Latin America is one of the best places to hike, so much so that the problem is picking one out of the many possible treks that are available. Here are five of the most popular, each in a different country, to help you in your choice. You can´t go wrong with any one of them but each has its own special characteristics. The ones listed here are some of the shorter ones that, while still holding their own challenges, are ones that most people will be able to do with some preparation.
1. Classic Inca Trail in Peru
Rather than a typical dirt trail, for much of the way, the Classic Inca Trail in Peru takes you on an ancient stone Inca path. The trek lasts four days with the final day taking you just a short distance until you enter the archaeological site of Machu Picchu. In addition to getting to trek on the same stones that Incas did hundreds of years ago, you will also pass and be able to explore several Inca sites along the way. This is absolutely the best way to experience Machu Picchu both because it gets you to the site before the crowds arrive and also because traveling this route and camping in the mountains really helps you appreciate it more. Permits are limited to 500 people per day and this includes support staff so you need to make your reservations well in advance. This is especially true if you plan on hiking during the peak months of May thru August. There are two possible campsites for the final night of the trek and they are awarded on a first come, first served basis. One is much closer to Machu Picchu so this is another reason to make your reservations early.
2. Torres del Paine W Trek in Chile
There are many different trails in the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, but one of the most popular is the W, so called because of the shape of the trail. This is a 5 day, 4 night trek that will allow you to see some of the best that the park has to offer. The best time to go is during the summer, between November and February. Along the way, you will have the chance to see various indigenous animals as well as some truly stunning landscapes including lagoons, granite towers, rivers, valleys, mountains, forests and more. Among the animals you may see are flamingos, swans, guanacos, condors, eagles and rodents. The most impressive sight, however, is the hanging glacier where you can sometimes see avalanches. On the final day, you will visit the South Patagonia Ice Field. Here you will take a boat to get a better view of the bluish icebergs and possibly get to see them calve.
3. Trek de Condor in Ecuador
The Trek de Condor (Condor Trek) in Ecuador starts and ends in Quito and usually takes 5 days. It is also sometimes referred to as travelling along the route of the volcanoes as you will hike past the Antisana and Sincholagua Volcanoes to the Cotopaxi Volcano, one of the most popular sites in the country, and said to be the world’s highest active volcano. This trek is special, not just because of the volcanoes, but also for the variety of terrain such as forests, marshland rivers, and lagoons that you will pass by. Traveling through these heights, usually between 3,000 and 4,000 meters, it is possible to see condors (for which the trek gets its name) along the way. The area is also home to other birds, wolves, and deer. Beginners can do this trek, especially as horses or mules will normally be taken on a guided tour. However, you will want to be in good shape and spend a few days acclimating to the altitude.
4. Huayna Potosi in Bolivia
This ice-covered peak, located around 15 miles from La Paz, is described as the easiest 6,000 meter climb in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A big part of the problem people have is with the altitude. The trek can be done in 2 or 3 days, but even if you have already spent some time acclimating, it is probably worth spending the extra day. This will allow you to get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience. You will be provided with boots, crampons, and an ice axe but the degree of difficulty of the climb is such that even someone with no experience can make it. Ample time will be given for practicing before the peak is attempted. The views are amazing, especially if you never thought you could attempt something like this. There is no doubt that you will truly feel like you’ve accomplished something in the end when you are on top of the world, looking out over the Andes.
5. Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina
When it comes to hiking in Patagonia, an alternative to Torres del Paine is hiking around Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciers. A plus to this route is that, unlike Torres del Paine, it can be hiked without a guide. There are several different routes that can be taken and the number of days you will be trekking depends upon which you choose. You can go for two to five days but five will give you some of the best views especially of the mountain itself. The views vary depending on where you are, the time of day and also the weather. You will particularly want to get to Lagos de los Tres in time see the color of Mount Fitz Roy as the sun hits it at dawn. If the snow is melting in the sun, you may get to see some avalanches. There are several other lakes that you can trek to and even pause for a swim.