South America Single Day Hike

The 12 Most Idyllic Single-Day Hikes In South America

South America is the ultimate trekking playground. The Andes runs from north to south and cuts through seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. This means you have endless opportunities to find single day hikes. Here’s a list of the 12 best single day hikes in South America that everyone needs to complete.

Contents

1. Tayrona National Park - Colombia

  • Where: Santa Marta, Colombia
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Single Trail Out
  • Length: 12.1km
  • Estimated time: 2-3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 185m
  • Highest Elevation: 44m
 
Tayrona Map Edited

Tayrona National Park, a protected area on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, is known for its stunning natural beauty, rugged coastline, white sandy beaches, and lush tropical forests.

 

It is one of the most celebrated national parks in Colombia and is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country.

 

The park has several hiking trails that lead through the forest to various beaches, including the popular Cabo San Juan. This hiking trail starts from the main entrance of the park and takes you to Cabo San Juan del Guía Cape beach.

 

This hike allows you to experience the natural beauty of the park and you will be treated to beautiful views of the beaches and coastlines along the way. Tayrona National Park is also rich in biodiversity, including over many species of birds, monkeys, sloths, lizards, and jaguars; which you will likely come across whilst trekking.

 

Once you reach Cabo San Juan beach, most hikers take some time to relax and cool off in the sea. Then you have a few options for returning; you can either camp the night on the beach, take a speedboat back to Taganga or hike back the way you came. I would personally recommend the speedboat as it’s much quicker and you get to see more of the beautiful coastline.

 

You can reach Tayrona National Park from two towns: Palomino or Santa Marta.

 

In my opinion, Palomino is the perfect base camp to return to due to its laid-back vibe. Most backpackers leave their big backpacks in hostel storage and go adventuring with a couple days’ worth of clothes and their day pack.

For more on Palomino, including the best hostels to stay in and what activities to do whilst you are there, head to the post below:

 

 

amazing beach in Palomino

2. Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

  • Where: Otavalo, Ecuador
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 12.4km
  • Estimated Time: 4-5 hours
  • Highest Elevation: 3246m
  • Elevation gain: 635m
  • Route Type: Loop
 

Otavalo is home to one of Ecuador’s best hikes – a loop trail around the stunning crater lake know as Laguna Cuicocha. It’s a great place to get your first taste of Andean countryside and to test out your hiking ability at higher altitude.

 

Laguna Cuicocha, which translates to Lake of Guinea Pigs, was given this name due to the shape of the two islands that can be seen in the middle of the lake.

 

A circular trail goes around the lake, and you can hike around the entire thing for amazing views of the islands and Volcano Cotacachi.

 

The lake sits at 3,246 metres (10,650 ft), the loop around Laguna Cuicocha is 14km and should take between 4-5 hours for most people, even beginner hikers.

 

This is a moderate hike and beginner hikers can easily complete this trek. Whilst the elevation is high and altitude sickness may be a concern for some, the trail is well marked and easy to follow, and the total gain in elevation over the whole loop is around 600m.

For more information on this hike and how to get to Otavalo, check out the post below:

 

 

Laguna Cuicocha (Otavalo)

3. Waterfall Sanctuary - Ecuador

  • Where: Mindo, Ecuador
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours total (including stops at each waterfall)
  • Length: 4.2km in total
  • Highest Elevation: 1485m
  • Elevation gain: 292m

Hidden in the misty cloud forests of Mindo is a winding hiking path that takes you to seven beautiful waterfalls, including the 148-foot-tall Nambillo waterfall, which is one of the largest in the area.

 

This path is known as the ‘waterfall sanctuary’ and is a popular day out from Mindo for eco-tourism and hiking.

 

Trekking through the cloud forest is a wonderful experience, and whilst you wont have epic views compared to some of the other single-day hikes on this list, you will be immersed in nature. Each of the seven waterfalls is different, with a couple having plunge pools that you can go swimming in if you want.

 

The trails are well-maintained and offer stunning views of the forest. In addition to the waterfalls, the sanctuary is also home to a variety of plant and animal species, including hundreds of species of birds such as toucans and hummingbirds which you may see whilst hiking if you are lucky!

