Why Go with an Operator?
There are plenty of good reasons to entrust the details of your Peru travels to a tour company, and convenience and security are high among them. Do you prefer to have your itinerary planned to the minutest details? If so, you can save time that you might otherwise spend researching and booking your trip by letting travel professionals take care of it. And once your trip has begun, you can see more in less time on a tour. You'll also get more out of your trip if you have a Peruvian guide who can point out and explain things that you might otherwise miss. You can rest assured that if something goes wrong someone will straighten things out for you, and in the unlikely event that you have an accident, they'll take care of you.
On the other hand, if you prefer flexibility and spontaneity, you'll probably want to do things on your own, or hire a guide for day trips. There are areas, or activities, for which you can't avoid joining a tour. For many outdoor adventures, such as trekking or a trip into the Amazon rain forest, you simply have to travel with an outfitter. In the case of the Amazon, this might simply be the eco-lodge you visit. There will also be moments when you'll want things explained, or want to do a specific excursion or event if you're traveling independently. You can always book a day tour, or a short itinerary, from a local operator. You also have the option of simply showing up and hiring a guide in places such as Machu Picchu, or other archaeological sites, where authorized freelance guides are available for hire at the entrance.
Whether you take a packaged tour for your entire Peru trip or prefer to book shorter itineraries with several outfitters, the decision of which tour operator or operators to use will likely be the most important one you make for your vacation. We've consequently compiled a list of the some of the best tour companies operating in Peru, from the big international outfitters to the best local companies, to provide a good range of specializations and budget options.
There is no shortage of companies selling tours to Peru, but not all of them have the same level of experience and reputation. Most U.S., Canadian, and British tour companies offering trips to Peru merely sell tours that are designed and run by Peruvian operators. However, there are also international companies that run their own shows in Peru. Others send a trip leader to accompany each group, who will often team up with a Peruvian guide, while the tour is operated by one or more Peruvian companies.
If you've traveled with a company to other destinations and had good experiences, you have good reason to use them in Peru. Though you may be reluctant to buy a package directly from a Peruvian company, keep in mind that you may get the same tour you would buy from a U.S. company for considerably less money. If you want to stray from the beaten path, you may have no choice but to book directly with a Peruvian company. Rest assured that the local operators included in this section have decades of experience and good reputations.
Where to Go
While every company offers trips to Machu Picchu—Peru's must-see attraction—the country has much more to offer, including the Amazon wilderness, vibrant indigenous cultures, colonial cities, and jaw-dropping mountain landscapes. The great thing is that many of those attractions are easy to combine with Machu Picchu.
Nearly all first-time visitors do some sort of a Cusco/Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu combination, a tour that every company offers. Whether you hike there on a four-day Inca Trail trek or roll in luxuriously on Orient Express's classic Hiram Bingham train, Machu Picchu is all that it is cracked up to be. There is enough to see between that ancient citadel, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco to fill a week, though many people cover the area in a few days. Many tours combine Machu Picchu and Cusco with the rain forest of nearby Madre de Dios, whereas others combine it with southern attractions such as Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and the Colca Canyon or a cruise on the Amazon River. A longer extension or second trip is needed to include the ancient sites and impressive landscapes of northern Peru.
What to Do
Peru's combination of culture, history, scenery, and biodiversity make it a great place to visit, and you get exposure to all of the above on the classic Cusco-Machu Picchu trip. It is also a world-class destination for people who want to concentrate their vacations on one thing, be it bird-watching (Peru is the number-two country for avian diversity), surfing (the swells are sometimes as big as Hawaii's), or trekking (there are countless highland trails). Travelers with that kind of focus will want to book their tour with an outfitter that specializes in their passion, and we've included experts in each of those activities here.
The following outfitters are some of the best international and local tour outfitters offering trips in Peru, ranging from companies that accommodate thousands of tourists per month to smaller operations that specialize in custom tours. While nearly all of them offer Cusco-Machu Picchu tours, some have expertise, or hotels in certain regions, while others focus on specific activities.
