Experiential Tourism in Peru
When one thinks of tourism in Peru, they think of the typical foreigner caked in sunblock with a big camera wrapped around their neck. It’s natural for humans to want to explore and let their curiosity roam wild and for that reason we search for ways to be more connected with the places we visit. Peru has a deep history dating back to pre-Incan times and it’s still possible to see ancient traditions like warp weaving being done by the indigenous people. Not only does this inspire tourists to dive deeper into the culture, but it leads to opportunities that may not have been available before. Experiential tourism opens the door for those who want to have a hands on experience with local culture while also focusing on paths to self-discovery.
Tourist agencies in Cusco often have the goal of herding as many people as possible into their excursions. As efficient as this may be, it leaves tourists wanting more from the experience. A couple of kilometers outside of Cusco are the towns Pisac, Ollantaymbo, and Maras. All less than 2 hours away, these towns are separated by the Andean mountains and therefore have completely different lifestyles. Off the beaten path in Pisac are three lagoons hidden in the Andean highlands. Not only are these lagoons a major source of fresh water for the communities, they also have significant religious and historical purposes. It’s possible to hire a guide to take you up there where you will most likely be the only people on the trail. Here you can see ancient ruin remains that are overgrown by cacti and shrubbery. From there they will explain to you stories about the Apus, a trio of ancient deities that are represented by the mountains and animals. As arid as it may seem, wildlife still exists in these parts. Bouncing around in the ruins are rabbit like creatures who will carefully watch you from a distance. Higher up on the mountains it is possible to see condors flying around in short bursts, likely eyeing their next target. In the mist covered mountain tops lie the pumas, though it’s unlikely you’ll see one as they only come out to hunt at night. This experience will give you better insight into how life was thousands of years ago.
To be connected with a culture it’s essential that you take some time to study and practice the native language. Learning a language takes thousands of hours but memorizing a few introductory phrases to introduce yourself is always a good way to show appreciation. Quechua is the indigenous language and is spoken by about 4 million people in Peru (it’s said that 10 million are able to understand it). Time permitting, there are a handful of language schools around Cusco that teach both Spanish and Quechua. One school in particular, Wiracocha, offers a multitude of volunteer experiences with children from lower income families. Here you can help teach kids math, reading skills, art, and even crafts. This experience is perfect for volunteers with limited Spanish because it’s easier to communicate with children who tend to have basic vocabularies. Wiracocha also has a homestay program which allows students to live with a Peruvian family for better immersion.
A lesser known form of experiential/responsible tourism is learning to travel with the environment in mind. Lessening your carbon footprint is important to maintaining the purity of the places you visit. Clothing designed for lightweight travel lessens the weight of your luggage, making it both easier to carry and reducing the amount of gas used to transport it. This also goes for solid shampoos and natural detergents which have less impact on the environment. Finally, a diet of fruits and unprocessed foods are healthier and reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the trash.