For more information on the Mindo Waterfall hike, head to the complete guide below:

 

 

waterall and ladder in Mindo

4. Pichincha Volcano - Ecuador

  • Where: Quito, Ecuador
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 5-6 hours
  • Length: 10km
  • Highest Elevation: 4784m
  • Elevation gain: 1000+m

Pichincha is an active stratovolcano overlooking Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. The volcanos highest peak, Guagua Pichincha stands at 4,784 meters (15,695 feet) above sea level.

 

Quito’s cable car (Teleférico) is a popular attraction that will take you from 3,000m at the edge of the city, all the way up to 3,495m to the summit of Volcano Pichincha.  At the top is where the trek will start, and you can expect beautiful views of the city and volcanoes surrounding Quito. You can often see Cotopaxi Volcano in the distance on a clear day if you are lucky!

 

The start of the trail is well signposted when you exit the Teleferico at the top. Follow the path to the swing and carry on from there. The trek takes roughly 5-6 hours (10km in total) and the altitude makes it tough, so come prepared and make sure you’ve spent a couple of days in Quito before to acclimatise. 

 

The early section is clearly marked, and it’s more of an amble at first with a gradual incline. The last hour is challenging as the trail gets steeper and sandier. For the last 30-45 minutes the trail becomes difficult, and you will have to scramble and climb rocks to reach the top.

 

Some hikers turn around at the summit because the loop that takes you around the peak doesn’t have a clear path and can be a little treacherous with steep and crumbly rocks. Don’t attempt this part unless you are an experienced hiker.

 

This is a great acclimatisation hike if you plan to do further treks in Ecuador at higher elevations such as Cotopaxi Glacier.

For more information on things to do in Quito including the Pichincha hike, head to the complete guide below:

 

 

hiking in Quito

5. Cotopaxi Volcano - Ecuador

  • Where: Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 2-3 hours total
  • Elevation gain: 300m
  • Highest Elevation: 4800m

The biggest attraction in Cotopaxi National Park is Cotopaxi Volcano. This huge strato-volcano is like something out of a picture book, with its perfect cone shape covered in a snow-capped peak swirling with clouds.

 

To summit Cotopaxi volcano, you can book a guided overnight trek which will take you to 5897m. However, the single day hike will only take you as high as the glacier which sits at 4800m.

 

The hike to Cotopaxi Glacier is short but tough. If booked as a tour or through Cotopaxi Secret Garden Hostel, you will start the day driving towards Cotopaxi Volcano in a 4×4 jeep, winding your way up its slopes until you reach the parking area at 4500m elevation and 300 meters down from the shelter.

 

From the parking spot you will then trek up to the shelter at 4800m. The incline is steep, and the path is loose gravel and rocks. Whilst you aren’t going far, the steep incline, altitude and lack of oxygen make it even harder.

 

To hike should take anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on how fit you are.

 

Once you reach the shelter, take a break, and have a sit down with a nice warm drink and some chocolate. You can also ask the owner of the refuge to stamp your passport for $1 if you want and why not, 4800m is an impressive achievement!

 

From the shelter you can then walk to the edge of Cotopaxi Glacier. This is a much easier trek as you are going across the volcano rather than up, so it is mostly flat. The altitude is still an issue though so take it easy. It should take 20-30 minutes to reach the edge of the glacier.

One of the best ways to plan your hike to Cotopaxi Glacier is with Cotopaxi Secret Garden Hostel. If you stay with them, first of all you will be staying at one of the best hostels in South America, and second, they provide one of the best deals on tours.

 

For more information on how to book your stay here and also visit Cotopaxi Glacier, head to the post below:

 

 

snow-capped mountain tops in Cotopaxi National Park

Preparing for your first trip to South America? 

Here are 22 FAQ’s to help you prepare for the trip of a lifetime: 

6. Laguna Quilotoa - Ecuador

  • Where: Quilotoa, Ecuador
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Estimated Time: 4-5 hours
  • Length: 10.3km
  • Elevation gain: 799m
  • Highest Elevation: 3913m

Quilotoa Crater is a water-filled volcanic caldera located in the Central Andes Mountains of Ecuador.

