Peru is one of the world's great trekking and mountain-climbing destinations, and its mountains and gorgeous valleys, ideal for everything from hard-core climbs to 6,000m (19,700-ft.) peaks to gentle walks through green valleys, are one of the country's calling cards. Experienced mountaineers, ice climbers, trekkers, and regular old athletic types and hikers beeline to Peru to experience the grandeur of the great Cordillera Blanca, the volcanoes and canyons around Arequipa, and, of course, the Andes mountains in and around Cusco. The most celebrated trek, of course, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu -- truly one of the world's most rewarding treks, provided that the crowds don't get you down in high season. Many agencies in Cusco offer guided treks to Machu Picchu; so do larger international operators, some of whom are now offering newer alternatives to the Inca Trail.
Trekking circuits of varying degrees of difficulty lace the valleys and mountain ridges of Peru's sierra. Yet only a few have become popular, commercial trekking routes. Independent trekkers who like to blaze their own trail (metaphorically speaking -- you should always stick to existing trails) have a surfeit of options in Peru for uncrowded treks.
For adventure tourism, trekking and climbing rank with expeditions into the Amazon jungle as the biggest outdoor draws in Peru. Scores of outfitters, both international and local, organize a full run of mountain-climbing and trekking package tours. If you do outdoor travel in Peru, you should include soft trekking, at a minimum, and many agencies specialize in trekking and climbing. Independent travelers can hook up with local agencies for tailored experiences. And travelers of all stripes can set out on easy treks in any of the areas above.
The best months for climbing are during the dry season, between May and September (June-Aug is perhaps best). In Huaraz, the Semana de Andinismo, held annually in June, attracts mountain climbers from around the world.
One of the best independent resources for hiking and climbing information in Peru is the South American Explorers clubhouses in Lima and Cusco (tel. 01/445-3306 in Lima, or 084/245-484 in Cusco; www.saexplorers.org). You have to become a member first ($50 per year) for full access to their trail reports and other information, but if you're serious about trails and climbs in Peru, it's money well spent. You can join via the website or on the spot at a clubhouse.
There are numerous candidates to organize trekking tours of Peru from abroad. Among the best are Adventure Specialists, Andean Treks, Mountain Travel Sobek, Southwind Adventures, Wildland Adventures, and Wilderness Travel. All have plenty of options, good guides, and high levels of professionalism. One of the top Peruvian operators with a national reach is Explorandes; it and all the agencies authorized to lead Inca Trail treks offer many options in Cusco and across Peru. Other full-purpose travel agencies, such as Peru for Less, are also jumping in to offer their clients a series of alternative treks in the Cusco highlands and elsewhere.
The local agencies are the best places to turn if you want to organize some trekking or climbing once on the ground in Peru. There are also excellent local agencies specializing in experienced mountain-climbing expeditions in Arequipa, Huaraz, and Caraz. The best groups arrange a large number of area climbs and have equipment rental. Several have a 24-hour mountain-rescue service.