Latin America’s a pretty diverse part of the world. For a start, it’s speckled with countless remnants and relics of ancient civilisations, which lend the region a distinct air of mystique. The vivaciousness of the locals is also renowned – from the dance halls of Brazil and Argentina to the eateries of Mexico and Peru, commotion and passion is commonplace. Rich flavours, colours and experiences abound at almost every turn – a true assault of the senses! One of the best ways to take in the wonder of Latin America, and the backdrop it plays out on, is on a hike. Long or short, tough or easy, there’s plenty here for hikers of all experience levels to enjoy. Obviously you’re not hiking through the British countryside here, so ensure you’re prepared, seek guidance and learn the lay of the land before you set off to minimise issues along the way.
The Inca Trail, Peru
Alright, we know this is an obvious one. But it’s obvious for a reason, and that reason is that it’s absolutely marvelous. With Machu Picchu as the end goal, the hike along the world-renowned four-day Inca Trail is one for the ages. Winding its way up and down the mountains, the trail laid by the ancient Incas can only be embarked upon as part of an organised tour. It may only be 39km in length, but its steep ascents and descents make it a challenging but and rewarding venture. Passing numerous historical sites along the way, the experience reaches its climax at the mighty Machu Picchu.
Roraima Tabletop Mountain, Venezuela
Venezuela’s premier flat-topped mountain, Roraima provides one-of-a-kind hiking experiences and its sandstone formation mean its home to around 2000 endemic plant species. The best way to explore this other-wordly landscape is on a 3-5 day hike, interspersed with nights spent at the naturally formed ‘hotels’ (cliff-protected areas – not real hotels) To ensure you don’t get lost in the maze of Roraima, you must hike with a guide at all times: a small price to pay for such a wild and beautiful adventure.
Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, Colombia
If you’ve never considered going hiking in Colombia, now’s the time. Well, now’s the time if you’re an extremely experienced mountaineer. Güicán – El Cocuy Circuit Track in the El Cocuy National Park is one of the most spectacular hikes in Latin America. It’s challenging (you may not see another human, and the weather’s unpredictable and cold) and you need to be completely self-sufficient (there are no houses or townships en route) but you’re rewarded with the scenery of Valle de los Cojones (‘Pillow Valley’) alone. Glacier crossings, high-altitude passes, stunning lagoons and lava rock landscapes – this is a serious contender for the region’s greatest hike. Oh, and then there’s the views of the surrounding glacial peaks, which number 15 in total.
Torres del Paine, Chile
National Geographic named the Torres Del Paine as one of the top 50 places to visit in your lifetime, so this national park comes highly recommended. Boasting dramatic alpine landscapes, ice fields, rugged mountains and the pink granite spires of the towers of Paine, the Torres del Paine circuit will take you on a hike you’ll never forget. Journey through Magellenic forests, bridges straight from the adventure movies, rocky furrows – all whilst being flanked by the incredible surrounding mountains. Despite its beauty, the region is well-known for having a terribly unpredictable weather system. Be sure to travel with appropriate supplies and clothing should you get caught in a storm. On the flip side, the weather prevents the (literal) fair-weather tourists from coming here, so if you see yourself as a bit of an Indiana Jones-type, you’re in for a real treat.
Something of a wild card - Nicaragua’s sixth-largest city is a great base from which to embark on a number of exciting hikes around the region. You can get your hands on some uber-specific hiking maps from the Centro Girasol Café, which, as long as you follow them carefully, will help you stay on track. Local hikes vary in length, from around 1½ hours up to 7 hours. Set off on the Ruta Cerro El Toro, with its bull-shaped rock and great views of the city, or the Ruta de Café, on which you can venture into the surrounding organic coffee farms and mountains. Whatever track you choose – you’re in for fine views, striking scenery and something of an off-the-beaten-path experience.