Located in the west of South America, Peru offers adventures as varied as its climate and regions. With arid coastal deserts, cooler Andean highlands and tropical rainforest it plays host to spectacular scenery and exciting activities. This guide to Peru adventure travel and action sports looks at the range of activities available – visiting Peru can be as relaxing or as adrenaline fuelled as you wish to make it.
Geography of Peru
The landscape of Peru can be divided into three regions; the coast, the highlands and the rainforest. The coast is a narrow strip of land running from the north to the south on the east side of the country; it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Andes mountains on the West. The land here is dry and desert like, although more greenery appears the further south you travel.
The coast has a sub tropical climate where there is little rain; this region is warmer in the north although the whole coast is subject to the cold Humboldt Current in the Pacific making the warmest time January to March and the coolest July to September. Central and Southern coastal cities are affected by fog in the winter.
The highlands of the Andes Mountains run parallel to the coast and cut the country in half. With 37 peaks of over 6000m the Andes make quite a barrier and crossing from one side of the country to the other difficult. The highest peaks of Huascarán S (6,768) Huascarán N (6,655), Yerupajá (6,617) are all in the Ancash region and part of the Cordillera Blanca range.
The highlands are affected mostly by the Andes Mountains with temperatures ranging from cool to very cold; the higher the altitude the lower the temperatures with rain in the summer months of September to March and dry winters during May to August, so plan Peru adventure travel and action sports around the conditions.
To the east of the Andes lies the Amazon rainforest which covers the largest part of the Peru. The Peruvian tropical rainforest is the fourth largest in the world and is a major source of the mighty Amazon river. The climate is hot and wet all year round with only the south having a brief dry period between June and August.
The Capital city of Lima is situated in the centre of the coastal region. It is by far the most populated city in Peru and is the welcoming airport for the beginning of most Peru adventure travel and action sports.
Other major cities act as staging posts for many of the tours and activities that you will be experiencing. These include; Arequipa in the southern Andes, Cuzco in the south eastern Andes, Huancayo in the central Andes, Iquitos in the Amazon rainforest and Trujillo and Chiclayo on the far north west coast.
Peru adventure travel and action sports
Peru’s location, scenery and culture enhance all of the activities that are available making the experiences really memorable. Peru is famous for trekking and mountaineering but also popular for surfing, MTB, kayaking and canyoning – all of which we will cover in more detail below.
However Peru is not limited to these activities, you could also try kitesurfing or Incan ruins to explore, fishing, hydrospeeding, motor biking, paragliding, horse riding or whitewater rafting and much more.
Peru is probably best known for its Inca ancestry and the hidden cities they left in the Andes. There are many tours to choose from to discover these for yourself ranging from 2 day excursions to 3 week challenges. The reward for the, mostly uphill and rocky, treks is spectacular scenery and centuries old cities.
Machu Picchu is the popular choice. But if you prefer somewhere a little less crowded Choquequirao is the nearby ‘sister’, this can only be reached on foot. As well as mountain summits and ruins Peru also has fantastic treks through canyons in Arequipa, and up to glacial lakes from Huaraz. Most treks require an average level fitness with some designed for those needing more comfort as well as those up for a demanding challenge.
Read more about Peru trekking holidays.
On a bike you can get pretty much anywhere. The dirt roads take you up into the mountains, along Inca trails, across meadows, down into the jungle and through canyons. A moderate level of fitness is needed as even when the track is downhill the effects of altitude can still make the going challenging.
Take regular stops along the way to enjoy the amazing scenery, ancient wonders and spectacular wildlife but the mountain biking here keeps the adrenalin going all day. Combination packages are available from some operators where the uphill parts are mostly trekked, or done in a minibus and the downhill in a saddle.
Read our guide to Peru mountain biking holidays.
Surfing & kitesurfing
On the northern part of the Peruvian coast is Mancora. The beaches are sandy, the water warmer than further south the waves ideal for surfing and the wind for kitesurfing almost all the year round. The currents of the Pacific make this area good for experts and beginners alike; the town is busy with a lively nightlife.
For a more laid back break the town of Huanchaco has similar conditions for surfing. Both areas have schools for anyone new to the sport or for help improving your skills. There are plenty of options for renting boards or buying second hand ones.
Through the Andes Mountains and into the Amazon run many rivers. From gentle Class 1 rapids through to Class 6 – which the most experienced kayakers will find fearful. Courses are available to learn the basics and try out the lower grade rivers before you prepare for the more thrilling waterways through canyons where fallen boulders make for fast and narrow runs.
Perseverance and adrenalin keep you paddling through the rapids until the more gentle grades approach and time can be spent looking around at the scenery you are passing through. Some kayak tours include treks and team building on whitewater rafts, a great way to work closely with the friends you have made.
The Andean Mountain range has many peaks between 5000m and 7000m, these are best accessed between June and September when the weather is drier. The Cordillera Blanca region accessed from Huaraz has peaks suitable for all levels of experience with Pisco for inexperienced, Alpamayo for moderate experience and Huascaran; Peru’s highest peak, a challenge for the most experienced.
The snow topped volcano of El Misti near Arequipa is a great start for those with little experience and peaks towards Colca canyon, including Ampato, have dramatic scenery as a reward for a tougher climb. Cuzco also acts as a base for mountaineering in the Cordilleras Vilcabamba and Vilcanota regions for the very experienced wanting a difficult climb.
While trekking and mountaineering take you up mountains; canyoning will take you down. Prepare for dare-devil rappelling down dry rock faces and through falling rivers. Often with steep inclines this is a fantastic opportunity to test your nerve and try something new. Despite jumping off waterfalls and sliding down natural water chutes it is fairly safe.
Peru adventure travel highlights
Whichever activities you choose, a Peru adventure holiday will include a certain amount of overlanding to take in the must see sights:
- The Huascaran Mountain in the Cordillera Blanca range in the Western Andes is the highest peak in Peru and should be seen by all. At 6746 m above sea level it is a beautiful mountain, if you are feeling adventurous it takes approximately 6 days to climb.
- Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world, its artificial islands made of reeds are populated and offer a great tourist attraction.
- The Amazon River, at least in part must be explored for its varying surroundings, tropical rainforest and spectacular wildlife.
- Peru is well known for its Inca heritage so the Nazca lines, geoglyphs carved into the rocks in the desert should be visited.
- And of course Machu Picchu is the biggest attraction in Peru. But there are many more Incan ruins to explore.
While many think of Peru only as a country for exploring ancient civilisations and trekking through mountains or rainforest it does have another more extreme side. This side is just starting to be explored and works well amongst the historical backdrop and is what makes Peru adventure travel to special.