Sports in Perú

Sports in Perú

This section offers a brief overview of the sporting activities that you can join in Perú. There are, of course, many spectator sports and team activities which you can watch, but the focus here is on things which you can arrange for yourself.

Surfing and diving Bull fighting Hunting Fishing
Mountaineering Caving Kayaking Bicycling

Spectator sports include football (for like much of South America, the nation is football mad), bull fighting, horse racing and equestrian displays. Organised activities such as tennis and golf are largely restricted to membership organisations, and whilst you may get an invitation to participate, you cannot easily enter into these on your own behalf.

Caballos de Paso

The term "caballo de paso" applies both to a breed of horses and to the consequence of a great deal of training, both of horse and rider. The result is a flowing, organic style of riding in which the rider and horse achieve a remarkable unity. Both seem to float, rather than stride. It is a discipline that is essentially unique to Perú, although its roots are deep in the training schools of Andalucia. The Asociación Nacional de Criadores y Propietarios de Caballos Perúanos de Paso is the official body which has controlled this sport since 1929. However, the race is itself three centuries old and the subject of jealous control throughout the history of Perú. It is essentially unique to the country.

The physical characteristics of a caballo de paso reflect its proportions, which are similar to a stock horse, Morgan or quarter-horse, but with marked Arab influence. It tends to be muscular, short-bodied, wide-chested and with a broad head. The feet are delicate, in the Arab mode. Most tend to be bays.

It is, however, the carriage of these animals which most distinguishes them, particularly their distance-devouring triple, called the "paso llano". The animal is able to maintain its body without vertical motion, must in the manner of a stalking great cat. The front feet sweep outwards, whilst the rear keep the rear low by taking exceptionally long strides. This is elegant in the ring, but is best seen in the field, with the rider motionless and seemingly floating through the bushes. This pace has many subtle variations, and most riders will use nothing else in normal riding.

The national championships last around a week and attract people from all over the world. Typically, five hundred animals will compete in sixty categories. The final day offers displays by the best in a variety of classes, which will include their dancing to traditional tunes, such as the marinera. The overall winner, the Campeón de Campeones, is subsequently worth considerable sums. Regular exhibitions overseas have made this breed much sought-after. Three times winners of this title are known as Laureados, of which there have only been four examples in the country's history.

The riders in competitions are known as "chalanes", and are as trained as the horse. Indeed, the two operate as a team, and the grace with which this works is an important element for the judges of any competition. Riders wear a traditional costume of white, always covered with an elaborately embroidered poncho of bleached linen, a leather belt and black boots. A white straw hat and a red handkerchief at the neck completes the turn-out.

The sea

Summer brings the population onto the beaches. Surfing has grown in popularity around Lima, and it is possible to hire basic equipment for this. Bear in mind that the mean sea temperature around Lima is 4°C. Pacific waves can be large, and the ocean shelves rapidly to extreme depth close to the shoreline. We list relevant clubs on our web site.

Skin diving

There is very little information available about fresh-water skin diving in Perú. The mountain lakes - and the enormous, slow rivers of the Amazonas region - must have all manner of wonder in them. The major lakes - such as Titicaca, Junin or the more obscure but still large bodies of water such as Marcapomacocha or Yanganuco - have been very little explored. Here, however, we focus on the ocean.

The best period for this is between the end of October and Match. A 4.5mm wetsuit is adequate during these summer months. The warmer seas in the North (see Surfing) can be dived all year around, and there is less need for protection from the cold.

There is a wealth of marine life off the coast. Areas such as the Paracas sanctuary allow a diver to swim under a flight of fishing pelicans, or watch the seals frolic in a kelp forest. This said, the bottom is frequently sand. The sea shoals very quickly. The depth of the South American trough broadly matches the height of the Andes, and its deepest points are only tens of kilometres offshore in most locations. The water is also rich with nutrients, which also means rich with plankton and detritus, making visibility relatively poor.

Most who scuba in these seas are, therefore, more interested in the sport on offer than the sights. It is not necessary to gain permits, and one can travel with harpoon guns without security issues being raised. Much of the kit can be hired locally, and it is certainly advisable to hire or buy simple, heavy items such as weights locally.

Close to Lima, the preferred species are as follows:

There are, of course, a host of other delicious fish which appear on menus all over the country. In the North, the seas around Huarmey are known as the gramita. They yield many species, including the Mero and Fortuno, much sought after by connoisseurs. There is no effective infrastructure here and it is necessary to camp, or to hire a boat and operate off that.


The best of the surf beaches are, however, located in the North and Northern central part of the coast. Best weather is found between November to March, but the closeness of the North of the country to the Equator, and the weakening of the Humboldt current, both make this a year-long attraction. This web site offers excellent supplementary information.

Tumbes department

Playa (beach) Peña Redonda

Stones form a circle around this beach, giving its name. Sea temperature is around 25ºC, and you need only basic clothing for protection. Remember that you are only a few degrees off the Equator, however, and do treat the sun with care!

The waves here are excellent, taking the form of a rapid wave that breaks as a tube. The excellent Northern swells tend to appear in December to March, and it is as well to start early as the waves are extremely sensitive to the typical midday offshore wind. The rapid take-off of these waves suggest a robust board, 6'4" to 7'2". There are few facilities on the beach, but there is a good seafood restaurant in Zorritos village, on the Panamericanan North highway.

Tumbes, 60 km from the main array of beaches, can be a centre of operations while you explore these beaches. All are close to the highway, and it is easy either to use public transport or to arrange to be dropped off and picked up by taxi. Tumbes has a range of travel agencies which can take over all of the hard work. There are also hotels of all qualities, up to four star, and a range of communication facilities, shopping and entertainment. The seafood of the region is a legend throughout South America. Side trips can include two national parks, or even a quick circuit into Ecuador.

Playa Punta Mero.

