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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.