With some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, South America has always been a major destination for nature lovers and hikers. The famous Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu in Peru may be the most famous, but this continent has far more to offer in terms of spectacular treks and stunning views, with a fraction of the crowds. After months and months indoors, why not select one of these beautiful secluded trails for your trip?
(Be sure to check each nations up-to-date guidelines before choosing to visit)
If you simply have to see Machu Picchu when in South America (as you should!), then consider taking the Salkantay Trek in Peru as an alternative to the Inca Trail. Hotly rising up the ranks as one of the most respected and beautiful journeys in the world, this alternative trail connects the cities of Mollepata and Cusco with Machu Picchu, following a similarly ancient path up to the world-famous archaeological citadel itself.
Despite meaning ‘Savage Mountain’, the journey up Mount Salkantay is open to all levels of hiker, and takes 5 days/4 nights. Crossing spectacular snowy peaks and lush forest, through remote mountain villages, and via lakes and waterfalls, this trek is truly one of the most remarkable in the world. It is also comparatively much cheaper and sustainable than the Inca Trail, and far easier to book a place on.
This gorgeous long-distance (600km) trail in Argentinian Patagonia takes trekkers on a journey between two spectacular lakes; Aluminé and Baggilt. With stages marked by difficulty level, this route is excellent for all fitness types, although Spanish proficiency may be desirable due to the lack of English language guidebooks and maps.
The project for this trail used to be centrally funded, meaning it had official governmental protection and maintenance. Nowadays this funding has been revoked, meaning some parts of the trail may have lost their markings or formal route. There are also very few guesthouses along the way, but plenty of camping spots beside the dazzling lakes.
Cerro Castillo Circuit
Another up-and-coming alternative to a long-established route is the Cerro Castillo Circuit, dubbed the “next W trek” in Chile. This four-day route takes trekkers through the stunning valleys of the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, complete with beautiful waterfalls, turquoise lagoons and wildlife. Since it is so off-the-beaten-path, novice trekkers or non-Spanish speaking visitors may find it a little difficult to navigate; however guides can be accessed and downloaded from sites such as Adventure Alan. It is also recommended that you bring all the food you will need for the journey, as there is very little in the way of food vendors.
The Maragua Crater
This trek, just a couple hours from Sucre in Bolivia, is a fascinating cultural journey for those interested in ancient history. On this 2-3-day route, trekkers can witness 2,000-year-old cave paintings and dinosaur footprints, and discover secluded Bolivian villages. Many local families offer homestays for a cosy bed, meal and opportunity to swap stories and learn about the history of the region.
The crater itself represents a fascinating geological feature, with the rock formations and fields uniquely shaped by thousands of years of high tectonic activity. Local trekking companies like Condor Trekkers offer cheap and knowledgeable tours, with all profits going to local communities.
The Lost City Trek
Our final trek on this list is Columbia’s jewel, and a well-established Inca Trail alternative. This 4/5-day trek extends through coastal jungles, steep mountains and long winding rivers through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Ending up in the Lost City, an archaeological site built by the Taiona in 800AD (predating Machu Picchu by 650 years), the distinctive shape of a thriving mountain city is still apparent when exploring these well-preserved ruins. In order to get the most out of the experience and a better understanding of the rich cultural history of the region, sign onto a tour through agencies such as G Adventures, and be prepared for a steep climb, as this one is not for the faint hearted.