Ruins set deep in thick jungle; granite towers that pierce the Patagonian sky; miles upon miles of blinding white salt flats: these are the incredible adventures that await in South America. We’ve compiled our favorite places for the most intrepid, where an adventure – and incredible scenery – is always guaranteed.
1. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Perhaps the continent’s most acclaimed national park, Torres del Paine is a hiker’s paradise. It’s here you’ll find the three majestic granite towers and colorful Cuernos del Paine mountains that take pride of place in practically all tourists brochures about Patagonia.
Visitors can get their fill of adventure by embarking on the four-day W trek, the 10-day Circuit or O or even the 11-day Q, all of which see them passing hanging glaciers, navigating trails up plunging river valleys and finishing the trip at the torres.
2. Futaleufú, Chile
Another top spot when it comes to Chilean adventure travel destinations, Futaleufú in the Aysén Region of Chilean Patagonia is a world-class destination for rafting.
Here, the tumbling white-waters offer everything from easy Class II rapids to the ultimate challenge, Class Vs.
3. El Chaltén, Argentina
Argentine Patagonia’s top trekking destination, El Chaltén is perhaps most famous for its views of the iconic peaks of Monte Fitz Roy – the inspiration for the Patagonia clothing label.
Although plenty of day- and multi-day treks start from just outside the town, the most popular is the trail that leads to Laguna de Los Tres, a glacial lake sitting at the base of Monte Fitz Roy itself.
4. The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu might be top of all travelers’ itineraries when visiting South America, but only the most adventurous discover the Salkantay route to this crumbling fortress.
Pass over the Inca Trail in favor of a more challenging five-day trek, reaching heights of 15,255ft. (4,650m) and weaving through remote Andean communities and past the remains of other Inca sites hidden away in the mountains.
5. Huaraz, Peru
Nestled in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, the town of Huaraz attracts large numbers of foreign hikers each year who come to explore the epic 33 summits over 15,000 ft. (5,400m) that are found in the region.
Many come primarily for the Santa Cruz Trek, a four-day trail that heads high into the mountains, reaching shimmering, icy-blue lakes and overlooked by sheer, snowy summits.
6. The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
A spellbinding landscape of pristine white salt flats flanked by sky-piercing volcanoes is what awaits you at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s top adventure travel destination.
The largest of its kind in the world, the Bolivian salt flats are only accessible by a day or multi-day trip from Uyuni, although those looking for a more unique way of exploring Bolivia’s most stunning natural attraction should consider cycling La Ruta de Las Lagunas (the Lakes Route). This high-altitude cycling path crosses the 260-miles (480km) between San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and Uyuni.
7. The Lost City Trek, Colombia
The trail to La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) isn’t for the fainthearted: passing through dense jungle (the very same vegetation that meant these crumbling ruins lay hidden from civilization for centuries) and requiring you to ford powerful rivers while hiking in humid conditions, this trail will most definitely be a challenge.
But climbing the final 1,200 steps to arrive at the grassy terraces and stone walls of Teyuna with their views across the Sierra Nevada Mountains is the reward for all the hard work.