The Mero fish gives its name to this beach. Waves here are often large, irregular, tubular and fast, breaking on a base of sand and stone. One should be careful, therefore, of the wave base. This is not for beginners, and larger (7'0'' to 7'4'') boards are recommended than for Playa Redonda, above. The water temperature is the same as Playa Redonda, but we recommend a light wetsuit in view of the harsh bottom conditions.

There are neither camping facilities nor food available, and you will need to bring everything you need, including water.

Piura Department

Piura offers a large number of beaches, many with permanent facilities, temporary restaurants and the like. If you travel to these under your own means, be sure that you have a map of the area, ample provisions (including water) and that your vehicle is in good condition. You will certainly be driving on sand, and whilst most vehicles can cope with compacted sand, only 4x4 and specialist vehicles can manage the loose sand that blows across some of the tracks. Once stuck, there is not a lot that you can do except dig, pile rocks under the tyres and hope to reverse out.

You may seek in vain for rescue if you get firmly stuck or if your transport breaks down at some of the more remote beaches. You will be in absolute desert, where it may not have rained in human memory. You should note that there are no repair facilities at any of them.

The best known of the beaches near Piura are:

Playa Mancora Playa Órganos Playa Piscina Playa Lobitos Playa El Golf Playa Nunura
Playa Cabo Blanco - see below Playa Panic Point - see below

The waters here are turquoise and clear, with a wide range of marine life. The climate is tropical and, in years in which the el Niño event is not taking its effect, extremely regular. The waters are warm and you can enjoy the sea throughout the year.

The best waves are at Punta Tur. These are long, fast waves of around 3 m. The take off is relatively easy, but the tube forms almost immediately, and this is a site for experts only. Strong offshore winds may form at midday. Very similar surf can be found at Nunura. Seven to eight foot boards are suitable for these conditions. Water is cooler here than at Tumbes and a wetsuit is essential.

There is no accommodation, and you will need to live in tents or in the open. Do please inform yourself of current security conditions, as theft from tents is common and informal banditry not unknown in the more remote areas.

Two important beaches - Cabo Blanco and Panic Point - are found some distance from Piura, at Km 1137 on the Panamericanan highway, near the tiny village of El Alto. Signs point to Cabo Blanco once you have passed through the village, but it is a good idea to pause and inform the local police that you are going surfing. They will be able to keep an eye on you, and also indicate if there are any difficulties in this extremely wild area.

If you follow the signs, you arrive at a bluff that gives a spectacular view over the area. You will be able to see the two locations and the waves that make them generally considered to be the best for surfing in Perú. You will often find a multinational crew of surfers on the beaches.

The village also offers places to stay, with the simple inn "El Merlin" being the favourite for surfers. It has showers and hot water as well as a restaurant, and costs around USD 20-30 per night, a the time of writing. The village in populated almost entirely by fishermen and the seafood is therefore excellent. Many surfers choose to camp in the months between November and February, however, and the area is known for its night-time evening events.

The 4-5 m rounded, very tubular waves come from the South East. They are extremely rapid, aggressive and dangerous, breaking on a base of sharp-edged rock . Anyone falling here is certain if taking scars home with them as souvenirs. Not, therefore, for beginners.

Lambayeque Department

Good surf is also to be found in the North-Central area of Perú, where the Humboldt current is, however, more influential and the sea correspondingly much colder.

Lambayeque is the last point where the waters retain some degree of equatorial warmth. The town is extremely ancient, having been the centre of at least two previous civilizations based on Perú. The ruins of Sipan are close by, and the museum is full of the representational and often erotic pottery left by the Moche culture.

The local people are reputed to be the most laid-back in Perú, and the town styles itself as the "capital of friendliness". The local women are said to be amongst the most beautiful in Perú. Much of the population decamps to the midday beaches in Summer. The three most visited beaches are the Playas La Farola, Pimentel and las Rocas.

Playa La Farola.

This beach is found off the Panamericanan highway at the village of Reque, at Km 757. To get tot his, one has to turn East off the highway and follow a rough road for about 8 km. (Please recall what we have said about getting stuck in the sand.) The village is a collection of old houses where time seems to have stopped.

You will need to ask directions to the jetty ("muelle") which is to the South of the village, down a narrow single track road, that it has to be said exists as much as a collective fiction than as an engineering artifact. The century-old jetty is much battered by time, ringed by desert and distant cliffs.

The south point marks the entrance to the beach. The waves vary with the Southern wind, but are frequently very large when this whips them up. These are known locally as "lighthouse (faro) waves", and are much feared by the fishermen. Local legend has it that the invading Chilean forces stole the existing lighthouse, and that the port failed to develop further after this. However, there is now a brand new but unromantic lighthouse on a little peak, so the name - La Farola - still has meaning.

Lighthouse winds blow chiefly in Winter. Boards of 6'4" to 7' are recommended, and you will need a good wetsuit as both the water and the wind are cold. You should note that most of the population leave the village in Winter and it is therefore hard to find accommodation. It is better to stay in Pimentel, which is a bathing beach about 7 km from La Farola and 15km from Chiclayo, the rather unlovely capital of Lambayeque. There is also the larger town of Puerto Eten somewhat further to the North.


Pimentel is a picturesque little port, with a seafront and jetty that are now fairly run down. Nevertheless, it offers all sorts of facilities, up to casino. The local people invented their own form of surfing many centuries ago, using "caballitos de totora", specially shaped reed bundles, to fish and skim the waves. This led naturally to recreational surfing, and there is now a major surfing scene in summer, aimed more at Perúvian interests than at international surfers, but at which all are welcome. Behaviour at these events follows international, rather than local Perúvian mores. However, many of the events are often held in private locations, or well off the beaten track, and you will not encounter them by accident. They are set up or coordinated by local residents and agencies, and it is worth making contact with these.