Abercrombie & Kent. Established in 1962, this respected company offers a good selection of Peru itineraries that includes such emblematic attractions as Machu Picchu and the Amazon River as well as less-visited sites such as the Colca Canyon. The company also runs tours that combine Peru with Ecuador's Galápagos Islands or other South American destinations, and trips specifically for families. Itineraries last anywhere from eight to 18 days. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Amazon River, Colca Canyon, and Paracas. Most popular package: Wonders of Peru & the Galápagos, 13 days, from $10,745 per person. Combines time in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu with a five-night cruise though the Galapagos Islands. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Provide quality guides, luxury accomodations, and unforgettable experiences. Corporate responsibility: Support an organization in the Sacred Valley that provides meals, medical care, and education for children from poor families. 888/611–4711 USA. www.abercrombiekent.com.
Adventure Life. The South and Central America specialist Adventure Life has plenty of options for active travelers, including treks on the Inca Trail and less-hiked routes such as Ausangate Glacier and the Cordillera Blanca, white-water rafting, and trips into the rain forest of Manu and Tambopata. They also offer less strenuous options, ranging from the classic Cusco-Machu Picchu tour to trips to pre-Incan sites in northern Peru. For travelers who want more contact with local people, they offer homestays and extensions volunteering at one of the various projects the company supports. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Ausengate, Lake Titicaca, Manu, Tambopata, Amazon River, Paracas, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Huaraz. Most popular packages: Machu Picchu by Train, seven days, $1,775 per person; Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. Andean Multisport with Machu Picchu, 10 days, $2,395, combines mountain biking, hiking, rafting, and two days in Machu Picchu, with a mix of nights camping or in hotels. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Take travelers off the beaten track to experience Peru's amazing scenery, nature, and culture up close. Corporate responsibility: Treat porters and other local staff well; work with rural communities to improve their conditions; support a shelter for single mothers; work with the Rainforest Alliance to make tours sustainable. 800/344–6118 USA. www.adventure-life.com.
Andean Treks. A pioneer in outfitting Inca Trail treks, Andean Treks was one of the first companies to organize treks to less-visited areas such as Choquequirao and Ausangate. From its humble beginnings outfitting hikes in 1980, Andean Treks grew to include an array of non-hiking trips in the highlands and the Amazon Basin, and eventually expanded to cover Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador as well. Their trips range from strenuous treks with overnights in tents or rustic lodges to Amazon cruises or tours of Lake Titicaca. Destinations Serviced: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Choquequirao, Ausengate, Salcantay, Cordillera Blanca, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Tambopata, Amazon River, Nazca, Trujillo, Chiclayo. Most popular packages: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, five days, from $935 per person, the classic trek, should be booked five months in advance. Moonstone to Sun Temple trek, five days, from $870 per person, an alternative route to Machu Picchu. Custom Trips: Yes What they do best: Outfit quality treks through several cordilleras with experienced guides and arrange custom trips for an array of travelers. Corporate responsibility: provide employment, school supplies, and other support for rural communities while working to reinforce traditional values. 800/683–8148 Toll free in U.S.; 617/924–1974. www.andeantreks.com.
Manu Expeditions. One of the country's oldest outdoor operators, this Anglo-Peruvian company offers an excellent selection of trips into the Manu Biosphere, trekking on the Inca Trail and alternative routes, horseback excursions, white-water rafting, and top-notch bird-watching tours. Destinations serviced: Cusco, Manu Biosphere Reserve, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Choququirao. Most popular package: Complete Manu Biosphere Reserve Experience, nine days, from $2,445 per person, from the cloud forest down into the rain forest of the Manu Biosphere with nights at the Cock of the Rock Lodge, Romero Rainforest Lodge, and the Manu Wildlife Center. Customized trips: Yes. That they do best: Take clients deep into wilderness, help them see wildlife, and explain the ecology of the rain forest. Corporate responsibility: The company hires local people and purchases products from rural communities, practices sustainable tourism, and works with conservation organizations. 84/225–990 Peru. www.manuexpeditions.com.
