Responsible tourism in Peru

Responsible tourism in Peru


Travel right in Peru

When Paddington Bear famously landed at the eponymous station from Peru, he gave people a very hard stare if they upset him. His Peruvian name was Pastuso, by the way, and these famous stories by Michael Bond were critiqued for years to come as a study of immigration and comment on the dominant culture being ignorant of immigrants' needs. So, if you find yourself in Peru, with a metaphorical tag around your neck saying "Please look after me", think of Paddington. Seek help from the right people, inform yourself about their culture, be patient, support them in the best way possible, and you will be most certainly cared for in the best possible way. And hard stares will stay where they belong - in fiction.

People & culture


PORTERS' RIGHTS AND HOMESTAYS

Mountains to climb for porters' rights


If you are doing some serious trekking in Peru, it is most likely you will be using the services of a porter to carry supplies such as food, sleeping bags, tents, and so on. Luckily, porters' rights are now protected by law in Peru; however, there are many companies that find a way of getting around the law, and are still exploiting the local porters, many of whom are farmers who do this work seasonally. The minimum wage is 45 soles a day, but reports suggest that still only a small proportion pay this and even this amount is barely a living wage. A good responsible tourism company will pay two or three times this much. The same goes for the laws about the maximum weight they should carry - the law is 20kg max which includes 5kg for his/her personal possessions. There are weighing stations, but some companies spread the load to get through the stations and then drop the bags after the station for the porters to pick up.
 
What you can do:
 
Making sure your porters are fed and clothed properly, are insured and given dry, warm sleeping areas. Be wary, read up on it, and ask your trekking company endless questions about their ethical trekking policies. A great starting point is Tourism Concern's website, the human rights in tourism charity which has an ongoing campaign for porters' rights around the world. They answer lots of FAQ's on the subject here.

Volunteering - who does it help?


Volunteering vacations are big in Peru. They fall into two general categories: saving the rainforest or saving people. If this sounds a little cynical, it is meant to be, because this hugely growing market is getting a little out of control.
 
What you can do:
 
Choose your volunteering vacation carefully. It is important to ensure that your volunteering vacation company adheres to some of the strict guidelines now being recognised as good practice within the industry, and remember to ask yourself the 10 key questions when looking for volunteering. This way, you can check that the work you are doing is actually sustainable and that the needs and expectations of the host community are being well met on every level. If you are looking for wildlife volunteering, be sure that animals arenít being kept in captivity purely as a way to lure volunteers into paying money to working with them. Yes, really. So, all in all, before you volunteer, read and ruminate on these guidelines and check out this pioneering new Better Volunteering directory.
Mark Denega is the producer and director Hope Was Here, a feature film about the phenomenon of volunteering abroad, mostly shot in Peru, released in 2014.: "I think these trips work best when we, the volunteers, stop trying to help. At the public school where we volunteered in Lima, we treated three-year-olds as play things at recess, often disrupted more than assisted in the classrooms, and cobbled together a library renovation that we were ill-prepared to manage and execute. But the cultural exchange and philosophical components were invaluable; I know that the impetus for this kind of travel is to make a difference but, in my view, the biggest difference we made was not from holding children or shovels in our hands. It came when we let go of any agenda - any intention to try to change something for other people - and just observed, listened and exchanged ideas with Peruvians. We learned more by sharing meals, music and dancing together. I really see value in education-based trips over help-based trips. If it were up to me, we would do little to no "volunteer work" in Peru. We would just go meet some Peruvians, spend some quality time with them, and then go home."
 

Homestays - the way to stay


We gave Paddington a home and now Peru is returning the welcome, with homestays a plenty. And as this country is so vast, and the terrain not always negotiable, this is not only the best way to put money straight into a very local economy, but it also gets you right out onto those hiking trails and remote communities. When you hike into the heart of the mountains, it makes you admire the people who live here all year round even more. You will be greeted warmly in Peru, as local people thrive on sharing their homes with guests. And that is how you are made to feel, especially in the highland villages.
 
What you can do:
 
You can find homestays listed here on our site, but another good source of information is The Ethical Travel Guide published by Tourism Concern, which features hundreds of community based accommodations and small operators all over the world, with a strong section on Peru. If you are planning on visiting remote villages, gifts from home are always welcome, but ensure they are useful. Don't go too over the top, as reciprocating is part of rural Peruvian culture, or "ayni", meaning "today for me, tomorrow for you". Excess gift giving waters down this ethos with time if people feel they can't reciprocate.

