Because most travelers have limited time and resources, organized ecotourism or adventure travel packages, arranged by tour operators abroad or in Peru, are popular ways of combining cultural and outdoor activities. Bird-watching, horseback riding, rafting, and hiking can be teamed with visits to destinations such as Cusco, the Sacred (Urubamba) Valley and Machu Picchu, or Arequipa and Lake Titicaca.
Traveling with a group has several advantages over traveling independently. Your accommodations and transportation are arranged, and most (if not all) of your meals are included in the cost of a package. If your tour operator has a reasonable amount of experience and a decent track record, you should proceed to each of your destinations quickly without the snags and long delays that you might face if you're traveling on your own. You'll also have the opportunity to meet like-minded travelers who are interested in nature and active sports. Some group trekking trips include porteros or arrieros (porters or muleteers) who carry extra equipment. On some luxury treks of the Inca Trail, porters will even carry your backpack, so all you have to do is hike your lazy self up and over the mountain passes.
In the best cases of organized outdoors travel, group size is kept small (10-15 people), and tours are escorted by knowledgeable guides who are either naturalists or biologists. Be sure to inquire about difficulty levels when you're choosing a tour. While most companies offer "soft adventure" packages that those in decent but not overly athletic shape can handle, others focus on more hard-core activities geared toward very fit and seasoned adventure travelers.
Inca Trail Regulations -- Trekkers once could embark on the Inca Trail on their own, but new regulations imposed by the Peruvian government to limit environmental degradation and damage to the trail itself now require all trekkers to go with officially sanctioned groups, guides and porters.
U.S. and International Adventure Tour Operators
These agencies and operators specialize in well-organized and coordinated tours that cover your entire stay. Many travelers prefer to have everything arranged and confirmed before arriving in Peru—a good idea for first-timers and during high season (especially for travel to Cusco and its immediate environs, including the Inca Trail). Many of these operators provide great service but are not cheap; 10-day tours generally cost upward of $2,500 or more per person, and do not include airfare to Peru.
Adventure Life (www.adventure-life.com; tel. 800/344-6118), based in Missoula, Montana, and specializing in Central and South America, has an interesting roster of rugged Peru trips, frequently with a community focus, including a 12-day multi-sport tour (mountain biking, hiking, rafting, jungle tour, and Machu Picchu), rainforest ecolodge tours, and a 10-day Cachiccata trek, as well as plenty of tour extensions. One Peru trip is specifically designed to raise money (40% of trip cost) for the organization's nonprofit fund (which aims to give back to local communities).
Adventure Specialists (www.adventurespecialists.org; tel. 719/783-2076) specializes in treks, horse trips, and archaeology expeditions, as well as wildlife and birding adventures. The founder is Gary Ziegler, one of the archaeologists credited with the November 2003 rediscovery of Llactapata, a "lost" Inca city.
Andean Treks (www.andeantreks.com; tel. 617/924-1974) is a personalized, high-quality Latin American adventure-tour operator that focuses on trekking in the Andes and exploring the jungle throughout Peru. The Massachusetts-based group's roster of reasonably priced trips for all levels includes cloud-forest treks, llama trekking, and highlands treks that combine white-water rafting or Amazon lodge stays. Trips range from easy to hard-core.
Backroads (www.backroads.com; tel. 800/462-2848) is a luxury-tour company that offers upscale, light-adventure trips around the globe, and it has several tours of Peru on its menu. It specializes in walking, hiking, and biking tours from Cusco to Machu Picchu, some of which incorporate stays at the Mountain Lodges of Peru (www.mountainlodgesofperu.com; tel. 877/491-5261), which also runs its own tours. Service is personalized and the guides are top-notch.
Culture Explorers (www.cultureexplorers.com; tel. 215/870-3585) focuses on cultural immersion and creating a positive impact on the communities visited, which is why its award-winning tours consistently receive rave reviews. In Peru, its Culture Xplorers Weavers Awards, an annual awards celebration honoring the indigenous weavers of the Sacred Valley, brings together more than 500 weavers from nine participating communities to compete for pride and prizes, a unique event for any tourists to be a part of. The small-group programs are often timed to align with special events, such as rare Andean festivals that other operators do not have access to, and it runs excellent culinary tours as well. Accommodations are usually in 3- to 5-star hotels, and guides are top-quality.
Journeys International (www.journeys.travel; tel. 800/255-8735), based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offers small-group (4–12 people) natural history tours guided by naturalists. Trips include the 9-day "Amazon & Andes Odyssey," which includes the Tambopata National Reserve along with Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley, as well as special Amazon and Inca trips for families.
Mountain Travel Sobek (www.mtsobek.com; tel. 888/831-7526 or 0808/234-2243 in the U.K.) offers seven itineraries to Peru, including the 8-day "Andean Explorer," with day hikes and rafting. Options for mountaineers and committed trekkers include 13 days of strenuous trekking in Cordillera Blanca (mostly camping); a shorter 5-day (but still hard-core) trekking option in the same area; and a challenging 15-day rafting trip along the Tambopata River (half camping, half inns). A unique trip is the off-the-beaten path "Other Inca Trail"; the company also arranges luxury treks to Machu Picchu with stays at the cool inns owned and operated by Mountain Lodges of Peru. Trips are helpfully rated for difficulty.
Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com; tel. 800/955-1925) offers natural history and "soft adventure" itineraries, with optional add-on excursions. Tours are limited to 16 people and are guided by naturalists. All accommodations are in small hotels, lodges, or tent camps. The 11-day "Real Affordable Peru" includes rafting on the Urubamba and a curandero healing ceremony. The 16-day "Machu Picchu & Galápagos" tour features a good bit of walking.
Wilderness Travel (www.wildernesstravel.com; tel. 800/368-2794) is a Berkeley-based outfitter specializing in cultural, wildlife, and hiking group tours that are arranged with tiered pricing (the trip cost varies according to group size). There are 10 different tours to Peru, including a 17-day Trekking in the Cordillera Huayhuash Blanca and a Choquequirao trail to Machu Picchu. Wilderness Travel also offers soft luxury treks to Machu Picchu with stays at the cool inns owned and operated by Mountain Lodges of Peru. Trips are helpfully graded according to difficulty.
Wildland Adventures (www.wildland.com; tel. 800/345-4453), based in Seattle, is one of the top international outdoor-tour companies with operations in Peru. It offers excellent special-interest trekking and rainforest expedition programs, with customizing options. There are lodge-based programs, primarily in the jungle; trekking expeditions, such as the Machu Picchu Mountain lodges trek; and lesser known hikes through the Lares Valley and Mount Ausangate. Wildland's programs are well designed, guides are very professional, and the organization is focused on authentic travel experiences.
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.