Condor Travel. Quite possibly Peru's largest tour company, Condor Travel operates many packaged tours sold by U.S. and European companies. They also sell their own packages and tours operated by smaller Peruvian companies. Condor Travel offers one of the most complete selections of tours and destinations in Peru, including golf, trekking, bird-watching, and adventure packages, for considerably less than U.S. companies. Destinations serviced: All tourist destinations in Peru and other South American nations. Most popular package: Enigmas of Peru, 12 days, from $1,600, combines Lima, the Nazca Lines, Paracas, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca, with stays in mid-range hotels. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: They operate trips to both classic and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Corporate responsibility: Condor Travel works with the Rainforest Alliance to make its tours sustainable and runs a community development project near the Inca Trail. 877/236–7199 USA; 1/615–3000 Peru. www.condortravel.com.
Earthwatch. A nonprofit organization that provides volunteers and uses trip revenues to support scientific research, Earthwatch allows travelers to work on studies, enriching their understanding of the natural world while contributing to conservation. In Peru, Earthwatch runs expeditions up the Amazon Basin that let travelers participate in wildlife surveys in Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Some of those expeditions cater to teenagers. Fees for participating in Earthwatch expeditions are tax deductable. Destinations serviced: Amazon River. Most popular package: Amazon Riverboat Exploration, 8 days, from $2,775 per person; participants contribute to long-term survey of wildlife populations. Customized trips: No. What they do best: Allow travelers to contribute to the understanding and conservation of nature. Corporate responsibility: All Earthwatch profits support scientific research and conservation. 800/776–0188 USA; 44/1865–318–838 UK. www.earthwatch.org.
Field Guides. The international bird-watching specialist Field Guides runs half a dozen tours to different regions of Peru led by expert birding guides, who help their clients spot as many of the country's more than 1,800 bird species as possible. Destinations serviced: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Manu, Tambopata, Amazon River, northwest Peru. Most popular package: Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga, 10 days, starting at $4,170 per person, travels from the highlands to the cloud forest to the Amazon Basin. Customized trips: No. What they do best: Getting bird-watchers to areas where they can see the greatest variety of species possible. Corporate Responsibility: Field guides makes regular contributions to various conservation organizations. 800/728–4953 USA. fieldguides.com.
InkaNatura Travel. One of the country's oldest ecotourism companies, InkaNatura Travel offers trips to lodges deep in the wilderness of the Manu Biosphere Reserve and Tambopata National Reserve, in the Amazon Basin. They also arrange tours to Cusco and Machu Picchu, and the archaeological sites and beaches of northern Peru. They cater to bird-watchers, nature lovers, archaeology buffs, and travelers who want to experience a bit of everything. Destinations serviced: Manu, Tambopata, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Chachapoyas, Kuelap, Cajamarca, Mancora, Punta Sal. Most popular packages: Bio Trip Manu, six days, from $1,639 per person, from the cloud forest to the rain forest of the Manu Biosphere Reserve, with overnights at the Cock of the Rock Lodge, Pantiacolla Lodge, and Manu Wildlife Center. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Help travelers experience the flora and fauna of the Amazon Basin. Corporate responsibility: A portion of profits is donated to Peru Verde, a nonprofit groups that promotes conservation, wildlife monitoring and sustainable development. 1/203–5000 Peru. www.inkanatura.com.
Inkaterra. This small Peruvian company runs luxury trips that combine access to the rain forest of Madre de Dios with the classic Cusco–Machu Picchu route. They also operate bird-watching tours and longer trips that visit other sites in southern Peru. Destinations serviced: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Madre de Dios, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca. Most popular package: Inkaterra's Flagship Tour, seven days, starting at $2,950, combines the Amazon Rain Forest, Cusco, and Machu Picchu, with nights in some of the country's best hotels. Customized Trips: Yes. What they do best: Provide high quality service and accommodations and exposure to some of the country's greatest attractions. Corporate responsibility: The company conserves 42,000 acres of rain forest in Madre de Dios, supports scientific research, and has adopted sustainable tourism. Its tours are carbon neutral. 800/442–5042 in U.S. & Canada; 0/808–101–2224 in UK; 1/610–0400 in Peru. www.inkaterra.com.