The surf in Pimentel is light and the location is ideal for beginners. The bottom is sand throughout. You can catch waves on both sides of the jetty. You can also hire caballitos de totora on the beach, and some are still used commercially to catch shellfish.

old Pimentel

Seafood is sold at the edge of the beach, and there are many restaurants which serve extremely fresh seafood. The best hotel is the Pimentel, followed by the Naylam. Both have good restaurants.

Libertad Department

We are going to describe three beaches in the Libertad department, Playas Huanchaco, Chicama and Pacasmayo.


This is a pretty beach around quarter of an hour's driving from Trujillo. It is easy to find: simply turn East off the Panamericanan at Km 572 and travel 4 km to the village. You can combine the trip with a visit to the ruins of the ancient city of Chan Chan, the capital of the once-mighty Chimu empire.

caballito de tortora on the left

The beach is huge and usually largely deserted. The waves are moderate in size and speed, and the bottom is sand with a few rounded rocks, but this is not a dangerous site and surfers of all capabilities will have little difficulty with it. Boards of 6' to 6' 6" are appropriate, and as the icy Humboldt current now dominates the ocean temperature, wet suits are essential.

The better hotels in the village are the Bracamonte and the slightly more expensive seafront Hotel Ancla. Seafood is excellent in the village, having been caught hours earlier. The village restaurants are full of locals, who are generally friendly and outgoing.


You may find that Chicama is called Puerto Malabrigo on some maps, a name which refers to the lack of protection that the enormous beach offers fishing boats from the wind. This site is famous for having the longest waves in the world, an allegation hotly disputed by other beaches and something which you will have to decide for yourself!

It can be a little difficult to find the beach. It is best to ask in the village of Paijan, which you can find at Km 614 on the Panamericanan. The trail leads West - towards the mountains - before doubling back under the highway to the coast. The road is sandy and not without rocks, and notes about vehicle condition apply. There are (usually) vehicles in the village which can take you to the beach and pick you up from it at a pre-arranged time. Be sure that you are fully understood if you use this service. Accommodation is very cheap, and the Hotels Los Delfines de Chicama and Chicama are both surfer-friendly and comfortable.

The best waves run from March to October, but the site always offers perfect waves. You will need a wetsuit and a board of between 6' 2" and 6' 8" for the best results.


This ancient fishing town has been settled for millennia. It is easily found at Km 669 on the Panamericanan, and if offers an excellent left wave which locals call el Faro, the lighthouse. The surf is, however, not as good as Chicama but the facilities and ease of access is much better.

The waves are fine, if alarming, and break repeatedly. Some are rapid tubes, others wide and slow in a way which cannot be predicted. A typical height is around 3.5m. You will need a wet suit and a 6' 4" to 7' 4" board. The shallows have sea urchins, and appropriate footwear is essential.

Department of Anchash

This region has a range of beaches used more for general recreation than for surfing. However, three beaches do have modest waves: Samanco, Culebras and Caleta de Lobos. The waters are cold.


Low waves and basic services characterise this beach, found 25 Km south of Chimbote.


Punta Culebras is found at Km 310 on the Panamericanan highway. It offers permanent services and basic restaurants, selling seafood. The waves are light and the bottom of sand, making this an ideal spot to learn to surf.

Caleta de Lobos

A few scattered fisherman's huts mark this beach, which is found at Km 245 on the Panamericanan highway. The beach itself is around 3 km from the highway, and you will need your own vehicle if you want to visit, and camping equipment if you want to stay. It is worth making your presence known to the police if you do decide to camp. The waves are, once again, suitable for a beginner and this is a private place to make mistakes.

Lima, Capital and Department

The city has many often crowded beaches that have been developed for local tourism. The best surfing beaches are, however, some distance away from these. We describe Cerro Azul, Puerto Viejo, San Bartolo and Kon Tiki.

Cerro Azul

This is an old and picturesque fishing village, which you can find at Km 132 on the Panamericanan. The inhabitants maintain many of the Limeño traditions which have been lost elsewhere to modernity.

The surf offers rather frightening 2 m point-break left waves of almost perfect form. They run for 150m, beginning at the point and ending at the jetty. The bottom is sand, with a few scattered rocks. You will need a wet suit and a 6' to 6' 6" board.

Puerto Viejo

This location, at Km 70, offers a left wave that is at its best when helped by a South wind. It runs for around 200m, the longest in the Lima area. Please note that current here are strong and erratic. You will need a wet suit and a 6' 6" board.

San Bartolo

This is a thoroughly modernised destination for local tourism - and specifically the younger set - and the nightlife is vigorous, particularly in Summer. The town has, however, managed to retain something of its historical origins. There are hotels of all descriptions, but surfers may enjoy the Kabunas Surf Host and Spa. San Bartolo can be found at Km 60 on the Panamericanan.

The waves are unusual, as the break left and right; and on occasions do so simultaneously. They are not particularly large, seldom more than 2m, and 6' 6" boards are appropriate.

Kon Tiki

This is another focus of local tourism from the capital, but for an older and less frantic set. The waves are significantly larger than San Bartolo, on occasions reaching 5m. They tend to break left and right, doing so a long way from the coast. This is not a surf for beginners, and the need to be stationed far out requires stamina. A long 8' board is appropriate.

Other beaches:

As has been mentioned, a large number of beaches have been developed around Lima. The following offer adequate, if unexceptional, surf: Punta Hermosa, La Isla, El Paso, Playa Norte, Pico Alto, Señoritas, Caballeros, El Silencio, Conchan, Villa, La Herradura, La Costa Verde, Pasamayo, Paraíso. Waves are both left and right.

