The Urubamba Valley 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. Several operators in Cusco offer daily organized tours, along with a few operators based in the valley itself.
Note that 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.
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) rents mountain bikes and has the best selection of paso horses in the valley. Day tours cost from US$105 per person. Another good option for paso horses is Perol Chico (Carretera Urubamba-Ollantaytambo, tel. 09/50-31-4065). These elegant animals are best for the Maras-Moray- Salinas loop or a flat loop around the valley.
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.
The best rafting agencies in Cusco include Amazonas Explorer (Collasuyo 910, Urb. Miravalle, Cusco, tel. 084/25-2846), ExplorAndes (Paseo Zarzuela Q-2, Cusco tel. 084/23-8380, Lima tel. 01/200-6100), Apumayo Expediciones (Jr. Ricardo Palma N-11, Santa Monica, tel. 084/24-6018), Mayuc (Portal Confituras 211, Plaza de Armas, Cusco, tel. 084/24-2824), Loreto Tours (Calle del Medio 111, Cusco, tel. 084/22-8264), Terra Explorer Peru (Santa Ursula D-4, Huanchac, tel. 084/23-7352), and Munaycha (based in the Sacred Valley, tel. 084/984-770- 108 or 084/984-770-381). Note that there are cheaper operators in Cusco, but they are generally less reliable and inexperienced, which is a key factor, considering the potential risks of rafting.
A new adventure in the Sacred Valley is the Via Ferrata (tel. 084/799-158 or 084/974-360-269, US$65 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 3-5 hours and can be done even by small children. Reservations must be made in advance.
The best place to get paragliding lessons in the Cusco area is Wayra (part of the Sol y Luna Hotel outside Urubamba, tel. 084/20-1620), 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.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Machu Picchu.