Orient Express. This venerable company offers a small selection of luxury itineraries in Peru using its own trains and hotels, which are some of the best in the country: the Miraflores Park Hotel, the Palacio Nazarenas, and Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, the Hotel Rio Sagrado, and the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Their journeys are all variations on the classic Cusco–Machu Picchu circuit. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu. Most popular package: Unmissable Peru, eight days, starting at $5,178 per person, combines Lima, the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and a trip on the luxurious Hiram Bingham train. Customized trips: Yes What they do best: Luxury tours to Peru's top sites, with first class train and accommodations. Corporate responsability: The company has provided support for various schools, an orphanage, and an organic gardening center. 800/524–2420 Toll free in U.S.; 44/207–921–4010 Toll free in UK; 1/612–6700 in Peru. www.orient-express.com.
Overseas Adventure Travel. This U.S. company offers mid-range tours with small groups (usually 10–16 travelers) led by knowledgeable guides that give travelers opportunities to meet local people. Their most popular Peru tour combines Cusco and Machu Picchu with the Galápagos, with possible extensions on the Amazon River or Lake Titicaca and La Paz, Bolivia. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Amazon, Lake Titicaca. Most popular package: Machu Picchu & the Galápagos, 16 days, from $5,295, combines Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu with the Galápagos and Quito, Ecuador. Customized trips: No. What they do best: Provide quality guided tours to top sights at competitive prices. Corporate responsibility: The company funds the Grand Circle Foundation, which provides school supplies and other support to six schools in poor Peruvian communities in the Sacred Valley and Amazon Basin. 800/955–1925 USA. www.oattravel.com.
Green Tracks. Founded by an American biologist, this small company specializes in helping nature lovers experience the fauna and flora of the Amazon rain forest, and they often arrange trips for groups with very specific interests. They also offer trips to Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and other popular areas. Destinations Serviced: Amazon River, Manu, Tambopata, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Like Titicaca, Nazca, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, Chachapoyas, Kuelap. Most popular package: Amazon Wildlife Cruise, seven days, from $2,500, departing Iquitos in a restored, historic river boat, this one-week cruise heads up the Amazon Rivier into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Help nature lovers and specialists get deep into the Amazon wilderness with quality guides and information. Corporate responsibility: Company facilitates scientific research and environmental education, and provides income for remote communities. 800/892–1035 Toll free in U.S.; 970/884–6107. www.greentracks.com.
International Expeditions. An ecotourism pioneer, International Expeditions specializes in taking travelers deep into tropical nature and helping them experience local wildlife and culture while mitigating tourism's negative impacts. The company has been running Peru trips for more than three decades and it offers longer itineraries to its most popular and off-the-beaten-path attractions. Its tours feature small groups led by knowledgeable local guides and competitive prices. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail. Machu Picchu, Amazon River, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Colca Valley, Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Chaparri Nature Reserve, Gochta Waterfall, Kuelap. Madre de Dios. Most popular package: Amazon Voyage, eight days, from $3,898 per person, after sighseeing in Lima, travelers fly to Iquitos to start a six-day cruise up the Amazon and Ucayali Rivers to the Pacaya-Samira Reserve. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Allow travelers to experience Peru's varied natural and cultural attractions safely and in comfort. Corporate responsibility: The company promotes conservation on the Amazon River while improving life in local communities by donating water treatment plants, improving education 120 rural schools, and sponsoring an urban garden project in Iquitos. 800/234–9620 or 205/253–1114. www.ietravel.com.
Kuoda Travel. Cusco-based Kuoda Travel specializes in personalized, custom itineraries, primarily for families and couples. The owner, Mery Calderon, manages the business, which has a series of suggested itinteraries, but works with clients to customize them to their needs. Destinations serviced: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Tambopata, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Amazon River, Nazca. Most popular package: the Jungle, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca, 12 days, starting at $3,200, starts with three nights at the Reserva Amazonica, in Madre de Dios, followed by Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu and ending with a couple days at Lake Titicaca. Customized trips: Yes. What they do best: Plan and run trips that cater to the interests and needs of each client. Corporate responsibility: The company has a small foundation that runs education programs in two Sacred Valley communities. 800/986–4150 toll free in U.S. & Canada; 84/221–773 in Peru. www.kuodatravel.com.
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