For many people like me, the sense of pushing your body to new limits both physically and mentally and achieving a goal really does inspire you to keep pushing the limits. If the adventurous, remote and active style of travel is for you you will likely enjoy hiking trips, which is why I've complied my round-up of 5 of the best hikes in the world that you can find in the Southern hemisphere.
The Southern hemisphere’s peaks are truly diverse; from Mt Kilimanjaro's views over African plains, to the rugged peaks of Torres del Paine or some ice climbing on Huayna Potosi in Bolivia, with trekkers’ favourites like Machu Picchu and New Zealand’s Tongariro Crossing round off the list.
You do not need to have any mountaineering skills for any of these but a good level of fitness is required.
Rising majestically above the Serengeti at nearly 6,000m the dormant volcano of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest mountain in Africa. A popular climb, not least because it’s one of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each continent). There are several different routes taking 6-8 days; from the supposedly easier Marangu or ‘Coca Cola’ route, to the harder Macahme or ‘Whiskey route’. No matter which you take, the challenge comes from the rapid increase in height and the risk of altitude sickness.
I took the scenic, but tough Machame route. Every day, we walked through different landscape from forest to scrub land, lunar landscapes and finally the snow capped peak. The final ascent starts at midnight and you follow the trail of headlights from the other groups, weaving up the mountainside like a fire snake. We had to battle the elements and faced temperatures of minus 20 degree Celsius and a snowstorm, but battling nature added to our sense of accomplishment! That said, any tour, which has an additional ‘acclimatisation day’ is well worthwhile.
The best months to climb Kilimanjaro are January, February and September but you can trek year-round but. Book during the times mentioned above. For tour options try the following:
Famed as one of the greatest one-day walks in the world, this is a 7-9 hour trek crosses active volcanoes, thermal vents, lakes and colourful lava flows in New Zealand's North Island.
The climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable at any time of year so be prepared. You can also undertake the longer 3-4 days Tongariro Northern Circuit and Lord of the Rings fans can climb the legendary Mount Doom, otherwise known as Ngauruhoe.
The best time to trek is from November through to March.This NZ Active North Island tour is a great active option for exploring the North island with hiking, cycling, canoeing and jet boating.
If you’re interested in other New Zealand treks – check out our best 3 treks in New Zealand.
A jewel amongst South America’s national parks, Torres del Paine is situated in the heart of Patagonia, Chile. The classic ‘W’ trek includes highlights like the towering, steeple-like peaks of the Cordillera del Paine, and the huge Grey glacier with icebergs separating from it and drifting across the lake.
I visited in July (mid-winter) so all the lodges were shut. We didn’t see anyone for five days, had freezing temperatures, battled through snowstorms and waist-deep snow, constantly got lost and followed animal footprints (turned out to be puma prints), which amazingly helped us find the path again.
Somehow, we made it through alive, cold, tired and hungry. The weather cleared on the last day, and we finally got to see what we had been walking around. It was breathtaking and made all the more worthwhile with the added magic of being totally isolated in such beautiful wilderness.
I recommend visiting between November and March, as our trip was a little risky at times and a tour would take the stress out of getting lost. You can trek the full Torres del Paine circuit to reach some of the more remote areas of the park.
There are four major campsite/lodge areas and I suggest either booking a tour or pre-book camping as they get very busy during the summer months of November to March.
A clear South America highlight is Peru's journey to Machu Picchu, the lost Inca city perched high up on the side of a mountain. It’s fascinating to learn how they created such the city in this elevated location. Climbing the very steep Huayna Picchu mountain, you will see how the ancient Inca city is built in the shape of a Condor and would have enjoyed panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
There are several different trekking options - the classic being the Inca Trail which is a four day trip combining Inca ruins, mountainscapes and cloud forests. Other lesser-known routes I’ve trekked include the Salkantay and Lares treks:
The Salkantay trek spends five days passing valleys and forests, local traditional villages, and takes you over the beautiful 4,600m Apacheta pass into the shadow of the breathtaking Salkantay peak towering above at 6,271m.
The Lares route also reaches 4,600m and passes through many Quench villages where you’ll learn a little about their customs and lifestyle. There is a big community spirit and huge respect paid to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Both of these treks are off-the-beaten-track, quieter than the traditional Inca Trail, and pass through more remote areas and with less tourists.
The Inca trail will see more Inca ruins along the way and takes you through Sun Gate overlooking the city at sunrise, whilst the Lares and Salkantay treks both stay at Agua Calientes the night before you go to Machu Picchu. You can either take the bus up in the morning or if you want an early start, can walk up at 4am to catch the sunrise and spend some time in the ruins before the hordes of tourists arrive, (which I highly recommend).
I would recommend trekking in the dry season (May - October). It’s advisable to spend a few days in Cusco beforehand, to acclimatise to the altitude and during that time you could explore the Sacred Valley with many more beautiful ruins. I enjoyed both the Salkantay and the Lares treks, but the Salkantay was more spectacular. How about combining Machu Picchu with a trek to Choquequirao ruins? They were discovered in the jungle about 20 years ago and are bigger than Machu Picchu and far less visited!
This is billed as the easiest 6,000m mountain in the world to climb. At an actual height of 6,088m, I disagree having failed twice, for different reasons from illness to bad weather!
Set in the stunning Cordillera Real in Bolivia, this trek involves some technical sections of ice climbing which you get to practise for a few hours, which is a lot of fun. One tip here – it’s less about strength and more about technique in terms of getting the axe to grip into the ice.
Weather plays a vital part, so I would aim for May - October. Maybe one day I will get a lucky third attempt! I can arrange this trip as part of a Bolivia itinerary - we offer this 4 day Huayana Potosi trek if you're interested:
If you’d like to plan some trekking into your trip or you're looking for guided hiking, I can recommend options to suit you and give you some tips based on my own experience on these treks. I can arrange all aspects of your trip from flights and accommodation to hiking tours and other trips. Simply contact Chris to start planing a trip.