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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Read­ing Time: 6 minutes

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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