You can, of course, approach the ocean in a quite different spirit. Perú has a vast fishing fleet, and a much small set of pleasure vessels. It is, however, possible to travel off-shore and fish, and the waters are uncommonly rich. Night-time fishing can land the aggressive giant squid, which can mass 50 kg. There is at present no organised way of undertaking such trips, but the larger travel agencies can certainly find someone who is prepared to take you out with them, or make a special trip so that you can fish as you please, Note that the latter will certainly be fairly costly if ocean-going vessels are required.

The coast of Perú also offers remarkable wild life, and particularly an extensive bird population. One can see the reserve of Paracas far better from the ocean than the land, and there is a fishing community within the reserve with which you can easily negotiate. This is discussed in the route which covers this region.

Bull fighting

Bull fighting is highly organised in Lima, and many rural centres have a plaza de toros. Most events do not involve the physical harm or death of the bull, although some do, particularly those in Lima, which will normally go through the three stereotyped phases of bullfighting, from horse-based weakening of the bull, the "play" and then the kill. "Young" bull fights do not lead to a death, and there are a series of these throughout the year. Nevertheless, you should enquire in advance is a killing will distress you. This tradition has been maintained since the first recorded bull fight, which occurred in 1538.The Corrida de Toros in Lima builds through eight bull fights during October and early December to hit it peak during la fiesta del Senor de Milagros.

Rural bullfights are completely different. They are community based, with the bull enclosed in a ring of trucks, or sometimes by no more than a circle of light staves. You should note that these temporary structures can easily be broken down by the bull. Rickety stadiums also may collapse, not least as the crowd exerts a great deal of communal effort to make the sway from side to side.

Local lads are encouraged to show their capabilities in the ring, and the idea is to tease and play with the bull, both to show bravery and an ability to manage livestock with a light touch. The bull is never killed, although inebriated spectators and fall-down drunk toreros often are. This worth remembering if you are a ground-based spectator. There are traveling professional bull fighters who make their living through rural displays, and their advertising will tell you where an event is to take place. (Please do recall the marked lack of welcome afforded to outsiders by rural Southern Andean communities.)

Arequipa has a unique form of bullfighting, in that both combatants are bulls. The spectacle is not much known to outsiders and little publicised by Arequipa. The centre of activity is in the Sabandia and Characato regions, but now extended into Cerro Colorado and others. This sport can, however, be seen at most fiesta days, but is at its peak on August 15th, the anniversary day of the city's founding. As with many fiestas in Perú, the event asserts social status for the sponsor (who pays for it) the society of bull breeders (who are important figures in their rural communities) and for the array of judges and organisers who surround the event.

The event itself has a judge, who has the task of deciding which bull breeder (not bull) has won in a given class. He can also stop a bout when there seems no clear winner. Judges are chosen for their eminence, honesty and economic solvency, and are frequently either maiordomos for the whole event or relations of these. (Please see the section on Perúvian society for more on this pattern of local influence broking. )

The bulls which are used are around 800Kg and specially bred for the event. Known as "gladiator bulls", they are naturally aggressive towards each other and therefore take considerable care to raise. As noted, the sport has evolved the "comisión de cotejadores" - a whole team of judges, procurers of this or that equipment and, of course, of the bulls themselves. These animals are elaborately into groupings which set most equal animals against each other, a procedure based on all sorts of arcane measures. The bulls often gain an individual following, and have fine sounding names, such as "Clinton" - the President - or "Armstrong" (the astronaut.)

The whole event, and also the location, is known as the "cancha". The word comes from Quechua, and means more or less what is signified by the word "arena", but with the connotation of a place ringed many times: by mountains, by the community, by panels carrying sacred images, by mural-encrusted raised areas where spectators used to sit in pre-Inca ceremonies. Events often start with a procession of the patron saint or saints of the towns and communities that are involved. These are elaborate constructions carried by eight or ten men, and they process these around the streets of the town tot he bull ring, accompanied by deafening and clashing bands. The event moves on to a late lunch, usually called a 'Pachamanca', in which regional foods are washed down with (usually) vast quantities of beer, cañazo - and chicha, maize beer. Food is an important element of the chancha. Regional dishes such as fried guinea pig "cuy chactado" or pork, potatoes baked and stuffed with chilies" papa a la huancaína", maize cob with cheese " choclo con queso" are washed down with maize beer, " chicha de jora". Adobo de chancho is regionally-spiced baked pork (or suckling pig, carved for you on the spot), chupe de camarones is prawn soup - both absolutely typical ingredients of such an event. People move to the arena, often summoned by rockets exploding overhead. The bullfighting itself occurs before a well-fed, emotionally wrung-out and well-irrigated audience, often perched on trucks or tottering wooden stands. Alcohol circulates freely.

Hunting and wild-fowling

Hunting in Perú is constrained chiefly by the rights of the owners of the land, who have the "coto de caza". If you want to hunt on their land, you have to organise this with them, which will involve a fee. There are also two locations - El Angolo and Sunchubamba in the jungle - which public spaces intended specifically for organised hunting. El Angolo comprises 6500 hectares and is about 120 km North of Sullana in the Northern department of Piura. It is rolling land which lies between 550m and 1600m, including parts of the unusual dry forest of the Amotape sierra. Around 17 species of mammal, including the puma, wild cat, deer and assorted rodents. There are around 150 bird species, including partridge. Note that this is a part of the UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and hunting is strictly managed. The second public hunting reserve is Sunchubamba, located in the subtropical area between Cajamarca and La Libertad. The reserve is not in operation at the time of writing. An internet search on either of these names will provide a long list of the firms offering hunting-focused travel in these areas.

The large number of national parks (16), reserves (13) and areas which are restricted for other reasons (25) are also set aside from hunting. In its enthusiasm for acronyms, Perú describes this complex of parks as SINAPE (Sistema Nacional de Areas Naturales), and runs them through INRENA (Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales), itself a part of the Ministry of Agriculture, which defines these sites and declares new ones. Once again, either our partner firm in Lima or an internet search will give you access to these specialised facilities.

