follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Adventure / July 3, 2017

The 5 best adventures in Peru

Written by: Molly McCowan

When most travelers think of Peru, they think of Machu Picchu.  And that makes sense—the Incan citadel is rightly considered a wonder of the world. But it’s far from the only reason to visit this outdoorsy paradise.

I’ve sampled dozens of adventures in my travels to Peru, and these are my five favorites.


1. Brave the Amazon rainforest

Peru’s wildest adventures are found not in its mountains, but in its portion of the Amazon Rainforest.

Puerto Maldonado, only a quick flight from Cusco, is the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon. The nearby Manu National Park is a treasure trove of protected cloud forest and rainforest, and brave tourists can hike and canoe through dense, cacophonous, muggy jungle while keeping their eyes peeled for animals and insects that might try to kill them. (Don’t worry, it’s much more fun than it sounds.)

Our friends at Peregrine Adventures include this trip in their Peru Highlights tour, complete with a two-night stay at a jungle lodge.

Although the region has some roads, travel in the Peruvian Amazon often depends on rivers and tributaries. Photo by Molly McCowan.

A diverse population of birds (which includes this Fork-tailed Woodnymph), draws birdwatchers to Manu National Park from across the globe. Photo by S. Rohrlach.

2. Zipline Colca Canyon

Roughly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Peru’s Colca Canyon is the among the deepest canyons in the world. And now, visitors to the canyon can soar with the Andean condors on a zip-line designed to make any heart race.

For the best wind conditions, go in the morning when the winds are lower. Those seeking some added adrenaline boosts can opt for the “monster” course: the 60-foot, vertical ladder leading up to one section that is definitely not for folks who are afraid of heights.

Our friends at Peregrine Adventures feature this trip in their 19-day Best of Peru itinerary.


3. Fly over the Nazca Lines

Researchers still have no idea why the Nazca civilization created these gigantic geoglyphs on the high, windless plateau of southern Peru. Some of the designs are simple lines and shapes, but the zoomorphic ones—shaped like monkeys, llamas, fish, and other animals—attract the most attention.

The lines are well worth the six-hour bus ride from Lima, and a night spent in Ica or Pisco makes the trip a bit more relaxing. For about $180, visitors can take a flight to see the Nazca lines from the sky. Travelers who get airsick should think carefully before doing this part of the trip: the tiny planes can be quite bumpy, and they bank sharply to give passengers better views of the lines. The area’s many elevated viewing platforms offer a motion-free viewpoint.

A trip to the Nazca lines is included in G Adventures’ Peru on a Shoestring tour.

Though they were constructed more than 1,500 years ago, the Nazca lines were designed to be viewed from the air. Photo by Diego Delso.

At its deepest, Peru's Colca Canyon is 10,725 feet deep. That's twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Pedro Szekley.

4. Backpack the Inca Trail

The combination of strenuous climbing, tricky terrain, and high altitude means that the full four-day trek of the Inca Trail is not for everyone. But it’s the best way to experience the Incan way of life, and it offers the most adventurous route to Machu Picchu.

Trekkers are required to go with a licensed guide, and trips book at least three months in advance, so backpackers should plan this part of their trip well ahead of time.

The train to Machu Picchu drops trekkers off at the trailhead, where they don their packs and start the climb… straight up. Most tour operators use porters to carry the heavier equipment, but it’s important to make sure the company you choose follows ethical practices.

Want a quicker route? Book a trip that offers a two-day Inca Trail trek, and ride the train farther up the canyon to the second trailhead joining up to the main Inca Trail. Our friends at Intrepid Travel include the classic Inca Trail itinerary in their 21-day Peru Encompassed tour, which is also one of the best all-encompassing tours of the country.

Though photos (like this one) don't often show it, Machu PIcchu is crowded. But a four-day backpacking trip there still feels like a real adventure. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Traditional ways of life survive in the villages of Peru's Sacred Valley. Photo by Vasenka Photography.

5. Mountain bike the Sacred Valley

A stone’s throw from Cusco, Peru’s Sacred Valley is a prime destination to see Incan ruins, traditional Peruvian markets, vast countryside, and jaw-dropping vistas.

While there are many ways to explore the valley—people see it on foot, on horseback, on dirt bikes, and in the ubiquitous tour buses—mountain biking is the best way to get a feel for this unique region.

Start at the gigantic Ollantaytambo ruins, whose construction is still a mystery to scientists. From there, pick one of many agave-lined trails to the charming market town of Pisac, which has stunning views from above its ruins.

The salt mines of Maras are also worth a stop, and biking around the ruins of Moray is an experience one won’t quickly forget. To top it all off, stay in a skylodge suspended from a 1,200-foot cliff overlooking the valley.

Our friends at G Adventures include this trip in their 15-day Peru Multisport itinerary.

Do you have a question or comment about this piece? Email it to us at [email protected]

about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.