From snow-covered peaks to ancient cities, South America features some of the world’s most incredible landscapes. While many of South America’s famous trails require a few days to complete, there are plenty of great day hikes for those who are in search for something less demanding.
During our 4 months of travelling around South America, we had the chance to traverse some of the region’s most breath-taking trails. From Colombia to Argentina, here are our top picks for the best day hikes in South America:
Laguna 69, Huascaran National Park, Peru
Like liquid sapphire, Laguna 69’s turquoise blue water glimmers under the afternoon sun. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, Laguna 69 is one of Huascaran National Park’s stunning glacial lakes. Located at roughly 4500 masl elevation, the day hike to Laguna 69, Peru is a challenging high altitude hike which starts at 3800 masl elevation. There is a number of steep uphill sections and most of the trail is exposed to the elements so it isn’t easy. It’s worth it though as the trail itself takes in plenty of impressive mountain views and the the highlight, Laguna 69, is absolutely incredible.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Laguna 69, Peru:
Laguna 69 is located in Huascaran National Park, 3 hours away from Huaraz, in northern Peru. The day hike takes a total of 5 hours return. The transportation and tour to Laguna 69 from Huaraz costs 30 soles (varies with tour operator) and the national park entrance costs 10 soles.
Laguna de los Tres, Parque Nacional de los Glacieres, Argentina
Laguna de los Tres is an outstanding day hike in South America which boasts panoramic views of Mount Fitz Roy and its nearby glaciers. This demanding day hike in Patagonia features amazing scenery with views of Mount Fitz Roy along most of the trail. The 12 km hike to Laguna de los Tres, which has an elevation gain of 800 m, takes around 8 to 9 hours to complete (round trip). Be wary of the strong winds in Patagonia. Also, check the weather before doing this hike as the final ascent towards Laguna de los Tres is an exposed, steep, rocky trail so it can be dangerous with heavy rainfall.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Laguna de los Tres, Argentina:
The Laguna de los Tres Day Hike starts near the town of El Chalten, Argentina. There is no entrance fee for the National Park de los Glacieres but you have to register at the park office when you arrive in El Chalten. Maps for the trails in El Chalten are also available in the park office. If you plan to extend your hike to a few days, there are two camping grounds towards Laguna de los Tres — Camp Laguna Capri and Camp Poincenot.
Mirador Base de Las Torres, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The most popular among the hiking trails in Torres del Paine, the day hike to Mirador Base de las Torres takes you face to face with the iconic granite peaks of Las Torres. While the hike to Las Torres is usually done as part of the multi-day Torres del Paine W Trek, it can easily be done as a day hike on its own as it starts close to one of the possible starting points (Las Torres Camp Site) for the W Trek. The 8 km trail takes around 4.5 to 5 hours (one way).
Apart from the strong winds, the hike is relatively easy with mixed uphill and downhill trail sections. This day hike in South America offers captivating scenery along the way with sweeping views of the valleys and surrounding mountains. The hardest part of this day hike is the last 45 to 60 min hike up from Camp Torres to the Mirador Base de las Torres which is purely uphill on uneven rocks. While the final ascent is challenging, the rewards of this hike (if the weather is right) are breathtaking views of the iconic Las Torres. Make sure to bring enough snacks for the hike. (I learned this lesson the hard way!)
Where to Start the Day Hike to Mirador Base de las Torres, Chile:
The Mirador Base de las Torres Day Hike is located in Torres del Paine National Park, which is around 3.5 hours from Puerto Natales. National park entrance ticket cost CLP 18,000. A map of the Torres del Paine National Park is provided after a short overview of park rules and regulations upon arrival at the national park office.