Wildlife & environment


Volunteering with animals



Quinn Meyer, founder Crees, Manu, Peru:

"With conservation volunteering, interaction with wildlife is such a myth. If you are going to the Amazon rainforest and being told that you will be able to have a physical interaction with wildlife, then you have to really ask questions. Who is handling these animals? Are they doing it as part of a big study? What is the calibre of research going on or is this just a case of animals being grabbed purely for show? Basically, you should not volunteer with anyone who offers any sort of animal manipulation unless they have a serious academic or medical reason for doing so. It does happen, and it is destructive and detrimental. Also, watch out for organisations offering the chance to walk with animals. They may say that they are working towards a re-release of the animals, but in many cases, there is no real re-release strategy at all and, at worst, it is pure marketing drivel. So, if you are going to volunteer with wildlife, seek out qualified experts who really know what they are doing. In fact, any responsible wildlife conservation organisation should have at least one external academic body and research that supports what it is doing."

Responsible tourism tips


Travel better in Peru

  • Although the economy is on the up in Peru, with a third of the population living in poverty compared with half at the turn of the century, things are still very tough in rural areas - which also happen to be trekking Meccas for many. Supporting a Peruvian based and, ideally, Peruvian owned trekking company makes all the difference, therefore, with 100 percent of the money staying in Peru, paying employees and government tax.
  • It is almost impossible to get a quiet day at Machu Picchu, but in order to avoid the tramplefests, which are basically throughout June to August, head there April/May or September/October. It is also wise to keep outside the busy times of 10am-2pm when tourist droves come by train to hit the Inca Trail. Oh, and Sundays are generally quieter. All good reasons for finding a homestay in a local village so that you are nearby and can avoid the worst of the crush. Don't forget, there are many other examples of Inca and pre-Inca ruins in Peru which, on a good day, you might have all to yourself.
  • If you leave it until the last minute to buy a trekking package in the main square in Cuzco, you are unlikely to get a responsible company. These sellers are about packing in the masses and often they are being sold by intermediaries, not people who really know the potential impacts on the environment or local communities. It's best to do your research well in advance and buy directly from a local, responsible organisation.
  • There is a certain amount of mis-selling when it comes to Manu National Park. Many companies claim that they lead trips there, but in fact they are just going to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, just beside it. The Biosphere is beautiful, and a wonderful source of information on all that it has to offer is Discover Manu, but it is not the national park. In order to operate in the national park a company needs special permits, entry fees and to adhere to strict rules and many companies don't want to bother with this - although their marketing implies you will be going to the park. If you are not paying an entry fee, then you are not going into the park. You can find out more about Manu on their website, Visit Manu, although they don't have a list of licensed operators, which is a bit of a shame, so you need to suss this out yourself. If you want to delve more deeply into the national parks system, and your Spanish is good, check out the ministerial website too.
  • Another excellent font of information to help you sieve through the wealth of protected landscapes in Peru is Conservamos por Naturaleza, an organisation which works towards conservation of land by offering expert legal advice to local people on how to preserve their land. Their website is brimming with info about protected areas, albeit mostly in Spanish.
  • Sourcing a tour operator with a history of responsible tourism practices such as fairly paid local employment, environmental protection and deep seated cultural engagement is vital in Peru. Take your time to research them, read their blogs and see what they are putting out on social media. Does it really connect with the people and the place that is Peru, or is the focus purely on pushing price and value for money? Does it have a local office, and plenty of details of all their local guides? And remember, if you are going to explore way off the beaten path, with expert guides, with specialist experience, this will cost money. You can't really get this on the cheap if you want to be truly responsible. A decent wage for an expert guide is about $80 per day, not $30, and if your big expedition costs $500 or less, it is unlikely to be fair and square.
  • Rainforest Alliance has certified a lot of tourism businesses for best practice in Peru. However, some businesses have been known to use the logo which they gained some time ago even though their good practice may no longer come up to standards. You can double check actual members on Rainforest Alliance's website.
  • If you are hiking, bring planet safe, paraben-free soaps and detergents with you, as well as eco-friendly sun creams, and biodegradeable bags and tissues for when you need to do what Paddington does best in the woods. Although ideally all waste should be carried out. A good hiking company will provide all of this, so ask in advance so that you can see if they are practising what they preach.
  • You will find it impossible to keep your lens cap on in Peru. It is photography paradise. But in a Western world obsessed with selfies and shoot-before-you-drop, please do think again when it comes to photographing people on your travels. Being a responsible tourist also means being a responsible photographer. Always ask people if you can take a photo. Not just ask and click, but check that they actually agree to it - it's a simple thing to communicate. If you want to photograph children, ask the parents or adults with them when possible. If they want payment, and this is often the case, then pay them; it is not a big ask in a country so poor. And if you promise to send them photos, then please follow up on this.
  • Common sense for many, but remember to bring something to cover up with when entering churches and monasteries.
  • The word 'gringo' is used to describe white, non Spanish-speaking people, and is not derogatory. So don't let it get to you, just let it be an incentive to learn the language! If you are good with languages, try dabbling in Quechua, the language of the Incas. If you are heading into the Sierra, this will bring a smile to local people and an extra welcome into the bargain. Even though they also speak Spanish, a little nod to their culture is a generous gesture. On the Altiplano, the unofficial language of Aymara is widely spoken. Aymara was the language of the Tihuanacu culture which you can explore in more detail here. For a few basic words, click here.
  • There are many tourist trips to see the endangered giant otters of Manu National Park, but the invasion of tourist canoes is now believed to be interfering with the otters' natural behaviour patterns. So opt for less invasive forms of nature watching, such as from an observation tower in Cochas Otorongo and Salvador in the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
  • Go light on the packing because you are going to want to shop in Peru. This puts money straight into local coffers, so leave room for some winter woollies. Alpaca is the big seller, especially in the Sierra, but beware of fakes. Alpaca is expensive, so if you are offered something cheap it is most likely to be acrylic or a mix. Real alpaca feels a little greasy to touch and loses its shape a little if stretched. And if your jumper smells when wet, it's probably llama.
  • If you are offered mahogany, even if it's something as small as a pair of earrings, just pass. Peru is one of the world's biggest exporters of mahogany, or 'red gold' as it is sometimes called, and yet it is the most destructive form of exploitation. Not only raping virgin rainforest with all its ensuing riches, but also stripping many indigenous communities of their homes and their right to survival. For the price of a pair of earrings you could support Survival International with a quick donation instead, a charity which seeks to protect these communities from illegal invasions of loggers.


