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 of 6,000m (19,700-ft.) peaks to gentle walks through green valleys, are one of the country's calling cards. 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; as do larger international operators, some of whom offer 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.
The best months for climbing are during the dry season, between May and September (June-Aug is perhaps best).
Many tour companies based in the United States and elsewhere subcontract portions of their tours, particularly guided hikes and treks, to established Peruvian companies on the ground in Lima, Cusco, and across the country. Though it's often simpler to go with international tour companies, in some cases, independent travelers can benefit by organizing their tours directly with local agencies. Prices on the ground can be cheaper than contracting a tour from abroad, but there are risks of not getting what you want when you want it. Also, the world of subcontracting can be byzantine, and even Peruvian travel agencies hire out adventure and outdoor specialists.
Class Adventure Travel (CAT) (www.cat-travel.com; tel. 877/240-4770 in the U.S. and Canada, 0207/0906-1259 in the U.K.) is a fine all-purpose agency with offices in Lima and Cusco (it also has offices in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina). In addition to professionally organizing virtually any kind of travel detail in Peru, its adventure offerings include rafting, trekking, and jungle tours.
Explorandes Peru (www.explorandes.com; tel. 01/715-2323) has been doing trekking and river expeditions in Peru for nearly 3 decades, and has regional offices in Lima, Cusco, Huaraz, and Puno. One of the top high-end agencies for treks and mountaineering in Peru, it's reasonably priced and especially good for forming very small private groups. It offers a number of soft adventure trips (with stays in hotels and full- and half-day river trips) and an even more impressive lineup of real adventure, including cool, unique trips such as llama trekking to Chavín, a festival trek, rafting on the Apurímac River, treks on southern peaks around Cusco, and hard-core trekking in the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash. Amazon extensions are available.
Mountain Lodges of Peru (www.mountainlodgesofperu.com; tel. 01/421-7777), a Peruvian trekking company, has built a series of small, spectacular lodges on private lands in the Vilcabamba mountain range west of the Sacred Valley, as well as in the Lares Valley. The sleek inns have whirlpools, fireplaces, and nice dining rooms. The company offers its own 6-day treks to Machu Picchu and also contracts with a handful of international adventure tour operators, including Backroads, Mountain Travel Sobek, and Wilderness Travel.
Peru for Less (www.peruforless.com; tel. 817/230-4971), which began in Texas and is now based in Lima, has added a whole roster of well-designed and personalized alternative trekking tours in the Cusco region, including small-group treks to Choquequirao and Vilcabamba, to its slate of more standard travel packages.
SAS Travel Peru (www.sastravelperu.com; tel. 084/249-194), based in Cusco, is one of the most popular agencies organizing outdoor travel for backpackers and budget-minded travelers. Its roster includes the Inca Trail, a number of short treks in the Cusco area, and a couple of longer, more challenging mountain treks lasting up to a week. Jungle treks are to Manu and Tambopata. SAS also offers white-water rafting, paragliding, climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
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.