Last week, we wrote about easy day hikes around the world for beginners. Once a hiker becomes fitter and builds stamina, it’s time to attempt something more challenging like multiple-day hikes with nights spent in camps or refugios. Although more strenuous, these hikes are a wonderful way to really see the countryside from a perspective that few other tourists get to experience, as well as improving physical fitness, self-confidence and overall health.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru: there are several trails to choose from on the Inca Trail, each of varying lengths and points of interest, but all starting from the Cuzco area, traveling through the snow-capped Andes and ending at the ancient Inca mountain city of Machu Picchu. The traditional trail is shorter and features more historic monuments, while the alternate trails are longer and are more nature-oriented. The trails will take 3-5 days to complete, with between 8 to 13 hours of walking a day. The trails vary in inclination: most of the way it is more or less flat, but there are some very steep inclines, declines and rocky footing, including stream-crossings, suspension bridges and rickety, homemade, wood and rope versions of “cable cars” for crossing forges. Although the trails are certainly challenging, they boast some of the most breath-taking scenery in South America and the hike itself is life-altering. The Peruvian government requires that hikers go in groups led by authorized, experienced guides with adequate supplies and you must book the trip through an authorized travel agent. The guides provide information, assistance, translation, set up the tents, cook the food and bring a team of horses to carry backpacks (until the last day, when hikers must carry their own belongings, as the trail is too steep for the horses). There are a limited number of hiking spots and groups that are allowed at a time, so reserve early.
Appalachian Trail, USA: recent political scandals aside, the Appalachian Trail remains on the most popular and challenging trails in the U.S. Although hiking the full length of the 2,175 mile trail would take weeks or even months (and many hikers do just that; in 2009, there were 560 hikers who completed the full trail), it is possible to hike sections within a state or two for as many days as you like. The trail topography and maintenance varies widely though, so if you are a beginner, it is best to find a section that is smooth and well-cared for. This is a good starter trail for those wishing to try their first multiple-day hike, as there are many facilities nearby, such as markets, hotels, campsites and restaurants, a lot of hiking support and clubs, and (almost!) everyone speaks English.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile: In the south of Chile in the region of Patagonia lies one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay). The nearly 600,000 acre, wild and windswept park offers a world of hiking and excursion choices, from 4×4 off-road trips and boat trips to guided or unguided hikes which vary in length from one hour to 8 days. The most popular hike by far is the “W”, named for its shape, which takes 3-4 days to complete and offers an excellent route, winding between numerous mountains such as the Torres (the Towers), glaciers, lakes and forests. There are two options for bedding down at night: camping or refugios, which are rudimentary hostels offering dorm beds, showers, food and company. Many hikers opt to camp though since it is much cheaper or free (currently refugio prices are running at about $45 a person/per night for a dorm bed and more if you include meals) and camping is more solitary and “back-to-nature”. The weather can be unpredictable though, bringing sudden rain torrents, temperature drops and high winds even in summer, so it’s best to carry rain gear, warm clothing and a tent with a high waterproof rating. Cooking facilities are available at the camp sites, but food is not, so either bring your own or buy it at the refugios.
Camino de Santiago, France and Spain: known in English as The Way of St. James, this 780 km (about 484 miles) route stretches from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Religious pilgrims have been walking this trail for over 1,000 years and continue to do so, in the tens of thousands. Most parts of the trail are not particularly challenging and can be done in sections like the Appalachian Trail. Even if you’re not spiritual, the history and the scenery of the Camino will appeal to you. Hikers pass through every type of vista imaginable from ancient towns to hills to mountains to meadows to World Heritage Sites. There are also some very interesting fellow hikers as the trail attracts people of all ages and walks of life. Dotted along the trail are hostels, refugios, hotels, restaurants and other rest stops for pilgrims’/hikers’. Starting at the town of Valença, Portugal at the Spanish/Portuguese border instead of in France, will create a walkable hike for most people of five days and about 108 km (about 67 miles).