 

It is part of the Quilotoa Loop, a popular hiking route that takes 3 days where you trek through deep valleys and stay at a different indigenous village each night.

 

The crater was formed by the collapse of a volcano approximately 800 years ago, and is now filled with turquoise-blue water, creating a striking contrast with dark earthy colours of the surrounding volcanic landscape.

 

Backpackers who don’t have the time to do a multi-day hike can just do the single-day option instead which is the circular loop around the crater. Hiking around the crater takes around 4-5 hours and you will reach several vantage points on the trek where be treated to views of the lake, the surrounding verdant countryside and stunning mountain landscapes.

For more information on how to complete a single day hiker at the Quilotoa Crater, head to the post below:

 

 

Quilotoa Loop Budget

7. Rainbow Mountain - Peru

  • Where: Cusco, Peru
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours
  • Length: 10km
  • Elevation gain: 496m
  • Highest Elevation: 5200m

Rainbow Mountain is set high in the Andes at a breath-taking 5,200m, making this one of the most challenging treks in Peru.

 

The Andes in this region of Peru are incredibly unique and unlike anything you’ve seen before – this hike is a must for nature lovers and those looking to see a unique landscape full of colour.

 

The trek up to the viewpoint is beautiful and you will be surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The view from the top also gives you panoramic views and you won’t be disappointed. The mountains stretch on for miles and they are just as colourful as titular Rainbow Mountain.

 

The Rainbow Mountain hike is difficult in terms of altitude, not so much in terms of distance and elevation. You will be spending the whole time at an altitude of over 5,000m on this trek.

 

The hike to the viewpoint of Rainbow Mountain is a short distance (just under 500m in elevation), but it still takes around 2 hours.

 

Being so high means there is very little oxygen to breathe and the final 50m of the hike had me heaving for breath. However, once I had reached the top and my lungs had settled now, there was no better feeling of achievement.

 

Rainbow Mountain will be a challenging trek for many, but it is 100% the effort once you reach the top.

For more information on hiking Rainbow Mountain, head to the post below:

 

 

Rainbow Mountain (Peru)

8. Laguna Humantay - Peru

  • Where: Cusco, Peru
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 2-3 hours
  • Length: 6.4km
  • Elevation gain: 442m
  • Highest Elevation: 4263m

Laguna Humantay is a high-altitude lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s a popular single day hike but is also included as part of the famous 5-day Salkantay Trek.

 

The lake is known for its stunning turquoise-blue colour, which is created by the minerals and sediment carried into the lake by the surrounding glaciers.

 

This is a tough hike due to how steep it is. You’ll be going straight up, taking big steps to push yourself up over the stone laden trail. I found this trek much harder than Rainbow Mountain as it’s a solid hour of moving at a solid pace up a steep incline. But the stunning scenery and rewarding views of the lake make it well worth the effort.

Laguna Humantay is a great single day hike but can also be enjoyed as part of the Salkantay Trek. If you are interested in doing this epic 5-day trek, head to the post below for all the information you need to help you decide:

 

 

snow capped mountains of salkantay trek

9. Condoriri - Bolivia

  • Where: La Paz, Bolivia
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 2-3 hours
  • Length: 8km
  • Elevation gain: 232m
  • Highest Elevation: 4400m

The Condoriri base camp hike is a popular trekking route located in the Cordillera Real mountain range just outside of La Paz, Bolivia. The hike takes its name from the Condoriri massif, a series of jagged peaks that resemble the wings of a condor in flight.

 

This single day trek is excellent for adventurers wanting to get into the mountains without camping or who want to avoid the early starts that come with summiting the peaks over 2 days.

 

The hike begins at an altitude of 4,400m rising to the turquoise Chiar Khota Lake (4,600m), before another trek upwards to see ‘Mt Condor and the other 11 peaks. If it’s a clear day, you’ll also get incredible views of La Paz and even Lake Titicaca if you are lucky.

