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Everything You Need to Know About Sustainable Tourism in Peru

Written by: Kevin Groh

Peruvian Girl with words Sustainbable Tourism in Peru

Peru is an interesting destination for all kinds of travelers. It’s particularly attractive to nature lovers and culture buffs. This South American country boasts an enormous diversity of environments. From lush rain forests to arid deserts, towering mountains to soft sand beaches, Peru has it all.

The country boasts an enormous array of diverse cultures, and ancient treasures dating back thousands of years.  

Thanks to these amazing qualities, Peru’s seen a huge upswing in tourism since 2010. The country consistently attracts over 4 million tourists for the last three years. 

While tourism contributes a lot to the economic prosperity of Peru, it comes at a price. Like all countries rich in natural diversity, tourist activity takes its toll on the environment. 

Find out how you can help contribute to sustainable tourism in Peru and help reduce the impact of your visit to Peru. 

What is Sustainable Tourism?

Sustainable tourism takes economic, environmental, and social impacts into consideration. At the same time, it addresses the need for tourism operators to make money while ensuring an enjoyable stay for their guests.

In this light, it’s clear that there three main aspects related to sustainable tourism.

The first refers to maintaining the integrity of the natural environment. The second aspect involves ensuring that tourist activities preserve and support the local population without detracting from their culture.

Lastly, it’s also important to educate tourists about these issues during their visit. This encourages tourists to follow sustainable guidelines when visiting Peru.

Long-term sustainability relies on all three of these elements existing in harmony with one another. This involves a constant juggling act between profitability and preservation. 

Peru Amazon Jungle with a snake sustainable tourism

Peru’s Current Travel Situation

The Amazon jungle is by far Peru’s richest natural resource, taking up over 60% of the countries land area. It’s also home to around 10% of the world’s plant and animal species and makes a huge contribution to controlling the planet’s atmospheric carbon levels.

Deforestation is the biggest threat facing the Amazon today. Farming, logging, mining, oil extraction, and illegal coca farming all contribute to this.

There’s more though. Not only does this commercial activity have a negative effect on the rainforest’s fragile ecosystem, but it also harms the people living there. 

These activities eat into the traditional territories of indigenous tribes. They also contribute to environmental mishaps like water shortages, flash floods, and mudslides.

Thankfully, the Government of Peru is making headway towards protecting Peru’s most important natural asset. They’re started out by setting up National Park Reserves.

These include the Pacaya-Saimiri National Reserve, Tambopata National Reserve, and Manu Biosphere Reserve. These reserves are the world’s largest areas of rainforest set aside for preservation.

In these bastions of conservation, the government enforces logging and tourist restrictions. There are also reseeding projects underway in these parks to help undo the damage.

The Ministry of Environment, set up in 2008, ensures extra education for locals and visitors. In this way, they promote the conservation of this fragile environment.

Tour operators and hotel groups across the country are also getting behind sustainable travel. They’re working hard to preserve Peru’s natural resources while ensuring their guests enjoy attractive vacation packages. Cachi Life is proud to be among these environmental champions.

Some tourist sites are following the government’s lead in getting on board with sustainability.

Tourist Sites Practicing Sustainable Tourism

Some of Peru’s most iconic sites are among the most fragile on Earth, that’s why it’s comforting to see that some of them are on board with Peru ecotourism. These are:

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited destination, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the  Seven New Wonders of the World. Thanks to this, it experiences high levels of foot traffic, litter, and other strains on its sustainability.

Fortunately, this top attraction’s taken steps to control and limit the damages since 2017. These new Machu Picchu ecotourism regulations hold tourists accountable for Machu Pichu’s integrity. Now, all hikers wanting to embark on the 4-day Inca Trail must take a registered guide along with them.

Each visitor may enter only once, and the new tickets dictate a specific date and time for your visit. Since 2018, you may not bring any form of single-use plastic into Machu Picchu. Hikers can only use designated campsites, they must take their rubbish with them when they leave, and open fires are not allowed.

These measures help limit tourist numbers as well as control the impact they have on Machu Picchu and the surrounding natural environment.

Machu Picchu with white clouds and sustainable tourism

Other Popular Destinations

 Some of the other tourist destinations in Peru that are onboard with limited numbers and ongoing education about ecotourism in the Amazon are:

  • Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve
  • Manu Biosphere Reserve
  • Tambopata National Reserve

Unfortunately, not every place in Peru has implemented sustainable safeguards, so it’s up to you to do what you can to when you visit these destinations.  

Places That Still Haven’t Changed Their Ways

Despite the modern trend towards sustainable travel, there are still some places stuck in their old ways. Some of these are among the country’s top attractions. 

The only way you can rest assured that you’re creating as little impact as possible when you visit these sites is to book with an ecotourism operator. 

Rainbow Mountain

It’s not surprising that this mountain of multicolored layers of soil is a top attraction in Peru, but unregulated tourist numbers are wreaking havoc at this site.

