It only takes one trip to South America to understand why wide-eyed visitors come back time and time again. Whether the flamboyant Latin American spirit or captivating traditional cultures, incredible archeological sites or lip-smacking cuisine, it’s all-too-easy to get hooked on this colorful continent – and its people. 

And then there’s the landscapes. From pristine beaches to primary rainforest, city-size glaciers to empty desert plains, the myriad environments to be found in South America are unmatched in their majesty, biodiversity, and variety. 

For avid walkers, South America is also nothing short of a dream come true. The gorgeous valleys and dramatic mountains, river gorges and forest trails, high mountain passes and remote pathways link ancient ruins, rural communities and natural wonders in every corner of the continent.

As such, here at Atelier we’re taking a look at some of our 4 favorite South America hiking routes to give you some inspiration before booking your tour.

The Inca Trail: Peru

Perhaps the most famous walking route on the planet, Peru’s iconic Inca Trail has drawn history hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to the country for over 100 years – since explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered the site in 1911. 

It’s widely believed that Machu Picchu, the unmistakable end point of the Inca Trail and true wonder of the ancient world, was a final refuge for Inca nobility after the invasion of Spanish Conquistadors. There is no evidence that the Spanish ever found what’s now known as the Lost City.

The Inca Trail to get you there is largely untouched since those times, meaning and you’ll be treading on the same stone steps as the Inca who travelled to the Citadel over 600 years before. The Classic Inca Trail is a 4- or 5-day hike that takes you deep into Peru’s Sacred Valley, beginning beside the Urubamba River and first trekking through scented pine forest, before gradually opening out into the valley proper.

Along the way, you will pass beguiling Inca ruins like Llactapata and Winayhuayna, conquer high mountain passes that take you 4,200m above sea level, and even walk through cloud forest from one spectacular camp site to the next. The climax comes on the final day when, having hiked overnight to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, you’ll see the sun rise over Machu Picchu from your hilltop perch and watch as the mist clears, revealing the Citadel below. A spine-tingling finale to your tour.

 

The Salkantay Trek – Lodge-to-Lodge: Peru

As a luxurious alternative to the Classic Inca Trail, chose the Salkantay Trek to the Lost City instead. This Sacred Valley hike not only takes you on a meandering, lesser-visited route to Machu Picchu, but you’ll stay in wonderful mountain lodges along the way, too. The Salkantay Trek begins with a scenic ramble up to Salkantay Lodge, perfectly nestled as it is under the shroud of imposing Sacred Valley mountains. 

It’s a suitably atmospheric place to start, with the lodge itself bedecked in traditional Peruvian fabrics and décor, exposed beams and stonework, before the Salkantay Trail takes you around beautiful Lake Humantay and the Salkantay Pass. This is where the route gets a little more challenging. All efforts are, however, rewarded with fantastic views and enchanting scenery – from coffee plantations to cloud forests, and those boutique lodges to look forward to at the end of each day. 

It’s a 7-day hike, culminating at Machu Picchu, the ultimate end to a unique Peruvian adventure.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine: Chile

Though well-known and often tipped as the “best walking route in Patagonia”, the 5-day W Trek in Torres del Paine, Chile, easily earns its place on our list of top 4 treks in South America. This route is so beautiful in its drama, imposing scenery and isolation that it simply must be done to be believed. 

Torres del Paine itself is a fantasy-film landscape of glaciers, emerald lakes, ice bergs, and foreboding mountains – all of which are begging to be explored. The W Trek takes in some of the finest of each. What’s more, this is a low-altitude trail in Torres del Paine with few long inclines, so for all its glory and surrounding scenery the 46-mile route itself is easier to achieve than you might imagine.

Glamping, camping, or staying at refugios along the way (we recommend a boutique hotel either side of the hike), the W Trek usually starts at Refugio Las Torres and goes east to west, ending at Refugio Paine Grande. Every step is a joy as you vanish into this awe-inspiring wilderness. Big highlights as you hike include the hanging glaciers of the French Valley, getting up close to the mighty (though retreating) Grey Glacier, witnessing Los Cuernos – “The Horns”, and reaching the base of The Towers themselves.  

In truth however, it’s the complete immersion into the untouched landscape and the scale of Mother Earth here that really stands the W Trek apart. 

El Chalten: Argentina 

Less a specific hiking route and more an entire area, the region of El Chalten in Argentinian Patagonia deserves its own mention as there’s simply so many fantastic self-guided treks to enjoy here.  

Perfect for full- or half-day walks, as well as some longer routes and even rock climbing for those inclined, El Chalten is the unchallenged walking capital of Argentina. The town itself was purpose-built in the 1980’s, while the land is one of waterfalls and rivers, green slopes and lagoons, snow-covered mountains and solid ice sheets – a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. 

There are countless walking trails in El Chalten to choose from, with some of the best being:

That is to name just a few. And after a day on your feet there are few better places to return to than the cozy restaurants and local hotels of El Chalten itself.

No matter where you choose to go, whatever your fitness level or areas of interest, this is only the beginning of some of the best hiking routes in South America. 

Speak to the South America travel specialists at info@atelier.travel and they will craft your dream tailor-made tour.

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