Hiking & Trekking
With more than 100 mountains, at least a dozen national parks and the Amazon Rainforest that covers more than half of the country, Peru is a veritable playground for hikers and trekkers.
Apart from the most popular Inca Trail treks to Machu Picchu that Peru is famous for, there are many other trails across other mountain ranges in Peru that are sure to please hikers of all levels. As an alternative to the Inca Trail, consider the Lares Trek which begins north of Cusco in the village of Lares. It is a shorter hike than the Inca Trail, but ascends to a higher altitude. Also consider the Choquequirao trek, one of the most popular treks in the Cusco area. The two-day hike leaves from Cachora or Huanapaca.
From the city of Huaraz, consider the Santa Cruz Trek, which takes four or five days and is relatively moderate. This 28-mile hike offers some of Peru’s most breathtaking scenery as it ascends through mountains with snow-capped peaks to crystal-colored lakes. The best times to complete this trek are from May through September.
While you might be cruising Peru’s Amazon on a variety of small ship cruises, there is still plenty for those to explore on land. Visit the 4.4-million-acre Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Eastern Amazon. Chock full of wildlife from birds to clickirs, monkeys and otters, this is a great experience for nature lovers. Descend deep into jungle life, or climb as high as 13,000 feet to stand among the clouds.
Peru has a dozen national parks and 14 nature reserves that span across more than 15 percent of the country. Many require visitor’s permits, which can be purchased for a small fee. Tour operators handle these fees in their packaged prices.
While Manu Biosphere is one of the most popular, the Tambopata National Reserve is more accessible. Inkaterra, a pioneer in conservation and sustainability has a lodge in the area, Reserva Amazonica.
Huascaran National Park is perfect for mountain lovers, as it is home to the 1,313 sq. miles Cordillera Blanca range in the central Andes, in the region Ancash. Trekking, mountain climbing, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures are at their best in this national park. It is also home to the highest peak in Peru, as its mountains max out at 22,205 feet.
Ecotourism and Birdwatching
With more 60 percent of Peru blanketed by Amazon rainforest, Peru is highly concerned with keeping its natural environment preserved, which is why ecotourism is thriving in Peru.
Ecotourism falls under Sustainable Tourism, which is traveling conscientiously in order to reduce your impact on the environment and community. Peru is working to preserve its natural resources and splendor.
The Manu Biosphere Reserve, the Tambopata National Reserve and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve are three of the largest protected rain forests in the world.
Still, with much of Peru covered in forest, wildlife abounds making it a phenomenal destination for bird watching. Manu National Park is one of the best places in the world for bird watching thanks to the variety of ecosystems within. There are 1,025 registered species in the national park, which represents 10 percent of all types of birds on earth. Tambopata is another paradise for spotting birds. Catch glimpses of Purus Jacamar, flame-crested Tanagers, Gilded Barbets and Plum-throated Cotingas, among many others. More than 500 species of birds live in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, as well. And don’t forget to visit Colca Canyon for a chance to spot the majestic Andean Condor.
With rivers, jungles, cliffs and mountain roads, Peru’s landscape provides a perfect backdrop for travelers seeking soft adventure. Travelers who want to experience nature with a kick of adrenaline, here is the best of what Peru offers.
4WD enthusiasts can get their heart pumping on Peru’s lengthy miles of off-road routes, from the coast, Altiplano or the rainforest of Peru. Runs will take drivers down into canyons, across valleys, into the mountain passes in the Cordillera, through rivers and deserts.
Get your need for speed met flying at record speeds across Peru’s varied terrain. Whether it’s zip lining in the Sacred Valley, Cusco, the jungle canopy or in the heart of the Andes, there are a variety of companies that will having you flying in style.