Grey Glacier and Lago de Grey, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Starting with incredible views of Cuernos del Paine and Cerro Paine, the day hike to Grey Glacier and Lago Grey features stunning lake and mountain views throughout most of the trail. The 12 km trek, which takes around 7 hours (return), is one of the easier hikes of the multi-day Torres del Paine W trek. Like the hike to Las Torres, this can easily be done as a day hike as it begins at Camp Paine Grande, one of the possible starting points of the W Trek. This day hike in South America is relatively easy with lots of flat sections and shaded areas. The only difficult part is the set of rocks near the end of the trail which was challenging to climb on the way back.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Grey Glacier and Lago Grey, Chile:
The Grey Glacier and Lago Grey Day Hike is located in Torres del Paine National Park, which is around 3.5 hours from Puerto Natales. National park entrance ticket cost CLP 18,000. A map of the Torres del Paine National Park is provided after a short overview of park rules and regulations upon arrival at the national park office.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
With white sand beaches, turquoise waters and a name which translates to Sun Island, Isla del Sol lures you like a tropical island. But it isn’t and it doesn’t have to be one to make for an awesome visit. Isla del Sol, located in Bolivia, is one of the unique islands on Lake Titicaca, one of the highest lakes in South America (3,800 masl elevation). Said to be the birth place of the Incas, Isla del Sol is a great place to explore with ancient ruins, stunning beaches and snow-capped mountain views. The best way to experience the beauty of Isla del Sol is by doing the hike from Challapampa to Yumani (north to south of the island), and taking a short detour to the Chincana ruins which takes a total of 4.5 hours. Make sure to acclimatize for at least one night before doing this day hike.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Isla del Sol, Bolivia:
The hike to Isla del Sol starts from either Yumani or Chalapampa, however it is recommended to do it from Chalapampa (north) as it is easier (less uphill). If you are staying in Yumani, you can take the boat from the port at the bottom of the hill at around 10am (30 Bs). Entrance tickets between the different towns will set you back 30Bs in total.
Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador
A vivid blue lake surrounded by jagged cliffs, Laguna Quilotoa is a unique crater lake at 4000 masl elevation. While the multi-day Quilotoa Loop, which goes along mountain villages near the lake, is a popular hike to do, travellers can opt to do a shorter day hike around the rim of the crater and do the descent to the caldera lake. The hike around the rim of the caldera takes approximately 5 hours with mixed uphill and downhill trails which can be challenging because of the altitude. The descent 280 m down the caldera is easy but the return trip up can take longer considering the altitude and sandy trail. If you find it too hard, mules can be rented on the way up (that’s what I ended up doing while Jon went to conquer the uphill hike on his own.)
Where to Start the Day Hike to Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador:
From Quito, the town of Quilotoa takes around 4 hours by bus (via Lacatunga). There is an entrance fee of 1 to 2 USD to visit the lake.
READ MORE: The Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador: Easy Version
Valle de Cocora, Colombia
Wax palms, which can grow as high as 60 metres, make Valle de Cocora a world famous day hike in South America. Considered the tallest palm trees in the world, the wax palms of Valle de Cocora make for a surreal setting. It’s not just the giant palm trees that attract hikers, there is also a lush cloud forest trail, a series of shaky suspension bridges and lots of fascinating hummingbirds (colibris). Make sure to do the 6-hour loop trail which starts on the right side from the entrance.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Valle de Cocora, Colombia:
The day hike to Valle de Cocora takes about 6 hours return, at elevations between 1800 to 2400 masl. The town of Salento in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera is the best entry point for this day hike. While there is no entrance fee to Valle de Cocora, bring some extra cash (COP 5,000) for Acaime, where you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a side of local cheese while viewing the hummingbirds.
READ MORE: A Day Hike to Valle de Cocora in Colombia
El Camino Real (Barichara to Guane), Colombia
Two of Colombia‘s quaint colonial towns are linked by an ancient walking route, El Camino Real. The 10km trail is well-restored albeit still rocky so wear decent shoes. It takes about 2 hours to complete and it’s fairly easy as it is mostly downhill, where you walk past lush green fields and mountain views.
Where to Start the Day Hike to El Camino Real (Barichara to Guane), Colombia:
El Camino Real starts in the town of Barichara and takes 2 hours to the town of Guane. From Guane, buses leave every hour to Barichara and San Gil.
Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, Puerto Varas, Chile
Situated in Southern Chile’s Lakes District, the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park of Puerto Varas is an ideal place to get close to nature. Highlights of this national park include the Petrohue Waterfalls, Lake Todos los Santos and the Osorno volcano. Different trails allow visitors to explore the various attractions of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.
