South America: 5 Top Treks

Thinking of trekking in South America? These 5 top treks will help you to decide…

The vast continent of South America is a haven for extraordinary and diverse treks while absorbing remarkable surrounds.

Even after 2-plus months on the first visit and 9-plus months on the second to South America, only a fraction of this massive continent is traversed.

South America, 5 Top Treks


If you have been travelling vicariously with me through my articles, you know that I travel slowly and typically, overland once landed in a continent – much prefer long-term travel to really soak up a country.

But for some, this isn’t always an option. Work, family, and generally life gets in the way of hitting the road.

So in no particular order, these are my 5 top treks to give you a small taste of South America. All are incredible treks at varying degrees of difficulty.

South America treks
South America: 5 Top Treks

1. Salkantay Trek – Machu Picchu, Peru

The Salkantay trek to mystical Machu Picchu is one of the most incredible treks that I have experienced, so far…

What exactly is the Salkantay trek?

There’s a reason for National Geographic rating this as ‘one of the top 25 best treks in the world’.

The spectacular vistas from high mountain passes, deep canyons and crevices, descending to the surrounding lush jungle while trekking from 2,700-plus-metres to 4,600-metres, then back down again, leaves you speechless. And not just because of the altitude!

Salkantay trek, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America

The 75-kilometre arduous trek during the 4 days – you spend the fifth day at Machu Picchu – is moderate to challenging, and renowned as the ‘savage trek’. Am I selling this to you?

Machu Picchu, Peru, South America
Machu Picchu vista

The Salkantay trek isn’t for the faint-hearted. This trek is not as touristy as the Classic Inca Trail but is extremely challenging and a satisfying achievement in endurance.

Salkantay trek, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America
A relentless climb…

Regardless of age and fitness level, altitude can affect anyone at any time. But don’t let that put you off going on this amazing trek. My fitness level at the time wasn’t the level of a marathon runner and I managed.

Salkantay trek, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America
The first night of the trek is bitterly cold, even with camping under a tin roof and plastic surrounds.

Though it is wise to acclimatise for a few days in the ancient city of Cusco, which is from where the Salkantay trek starts.

Read the detailed account of the trek: 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru.

More travel posts on Peru.

2. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Have you heard of Angel Falls (Santo Ângelo)? Not many have and before landing in Venezuela, I never heard of these majestic falls either.

Angel Falls

The 3-day trek to the highest uninterrupted and mesmerising falls in the world is not easy.

A luxury hotel is not awaiting your arrival after the 5-hour journey on the Curiara’s (canoe) hard wooden bench-like seat, gliding up the Río Carrao’s churned brown waters. Instead, a jungle campsite awaits with the luxury of mosquito nets.

Angel Falls, Venezuela, South America
Hammocks strung from a tin roof – no walls and open to the jungle’s elements.

Soaring flat-topped mountains carved into the landscape through millennia, unfold emotive horizons – each as breathtaking as the next. This whole region is stunning and untouched – think scenes from the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie.

Angel Falls, Venezuela, South America
Diverse panorama

Nothing prepares you for the thunderous noise of Angel Falls spilling over ancient Auyantepui’s (Devil’s Mountain) carved vertical cliff, crashing down 979 metres into the Cañon del Diablo. During the wet season, the drop from Angel Falls swells to 1,015-metres high – more than one kilometre!

Read the detailed adventure: Spectacular Angel Falls.

More travel posts on Venezuela.

3. Colca Canyon, Peru

Dramatic Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Experience Condors swooping down within metres of your head on this challenging 3-day ‘intermediate‘ trek, which starts at first light at around 3,270 metres (10,730ft) and descends to the base a couple of days later.

Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru, South America

The Colca Canyon sits in the middle of two volcanos – Coropuna at 6,450 metres and Ampato at 6,380 metres.

During spring, the canyon is lush green and bursts with the multi-colours of wild flora, although on this trek a dry spell currently renders an arid moonscape.

Colca Canyon trek, Peru, South America
The 5-kilometre path etched in the canyon is on the last day.

The last day’s 5-kilometre vertical trek back up the canyon is incredibly difficult. Exhausted trekkers hire donkeys for the journey back up the canyon to the roadside, passing us along the way while we clamber over rough boulders and rocks.

Read the full account of this trek: Incredible Colca Canyon 3-day trek

More travel posts on Peru.

4. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

The impressive and expansive 2.6-million-year-old ‘last advancing glacier on earth’ – Perito Moreno Glacier – is nothing short of remarkable and blows your mind.

Perito Moreno, Argentina, South America
Perito Moreno

Blanketing 250-square kilometres while measuring 30 kilometres in length and 5 kilometres wide, Perito Moreno averages 60-metres heigh of which 130 metres is below water. This glacier is bigger than Buenos Aires.

Perito Moreno, Argentina, South America
Magnificent hues

Donning crampons in the bitter cold and driving icy rain, we walk gingerly and slowly for an hour and a half, over the allowed section of this mammoth astonishing glacier – an unforgettable piece of history.

Read the detailed adventure: Moon-walking on ice – Perito Moreno Glacier.

More travel posts on Argentina.