Around a thousand people descend on Rainbow Mountain daily, resulting in the mountain paths becoming eroded and dangerous. A large car park is now located where a wetland once was, and mining companies are looking into developing this fragile area.

Things are not looking good for Rainbow Mountain, and unless you employ the services of a reputable operator while visiting, you could contribute to the destruction of this valuable natural site.

Rainbow Mountain on a cloudy day sustainable tourism

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek‘s unregulated and less popular than the Inca Trail, but this area still bears the brunt of irresponsible hiking.

It’s so bad that there are voluntourism efforts in place that focus solely on picking up litter as they traverse this lovely environment.

What is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism means using your time, skills, and energy to help others during your travels. This could be an organization, a community, or a cause.

This type of travel’s been growing in popularity since 2014 and contributes billions of dollars toward the welfare of others every year. 

When you head out on a voluntourism mission, you get to explore new environments and also get the satisfaction of helping others along the way.  Some of the best areas for voluntourism in Peru include:

  • Assisting with improving school infrastructures by helping with painting and building
  • English education programs
  • Medical tourism
  • Conservation projects
  • Clean up operations in environmentally-fragile areas

Over the years, unscrupulous operators all over the world have given voluntourism a bad name in some respects, taking money from well-meaning tourists and using it for their own benefit.

For years, people were unknowingly working in so-called African lion sanctuaries that are a front for canned hunting. 

Always act with extreme caution when booking your voluntourism travels. You want to ensure that your time and money are really benefitting worthy people. 

It’s also important to choose an opportunity that aligns with your interests and skills. You’ll have more impact when you’re fully invested in a project. You’re also less likely to take a job away from an unskilled local laborer when you’re performing specialized work. 

    How Can You Be a Part of the Solution?

    It’s clear that not everyone’s on board with the massive task to preserve the country’s ancient and natural spaces by embracing ecotourism in Peru, so it’s up to you to do your bit when you visit. Here’s how you can ensure you play a positive role in eco-tourism during your trip to Peru:

    Bartering During Your Trip

    Since many of Peru’s cultures are adversely affected by changes in their natural way of life, they’re finding it increasingly difficult to survive. As such, they’re easy targets for tourists looking to pay rock-bottom prices for souvenirs and food.

    While most shopkeepers expect a fair amount of haggling when customers visit their stores, it’s important to pay a fair price when you’re bartering with them.  A few dollars out of your pocket can mean several days’ meals for them. Don’t take advantage of local sellers when you visit Peru.

    Help Contribute to Fair Wages

    These unfortunate people are also prime targets for unscrupulous tourism companies looking for cheap labor. Before you unwittingly book your trip to Peru with one of these institutions, do some research about how your money’s spent.

    Rather book in advance with a reputable tour operator than wing it when you arrive. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. 

    When you book with an environmentally-responsible tour operator, you’re helping to contribute towards preserving the environment as well as local culture. You’re also helping the good guys stay in business so they can continue to uplift education, employ more people, and continue to showcase Peru’s beauty to visitors from around the world. 

    Peruvian lady sitting in the market in Cusco City

    Leave No Trace Behind

    It may seem obvious but littering is a no-no wherever you travel in the world. You won’t find any trash cans along the way while hiking in the Peruvian wilderness, so bear this in mind when packing for your trip.

    Most sustainable travel companies will take care of removing litter on your behalf. 

    You’ll have to take all your litter back out with you. Invest in a reusable water bottle before you leave. It’s lighter to carry, easy to refill, and environmentally-friendly. 

    Support the Locals

    Apart from shopping at local stalls and eating at small family-run restaurants, take time to join in cultural excursions when you can. You’ll learn so much about local life and contribute to your host’s well being.

    Once again, take time to ensure you’re supporting cultural excursions that have the local villagers’ best interests in mind. Avoid animal tourism, it rarely benefits the creatures involved.

    When you get the opportunity, tip well. 

    Avoid giving money to beggars and allowing children to polish your shoes. Often these children’s parents send them out to beg on the streets to provide for their families. It’s a form of child labor.

    If you want to help poor people in Peru, rather make a donation to a recognized charitable organization.

    Keeping it Clean

    When you go hiking on an overnight trail, take planet-safe cleaning materials along with you. Paraben-free soaps and detergents, eco-safe sun creams, and biodegradable toilet tissue are a good place to start.

    A sustainable travel company can advise you on the best products. 

    Be Wary of Wood

    Don’t buy souvenirs made from unsustainable wood or any type of feathers. By doing your bit to decrease the demand for these items, you’re protecting the Amazon and its creatures.

    Mahogany is the main culprit you’ll usually find on offer in markets all over Peru.

    Finding a Sustainable Travel Company

    All it takes is a little common sense to do your bit towards sustainable tourism.

    When you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly travel company, don’t take their word for it. Armed with the information above, ask them about what eco-measures they have in place. 

    Cachi Life understands that preserving the wild spaces in Peru is central to our success. So, we maintain stringent eco-friendly policies in all our efforts. Book now if you want to experience Peru ecotourism at it’s best. 

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