Peru is a land that is full of nature’s beauty. While most people come to Peru to see the “Lost City of the Incas,” there’s much more to see beyond Machu Picchu. The country is also known for its culture, food, vast rainforest, temples, and a variety of wild life that roams the land. There are many mountains and deserts that provide a gorgeous backdrop. For natural wonders, Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon are the two deepest canyons in the world. The Cordillera Blanca mountain range in the north has 50 mountains higher than 18,000 feet. Peru is the third largest country in South America, estimated to be about five times larger than the UK. Approximately 25 million people reside there. There have been over 80 ecological zones found in Peru, which only about 100 that have categorized by scientists.
Popular sights to see in Peru are the Amazon Jungle in the east, the historical city and the former Inca capital Cusco and the ruins Machu Picchu in the Southeast, and Peru’s capital Lima located about half way down the coastline. There are many museums and national parks to explore including the Manu National Park & Biosphere Reserve near Cusco and the Titicaca National Reserve, which is southeast and close to La Paz, Bolivia. Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and home to the floating Uros Islands, man-made islands woven together with mud and totora reeds that grow in the lake shallows. Go up to the North Coast for some of South America’s best beaches and inland to the Cordillera Blanaca for some of the world’s highest mountains. Plenty of activities are available ranging from mountain hiking, rafting to shopping at Indian markets in Pisac (Cusco) and San Pedro in northwestern Peru to name a few.
|Cusco||Market at Sacred Valley|
“Off the Beaten Path” Highlights
For travelers who like to travel “off the beaten path”, one area that is often overlooked is the Barranco area of Lima. This area is a little quieter, cleaner, and has a more laid back vibe to it. Many artists are in this area. If you’re headed to Lake Titicaca, instead of passing through its immediate neighbor, Puno on the way, take a few extra hours and see the sights of what is considered Peru’s folklore capital. Another area to visit is Vicos, an authentic rural community located in the Peru’s Ancash region, the mountainous area north of Lima, some 11,000 feet above sea level. It is a farming village of 5,000 people at the foot of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, or “White Mountain Range,” the largest tropical glacier chain in the world. One can learn about Andean culture, farming and how these people have lived in harmony with their environment for hundreds of years and see Fausta Colonia’s open-air kitchen.
There are ample volunteer opportunities for those who want to give back while traveling through Peru. There are two main ways to volunteer. You can volunteer directly with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the area you’re staying. Some of these organizations also provide lodging for their volunteers for free or at a discount. Or you can go with programs offered through hotels and eco-lodges. Many accommodations partner with community organizations in need of volunteers. If the accommodation doesn’t offer programs, they may be able to recommend good local organizations to volunteer with. Generally when you are in country, the cost to volunteer is low.
Independent Local Volunteer Organizations
Fairplay in Cusco creates job opportunities for families, mostly single mothers. It gives them a chance to support themselves and improve the lives of themselves and their children. The organization strives to improve their standards of living and to stop them from having to depend so much on others. Short trips can last a few days to a month, while long term volunteer projects are between 3 months to a year. Long term volunteers must meet certain requirements. Volunteering itself is free but accommodations usually range from about $56 to $100 a week.
ELIM in Cusco offers shelter to about 25 boys and girls that are either homeless or have been abandoned. The organization provides the children support, as well as gives them an education and provides health care. Volunteers do not have any length requirements for their volunteer ventures. The opportunity will allow visitors to provide children with the support and foundations that they need to live more privileged lives. The organization does not provide transportation.
For the volunteer who loves to teach, Espaanglisch provides language classes at a low cost to those living in the poor economic areas in Chimbote and Trujillo. The classes allow people to learn a new language and gives them a new window of opportunity to broaden their horizons. The programs are offered at different levels of difficulty for those people who may already know some English. The organization requires at least two weeks of volunteer time. Travel expenses are the only costs that the volunteers will cover at Espaanglisch.
Mundo Verde is a non-profit Spanish school in Peru that supports conservation projects in the rainforest. They also fund healthy living for the needy in the area. It is a great opportunity for those who want to volunteer in more than one specific area because of the work with children, women, and nature that is involved. A minimum stay of two to three weeks is required for all volunteers. Vegetarian food is provided for $100 and there is also a similar cost to stay with a Peruvian family for a week.
Accommodations & Eco-Lodges
Peru offers many eco-lodges in remote areas that
are hard to get to, but worth the trip because these regions are filled with unspoiled natural beauty. Many of the eco-lodges are committed to giving back to their local communities and environments in some way. Your stay can make a difference even if you don’t plan to volunteer.
Hotel Sol y Luna is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. There are breathtaking sights to see in the area that allow visitors to enjoy in activities like rafting, hiking, paragliding, and horseback riding. There is an on-site restaurant “Killa Wasi” for travelers to dine at. Guests can choose to stay in either a double, suite, or family size bungalow. This eco-friendly hotel gives back to the community by being involved with the local schools, orphanages, and the children’s theater.
The Amazon Yarapa River Lodge, located in Iquitos (northeast Peru) along the Amazon River, is dedicated to protecting the environment. They have set up a preserve to keep the rainforest flourishing. The Lodge is involved in INRENA and with ACOBIA, which is a local grassroots organization that rescues and rehabilitates aquatic mammals. The Lodge provides all inclusive stays for their guests, including transportation to and from the airport and guided tours with three meals per day. Rooms start at $760 for a 4 day, 3 night stay and go upwards to $1575 for a 7 day, 6 night stay. Rates are subject to number of guests per room and whether there is a private or shared bathroom. Guests will be able to participate in various activities such as boating, piranha fishing, and tours of their protected rainforest.
Peru is also home to the Sandoval Lake Lodge , which is part of the Tropical Nature conservation system, located in the Tambopata National Reserve. The lodge is a 35-minute journey by motorized canoe down the Madre de Dios River from Puerto Maldonado, which is about a 30 minute flight from Cusco and 90 minute flight from Lima. Sandoval Lake Lodge prides itself in protecting the endangered Giant Otters in the area in the reserve. The Otters were at one time almost extinct but there is now a flourishing population in part of the Lodge’s efforts. There is a vast selection of wildlife that visitors can see along Sandoval Lake on the many tours and excursions at the Lodge. The Lodge offers 25 rooms for accommodations. The rates range from $178 for a 2 night stay to $870 for a 6 day stay including the Health River Wildlife Center.
Refugio Amazonas is a 24 room lodge located in a private reserve surrounded by the community of Condenado, a 3-hour boat ride from the nearest town, Puerto Maldonado. It is adjacent to the Tambopata National Reserve. They work with ANIA for environmental education to be fun for the whole family. The hotel has also started to become more involved with the Brazilian nut extractors in the local community to try to broaden sustainability measures with tourists. Rates at Refugio Amazonas start at $295 for 3 days and range to $565 for 5 days, base price.
If you plan to volunteer in Cusco but prefer independent accommodations, the Amarakaerie Lodge is two hours up river from Cusco. The lodge can accommodate up to 25 people. They also offer a library project to volunteers, where they collect and deliver books to local village schools that do not have libraries for children to read. The Tambopata Lodge is another great eco-lodge for those wishing to volunteer in Cusco. Guests who want to take a break from other volunteer projects can take a tour of the beautiful rainforest by guides that the Lodge offers. Rooms range from $300 to about $2000 depending on the type of package that the guest chooses.