Hunting is not at all well organised in Perú, and other than specialised and often international tourist agencies, there are few formal organisations which can help you. However, local people can provide both the land, the means and the weapons if you know where and how to ask. You should, however, be certain of the legitimacy of the people with whom you are dealing, as arrest on a poaching charge, or injury from an unsafe fire arm, is in nobody's itinerary.

Hunting large game is unlikely to appeal to the foreign visitor as the animal population is under unremitting pressure from subsistence hunters and the prey animals therefore wary and scare. Wildfowl exist in large quantities in both the Puna (partridge in particular) and in some marsh areas. The jungle region has a vast array of wild life, but it is not an encouraging place to travel and the field of view is limited.

Fresh-water angling

The highlands - and particularly those of the wetter North - offer a large number of streams and lakes which contain trucha, fish of the trout family, as well as other species. Trout breeding is now a major economic activity across the sierra. However, access to most rivers an lakes rivers is subject to neither control nor to pricing. Huaraz, in particular, has a large number of accessible lakes stocked with rainbow trout. Llanganuco and Orconcocha are two of the better-known of these. Around 1500 tonnes of trout were netted and landed in 2002.

The streams around Cajamarca are well-known for their fishing, and many of the rivers that flow toward Tarapoto and Moyobamba offer secluded areas in which you can fish all day and see nobody. In the central region, Huancayo offers many rivers from which to fish, as well as the fresh product of trout farms, normally destined from Lima.

You will need to bring all of your equipment with you, as there is no local tradition of sophisticated rod fishing. You will also need to pay some attention to your personal security as you will be a static, solitary figure in an otherwise deserted landscape. A minder-guide will cost you US$2-3 per day, and you may be able to hire the local policeman for a little more.

The rivers of the selva teem with fish, and there are many boatmen who are only too happy to take you out for a day. As fishermen themselves, they are knowledgeable about location, bait and timing. Please read the section on emergencies in regard of the river hazards of the selva.

Fishing, like hunting, can be divided into things which it is interesting to catch and things which you catch primarily because you are going to eat them. Sports fishing is supported by a number of companies, which will take you out to catch anything from pirañas to the strange-looking and colourful tucunare, usually described as the Peacock Bass. The arawana is a classical game fish - much given to leaping and fighting the hook - but inedible. The payara have awesome teeth, capable of scoring a metal spoon, and the pacu and oscars are also fighters.

Fishing for food is, of course, a primary occupation of the local people. The best time for fishing in the selva is June to July, when the rainfall is lightest and the rivers the least silted. Relatively small lagoons ("cochas") develop in the lesser rivers, surrounded by sandy banks, and in these fish are hugely concentrated. Local people call this system of fishing "mijano", and they rely on it to salt up fish for the rest of the year. The gamitana (Colossoma bidens) may grow to 25 kg and is a major fish of these lagoons. There are dozens of other species that are also used for food, sown to the 'sardine', Trephorteus sp.

Local people also rely upon harpooning fish in the clear waters of specific locations where the characteristic Amazonian silt is lessened. They settle themselves in their dugout, immobile, for tens of minutes until a favoured species - presa, súngaro, robalo or boqui chico - of a good size swims by. Some groups of native Indians also use blow pipes ("cerbatana") for fishing. The poison on the dart is extracted from plants which are poisonous to fish but which can be eaten with impunity. This is distinct from the darts used to hunt land animals, where the toxins derived from tree frogs, sometimes augmented with the muscle paralyzing alkaloid curare, are extremely dangerous to humans.

Two large fish that are worth mentioning are the paiche and the fresh water dolphin, or delfine. The paiche ( Arapaima gigas ) is a predatory fish that grows to a at least 2 metres in length. They are weird, prehistoric-looking animals, with extremely abrasive scales. Local people value the flesh and hunt them with harpoons.

The dolphins are known locally as "bufeo". These tend to present themselves close to boats, rising to breath, and swim close to bathers. Their courtship display involves paired leaping 2-3 m in the air, "kissing" at the top of their arc. Such displays can continue for 2-300 metres along a quiet river.

The males are particularly attracted to the scent of human menstruation, and tend to display in a highly mammalian manner when they encounter this in the water. (As a note to the intrepid experimentalist: such scents will also attract the candiru, a common and lethally parasitic catfish, not to mention many other predators.) Illegitimate births are still sometimes attributed to unguarded swimming with dolphins. The upshot of this and other features - such as their tendency to chatter at passers-by, and at each other in seemingly purposeful ways - have given rise to many legends about the dolphins. Around Pucallpa, for example, dolphins were supposed to be able to change into humans, and so live undetected in the community. You were said to be able to detect one by his or her blow-hole, under their hair.

The jungle rivers also have alligators, turtles, otters and a vast array of water birds. The dry jungle teems with life, but the rivers are, it seems, even more productive. One is seldom without diversion.

Regional cuisine depends heavily on fish and local fruits. The fish soup, in particular, is regarded as the best in Perú; which given the coastal dishes is indeed saying something. Fish stuffed with herbs, grilled and delivered wrapped in a leaf is called "bijao". It is usually accompanies by "tacacho", green banana, mashed and cooked in its juices. Turtle, of which there are many common varieties in the rivers, is a characteristic dish served with lime juice and rice.

Mountaineering and caving

There are various volcanoes and other peaks up which guides will help you to scramble near the major tourist centres. The focus of true mountaineering in Perú is, however, the Callejon de Huaylas, six hours North of Lima. This offers the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra, as well as the Cordillera Huayhuash, somewhat further to the South. There is extensive trekking in the area, discussed elsewhere. (See below.) There are many non-technical snow peaks, and it is easily possible to get to 5500m without anything more complex than a sweater. Huascaran, the highest peak in the country, offers huts and a helicopter rescue service. Typically, however, access to the mountains is at an extremely high level - 4-5000m - and exit is far easier than it is in, for example, the Himalayas. [More here on the full range of Cordilleras in Peru]

Mountaineering is greatly under-exploited in the Andes, or at least as compared to the Himalayas or comparable ranges in North America. Lima has a few enthusiasts who have their own equipment, but mountaineering is largely confined to foreigners.

