Community Based Tourism in Peru at first hand perspective is given to us by our traveller and friend Naline Roodbeen, who experienced living with local families while still getting to know the country’s highlights. In her own words and images:
Have you ever wondered what you can do to travel in a more sustainable way? I sure have. Long before traveling became part of my work as a travel writer, I visited many countries across the globe. With every journey my love for travel grew, but so did my awareness of what tourism does to a country. When I first heard of something called Community Based Tourism, I knew it would change the way I travel from then on. So when work brought me to Peru earlier this year, I crossed paths with RESPONSible Travel Peru, who understand this way of traveling like no other. With their help I stayed in rural communities and became part of local Peruvian life like I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
An equal exchange
A simple smile at the local market, a conversation in the park; to me, locals are the soul of a country. Through them you get to experience a place in a way no luxury hotel or must-see landmark can exceed. Local communities are usually the last ones to prosper from tourism though, facing not only the perks like employment, a steady income and development, but also pollution, environmental damage and commercialization of their culture. And so I started to become more aware of the decisions I make while traveling. In every country I looked for ways to interact with the local people, but I wanted to do that in a way that was equally interesting for them. And that’s where Community Based Tourism comes in: with this type of traveling, you directly contribute to a better life for locals, while going off the beaten track and creating unforgettable memories with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. When planning my trip to Peru, this is what brought me to RESPONSible Travel Peru, who understand the importance of sustainable travel for the local people and what it can contribute to a travelers’ experience. With their help, I included a visit to two local communities in my itinerary. Something that changed two otherwise very touristy locations into unique experiences that ended up being the highlights of my time in Peru.
The Coporaque community in Colca Canyon
Tucked away in the vast landscapes of the Colca Valley, lies the small rural community of Coporaque. It’s only seven kilometers from the touristy town Chivay, but a world away from the hustle and bustle of tour groups visiting the Colca Canyon. Upon arrival I am welcomed by one of the four families who have opened up their hearts and houses to visitors from around the world. For three full days I’m staying in a comfortable private room with bathroom and enjoy the most delicious local dishes.
My hosts Fredy and Amanda take me on a walk to the secluded natural hot springs in the valley. During a horse ride with señor Chocolate I enjoy the spectacular views from up the mountains. In the mornings I am woken up by nothing but the sounds of nature and take in the views over the green terraces with glaciers and volcanoes in the distance. When taking a walk around the small town, I am greeted by locals and waved at by school kids, while herds of sheep and alpaca’s cross the dirt roads. After three nights I’m having a hard time leaving this tranquil place and its friendly people. When I continue my journey towards Cuzco, I pass by Chivay with its streets full of hotels and a traffic jam of tour buses and am even more grateful of having experienced this part of Peru away from mass tourism. Even though we had only just met and probably will never meet again, these people truly made me part of their families and shared personal stories about their lives that have given me a new understanding of Peru. Stories that for sure will travel with me for a very long time.
Titicaca Lake away from the crowds
After spending some time in Cuzco and admiring Machu Picchu, I make my way to Titicaca Lake for a visit to my second local community. Nestled between Peru and Bolivia, Titicaca Lake stretches out over more than 8000 square kilometers at an altitude of nearly 4000 meters, making it the highest navigable lake in the world. With the beauty of the lake, its many myths and the presence of native communities, came the tourists. Something that is impossible to ignore when I arrive in the large lake side city of Puno. Wherever I look, I see advertisements to visit the famous floating islands. The receptionist of my hotel tries to convince me to book one of the day tours to visit them, but I already have my own plan. I’m smiling, thinking about the stories I heard from the RESPONS team about what is awaiting me for the next couple of days.
Most tourists looking for something time and cost efficient, fall for the easy day trips that take you to the most popular attractions nearby. Luckily I was warned that these tours are a somewhat staged experience deprived from all its authenticity. The real Titicaca Lake experience awaits a little further out, where the native Uru people are actually still living on their floating cane islands, rarely see tourists and will be happy to tell you all about their exceptional way of life. So the next morning a boat takes me from a small port on the Capachica peninsula to one of the islands. The next couple of hours are amongst the best of my entire trip through Peru. I listen to the history of the Uru people and to my surprise I am told that we are the first tourists they have seen in a week. Within minutes they call me their friend and I spend my time watching how ladies in the most beautiful dresses prepare dinner. I play with toddlers crawling around the tiny island and curiously ask questions to one of the young men about his life on this extremely remote piece of land. While the boat sets course to my next destination, my mind is still processing the unreal scenes I have just witnessed. A life so far away from my own and from anything I have read about in the travel guides.
Just before sunset I arrive in the community of Chifrón, where located high up a cliff overlooking the lake and the nearby beach, Inti Wasi awaits. It is the house of Walther and Mariela with their two young kids, who opened a homestay out of love for rural life and want to share it with travelers looking for a more authentic and tranquil experience. That night, over a delicious dinner, we talk about life in this part of Peru and the development of tourism. With more and more concrete buildings popping up in the area, it is more important than ever to support small scale family run businesses like these, that help tourism around Titicaca Lake to become sustainable, with respect for the environment, culture and life of the native people.
Back to basic?
The word homestay is often associated with extremely basic conditions, but as opposed to what many people think, I have found staying with a local family surprisingly comfortable. I spent my nights in cozy private rooms with bathroom and experienced how the families go out of their way to make you feel at home. A big part of this experience is also the local food, often made with organic ingredients from the area. At Inti Wasi I enjoyed fresh fish from Titicaca Lake and in Coporaque I tried my first alpaca meat prepared according to a special family recipe. Be aware that you are not checking into a hotel though: forget the amenities, mini bar and big fluffy towels. But you can probably do without those for a night or two, can’t you?
And whether you are fluent in Spanish or need to get creative to have a conversation: you will leave your host family with a new understanding of Peruvian life and will have done the same for them. In the words of host Rocío in the community of Coporaque: “We have received visitors from all over the world. It has taught us many things about foreign cultures. What I love most about welcoming people into my house is that I can share our culture and traditions and in return get to see how my children learn about a life outside of our little community.” And this is exactly what Community Based Tourism is all about: a fair and sustainable exchange where both parties benefit from equally.
So, does all of this mean that you should travel completely local? No, I don’t believe so. The more the better of course, but no tourist travels in a 100% responsible way, and that’s okay. Enjoy that luxury hotel with rooftop pool and epic breakfast buffet. Indulge in a culinary experience in one of the world renowned restaurants in Lima (real bucket list material!) and visit all the famous must-see’s along the way. But just like RESPONSible Travel Peru suggested me: take some days during you holiday to go for that detour, end up amongst the locals and immerse yourself in Peruvian life. It will be worth it. For you and for the locals.
If now you are craving to immerse yourself in the local way of living, while enjoying a holiday of a lifetime like Naline did, do not hesitate and get in contact with us, we have plenty of choices to offer as we work hand in hand with more than seventy different communities along the country. One of our travel designers will get in contact with you, and in a very personal way, you will be able to plan your 100% tailor-made itinerary. Fill out our brief questionnaire and you will be one step ahead towards your perfect trip to Peru