7 of South America’s most captivating mountain towns

Alausi, Ecuador

Let me start by saying I am by no means a serious trekker. The opposite in fact, I usually have to be pushed up the last part of a summit. I do still, however, love the mountains. As a city girl I love to get into a wide open spaces with views I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams and I firmly believe you don’t have to be a fit sporty type to enjoy that. All my favourite places below can be enjoyed by any fitness level, you’ll see what I mean when you get there and see the South American families on days out together hiking volcanoes with grannies in tow.

Salento, Colombia

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Tucked away in the coffee region of Colombia, this small town retains its low key aloof vibe despite the growing number of visitors arriving each year. Ride horses through the hillsides, learn about coffee culture or tackle the Valle de Cocora trek to see hummingbirds and the gigantic wax palm trees. There’s plenty to do here, but when it all gets too much, find a hammock and enjoy the view with a peanut butter brownie from Brunch.

Quilotoa Lake, Ecuador

Quilotoa, Ecuador

This is one of the highest and coldest points in Ecuador, so secret that unfortunately heating systems haven’t quite arrived here yet. Trust me, it’s worth huddling under 5 blankets with a cup of tea for. A walk over the volcano crater will reveal a huge lake in the middle, you can either trek around it, into it or just have a windy peak over the edge. The surrounding towns, and I say that loosely, are welcoming and usually have some coco leaf tea on offer. There’s also plenty of trekkers around who are bravely completing the Quilotoa loop over 4-5 days, I happily saw them come and go with a cup of tea in hand!

Alausi, Ecuador

Alausi, EcuadorThis destination isn’t yet on the tourist trail, but it won’t stay that way for long. A few visitors roll in each month for the overpriced Devil’s nose train ride, but taking a trip into the mountains to get a taste of real indigenous life here is far more rewarding. A drive through the mountains to Lake Ozogoche is the perfect way to pass the day, if you know the right people trekking and overnight horseriding trips will be possible here soon.

Huaraz, Peru

Laguna 69, Huaraz

Most people stick to the South of Peru when they visit on holiday, understandably so as it’s a big country to tackle in a short trip. Most visitors to Huaraz in the middle of the country tend to be backpackers passing through from or to Ecuador. But why should they be the only ones to enjoy the “Alps of the Andes”? 6000 metre peaks dotted with impossibly green and blue lakes are the charm here, whether you opt for a 1/2 day, 1 day or 4 day hike, you’ll still get to see what all the fuss is about, there’s something for everyone here.

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Lake Titicaca is the highest altitude lake in the world, nestled on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Though many visitors stick to the Peruvian side where indigenous people can be found living on intriguing floating reed islands, the Bolivian side is far less frequented. From the lakeside town of Copacobana you can catch a ferry to Isla del Sol, a wild and isolated island with a great view over the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. The island itself has no wifi and sporadic facilities, but trekking from one side to the other is what people come here for, not to check Facebook. Of course, you can pop over on the ferry for the day and take a look around, but the trek isn’t too demanding apart from the breathlessness at this altitude, it’s easy to follow the trail and you’ll feel more adventurous than usual for the lack of people around.

Puerto Varas, Chile

Puerto Varas, Chile

This charming German influenced town is nestled between two volcanoes on the edge of Lago Llanquihue, Chile’s second largest lake, so it’s impossibly picturesque before you even venture outdoors. Hire a car or take a tour to drive around the lake and take in the various nature spots around in Ensenada,  Lago Todos los Santos and Volcano Osorno. There’s plenty of adventure activities to do here too like white water rafting and kayaking and of course, eating german pastries and drinking tea by the lake.

El Chalten, Argentinian Patagonia

El Chalten, Patagonia

This is probably the mecca of outdoor adventure spots after the Himalayas, and it’s easy to see why. The whole area is brimming with glaciers and jagged peaks, and what makes it even better is that you can explore everything at your leisure without the need for guides. Trails are well marked, maps are comprehensive and information centres ready to help you find the perfect trek to match your ability. I had severely injured my ankle a week before arriving here so trekking probably wasn’t the best idea, but I tackled a short one using trekking poles as crutches. If I can do it in that state, anyone can. Whatever your ability I would always recommend trekking poles, they make the walk back down far easier. I can’t wait to return and camp overnight here, to wake up with these views is to be truly at peace!

You don’t need an all inclusive package tour to enjoy any of these places, I can help you create the perfect trip taking in any of the above destinations plus many more. Start planning your South American adventure with me by emailing me.

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