There is no permit system. There are guides and a guide school which certifies them in the Cordillera Blanca region, and you are required to use one of them when attempting a peak. The police manage a system of helicopter rescue, and the guides association also undertake rescues. (You will have to pay the full cost of our rescue if you call on either of these services.) Trekking cost are not great: a guide will cost US$15 a day if he speaks only Spanish and perhaps $10 more if he is to offer a foreign language. Prices in Cuzco are significantly higher - US$50 per day for an English-speaking guide.

Fully organised trekking is widely available, and we discuss this in the section on walking in the Cordillera Blanca. (There are also sections on walking in Cusco region and around Arequipa.) One can find oddments of mountain equipment in the second hand shops in Huaraz, but a serious expedition will be unimpressed by this. Local trekking companies are not at all equipped to support expeditions and it is essential, except for the non technical peaks, to bring all of your equipment with you.

Access to the Cordilleras is easily achieved by car: one can and indeed must drive to over 5000m on some of the approaches. Basically, one just turns up, finds a guide and starts to climb. The safety implications of this need to be thought through carefully. The writer has just spent the afternoon climbing to 5700m on a glacier, dressed in a waterproof jacket, light pants and a pair of light walking boots. Views of adjacent peaks and distant valleys half-concealed the jungle clouds rising 50 km away. The entire cost of the event was about three dollars, excluding petrol.

One rather difficult note is that almost all of the climbing and trekking agencies in Huaylas will not serve people with Israeli passports. This is not racism - there are very few Jews living in Perú - but the legacy of a series of incidents in which Israeli backpackers tried to evade paying permits, attached themselves without paying to groups which had hired an English speaking guide, refused to feed guides when camped miles from anywhere and the like. The point of no return involved the death of two trekkers who beat up a guide and killed his donkey. The local village descended on the campsite and killed them. The upshot is that a few rogues have spoiled the situation for the rest.


The selva (Eastern) side of the Andes is percolated by caves, the results of metres of rainfall every year. Tingo María is often regarded as the centre for this interest, and there are a number of local limestone complexes for which you can expect to find guides. However, most systems are essentially unexplored.

One of the larger systems are the Huagapo caves near Junín in the central Andes. This is an extremely wet area where metres of annual rainfall have carved a limestone complex that has been explored for at least 3 km. The entrance is high - over 3500m - and the cave system descends steeply, creating a sort of inside-out mountaineering. This system does have some local guides, all of whom work at this part time and who have learned on the job. [More here.]

There is little or no native Perúvian enthusiasm for caving. There is an informal organisation - "Centro de Exploraciones Subterraneas del Perú" - which current lacks a web site but for which it may be worth searching. This has a good track record in collaboration with international ventures into Perú, stretching back at least a decade. You will, however, typically find neither equipment nor guides on hand, and will have to make your own way. There is no system of permits, but it is as well to tell the local police what you are doing, and to hire a modest local support staff. Security is always an issue in remote places and you should take advice from the locally-knowledgeable. You can hire a guard for your equipment for around US$15 per day.

Caves support bats, parrots, swifts, extremely large spiders and dense swarms of mosquitoes. Many of the ceja de selva caves are home to the lechuzas, which means 'owl' but which are in fact a species of insect eater, what are called 'nightjars' in Britain. They have brilliantly reflective red eyes, which can give one a start. However, all of this stops with the light and you have tens of kilometres of known but unexplored caves ahead of you.

Kayaking and the peque-peque

One of the striking features of the Andes is the number of sites which are inaccessible to any transport but by river. Kayaking, therefore, offers an almost endless series of unique potential adventures. The Marañon, for example, flows down from high, sear alpine conditions through a deep, cactus-spotted cañón to become one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. The cañón itself is virtually unsettled and little known, yet one of the world's centres of biodiversity. The tomato, capsicums, dahlias are all thought to have it as their centre of radiation. The valley is famous for its raptors.

There are, of course, many trips which are better-explored and well managed by agencies. Trips such as the relatively tranquil decent of the river Cañete provide an unforgettable experience. We describe the Río Urubamba close to Cuzco, traversing the sacred valley of the Incas past Machu Picchu, into dripping cloud forest and then dropping 3000m to the Madre de Dios jungle. Other well-established routes include the Río Santa in the Callejón de Huaylas under the Cordillera Blanca. A more demanding route follows the Río Colca down a steep-walled desert cañón, close to Arequipa.

Río Cañete - Lima

The Río Cañete can be run in both rafts and kayaks. It has class II to IV rapids, but these only develop in the wetter season, which runs from December to April. The bulk of the navigable river runs at low attitude, emerging in the cotton fields of Cañete, about 130 Km South of Lima. The jumping off point is the village of Lunahuaná, which offers accommodation and agencies.

Cuzco region: Río Apurímac

This is a tough river, with rapids that grade from I to IV. The Apurímac falls rapidly from the Andes through narrow, deep cañónes to the jungle. The river should be attempted only by experts, in kayaks. It is known that this is one of the world's centres of biodiversity, and the difficulty of access has ensured that there remains much to be found. Recent expeditions using kayaks have found a wide range of new species within reach of their camp site.

Access is from Cuzco, and the road is usually impassable in the wet season. It is far from good in the dry period, and you should be sure of your vehicle before setting out.

