Urubamba is a fast-growing center of adventure sports, including horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, trekking, and paragliding. There are some highly recommended horseback rides—that can also be done on foot or mountain bike—on both sides of the Urubamba Valley. The sun in the Sacred Valley is intensely bright, so bring a sun hat and sunscreen. It is best to get an early start to avoid the often cloudy (sometimes rainy) afternoons.
Hiking, Biking, and Horseback Riding
To the north (snow-covered mountain side), several mule tracks lead up valleys to high passes on the Cordillera Vilcabamba. On the other side are remote Quechuan villages in the Lares Valley, a journey of several days with an option of returning by car at the end.
One of these valleys, the Pumahuanca, is a pleasant half-day trip that combines streams glinting in the morning sun; a series of microclimes, including forests of rhododendrons and native quenua trees; and, at the turnaround point, ruins of several two-story Inca buildings. The other valley above Urubamba dead-ends at Chicón, the glaciated peak (5,530 meters) that looms above the village. This peak is rarely climbed, even though it is one of the easier summits in the Cuscoarea. If you're interested in climbing Chicón, any one of these Cusco-area climbing guides can plan and organize trips.
For those who can take a full day on a horse or on a bike, there is a breathtaking circuit on the south side of the valley that traverses the high plains around Maras and Moray and then descends via the salt mines to Urubamba. The scenery is spectacular.
Wayra (part of the Sol y Luna Hotel outside Urubamba, tel. 084/20-1620, www.wayrasacredvalley.com) rents mountain bikes and has the best selection of paso horses in the valley. Another great option for paso horses is Perol Chico (Carretera Urubamba–Ollantaytambo, tel. 084/974-79-8890, www.perolchico.com). These elegant animals, which kick their feet out to one side for a smooth ride, are best for the Maras–Moray–Salinas loop or a flat loop around the valley (they are not well suited, however, for the steep Pumahuanca ride).
All of the Cusco rafting agencies descend the Río Urubamba, which is at its wildest during the high-water months December–May. Day trips run US$40–55. Some trips include one night of camping near Ollantaytambo, mountain biking, and a chance to see ruins the next day.
As the river drops between June and November, the agencies run the steeper, lower section that ends just past Ollantaytambo, though the rapids rarely exceed Class III. The water itself, unfortunately, is somewhat polluted, with plastic festooning the banks.
One of the most professional rafting companies in Peru is Amazonas Explorer (Collasuyo 910, Urb. Miravalle, Cusco, tel. 084/25-2846, www.amazonas explorer.com). ExplorAndes (Av. Garcilaso 316-A, Cusco tel. 084/23-8380 or Lima tel. 01/715-2323, www.explorandes.com) also offers high-end rafting trips.
Some less expensive but also experienced agencies are recommended for easier trips. Apumayo Expediciones (Jr. Ricardo Palma N-5, Santa Monica, tel. 084/24-6018,
www.apumayo.com) is run by Pepe López, a kayaker with a lot of experience on Peru’s rivers. He recently built an adventure center on the banks of the Río Urubamba, downstream of Ollantaytambo.
Mayuc (Portal Confituras 211, Plaza de Armas, Cusco, tel. 084/24-2824, www.mayuc.com) is one of the pioneering rafting companies and operates an excellent day trip on Río Urubamba.
Loreto Tours (Calle del Medio 111, Cusco, tel. 084/22-8264, loretotours [at] planet [dot] com [dot] pe) provides varied rafting itineraries and good-quality equipment.
Terra Explorer Peru (Santa Ursula D-4, Huanchac, tel. 084/23-7352, www.terraexplorerperu.com) is owned by Piero, the youngest of the Vellutino brothers, all dedicated and well known adventure sportsmen and white-water rafters.
Munaycha (based in the Sacred Valley, tel. 084/984-770-108 or 084/984-770-381, www.munaycha.com) belongs to Duilio, the oldest Vellutino brother, and also offers rafting on Peru’s best known rivers.
A new adventure in the Sacred Valley is the Via Ferrata (tel. 084/98-974-360-260, viaferrata [at] naturavive [dot] com, www.naturavive.com, US$60 pp), a system of ropes and pulleys that allows you to climb a 300-meter cliff and then rappel, or descend, about 100 meters. The whole experience lasts three–five hours and can even be done by small children. Reservations must be made in advance by emailing or calling Natura Vive.
The best place to get parapenting lessons in the Cusco area is Wayra (part of the Sol y Luna Hotel outside Urubamba, tel. 084/20-1620, www.wayrasacredvalley.com), where owners Marie-Hélène Miribel and Franz Schilter offer paragliding lessons. They are the only internationally certified instructors in Cusco. They charge US$150 for a tandem one-hour flight, taking off from a nearby mountain and landing in the valley itself.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition