If you want to find out how native Peruvians live and what is important to them, you’ll have to look off the beaten track. Here are some suggestions for places and activities for tourists who want to encounter the native or ‘indigenous’ side of the country on their Peru tour or vacation.
Ollantaytambo, a unique town in the Sacred Valley of Peru
A town in the Sacred Valley of Peru where you may come in contact with indigenous people going about their daily business is Ollantaytambo (called Ollanta by the locals). The town is laid out much the same way as it was during the time of the Incas. You travel for one and a half hours by a min-van which runs between the town and Cusco or you can take a combi from Urubamba’s bus station. Ollantaytambo is one of the rare examples of a well-touristed town which still maintains a focus on its indigenous community. Once there, you can visit the ruins which have great religious significance, as they were the last and largest structures for defense where the Incas defeated the Spaniards in battle. Tours can be led by guide or self-guided with a book that can be purchased in the market below the ruins. The tours concentrate not on the battles but on the architectural significance of the canyon and temple walls and the fountains that still function. You can also hike the hill known as Pinkullyuna which has Inca storehouses and overlooks the main ruins. The views are spectacular and the hike, climbing steeply up the valley sides, will be a workout that you won’t regret.
Vicos in the central Andes of Peru
Living in ten neighborhoods in the central Andes of Peru near the city of Huarez in the community of Vicos is a group of 800 Quecha families. These families live along the highest mountain range in Peru and use its natural reserves for their subsistence. An ecotourism project supported by the Mountain Institute has seven guesthouses next to the farmer’s houses, which were selected for their panoramic views and the diversity of the crops produced. Visitors to the area are rotated among the guesthouses with no more than three days at one site. Other attractions in this area include agro-ecotourism, hot springs and mountain climbing with Quecha guides.
Native villages near Iquitos
Near the town of Iquitos can be found several villages that remain untouched by modern development, including San Andrés, Santo Tomás and Santa Clara. Any of these towns can be reached by taxi from Iquitos. San Andrés is home to a National Park that is mostly forests in the high altitude, with high jungle, caves, rivers, reed beds and swamps. Aside from the local indigenous population, visitors will have no shortage of options to get in touch with nature. The vegetation that is predominant includes palms, cedars, mountain walnut trees, miniatures willows, ishpingos, choloques and quinas while the fauna features armadillos, vampire bats, spectacled bears, turkey hens, mountain tapir, deer, pumas, jaguars and the cavern catfish.
Helping children, a social project
Another way to meet Peruvians is through a social project. One of these is the “Casa Hogar Villa Martha” that is located in the Pacahacamc district of Lima and gives a new home of hope of a new life to physically and emotionally abandoned children. The purpose of the home is to give needy children education, protection, love and spiritual and moral support so that these children can become responsible human beings capable of taking care of themselves in the real world once they leave the home. The Villa Martha open its doors to volunteers and provides food and lodging for those who want to spend some time there helping out with the children. Peru has no shortage of social and development projects in all parts of the country – if you’re visiting through a Peru tours company and you’d like to get involved, speak to your Peru tours operator for options.
When considering options for your next Peru vacation, try something different and visit a town more remote than the typical tourist locations or consider getting involved in a social project. Any of these will make your visit more unique than vacationing in the typical tourist spots.