5. Vulcán Villarrica, Chile

The highlight in Chile’s Pucón is unquestionably the difficult day-trek in deep snow to one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, Vulcán Villarrica, which has been erupting since 1552.

Vulcán Villarrica, Pucón, Chile, South America
Steaming Villarrica

Early in the morning, a minibus whisks you to the start of the trek.

The climb is slow as you traverse from ankle-deep to thigh-deep snow while breathing the volcanos acrid thin air. Who’s idea was this? But, the views are marvellous and ethereal as we ascend through thick clouds and glimpsing the striking crisp panorama below.

Vulcan Villarrica, Chile, South America
The gruelling ascent

Sadly as the summit is still 500-metres away and it’s late in the day, the slow climbers (including me) need to turn back down the volcano. Only the experienced and fast climbers’ trek to the summit.

The heavy and powdery snow from last night’s fall means that we can’t use plastic slides to whizz down the volcano. Instead, we trek down slowly and carefully.

Read the details of this trek: The Ascent of Vulcan Villarrica

More travel posts on Chile.

Enjoyed these 5 top treks in South America? Are you thinking of travelling to this continent? Comment below if you need more travel information.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. Check out 50-plus articles with free travel tips on South America at Image Earth Travel.

South America: 5 Top Treks
Second trip: 9-plus months of independent travel in South America

26 responses to “South America: 5 Top Treks”

  1. Dave Ply Avatar

    Even one of these would be a bucket list item for most folks…

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I would hope so and some weren’t even on my bucket list radar as I’d never heard of the treks!
      Amazing what you learn when you’re actually in a country.

  2. Diana Avatar

    Oh my goodness. All of these sound amazing! I’m bookmarking this for future travels, thank you for sharing!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Diana,
      Glad you enjoyed the post, maybe I should have added more treks… 😉
      Feel free to share with anyone you think would enjoy these treks.

  3. Giovanni Augello Avatar

    That’s my dream! I’d like to be there one day…

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Giovanni,
      Hope you get there as it’s my dream to return! Fingers crossed. 🙂
      Hope all is well with you?

      1. Giovanni Augello Avatar

        Hi Nilla,
        Let me know when you come back there… I’ll be ready to follow you 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, we’re not allowed out of Australia and our government is saying not until mid-end 2022 now. 🙁

      3. Giovanni Augello Avatar

        What a pity 🙂

  4. Katie Askegaard Avatar

    These look absolutely amazing!!! I love hiking and long days in nature, but I am yet to embark on any trek that’s longer than a day. I’ve been thinking I’d like to start, and these certainly affirm it!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Katie
      One-day hikes are a great taste but when it’s several days, you can really cover some ground and diverse vistas – am really missing the travel. 😉
      Appreciate your feedback!

  5. Monkey's Tale Avatar

    We love hiking in South America too! We’d love to see Angel Falls one day.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It’s an amazing continent for hikes. What hikes have you done there?

      1. Monkey's Tale Avatar

        We’ve done a few over the years, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Illiniza Norte, Aconcagua, the O Circuit, El Misti, Alpamayo Circuit, Inca Trail, Colca Canyon, Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, Ciudad Perdida, and quite a few day trips. The hiking is so amazing we’d, love to go back to do more. Maggie

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Hi Maggie, you’ve certainly done loads of treks there and you’re right, the hiking is amazing in Sth America!
        Will have to pop over to your site and read more… 😉

  6. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    Goodness me … South America is (was?) on our list for such a long time now … but I think I will have to get my butt off the couch and do a lot more exercise!
    Machu Picchu is such an iconic place to visit and is well-known … but I’ve never heard of the Angel Falls and that is truly spectacular! And that glacier – breathtaking beautiful.
    I almost felt out of breath after just reading your post … your photo’s are amazingly beautiful, thank you so much for sharing them 😁.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your wonderful feedback! I returned from the second trip to South America with over 10,000 photos and it’s so hard to choose just a few, but didn’t want to do a ‘death by photos’ post! 😉

      You really do need to get off the couch but yes, you need to get a little fitness up before attempting a couple of these treks. The scenery is surreal and well-worth the pain of getting to some places.

      The sad part is that Venezuela is too dangerous for locals let alone tourists – gringos. I work with a Venezuelan that’s been living in Australia for 9 years and he tells me how bad the country is these days, even more than when I visited in 2008 – tragic. 🙁

      1. wetanddustyroads Avatar

        I can totally understand about your 10,000 photo’s … it must be such a wonderful place with breathtaking views, just looking at the few places you’ve posted pictures!
        It’s so sad to read your comment about the conditions in Venezuela – not just for us, the tourists, but for the locals especially 😔.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It’s an incredible continent!
        Exactly, as tourists we can leave but it’s much harder for a local – it’s your home.

  7. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    Wow, South America really has some amazing hikes!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It certainly does and this is a list of only 5 – a plethora of diverse treks awaits… 😉

  8. Olympus Mountaineering Avatar

    Very nice post and list of hikes/treks.

    Perito Moreno Glacier looks really interesting. Thanks for sharing

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you, I could of added a few more, maybe next time…
      Perito Moreno is incredible – you must go!

  9. the eternal traveller Avatar

    Lots of fabulous scenery on all these walks.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Spectacular and memorable scenery but not walks and a couple are gruelling treks! 😉

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