You can book with a tour company to take you from La Paz into the mountains to start this trek. For more information on best tour companies and other great things to do in La Paz, head to the posts below:

 

 

La Paz

10. Aconcagua - Argentina

  • Where: Mendoza, Argentina
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 5-6 hours
  • Length: 14.3km
  • Elevation gain: 583m
  • Highest Elevation: 3423m

Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere. Visiting this national park is a must if you are a lover of epic scenery and hiking.

 

The mountain is a few hours’ drive outside of Mendoza and its summit stands at 6,959 meters above sea level. It is a popular destination for hikers from around the world and is often considered to be one of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents).

 

Most backpackers won’t be looking to summit the actual mountain though as it takes up to 20 days, but a single day trek in the park is still a great experience that will provide beautiful views of the Andes.

 

Many tour companies in Mendoza offer guided tours to the park, which includes transportation and a guide. If you want to trek to the Confluencia base camp its around a 14km round trip and a 5–6-hour trek in the park.

 

Alternatively, you could stay overnight in a town closer to the mountain such as Uspallata. This town is an hour drive away so you could stay there for one or two nights and saves you having to make the long drive all the way back to Mendoza in one day.

For more information on what to do in Mendoza alongside trekking in Aconcagua Provincial Park, head to the posts below:

 

 

Aconcagua National Park

11. Laguna De Los Tres - Argentina

  • Where: El Chatlen, Argentina (Patagonia)
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 7-8 hours
  • Length: 22km
  • Elevation gain: 1050m
  • Highest Elevation: 1170m

El Chaltén is a small town located in the southern Patagonian region of Argentina. It is situated within the Los Glaciares National Park and is known as the “Trekking Capital of Argentina”.

From El Chatlen, you have your pick of hikes from single day to multi-day options that take you to some of the best sights in Patagonia.

 

One of the most iconic single day hikes in Argentine Patagonia, is the Laguna de los Tres hike, popular for the sublime panoramic views it offers of Glaciar de Los Tres, Cerro Madsen and Monte Fitz Roy.  

 

The hike begins in the town of El Chaltén and winds through forests, up steep inclines, and past glaciers before arriving at the Laguna de los Tres. The entire hike is roughly 22km, takes around 7-8 hours and it is considered a difficult trail due to the length of time, total distance and some of the steep climbs throughout, especially at the end with 400m of steep incline to reach the lake.

 

You can hike out-and-back to Laguna de Los Tres from El Chaltén in one day, but a popular option is to camp overnight near the lagoon and witness a fantastic sunrise the following morning.

 

The Laguna de los Tres trek is one of the best in Argentina as well as South America, and if you can only do one single day hike in Argentina’s Patagonia, this should be it.

Are you interesting in visiting Patagonia and doing some of these single or multi-day hikes? The extended itinerary below will help you plan the perfect trip:

 

 

Hiking In South America 3

12. Lago Grey - Chile

  • Where: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Single trail out and back
  • Estimated Time: 5-6 hours
  • Length: 22.2km
  • Elevation gain: 613m
  • Highest Elevation: 258m

Trekking in Torres Del Paine National Park is a hikers dream and there are so many single day hikes to choose from.

 

One of my personal favourites is the Lago Grey / Grey Glacier trek. The trek takes its name the large glacial lake located at the southern end of the park. Most people will experience this hike on day one of the famous ‘W’ trek but it can also be done as a single day trek.

 

The trek starts from the trailhead located near the Lago Grey Hotel, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from the park entrance. The hike that goes from the Paine Grande Camp thorough a series of forests, valleys, and rocky terrain to the Gray Glacier viewpoint.

 

This is one of the best treks in South America due to the scenery on offer: on one side, the Patagonian mountains and on the other side, the bright blue Lake Gray.

 

Along the way you will be able to catch peaks of Gray Glacier – one of the parks most iconic sights – but it won’t be until the that end of the trail once you reach the viewpoint that you will experience the vastness and beauty of this natural wonder.

 

The glacier is an enormous wall of ice that stretches over 6 kilometers and is a stunning sight to behold.

 

One you reach Gray viewpoint and Camp Grey, you have the option to camp the night at the refugio or return along the same trail.

For more on this incredible place and why it’s a must-visit, head to the post below:

 

 

Torres Del Paine National Park
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