Cuzco region: Río Urubamba

The river that you follow changes its name from the Vilcanota to the Urubamba, depending on which Cordillera it flows past. It is navigable by rubber raft or kayak, although parts are extreme in the rainy season. The river is navigable from 2700m to the jungle, which lies at around 200m and which, of course, offers and endless network of rivers. (Please read the section on health with care if you are going to navigate the jungle rivers.) There are many access points to the river, with sites around Cuzco and Pisac being the most commonly used. Cuzco has agencies which offer river trips, with equipment of variable quality. It is advisable to shop around.

Huaraz region: Río Santa

This river rises at the Laguna de Conococha at something over 4000m. The upper reaches of the Santa pass through flat grassland, with distant mountains. It is shallow and stony, and you can traverse it on a lilo in the dry season.

Lower, the volume picks up as does the rate of descent. There are rapids between Anta and Caraz that are suitable for beginners: Grade II-III in May to September. However, as a general feature of the high-altitude rivers in Perú, please note that the grade depends entirely on the season of the year. What may be an unchallenging route in the dry period may be near-suicidal in the rains.

The river passes through the most spectacular mountain range in the Andes, and through fine cultivated land and scattered villages. The major city of Huaraz (3100m) offers a half-way mark. There are many outfitters in the town and it is possible to hire equipment. The region has many mountain lakes and streams, some of which are navigable. You can also fish in the lakes for trout.

Unhappily, the Santa has been diverted into a hydroelectricity scheme at the cañón del Pato (Duck Gulch) and your trip ends there, or proceed on road to join the reconstituted river where the water emerges from it tunnel much lower down. There are, in fact, a network of small rivers that you can descend in the region, but all are dependent on season for the volume of water that they carry. All emerge close to the unattractive town of Chimbote.

Arequipa region: Río Colca

The Colca cañón claims to be the deepest in the world, no doubt to the fury of proponents of the Dauligiri valley in Nepal, or the Grand Canyon in the US. It is, however, unquestionably deep, dry and cut by a fast-moving river. It drops from around 3500m to sea level in around 100 Km. There is a fine observation point at around 3800m. The arid valley is described in one of the trekking guides.

The rapids are Class III or IV, but please note the comments made in respect of the seasons, above. The dry season is May to September, and access is difficult during the rains. There are agencies in Arequipa which can organise a trip, and you can get to the city by air, road or - if you choose - by boat along the coastline and then up by train. This last takes some considerable organisation.

With a few exceptions - such as around Tumbes - the coastal rivers are too shallow, too polluted and too much used for irrigation to offer interesting prospects.

The rivers which we have described discharge into the selva alta, the "high jungle". This has many rivers, usually slow, wide and deep, which offer a completely different way to explore Perú. Towns such as Tarapoto, Tíngo María, Satipo or Atalaya can be reached by road and air, and afford jumping-off places. The rivers that run through Chanchamayo from La Merced offer an extremely interesting route down to the deep selva.

The huge Loreto district contains the Pacaya-Samiria reserve, a network of marches and lagoons, waterways and streamlet. This can be visited with a little effort (and adequate health precautions) for fishing, bird-watching or simple exploration of the extraordinarily diverse ecology. The local population are called the cocama and are both little exposed to the outside world and highly distinctive in their customs and dress. They are famous for their shamans, and many narco-tourists visit this area in pursuit of ayahuasca experiences.

The Ucayali region offers the Imiria and Chauya lagoon chains. These make up a tropical paradise of sandy beaches fringed with forest, and with quite excellent fishing. The jumping-off point is Masisea, although there is a commercial service by which flying boats (hidroaviónes) can drop you off and pick you up. This does, of course, takes some organisation and is beyond the grasp of local agencies. Locals can, however, provide day-long trips on the river, or organise several nights under canvas on the edges of the jungle. Security is less of an issue in respect of local people than of the narcotics traffickers for whom the local waterways are a highway. It is sensible to speak with the police, or ensure that your local agency does so, before you set out, as the problem is less one of encountering such people in a hostile setting as being mistaken for them.

You can, of course, bring your own boats. Local people will have a wide range of craft, ranging from wooden dugouts to more substantial fishing boats. Many will be happy to take a day's hire from tourists, but may be less happy with proposals for extended trips, major journeys down river or camping in the jungle. There are no agencies in most of these towns, however, and you will need to make you own arrangements. Most of this area has had or still has a major problem with drug trafficking, and you are strongly advised to discuss the matter with the police before setting out with an otherwise unknown individual. The jumping-off point is usually grandly known as "la puerta", the port, but is often no more than a muddy river bank. Better ports with deep draft, wooden or metal jetties and buildings are more typical of the deep jungle.

The deep jungle is, for the most part, traversed entirely by boats. There are, therefore, a vast array of choices open to you, from the humble peque peque to large freight carriers and fast passenger boats. Locations such as Iquitos, and to a degree Pucallpa, have developed a tourist trade, and you can expect to find agencies, guides and pre-arranged itineraries.

The peque peque is a narrow vessel, made of planking or no more than wooden dugout, mounted with a two stroke motor. These putter along, giving their name to the boat. These are the motorcycles of the jungle. Bereft of a motor, it becomes the universal bicycle of the jungle, called a canoa or piragua. You can hire such a boat for a few hours very little money, but unless your ambitions are modest, you are strongly advised to have a guide to operate it. The jungle is famously featureless and you can get terminally lost only a few kilometres from where you started out. A GPS locator and a good, high resolution satellite photograph are a great help if you want to get into the wildest regions, as the rivers change their tracks annually and maps are essentially useless at small scales. You can, however, buy the most up-to-date maps in Lima on a scale from 1/10,000 to 1/250,000.

Please read the section that we offer on on medical advice before venturing in to the jungle in this way. It kills the unprepared.


Bicycling is a useful way of getting to see a Perú that is closed to the vehicle, but which covers ground faster than walking. Mountain bicycles make a particularly useful adjunct to 4x4 motor touring, and you can also move them around on public buses. You should be particularly careful of theft, as these are coveted items in the Andes.

