South America offers backpackers some of the best opportunities in the world with its diverse cultures, rich history and stunning landscapes. The Inca Trail in Peru tops the list with its ancient trail through the Andes Mountains taking you past remote villages before arriving at the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Popular alternatives to the Inca Trail include Santa Cruz Trek, Torres del Paine W Trek, Huayhuash Circuit, Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek, and O Trek. Cocuy Circuit in Colombia and Fitz Roy Trek in Argentina come highly recommended. The Carretera Austral in Chile is not a trail, but a backpacking adventure through some of the most remote corners of Patagonia.
South America is a backpacker’s paradise. With its stunning landscapes, diverse cultures, and rich history, the continent offers some of the best backpacking opportunities in the world. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a novice, there’s an epic trail waiting for you in South America. Here are 10 backpacking trails that you’d be remiss to miss.
1. Inca Trail, Peru
The Inca Trail is the most famous backpacking trail in South America, and for good reason. This ancient trail takes you through the stunning Andes mountains, past remote villages, and ultimately, to the iconic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The trail is strenuous, but the reward is unmatched.
2. Santa Cruz Trek, Peru
The Santa Cruz Trek is a lesser-known alternative to the Inca Trail, but it’s just as stunning. The trek takes you through the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, past turquoise lakes and snow-capped peaks. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit traditional Andean villages and soak in natural hot springs along the way.
3. Torres del Paine W Trek, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the world. The W Trek takes you through the heart of the park, past glaciers, mountains, and emerald lakes. This trail is challenging but well worth the effort.
4. Huayhuash Circuit, Peru
The Huayhuash Circuit is a remote and challenging trail that takes you through the stunning Huayhuash mountain range. This trail is for experienced backpackers only, as it involves high altitude, steep climbs, and long days. But if you’re up for the challenge, the views are incredibly rewarding.
5. Salkantay Trek, Peru
The Salkantay Trek is a popular alternative to the Inca Trail, and it’s not hard to see why. This trail takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes in Peru, from the Andes to the Amazon rainforest. You’ll also have the chance to visit traditional Andean villages and soak in natural hot springs.
6. Cocuy Circuit, Colombia
The Cocuy Circuit is a challenging backpacking trail that takes you through some of the most remote regions of Colombia. You’ll hike through the Cordillera Oriental mountain range, past glaciers, lagoons, and rocky peaks. The trail is for experienced hikers only, but the views are unparalleled.
7. Fitz Roy Trek, Argentina
The Fitz Roy Trek takes you through Los Glaciares National Park, one of the most stunning wilderness areas in Argentina. The trail takes you past turquoise lakes, glaciers, and the iconic granite spires of Fitz Roy. This trail is challenging but well worth the effort.
8. O Trek, Chile
The O Trek is a backpacker’s dream come true. This trail takes you through Torres del Paine National Park, past glaciers, mountain ranges, and crystal clear lakes. You’ll also have the chance to spot unique wildlife, from pumas to condors.
9. Lares Trek, Peru
The Lares Trek is a lesser-known alternative to the Inca Trail, but it’s just as rewarding. This trail takes you through the Andes mountains, past traditional Quechua communities, and ultimately, to Machu Picchu. Along the way, you’ll soak in natural hot springs, taste local cuisine, and interact with locals.
10. Carretera Austral, Chile
The Carretera Austral is not a trail per se, but it’s a backpacking adventure like no other. This highway takes you through some of the most remote regions of Patagonia, past rugged landscapes, and wild forests. You’ll have the chance to camp, hike, and interact with locals along the way.
1. What is the best time of year to backpack in South America?
The best time to backpack in South America depends on the region you plan to visit. Generally speaking, the dry season (May to September) is the best time to visit most regions, as the weather is mild and dry.
2. Do I need a visa to backpack in South America?
It depends on your country of origin and the country you plan to visit. Some South American countries require visas for certain nationalities.
3. Is it safe to backpack in South America?
South America has its fair share of safety concerns, but if you take certain precautions, it’s generally safe. It’s important to research the region you plan to visit, stay alert, and follow common sense safety precautions.
4. Can I backpack alone in South America?
Backpacking alone in South America is possible, but it’s important to be cautious and take safety precautions. It’s also a good idea to join a group or find a travel partner if possible.
5. What should I pack for backpacking in South America?
The exact packing list will depend on the region and time of year you plan to visit, but some essential items include a good backpack, quality hiking boots, warm clothing for cold nights, a water bottle, a first aid kit, and a map or GPS.