With the Andes stretching almost the entire length of the continent, South America is home to some incredible hiking. Throw in waterfalls and rocky islands, and you have a hiker’s paradise.
Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
The famous lost city is one of the continent’s biggest draws, attracting more hikers than anywhere else. Crowds got so big a few years ago that the authorities imposed restrictions of 500 hikers per day.
Setting off from Km82, El Camino Inca is a 26m (45km) route through the majestic remains of the Inca civilisation, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Its final point is Machu Picchu – a city covered in jungle until it was discovered in 1911.
The hike through cloud forest takes in other Inca ruins along the way – including Wiñay Wayna and Phuyupatamarca – offering fans of carved granite plenty to see.
Altitude: 2,430m (7,970ft).
Best time to go: May to September.
Average price: US$250.
Climbing Cotopaxi, a volcano standing at 5,890m (19,324ft), is one of Ecuador’s biggest challenges. The snow-capped peak is reached after an arduous climb involving crampons and ice picks. Famed for its perfectly formed cone shape, Cotopaxi is one of the Andes’ most attractive peaks.
The high-altitude climb means that some time will be required to acclimatise beforehand – hikers should spend a few days in Quito or somewhere of equal elevation.
Cotopaxi National Park is Ecuador’s most visited mainland park, attracting people in search of pumas, condors and Andean seagulls. The park’s grass-covered paramo plateaus are surrounded by more volcanoes.
Climbers are recommended to set out on the 6-8 hour hike as early as 1- 2am.
Altitude: 5,890m (19,324ft).
Best time to go: December to April.
Average price: US$150.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
The world’s highest waterfall drops from 979m (3,212ft) in Venezuela. Located within the Canaima National Park, Angel Falls is surrounded by grassland, jungles and hidden canyons.
The trek to this natural wonder crosses grassy plains and rainforests where exotic wildlife thrives within – look out for macaws, toucans, jaguars, sloths and anteaters.
The hike crosses vertical rock formations – tepuis – that are several million years old. Their flat, sloping tops are the site of unique plant life. The route begins under canopied rainforest and ends in one of the natural pools at the bottom of the kilometre-high falls.
Altitude: 979m (3,212ft).
Best time to go: Year-round.
Average price: US$1,499 (for one week, including food and lodging) with Angel Ecotours.
Lost City, Colombia
Thought as impressive as Machu Picchu by many, Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is hidden away in dense jungle, and can be reached only by at least six days of hiking or an expensive helicopter ride.
The abandoned former home of the Tayronas, built in around 500BC, is carved from mountainous jungle on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
The trek to reach it involves a series of muddy trails up and down valleys in sticky, humid heat. At night, hikers rest in hammocks strung up in the dark jungle.
The Lost City is looked after by the indigenous Indians that still live in the area – the only companies they permit to bring tourists are Turcol and Sierratours.
Altitude: 1,200m (3,937ft).
Best time to go: December – early March.
Average price: £90.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Often likened to hiking in the Greek Islands, Lake Titicaca has an almost Mediterranean feel. The dry air and land are scorched by bright sun all year and skies are almost always blue.
If fully acclimatised to the altitude, this route along the island’s ridgelines can be very relaxing – and there are views across the lake on either side. The Chincana ruins are also nearby.
The trip to Isla del Sol starts from the Bolivian town of Copacabana and traverses the island from north to south.
Altitude: 4,000m (13,123ft).
Best time to go: May to September.
Average price: Free (can be hiked independently).
Fitz Roy (Los Glaciares), Argentina
Located close to Chile’s surreal Torres del Paine landscape, Fitz Roy in Argentina is arguably even more spectacular. At the tip of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, it is one of the most difficult mountaineering destinations in the world.
The jumping off point is El Calafate, a small village close to the Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the only glaciers in the world that is continually advancing and growing.
This hike is known for its bad weather – expect rain, sleet, hail, snow and, most of all, wind. During the Patagonian summer (December to March), evenings are light until at least 10pm.
Altitude: 3,405m (11,171ft).
Best time to go: November to April.
Average price: US$1,000 with Southern Explorations.