Hiking in Chile | 8 Awesome Treks for Your Bucket List

Campsites in Chile for hikers

Chile is a fabulous location for hiking. There are loads of trails available, perfect for anyone from seasoned hikers to amateur trekkers, or those just seeking short and simple hikes with great views. 

The long and skinny shape of the country means that there is an astounding variety of microclimates and topographical features. This gives hikers great bang for their buck – you don’t have to leave the country to experience deserts, forests, volcanoes, and mountains galore. Here’s our guide to the top hikes in Chile.

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Best Hikes in Chile

1. San Francisco Glacier in Cajón del Maipo

  • Duration: 5-6 hours
  • Distance: 14.5 km/9 mi
  • Best time to go: October – May
  • Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
  • Starting point: Santiago

The Cajón del Maipo is known as the ‘green lung’ of the Santiago metropolitan area and is a fabulous break from a visit to Chile’s urban capital. There are lots of adventure options for all activity levels, including whitewater rafting, thermal baths, bouldering, and horseback riding. Hiking enthusiasts will love the nearby El Morado Natural Monument and the hike to San Francisco Glacier. An easy day trip from Santiago, the hike’s difficulty and length are ideal for those seeking a hike they can do in less than a day. The trail is super well-marked and cared for, and ends in a ‘lookout point’ where you can see the gorgeous San Francisco Glacier. 

Cajon del Maipo
Cajon del Maipo is known as the ‘green lung’ of Santiago.

While the beginning of the trail has a bit of an ascent, you’ll spend most of your time walking parallel to a river and the Cerro Morado valley. Note that hiking boots are still recommended due to the rocky nature of the trail. The roads to get here are not always in great shape during the winter, so this is a hike best done in summertime, and be sure to bring lots of water and snacks with you. 

2. W Trek 

  • Duration: 4/5 days
  • Distance: 80 km/50 mi
  • Best time to go: October – April 
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Starting point: Puerto Natales

The most famous trek in Torres del Paine National Park, and one of the most popular hikes in all of South America, the W Trek is a major bucket-list item for many hikers. Spanning Torres del Paine in a ‘W’ shape, this amazing hike takes around four to five days to complete and showcases the highlights of the park – in particular, amazing views of the granite peaks of the Torres, as well as Grey Glacier and Lago Pehoé. 

Mandatory Jump picture over Glacier Grey.
Mandatory jump picture over Glacier Grey!

While the hike is doable for most amateur hikers, this area is infamous for really variable weather and lots of wind – be prepared for anything, and pack those layers (plus lots of snacks!) 

The trails are really well-marked and completing this hike self-guided is also totally doable, but only during the summer months. If you want to attempt it during the rest of the year, it’s mandatory to get a guide due to limited daylight hours, chilly temperatures, and tricky weather patterns. Note that open fires are completely banned due to wildfire risk, and camping stoves are banned in most places, too. 

It’s important to mention that the W Trek does involve some planning. To enter the park, you must buy your ticket ahead of time online. You will definitely want to book campsites as early as you can, as they fill up rapidly and you must also bring proof of reservation with you. Some free campsites exist, but paid campsites have more amenities available. 

Bringing your own camping gear and doing the trek self-guided will save you a lot of money, though fully-equipped campsites and refugios (cabin-style hostels) are also available if you prefer. 

Be sure to always keep your passport and the paper immigration card you get when you enter the country, as they will ask for both at the entrance of the park. Lastly, for those of you seeking a longer version of this trek, the ‘O’ Trek takes nine days and loops around the entirety of the national park – see below for the details on that one!

3. O Circuit 

  • Duration: 8-10 days
  • Distance: 120 km/75 mi
  • Best time to go: November – April
  • Difficulty level: Difficult
  • Starting point: Puerto Natales

Again, if you want to see more of the area than the W Trek offers, the O Circuit (sometimes called the Full Circuit) is the choice for you. Covering the entirety of the Paine Massif, you’ll see everything the W Trek covers, plus lesser-known highlights like the John Gardner Pass and the Dickson and Los Perros Glacier. 

Fun fact! Less than 5% of visitors to Torres del Paine complete the full O Circuit, which means that despite the popularity of the park, you’ll likely have a good chunk of the trek to yourself – definitely a perk in peak season. 

