces National Park is 540 kilometers long, and takes in some spectacular areas. Some parts of the route are along roads at the moment, but there are several stunning parts of the trail, including the four days in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, with its amazing lakes.
O Caminho da Fe, Brazil
As the name suggests, this particular walking route was inspired by the Camino de Santiago in Spain, but the Brazilian version is a pilgrimage walking route leading to the Aparecida basilica, in the Sao Paulo region. The scenery along this 300-mile route is varied, with the most challenging area being the crossing of the Mantiqueira mountains.
Alpamayo Circuit, Peru
The Cordillera Blanca range in the north of Peru may not get as many visitors as the Inca Trail, but this route through stunning snow-capped mountains is an interesting cultural and scenic expedition. Starting from the mountain town of Huaraz, where a day or two's acclimatization is recommended, there are some fairly challenging ascents, but they pay dividends with some superb views from the passes.
Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy Trek, Colombia
This six-day trek travels from Guican to El Cocuy, and has the option for traveling with guides as well as independent hiking, with the peak season being in December and January. The glaciers surrounding the rocky summits here are among the highlights of what you will see, while it is worth bringing rain gear with you, as showers are common even during the peak season.