One of the best day hikes in this area is the Paso Desolacion or Desolation Pass, named due to the destruction that various eruptions have caused in the surrounding countryside. The 12 km trail takes approximately 5 to 6 hours (return) to complete and rises to an altitude of 1100 masl. We didn’t have enough time to finish this trail but we did see some of the incredible views of the volcanoes and lakes of the national park.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Vicente Perez Roxas National Park, Chile:
Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park is a 45 minute bus ride away from the town of Puerto Varas. Entrance fee to the national park costs CLP 1,200.
Pisac Ruins, Peru
One of the best Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley, the ruins of Pisac is set in an incredible mountain top crest. Apart from the usual settlements, Pisac is adorned by agricultural terraces which drape along the slopes of the mountain. The scenery of the terraces, the surrounding mountains and the stone villages definitely make Pisac one of the most photogenic ruins in the Sacred Valley.
Exploring Pisac with its various sets of ruins takes a good few hours. The different settlements are connected by narrow trails along the mountain ridge. If you decide to go back by foot, the trail from the top of the Pisac ruins to the Pisac market takes about 1.5 to 2 hours in total, depending on your hiking speed.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Pisac, Peru:
The Pisac ruins are 45 minutes away from Cusco (3 to 4 soles on a collectivo). From the town of Pisac, you can take a taxi to the ruins (or walk uphill from the artisan market in town). We paid 25 soles for the 15 minute taxi ride to the ruins and followed the hiking trail on the way back. The entrance to Pisac is included in the Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket) for the Sacred Valley ruins which costs 130 soles for the full ticket (We used the same ticket to visit Ollantaytambo, Moray and Sacsaywaman).
Cajas National Park, Ecuador
An awesome day hike near Cuenca, Cajas National Park features out of this world terrain at elevations which vary from 3,000 to 4,000 masl. Hundreds of lakes and lagoons set in a desert-like landscape make Cajas National Park a unique place for hiking. Along the small hills and valleys of Cajas National Park are various hiking trails which take around 2 to 6 hours to complete – perfect for a day hike.
Apart from the altitude, make sure to prepare for the cold and damp temperature in the national park. Bring enough water (there are no places to refill them) and snacks for the day hike.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Cajas National Park, Ecuador:
From Cuenca, the Cajas National Park is only half an hour away. There is no entrance fee to the national park but you are required to register during your visit. Bring your passport for identification.
RELATED POST: The Night Bus from Ecuador to Peru: Cuenca to Mancora
Colca Canyon, Peru
Considered one of the best hikes in Peru, the hike to Colca Canyon takes you along the jagged cliffs which surround one of world’s deepest canyons towards a lush oasis at the bottom of the canyon. Famous not only for its natural scenery but also for its magnificent condors, Colca Canyon is a great place for a day hike in South America. During the hike, you’ll pass along unique gorges, lush greenery and unique rock formation. The hike downhill to the oasis is fairly easy but the hike up which goes from 2200 masl (Oasis Sangalle) to 3200 masl (Cabanaconde) can be quite a challenge! It was exhausting but definitely a great feat to conquer (I didn’t hire a mule, this time!)
Note that I have included the hike to Colca Canyon as a day hike as I have read some information online which mentions it can be done in a day if you start very early from Cabanaconde. (If you have more information on this, leave us a comment.) I recommend doing this hike in a span of 2 days though as you will have more time to explore the surrounding scenery and experience sleeping in the oasis.
Where to Start the Day Hike to Colca Canyon, Peru:
Most travellers looking to do the day hike in Colca Canyon will base themselves in the colonial city, Arequipa. There isn’t much information available on how to get to the Colca Canyon on your own, so we booked a 2 day tour, which included transport, meals and one night accommodation at the oasis for 120 soles. The tourist ticket at Colca Canyon is an additional 70 soles per person.
RELATED POST: 2 Days Colca Canyon Trek: One of Peru’s Toughest Hikes?
Have you done any of these day hikes in South America? Do you have anything to add to our list of best day hikes in South America? Let us know.
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