Extreme Sacred Valley: Outdoor Adventure Sports
Peru has become a star on South America's burgeoning adventure and extreme sports travel circuit, a far cry from the days when just traveling to Peru was adventure enough. These days, many gringos in Peru have Gore-Tex boots on their feet and adrenaline rushes on their minds.
The Cusco-Sacred Valley region is one of the best in Peru -- and the whole of South America -- for white-water rafting, mountain biking, trekking, hang gliding, and paragliding. The most popular outdoor activity in Cusco is, of course, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but there are scores more trekking and other adventure opportunities. River runs are extremely popular, and justifiably so: Peru has some of the world's wildest rivers, and even for beginners, rafting is a sport that ripples with excitement. For more leisurely outdoors experiences, there are scores of good, gentle walking paths and horseback riding.
Many tour operators in Cusco organize adventure trips, some lasting a single day and some lasting multiple days, with a focus on one or more extreme sports. Participants range from novices to hard-core veteran adventure junkies; no experience is required for many trips, but make sure you sign up for a program appropriate for your level of interest and ability. Extreme sports being what they are, I suggest that you thoroughly check out potential agencies and speak directly to the guides, if possible. Hunting for bargains in this category is not advisable; quality equipment and good, English-speaking guides are fundamental for safety considerations. That having been said, booking a tour in Cusco rather than your home country may lead to a large discount. Trips booked in advance may be changed if there are not enough participants or farmed out to another, subcontracting, agency.
Bungee Jumping -- New to the Sacred Valley (and as far as I know, Peru) is this favorite activity of thrill-seekers the world over. Action Valley Cusco Adventure Park, Calle Santa Teresa 325 (Plazoleta Regocijo), Cusco (tel. 084/240-835; www.actionvalley.com) is an adventure park 11km (7mi) from Cusco, with not just bungee jumping but paintball and other suspended line activities, such as "swing" and "slingshot."
Horseback Riding -- Perol Chico, Carretera Urubamba-Ollantaytambo Km 77, Urubamba (tel. 01/994-147-267 or 084/984-624-475; www.perolchico.com), is a ranch in the Sacred Valley and one of the top horseback-riding agencies in Peru. It offers full riding vacations, with Peruvian Paso horses and stays at the ranch (in rustic cottages), as well as 1- and 2-day rides.
Hot-Air Ballooning & Paragliding -- Now that you can no longer hop a helicopter to Machu Picchu, there are other, less intrusive ways to get aerial views of the Sacred Valley. Aero Sports Club of the Sacred Valley, Av. de la Cultura 220, Ste. 36 (tel. 084/232-352; www.globosperu.com), run by an American, Jeff Hall is the only outfit organizing such trips. If you've got the money (ballooning isn't cheap, no matter where you do it) and you want aerial panoramas of the Sacred Valley, Inca ruins, and the majestic Andes, contact Aero Sports Club to verify current flight programs. You might also check around Cusco for posters advertising tandem paraglide flights over the Sacred Valley.
Mountain Biking -- Mountain biking has started to catch on in Peru, and tour operators are rapidly expanding their services and equipment. Cusco's nearby ruins and the towns, villages, and gorgeous scenery of the Sacred Valley (and the Manu jungle, for more adventurous excursions) are the best areas. Peru Discovery, Santa Maria F-3, San Sebastian, Cusco (tel. 054/274-541; www.perudiscovery.com) is one of the top specialists, with a half-dozen bike trips that include hard-core excursions. Amazonas Explorer, Apumayo Expediciones, Eric Adventures, Instinct Travel, and Manu Adventures, Plateros 356, Cusco (tel. 084/261-640; or 213/283-6987 in the U.S. or Canada; www.manuadventures.com), all offer 1- to 5-day organized mountain-biking excursions ranging from easy to rigorous. For a great locally based group, including mountain bike rentals and extended as well as shorter cyclotourism rides around Urubamba, with top equipment, contact Omar Zarzar at Eco Montana (www.ecomontana.com). If you're anything close to hard-core, Omar's your guy in the Sacred Valley.
Trekking -- Too many highland-trekking adventures are offered to fully describe here. Ihe following companies handle a wide variety of trekking excursions: Apuandino Expediciones, Calle Tupac Katari, San Sebastian, Cusco (tel. 084/274-789; www.apuandino-expeditions.com); Aventours, Saphi 456, Cusco(tel. 084/224-050; www.ecoinka.com); Enigma, Jirón Clorinda Matto de Turner, 100 Urbanización Magisterial 1 Etapa, Cusco (tel. 084/221-155; www.enigmaperu.com); Manu Expeditions, Clorinda Matto de Turner 330, Urbanizacion Magisterial Primero Etapa, Cusco (tel. 084/225-990; www.manuexpeditions.com); and U.S.-based Andean Treks (tel. 800/683-8148 or 617/924-1974; www.andeantreks.com); and Peru for Less (tel. 877/2609-0309; www.peruforless.com). Peru Discovery also organizes excellent trekking expeditions, and Chalo, the Chilean-born owner of the cool ecostyled lodge Las Chullpas in Urubamba, leads small-group treks into nearby ranges.
White-Water Rafting -- There are some terrific Andean river runs near Cusco, ranging from mild Class II to moderate and world-Class IV and V, including 1-day Urubamba River trips (Huambutío-Pisac and Ollantaytambo-Chillca), multiday trips to the more difficult Apurímac River, and, for hard-core rafters, the Tambopata (10 days or more) in the Amazon jungle. Recommended agencies include Amazonas Explorer Av. Collasuyo 910, Urb. Miravalle, Cusco (tel. 084/252-846; www.amazonas-explorer.com); Apumayo Expediciones, Jr. Ricardo Palma N-5, Santa Mónica, Wanchaq, Cusco (tel. 084/246-018; www.apumayo.com); Eric Adventures, Urb. Velasco Astete B-8-B, Cusco (tel. 084/234-764; www.ericadventures.com); Instinct Tour Operator, Av. de la Cultura 1318, Cusco (tel. 084/233-451; www.instinct-travel.com); Loreto Tours, Calle del Medio 111, Cusco (tel. 084/228-264; www.loretotours.com); Mayuc, Portal Confiturías 211, Plaza de Armas, Cusco (tel. 084/242-824; www.mayuc.com); and Swissraft Peru, Heraderos 129 (tel. 084/264-124; www.swissraft-peru.com).
Ziplining -- Claiming to be the highest zipline in South America, Cola de Mono Canopy (tel. 084/792-413; www.canopyperu.com), offers exciting high-wire zipping of up to 60 kmph through the lush treetops in Santa Teresa, 15 km (9mi) from Machu Picchu.
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.