The flip side of this is that this Patagonian trek is a much more intense hiking experience than other options inside the park. While there aren’t really gains in altitude, the terrain changes a lot, and the infrastructure is much less developed after you finish the W Trek portion. 

Sturdy hiking boots and poles are a necessity, and with far fewer options for lodgings, bringing enough food and layers is absolutely essential. Similarly to the W Trek, it’s possible to do the O Circuit self-guided, but the remoteness of some areas may mean that having a guide makes you feel more comfortable. 

4. Mirador Las Torres 

  • Duration: 7-10 hours
  • Distance: 17 km/11 mi
  • Best time to go: September – April
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Starting point: Puerto Natales

If perhaps the W or O treks seem a bit too intense for you, or you only have limited time in Torres del Paine, never fear! There’s a great way to see the highlights of the park in a day hike – the Mirador Las Torres hike. Spanning the gorgeous Ascencio River valley, you’ll see glacial lagoons, gorgeous native forests, and of course, the amazing Torres. While this hike overall is a moderate one, keep in mind that the final ascent to the viewpoint of the towers gets quite challenging. There is a decent amount of rock scramble, and it’s quite steep. 

Since this is just a day-long hike, there’s no need to fret about camping equipment, etc. However, it is crucial to plan in terms of appropriate clothes, shoes, and food. Bring a packed lunch and lots of snacks with you, as well as a refillable water bottle – there are lots of places to fill it up along the route, and the fresh water is delicious. Keep in mind that this is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and it gets very crowded during peak season. 

5. Maunga Terevaka Hike, Easter Island 

  • Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Distance: 9 km/6 mi
  • Best time to go: Year-round
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Starting point: Hanga Roa

One of the best ways to appreciate the full splendor of the mysterious Easter Island is on a hike. Guided tours will teach you about the history of archaeological remains and paintings found in hidden caves, or you can do self-guided treks to volcanoes and craters along the island’s sweeping coastlines. Note that you can also do several of these hikes on horseback! 

Rapa Nui
Easter Island is a destination shrouded in mystery.

Maunga Terevaka is the biggest of the island’s three volcanoes. It’s about 510 meters high and offers panoramic vistas of the entire island. The trailhead at Ahu Akivi is impossible to miss, as it’s surrounded by seven looming Moai statues. This hike is great to do in combination with a visit to the Ahu Akivi historic site. 

You can just follow the ATV tracks to the top, as there isn’t much of a path per se. Note that this trail is a bit exposed, so it’s recommended that you bring a hat, and layer on that sunscreen. While much of the route is grassy, there are also a few sections of rock scramble, so sturdy shoes (preferably hiking boots, but sneakers are likely okay as well) are also a must.  

6. Villarrica Volcano Hike, Lake District 

  • Duration: 7-8 hours
  • Distance: 9 km/6 mi
  • Best time to go: October – April
  • Difficulty level: Difficult
  • Starting point: Pucón

While not as well-known as Torres del Paine, the Lake District abounds with hiking opportunities. From volcanoes to forests to sparkling lakes and waterfalls, the region boasts seven national parks to choose from. 

One of the most popular hikes is the Villarrica Volcano summit, located about 32 kilometers from adventure-town Pucón. While not for the faint-hearted, this hike is one of the only places in the world where you can see active lava inside a volcanic crater, and Villarrica is the only place in South America where you can see this type of permanent lava lake. 

Again, it merits mentioning that while not a particularly long hike, this hike is very challenging. If you don’t have experience mountaineering, a guide is definitely necessary and there is a bit more equipment needed than on a traditional hike. In particular, you will be given ice picks, crampons, and a gas mask to put on when you reach the summit.

It’s also important to mention that the difficulty of this hike depends a lot on the time of year that you visit. In the summer, there is only snow near the crater, which makes the summit much easier than in other seasons, when the snow coverage means a much more challenging ascent. However, a winter visit also makes skiing possible and particularly a descent from the summit via ski!

7. Valle de la Luna 

  • Duration: 5-6 hours
  • Distance: 20km/12 mi
  • Best time to go: Year-round
  • Difficulty level: Easy/Moderate
  • Starting point: San Pedro de Atacama

While the Atacama is the driest place on Earth, it doesn’t necessarily look like you would expect it to. In addition to some dusty and sandy areas, there are also unbelievable salt flats, crater lakes, and geysers. Coupled with year-round pleasant temperatures, Atacama is a fabulous hiking destination in general. 