Logging in Peru rainforest

  • It is illegal to trade pre-Columbian pottery or jewellery and more often than not it is fake. If you do, you risk having it confiscated and, at worst, being questioned and fined. Another big no-no when shopping is anything made from feathers. Think tropical birds, think rainforest - and you will think again before buying.
  • Shoe shining is a popular way for children living in poverty to earn money in Cuzco. There are various views on this, as some children are sent out to work by their parents and actually they are not street children at all. This is a common sense thing. If a child looks like they are in need, then have your shoes shone and give them a few quid. But even better, help a respected Cusco based charity working with street children, such asYanapay, which also has a restaurant in Ruinas 415, the proceeds of which go towards social projects in Cuzco.
  • The big San Pedro market in Cuzco is brilliant, though it has been tidied up a bit for tourists. If you prefer a more traditional market flavour, a bit rough but totally real round the edges, check out the old school market Rosaspata. You can read more about the alternative food scene in this lovely blog Cuzco Eats.
  • There have been cases of swine flu in Peru, so people are aware of spreading germs. It is good to respect that by adhering to all the usual hygienic precautions when in public: covering your face if you sneeze, carry anti-bacterial products etc. Peruvians are also particularly wary of such viruses because there have been deaths in some of Peru's famous 'uncontacted tribes'. Or, to avoid the media terminology, communities which are in a state of voluntary isolation. Peruvian law prohibits physical contact with the estimated 15 communities living in the jungles east of the Andes who rarely appear publicly, as the indigenous tribes' immune systems are very vulnerable.
  • No plastic water bottles please. Water purification tablets and a refillable bottle are best, so that you can use water from local streams as you travel.
  • Only clean burning fuel (butane gas) should be used for cooking on treks. Kerosene is not permitted due to the possible dangers to the environment caused by spillage. Camp fires are not permitted on the Inca Trail or in areas considered to be a fire risk.
Top shopping tip: "Steering away from unsustainable woods, you will find people making souvenirs made of balsa - which is a very quickly regenerating wood. The same goes for anything made from Brazil nuts, which encourages people to keep the trees alive."
Photo credits: [Shopping: USDA Forest Service Alaska Region] [Wildlife volunteering: AmazonCARES] [Logging: Thomas Quirynen/Survival]
Written by Catherine Mack
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