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6 easy scenic hikes in the Andes

By Fiona Raleigh

Hiking in the Andes might conjure up images of strenuous hairy-chested mountain challenges. But there are easier options. Here are six superb hikes, some of which can be completed in a day, where you’ll enjoy all the magnificent scenery and spectacular views of this South American mountain range, without the need for months of fitness training beforehand.

Camino Real - Journey Latin America

1. Camino Real, Colombia

Starting from Barichara in the Santander region of Colombia, the Camino Real (pictured above) is a path that cuts through tranquil Andean countryside. The original path was used by the Spanish to reach the town of Guane whose whitewashed walls and cobbled streets reinforce the sense of history evoked by the colonial trail. Mostly downhill, this is a leisurely hike that passes through canyons and valleys, offering impressive views of the surrounding mountains and hills. Stop and watch farmers herding goats and soak up the serene Andean countryside, catching a glimpse of life in these bucolic Colombian villages.

Cajas National Park - Journey Latin America

2. Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Located 30km west of Cuenca and eerily beautiful, the Cajas National Park  (pictured above) is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands: craggy hills, mountain lakes and ravine-covered rivers are just some of the features of this spectacular region of the Andes. A hike through the cloudforest offers plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, from the world’s largest hummingbird to the elusive spectacled bear. The network of trails in El Cajas offers a range of difficulty levels and a one-day hike is an easy and rewarding option for those wanting to explore the Ecuadorian Andes.

Quilotoa Loop - Journey Latin America

3. Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

The Quilotoa Loop (pictured above) is a circuit that wraps around the dramatic crater lake of Quilotoa in Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes. These ancient volcanoes pepper the terrain here and have made deep impressions on the landscape; erupting from the volcanic landscape, the stunning jewel-coloured lake at Quilotoa is a true highlight. Before beginning your hike, it’s worth visiting some of the tiny villages on the way to the crater where you’ll find traditional early-morning markets with people from the surrounding indigenous communities selling their wares. Hiking around the lake’s perimeter takes roughly five hours and there is the option to add an extra day’s walking in the area.

Huchuy Qosqo - Journey Latin America

4. Huchuy Qosqo Trek, Peru

Meaning ‘Little Cusco’ in Quechua, the Huchuy Qosqo trek  (pictured above) is an easy walk in the lush Sacred Valley that can be done in either one or two days. The trail follows an ancient Inca road to the archaeological site of Huchuy Qosqo, whose sprawling ruins stand imperiously overlooking the snow-capped mountains of the Urubamba Valley. From the ruins, head down to the village of Lamay from where you can either return to Cusco or continue on to Machu Picchu. With mules on hand to carry your luggage, simple yet comfortable camping and a shorter trekking distance, the Huchuy Qosqo trek is a great option for an easy trek in the Andes.

Walking in Otavalo area - Journey Latin America

5. Walking in the Otavalo area, Ecuador

Just a 30-minute drive from the town of Otavalo and its famous craft, food and livestock markets, three crater lakes sit serenely in the shadow of the inactive Mojanda volcano complex (pictured above). A hike up the two volcanoes takes approximately three hours and can be managed relatively easily. The trail starts at the largest lake and climbs up through a landscape of tufted grass and Andean páramo. If you do this hike in the afternoon then by the time you have finished you will be rewarded with a beautiful Andean sunset over the calm and reflective volcanic lakes.

Choro Trek - Journey Latin America

6. The Choro Trek, Bolivia

Descending 3,500m in four days, the Choro Trek (pictured above) starts at the craggy Andean pass of El Cumbre near La Paz and winds its way down to Coroico just below the foothills of the Andes. But for an ascent on day one, this trek is all downhill, meaning there are no difficult, breathless climbs to endure. Passing through unspoilt and remote Bolivian landscapes, parts of the trail follow original Inca paths through bright hillsides, while others lead you through densely wooded valleys, over rivers and gorges before eventually levelling out at sunny sub-tropical plantations.

* All photographs courtesy of Journey Latin America

 

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