Perú has a number of conventional cycling routes, and one of the most famous travels up from Lima to Cuzco. You may prefer to reverse the routes, as it is then down-hill for much of the trip. This said, the route crosses passes at 4800m. You may also want to use public transport for at least a part of the trip up the long, monotonous coastal desert. However, there are many interesting things to consider on this route.

Bicycling around Cuzco is extremely rewarding. There are agencies in Cuzco which can organise trips and from which you can hire equipment. It is possible to bicycle all over the valley, and to visit al of the major ruins in this way. The route to Pisac and then, over rough terrain, to Ollanta, is about 60km. From here, it is possible to drop into the Urubamba valley, where there are many pleasant hotels.

Arequipa is a delightful city to explore, and the region around includes several vary large volcanoes, the Colca and Cotahuasi cañónes and Parque Nacional de los Volcanes, a valley lined with mini-volcanoes of all sizes and forms. There are also high altitude lakes - for example, las Salinas - which have a large variety of wild life. This area is the centre for the Condor.

The drop down to the coast is easy and fun. However, you may consider picking up public transport from here, as not much of great interest occurs on this route until there is a cluster of possibilities around Ica. The museum in Ica contains mummies from he desert, two-millennium old textiles and a collection of the extraordinary deformed and trepanned skulls of the people who ones lived in the region. The town itself is pleasing, but 5 km away is the lagoon of Huacacina, surrounded by large sand dunes. There are a series of hotels where you can stay at this strange place.

The Paracas nature reserve lies some distance up the coast, with a wealth of wild life. This park is ideally explored by bicycle. One trail that is of great interest leads to the peninsular sign-posted as "La Catedral", where there are various hotels. The dunes all around offer exciting cycling, and excellent views of the coast. The near-by town of Pisco makes the brandy that gives its name to Perú's national drink, the Pisco sour. Not too far away is the town of Nazca, with its famous and enigmatic markings in the desert.

At this point, you may want to rejoin public transport to Lima, with a possible stopping point at Cañete, which is both a pleasing place and the base of a route which follows the Cañete river.

One striking route that is close to Lima is to take the bus up the Lurin valley, arriving at Santo Domingo de los Olleros, at 3000m. This is an odd village, inhabited chiefly in Summer and particularly in August, when its major festival takes place.

The return trip is around 100 km, and takes about 6 hours. The path to follow runs along an abyss-like cañón, dropping down to San Bartolo (see surfing, above.) This is an easy place in which to find lodgings, and there is ample public transport back into the traffic maelstrom of Lima.

There is a train service from Lima to Huancayo, passing over the highest road pass in the world. This gives you access to the high, relatively flat area of the Andes, which you can explore at your leisure. You could, with some planning, drop down to Tingo María in the high selva by way of Cerro de Pasco and the historic area of Junin. The Junin lake is also a centre for waterfowl. Equally, you could go by one of two routes to Tarma, and extremely pretty town poised above the spectacular drop down to Chanchamayo, Oxapampa and the high jungle.

A third possibility is to ride back towards Lima, passing through La Oroya. The trip to Lima is literally breathtaking, as it takes you across a pass at 4820m. The last 40 km are to be avoided as they go through slums, and the traffic is extremely dangerous. You can, however, easily pick up a bus from Chosica.

Finally, there are roads which connect all the way to Cuzco. This is generally regarded as a rather dangerous area (as it passes through the heartland of the Sendero Luminoso, amongst other issues) but the intrepid have done it, and so can you. Do, however, research the route carefully as hotels are far apart, the roads can be dangerous and even water is not always available. You could, for example, visit Pampas Galeras, where you can see vicuñas, the gracile form of llama from which the wildly expensive vicuña cloth is derived.

The Huaraz region is ideal for bicycling. There are roads and trails of all description, from the smoothly asphalted to extreme mountain conditions. There are two exit routes to the coast, both of which offer exhilarating views. The towns at the end of these descents offer easy access to public transport. The more adventurous may consider a trip down to Huanuco, or into the Cordillera Huayhuash.

The region around Cajamarca in the North of the country is relatively flat and extremely picturesque, and laced with roads and trails of all qualities. It also has the virtue of being the most welcoming of the Andean regions in Perú. There is no organised bicycling in the area at the time or writing, and you would need to take your own equipment. However, the wealth of historical sites in the area would make this a rewarding and unchallenging thing to do.

There are a number of companies in Lima which offer cycling holidays. Most provide on-route support, and many bus you to a high altitude so that you can descend from the Andes under the force of gravity. Plainly, there is nothing to stop you organizing this for yourself, but you would be advised that the traffic in Lima is extremely alarming - so do not start from there - and that routes marked on the map as "intermediate" may be comprised entirely of rocks the size of shoes and axe heads. You should be careful of your belongings and bicycle when stationary in towns of any size. You are sitting on something that is worth a rural month's wage. Perú has quite a number of cycling clubs, many of which offer web sites. These come and go, so you are advised to search for them when you need them. Specialist outfitters in Lima also advertise on the web.

Mountain biking is extremely popular, but is almost entirely focused on areas such as Cuzco and Huaraz. There are local companies in both of these localities - but usually not on the net - which will hire you bicycles of reasonable quality, guides and, if you want it, the means to go on extended trips that need tentage and catering. Once again, this can be done at many levels of cost and quality. Distances are large in Perú and it is well worth having a vehicle drop you off at the beginning of the "interesting bits" and collect you at the end of them. If you are not extremely confident that you know the route and can cope with difficulties, always hire a guide.

You can tailor trips to suit what you want. Tourism in Perú is standardised to some degree, but has not been reduced to the one-size-fts-all templates that you will have encountered elsewhere. Be clear what you want to do and what you want to spend, and then find an outfitter who seems to meet your aspirations.