The Best Ultra Marathons In South America 2020

Written By Chris Taylor

Chris is Operations Manager at Ultra X and takes the lead on planning new races and events. His interests include (and are limited to): ultra running, plant-based foods to eat whilst ultra running, and ultra running with dogs.

14 February 2020


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This month, we’re considering which ultra marathons are the best in the world in 2020. So far we’ve covered Asia, the USAfrica, and the UKThis week, we turn our attention to a continent of extremes: South America.

Although South America has fewer ultramarathons than some other major continents, participation in the sport is growing fast. It also contains some of the world’s richest and most diverse landscapes, from tropical rainforests to deserts, mountain ranges, beaches, and jungles, making it a perfect playground for adventurous ultra runners. As such, the ultramarathons that do exist here — which include single stage, multi stage, 100 mile races and more — are amongst the most highly regarded.

So, which are the best ultra marathons and races in South America?

Atacama Crossing

Established in 2004, the Atacama Crossing takes competitors across the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest place on earth (it is 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley!) The route combines rugged terrain with a harsh climate — daytime temperatures often reach 40°C and the average altitude is 2,500m.

If that’s not enough challenge for you, then you’ll be pleased to know the Atacama Crossing is also a self-supported race, requiring competitors to carry everything they need for seven days on their backs. The good news is there’s plenty to keep tired minds occupied: runners travel through icy cold slot canyons and valleys, along ancient Incan roads, past salt lakes and small Chilean villages, and over sand dunes, salt flats and rivers, all in the foothills of the Andes mountains and always surrounded by a range of stunning volcanoes.

As part of RacingThePlanet’s 4 Deserts Series it won’t come cheap, but it promises to leave competitors feeling as though they have stepped off planet Earth. Who can put a price on that?!

Where: Chile
When: 27 September-3 October 2020
Distance: 250km (7 days)
Elevation Gain: 1,683m
Terrain: Desert
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £2,900

south america ultra marathon atacama crossing

The Jungle Ultra

The event organisers describe this one as “a 230km race split into 5 stages of suffocating jungle undergrowth, river crossings and cloud shrouded mountain valleys.” So, there you go.

Over the course of a gruelling week, runners will traverse the Amazon Rainforest of Manu National Park, from the Andes mountains to the Madre de Dios River. The Jungle Ultra is not for beginners but offers the brave an opportunity to explore an unspoilt area of steaming jungle. The course is wild, with arduous undergrowth, deep mud, and river crossings aplenty. Heavy rainfall is likely and humidity levels rarely drop below 77%.

Competitors must also be self-sufficient, carrying all their kit and food for the week, and sleep in research stations and lodges dotted along the route. The experience may be costly, but it’s one you’re unlikely to forget for a while.

Where: Peru
When: 7-12 September 2020
Distance: 230km (5 days)
Terrain: Jungle
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £2,750

Best Ultra Marathons in Europe - eiger ultra trail

Ushuaia by UTMB

Taking place for the first time in April 2019, Ushuaia is the latest release in the “by UTMB” race series. Like all the others, this one is seriously tough! There are four distances on offer (35km, 50km, 70km and 130km), with the longest combining all of the many diverse landscapes of the southern Andes — forests, rocky trails, mountains, hills, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

The race begins and ends at the southern tip of Argentinian Patagonia in Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth (often referred to as the “End of the World”). Competitors cross eight mountain passages that connect the southern Andes which, due to their proximity to Antarctica, exhibit a similar climate to the Alps, averaging around 2,500-3,000m altitude. Ushuaia by UTMB attracted more than 1,000 participants from 28 countries in its first year.

Although the second edition has been confirmed, dates have yet to be announced. Though, with those all-important Running Stones (and therefore guaranteed UTMB entry) on offer, the second edition will doubtless be just as popular.

Where: Argentina
When: TBC
Distance: 130km
Elevation Gain: 7,100m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £170

south america ultra marathon ushuaia by utmb

Brazil135+ Ultramarathon

The Brazil135+ Ultramarathon is a “sister race” of the infamous Badwater 135 in Death Valley, California (featured in our best ultramarathons in the US article).

Brazil135+ is considered the most difficult footrace in the country and is run on the hardest, most challenging segment of the Caminho da Fé (Path of Faith), the toughest Brazilian pilgrimage route. The Caminho da Fé crosses the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains, a sub-range of the Andes Cordillera. This lush mountain range separates Rio de Janeiro from Minas Gerais state and is one of few remaining areas in southeastern Brazil with extensive Atlantic Coastal Rainforest.

The course consists of a combination of dirt roads, forest, waterfalls, asphalt, trails and railroad tracks. Inspired “in concept and in spirit” by Badwater 135, the race was first held in 2006 with 10 competitors and just four finishers. It remains a small event with entry limited to around 70 runners, many of whom are there to complete the solo event in under 48 hours, which is included in the qualifying standards for entry into Badwater 135 itself.

Where: Brazil
When: 16 January 2020
Distance: 217km
Elevation Gain: 9,000m
Terrain: Mixed
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £920

south america ultra marathon brazil135 badwater

Ultra Fiord

Ultra Fiord is an international trail running event situated at the extreme southern end of Chilean Patagonia. There are a range of distances on offer, from 21km single stage all the way up to 136km multi-stage. No matter the distance, each and every competitor of this race can expect to experience one of the most remote and wild landscapes on earth.

Taking place at the bottom of the world in the mountains of the Torres del Paine National Park, this race brings runners to the land of fjords — long, narrow inlets created by glacier erosion over thousands of years. Competitors will also traverse mountain passes, rivers, peat bogs, rocks, and glacier crossings in this discovery of the mythical land of Patagonia. Shaped by the unpredictable weather conditions of millennia, this race is like no other.

Where: Chile
When: 24-25 April 2020
Distance: 136km (2 days)
Elevation Gain: 7,189m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £380

south america ultra marathon ultra fiord

Chicamocha Canyon Race

Launched in 2013, the Chicamocha Canyon Race was Colombia’s first internationally recognised trail running event. Originally “just” a 100km race, a 100 mile option was launched a year later and now attracts more than 800 runners from all over the world.

Heading north from the race headquarters in San Gil, Santander, the route combines the forest, gorges and arid landscape of the Chicamocha Canyon with the full history of the colonial towns it passes through. Expect high temperatures, stream crossings, plenty of technical ascent and descent, and 6 shiny UTMB points for anyone who finishes the full distance.

Where: Colombia
When: 12-15 June 2020
Distance: 160km
Elevation Gain: 7,629m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £95

south america ultra marathon chicamocha canyon race

Special Mention: The Falklands Ultra

The Falklands Ultra is less an ultramarathon and more an adventure holiday. A brand new single stage ultra, offering marathon, 100km and 100 mile distances, the Falklands Ultra is a week-long adventure in a country few have ever visited, combining a unique mix of terrain and wildlife in a region with iconic battlefield history.

Inspired by the routes taken by British forces during the 1982 operation to liberate the Islands, the course winds its way west to east from Goose Green to the capital city, Stanley. The terrain encompasses peaty, rocky, boggy, muddy, open moorland and hills. Runners can expect several river crossings and to climb Mount Usborne, the highest point in the Falklands at 705m above sea level.

The price is an eye-watering £5,450 but it is a week-long adventure and an all-inclusive package, including return flights, food, accommodation and other organised activities. The only reason it’s not included in this list? The inaugural race takes place next year, in April 2021, so you’ll have to wait for now.

Where: Falkland Islands
When: 9-19 April 2021
Distance: 160km
Elevation Gain: 3,360m
Terrain: Moorland
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £5,450

south america ultra marathon falklands ultra


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