Kayaking and River Rafting
Get out on Peru’s vast system of waterways, whether it’s on a kayak adventure or careening down Amazonian rapids. Cruise the coastlines of Lima or Lake Titicaca to see Peru from a different perspective. Companies like Peru Sea Kayaking offer trips that take tourists beyond the typical sites. If you want to up the adrenaline, consider rafting. Peru has some of the best whitewater rivers in the world and along the way you’ll see the scenery change from lofty peaks to deep, verdant jungles. Cusco is the most popular starting point for one- or two-day trips on the Urubamba River. For something longer, consider trips on the Apurimac River. In Arequipa, the most experienced rafters will want to try rafting through the Cotahuasi and Colca Canyons.
There are many tour operators that offer a variety of soft adventure tours, and some that combine several options into one trip. PROMPERÚ is a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Consider companies like Adventure Life, Austin Adventures, Backroads, Mountain Travel Sobek, and Wildland Aventures for an adventure in Peru.
Peru’s sandy beaches, pristine lakes and coursing rivers leave little to be desired among water sports seekers. Whether it’s sunbathing, diving, surfing or windsurfing, Peru is just waiting for you to dive right in.
Some of the best beaches in Peru are found along the northern coast. Access has been improved in the last few years making Peru one of South America’s best beach destinations. The best known in Peru is Mancora. A few years ago it was a sleepy fishing village and a haven for backpackers. Today it has blossomed into a thriving hotspot for sun worshippers with energetic bars, restaurants and a long, lingering coastline.
Another beach to consider is Cabo Blanco, 93 miles north of Piura, and home to picturesque pipeline waves and was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Surfers will also love Lobitos, 82 miles northwest of Piura, which is known for swells, long waves and barrels.
For more tranquil waters, try Vichayito, four miles south of Mancora, which has calm waters and sweeping stretches of sand, making this one of the best spots for sunbathers and kite surfers.
Scuba diving in Peru is absolutely rewarding, even though it’s not typically listed as one of the world’s best dive sites. A cold water destination, the waters around Peru’s coast are teeming with more than 1,000 species of fish, sea lions, kelp forests, rock walls and ship wrecks. Notable dive sites include El Nuro Beach, where you can see schools of fish, turtles, sea horses, octopuses, eels and more, as well as Mancora and off the coast of Lima.
Wind surfers surely know Pacasmayo, located in the North of Peru. With wave conditions similar to Baja Mexico, this beach hosted the American Windsurfing Tour in 2014. The best time of year for windsurfing in Pacasmayo is at the end of March or August through October.
For other information on water sports on Peru’s lakes and rivers, see the Soft Adventure chapter.
Touring Ancient Sites
While many travelers are familiar with Peru’s Inca civilization, the country’s history can be traced well before that time to even more indigenous peoples, all of whom left wonderful archaeological treasures behind waiting to be discovered.
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For example, the Nazca culture was a pre-Incan civilization that is known for its epic geoglyphs etched into the floor of Peru’s southern Nazca Desert. To visit the lines you can start your flight at Pisco Airport. The best way to appreciate the grandeur of these etchings is from a plane.
Also consider the ancient city of Chan Chan, an archaeological site in the La Libertad region and the capital of the ancient Chimu culture. Once a magnificent capital, it housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers, temples, reservoirs and residences for the Chimu rulers. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site providing us a glimpse into Peru’s pre-Colombian past.
If staying in Lima, a visit to Pachacamac is essential. Twenty-five miles south of the capital in the Valley of the Lurin River lies at least 17 pyramids that date between 800 and 1450 AD. By the time the Incas invaded the area, Pachacamac was being used as a religious site for the worship of Pacha Kamaq, the creator god. Even after taking over, the Inca maintained the site as a religious shrine.
If Machu Picchu left you so mesmerized you’re hungry for more, then Choquequirao is the answer. In the depths of the Willkapampa mountain range near Cusco sits Choquequirao, an Incan site similar in structure and architecture to Machu Picchu. This 15th and 16th century settlement was most likely one of the entrance check points to Vilcabamba, a hub that served political, social and economic functions for the Incas. The site spreads over 2,200 feet and can be reached via a two-day hike from Cusco.