"Peru" is derived from a word in Quechua signifying "land of abundance," a remarkable apt name for this diverse country. There is little question that, in its distinct costa, sierra, and selva (coast, highlands, and jungle) regions, Peru is blessed with an enormous variety of wilderness and some of the world's greatest and most diverse plant and animal species. It has been reported that Peru contains 84 of the known 104 biosystems in the world; more than 400 species of mammals and 300 species of reptiles; 50,000 plant species (among them the world's highest count of orchids, more than 3,000 kinds); and nearly 2,000 bird species, about 10% of the world's total. With desert sands, dense Amazon rainforest canopy, amazing Andean peaks, and the world's deepest canyons, Peru is a country that inspires travelers to get active and get outdoors. Everything from soft adventure and easy walks to extreme sports is available and easily arranged either on your own (for the former) or with top-notch agencies and guides.
Indeed, Peru is perhaps the most diverse and best-equipped outdoors destination in South America. It is now rare to see visitors from abroad come to Peru with the intention of staying clean and dry in pressed slacks and loafers. Almost every gringo who sets foot beyond Lima is more properly outfitted in fleece pullovers, hiking boots, daypacks, and Gore-Tex water-repellent gear. In the minds of many nonspecialists, getting outdoors in Peru is still limited to easily reached jungle treks and lodges, day hikes in the valleys, and -- if you're really adventurous -- treks along ancient Inca trails. Whether that's your speed or you want to go hard-core, plunging deep into the jungle or mountains, it isn't hard to come up with a plan to experience the best of natural Peru.
Amazingly, given its natural abundance, Peru is still relatively new to the ecotourism game. Its infrastructure to receive large groups of ecotourists is not quite as developed as that of some other countries, such as Costa Rica. But Peru is quickly catching up, and tour operators, guides, and agencies, both local and international, are increasingly specializing in outdoor and active travel. The oldest jungle lodges in the Peruvian Amazon have been around for more than 3 decades. Lodges, climbing and rafting expeditions, and birding and hiking trips all cater to environmentally aware travelers with deep interests in nature and seeing "the real Peru."
Other active trips focus on culinary Peru -- the diverse national cuisine is one of the world's finest, even if until recently it flew under the radar of many foodie types -- volunteering, and language classes.
Whether you want to make active and outdoor travel the sole focus of your trip or treat it as just an add-on, there are many different ways to approach it. This section lays out your options, from tour operators who run multiactivity package tours (and frequently include stays at ecolodges) to the best spots in Peru to get outdoors (with listings of tour operators, guides, and outfitters that specialize in each), and it provides an overview of the country's national parks and nature reserves. You'll also find a handful of tips on health and safety in the wilderness, what to bring, and educational and volunteer travel options for those with the time and desire to work toward the maintenance and preservation of Peru's natural wonders and gain a more in-depth understanding of Peru's culture and people.
The listings in this section describe the best places to practice particular sports and activities and include the top tour operators and outfitters. If you want to focus on only one active sport during your trip to Peru, these companies are your best bets for quality equipment and knowledgeable service -- but almost all of them will allow you to combine one activity with another or engage in general cultural sightseeing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.