As South America grows in popularity not just with backpackers, but for what you might call more ‘standard’ holidays, it can sometimes feel hard to find some time and space to yourself to really appreciate the distance you’ve travelled and the amazing continent you find yourself in. Twenty years ago if you wanted to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, you’d probably find it was just you and a handful of llamas, but these days even this tough four-day trek has got so popular it has to be restricted by government permit. Thankfully, however, there are still some fantastic opportunities to get off the beaten track, and here are four trekking destinations where you won’t have to fight off the crowds…

Machu Picchu is clearly one of the stand-out destinations on any holiday in South America, and if you’d like to get their under your own steam but don’t fancy the crowds on the Inca Trail then luckily several alternative routes have been pioneered over the past few years which will let you do just that. What has become known as the Salkantay trek, for example, is another four-day trek ending in Machu Picchu but which heads away from the main Inca Trail towards the Nevado Salkantay mountain, before curling back around and coming into Machu Picchu along the valley of the River Urubamba. It’s a bit more difficult than the standard Inca Trail, but some of the high mountain scenery you get along the way is its own reward. Even better, if you avoid peak months like July and August, you can often have the whole day to yourself.

Argentina is another popular destination for trekking holidays in South America, and the glaciers and mountains of Patagonia provide some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. The Glaciers National Park near El Calafate in Argentina, and the Torres del Paine National Park just over the border in Chile deservedly attract crowds of hikers every year to enjoy the breathtaking views. However, if you’re looking for something a little different, then why not head a little further north to the town of San Martin de los Andes and the little-known Lanin National Park? In Argentina’s winter, the area is one of the main ski centres in South America, but in the summer it becomes a glorious Alpine-style landscape of glittering lakes, snow-capped mountains and wildflower meadows which offer some of the best terrain for trekking in South America. Most of the routes are well-signed and so you don’t even need a guide – you can just pack a rucksack and head off into the countryside.

While Peru and Argentina are well-known as trekking destinations, Brazil rarely gets a look in. People tend to think more of cities like Rio and Sao Paulo, or the beaches of the tropical north-east, but in actual fact Brazil has some great trekking options if you can tear yourself away from the coast. The Chapada Diamantina National Park near Salvador is deservedly gaining a reputation, but the tablelands of the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park are perhaps even better. Just to the north of the vast Pantanal wetlands (another of Brazil’s hidden gems), here you can explore the steep cliffs, caves and hidden waterfalls on an epic scale that have you expecting to turn a corner and stumble into your very own Lost World…

However, if you want some real drama, the high Andes of Bolivia are yet another place where you can explore at your own pace and frequently without seeing another soul except the occasional Aymara villager. The Cordillera Real (Royal Range) just to the east of Lake Titicaca is an area of giant mountains and huge glaciers that requires serious acclimatisation but is just a day’s drive from La Paz. Once there you can enjoy vistas of seven 6000m+ peaks, as well as no fewer than 30 over the 5000m mark. Most of these can even be climbed without any technical experience, although you’ll need a guide and decent equipment. With just the occasional Andean condor for company, it’s a tough but beautiful environment and one that allows you to test yourself against some of the toughest (and best) treks in South America.