Moon Valley, Chile
Valle de la Luna is a hugely popular hiking destination.

An absolute can’t-miss attraction, while you’re in the desert, is a trek in Valle de la Luna. Located in the Cordillera del Sal (Salt Mountains), this is the most arid place on Earth, with stunning natural salt formations towering over you. 

While there are a few uphill ascents on the trail, they aren’t sustained for very long, and the hike isn’t challenging in and of itself. This is a very, very popular tourist attraction though, so consider trying to go early or in the off-season. You can also reach the area from San Pedro de Atacama by mountain bike. 

Keep in mind that the Atacama region starts at about 2400 meters above sea level, with many treks ascending to close to 4000 meters. Give yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude and don’t push yourself too much when you first arrive. While Moon Valley is not a technically demanding hike, it can still be dangerous if you’re not properly acclimatized to the altitude. Drink lots of water and chew coca leaves to ensure you’re prepared. 

Also read: Do I need altitude sickness medication?

8. Dientes de Navarino 

  • Duration: 4-6 days
  • Distance: 54 km/33 mi
  • Best time to go: December – March
  • Difficulty level: Very difficult
  • Starting point: Puerto Williams

Called the southernmost trek on Earth, the Dientes de Navarino Circuit is an unforgettable experience on Isla Navarino, located in the far south of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego region. Only attempted by a few hundred people per year, it’s considered one of the most grueling hikes in South America, and will definitely give you bragging rights to complete! 

YouTube video

Called ‘dientes’ due to the jagged, tooth-like appearance of the signature peaks, the trek gives you an excellent overview of the geography of Tierra del Fuego, with breathtaking views of the Beagle Channel, Cape Horn, and Strait of Magellan. 

The terrain is really unusual and remote, and known for being quite wet – so be sure to bring lots of pairs of socks and perhaps some plastic bags to waterproof your feet a bit better. It also snows until late spring here, and unpredictable, intense weather is the norm year-round.

It’s mandatory to register with the local police station in Puerto Williams before departing, and this trek is really only possible in full summertime – it’s far too treacherous weather-wise at other times of the year. 

It’s a good idea to ask any returning hikers about trail conditions prior to leaving town. While theoretically possible self-guided, remember that this is a very, very remote trek. Trailheads and signposts are not super reliable, and it’s pure wilderness camping, with no refugios or places to stop for directions. A guide is likely in your best interest. 

Lastly, the remoteness of Isla Navarino means getting to and from the island is a bit challenging. Budget in a few extra days in case no planes are coming or going. 

Hiking in Chile FAQs

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  • What’s the best time of year to go hiking in Chile? Many hikes in Chile can be done year-round, specifically in the Atacama Desert but keep in mind that many hikes cannot be done in the wintertime. If you have no choice but to visit Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego in winter, limited day-hikes are still possible with some tour operators. 
  • How safe is hiking in Chile? Hiking in Chile is quite safe if you follow common safety precautions. One of the biggest risk factors is the weather, so be sure to check it in advance, as many hikes in Chile should not be attempted in bad weather. It’s also best to check in advance if a guide is recommended for a hike you’d like to do. This is especially important in the Atacama; be careful of altitude sickness, and be sure to drink lots of water and take it easy at first. 
  • What to wear when hiking in Chile? It’s never a bad idea to pack lots of breathable layers, regardless of when you’re visiting. Be sure that one of those layers is waterproof, as the weather can be unpredictable. Sturdy hiking shoes with good tread and protection for your ankles are a must for navigating uneven terrain, as well as moisture-wicking socks. We love Sealskinz.

Hiking in Chile offers some of the most awesome trails in South America. With amazingly varied geography, you can squeeze in deserts, glaciers, forests, and volcanoes… all without leaving the country’s borders. From the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert to the awe-inspiring glaciers of the Tierra del Fuego, there are epic hikes in Chile for all skill levels. 

What’s your favorite hike in Chile? Let us know in the comments!

Tegan & Alex Bio Pic
Tegan George & Alex McKenzie | Why Not Walk

Tegan and Alex are travel, hiking, and biking enthusiasts currently based in Boston, USA. There is nothing they love more than exploring new places by walking, and they have visited over 30 countries together since they met in 2015. Their love for “walking the world” led them to found Why Not Walk, a travel guide site. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest to start planning your next adventure!

Find them on: Facebook | Instagram

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