Travel with Purpose: Empowering Women of Peru

 Peru is facing challenges due to overtourism. But tourism is also helping to empower communities, particularly those along the route to Machu Picchu. Read on to find out how you can travel with purpose and help empower local women.

Whether you hike the famous Inca Trail or ride the train to discover Machu Picchu, it’s an extraordinary experience. There’s no question that an increasing numbers of travellers are going to Peru. But much is being done to preserve this ancient site and ensure it, and the surround communities, are sustainable for decades to come.

Conservation in Machu Picchu

In Peru, my guide said that as a boy growing up, his family would picnic in the ruins of Machu Picchu. Decades later, travellers were able to camp on the terraces of the site. These days, Peru is taking preservation seriously and the area within the ruins is largely cordoned off. It’s not uncommon to see staff working diligently onsite to restore and maintain what is there.

Responsible Tourism in Peru

While Machu Picchu is the pinnacle of any Peru tour, there is more to see. I travelled on a tour focused on responsible tourism. We visited social impact projects, such as the Weaving Workshop or Pawra restaurant. These projects are ideal responsible tourism initiatives, allowing women in local communities to make a living from tourism. And people can travel with purpose.

It’s a perfect example of social impact travel.

I wrote about responsible travel to Peru, highlighting what makes this adventure special when it comes to social impact travel. Here is part of the story as it originally appeared in The Toronto Star.

Responsible Travel: Women of Peru

The Quechua woman shampoos a handful of alpaca wool by rubbing it against a piece of bark in a bowl of water, turning the colour from dirty brown to white. Next up is the dye. Tiny cochineal bugs are dried and ground with a mortar; the dust mixed with salt and water to create a shade of red. Add a touch of lime and the colour turns orange. The woman is preparing the wool for the loom where she will expertly craft textiles that tell the story of her history, culture and people. The process appears simple, but it’s based on knowledge of Andes culture passed on from centuries ago.

Social Impact Travel

Our group of travellers has stopped to learn the art of weaving here at the Ccaccaccollo’s Women’s Weaving Workshop, tucked away in the Sacred Valley between the high-altitude city of Cusco and Machu Picchu. The weaving project was developed to empower local women particularly as mass tourism started to take off in the region.

Empowering Women 

An important part of their culture, the women chose weaving for this project to preserve this ancient tradition. In the time of the Inca Empire, with no known alphabet or writings to document their incredible feats, men instead carved their history and beliefs into mountains, while women shared stories by weaving sacred objects and symbols representing Inca tools, deities and family status into their textiles.

The women spend several hours a day here making textiles and giving demonstrations to travellers, all the while they proudly showcase their traditional dress with patterns and colours that signify which village each woman is from.  The impact has been profound. With funds earned from sales of their products, these women can support their families, many sending their children to school.

Visiting this community is a perfect example of how to travel with purpose.

Travel with Purpose in the Sacred Valley

From here, our bus takes us through the Sacred Valley where crops of corn and potatoes grow along agriculture terraces in the mountains. We stop for a traditional lunch at Pawra restaurant.Surrounded by mountains and myths of a civilization who ingeniously lived off the land and amassed wealth through agriculture, Pawra’s food showcases its environment. Women from nearby villages work the kitchen, serving dishes made with ingredients they would cook with in their own homes: potatoes, quinoa, eggs and maize. The women working here tell me that they rotate their time off and on the job to ensure that as many women as possible in the nearby villages have an opportunity for some work.

Over the next few days, our group makes our way through the Sacred Valley, ending with the jewel of this adventure: Machu Picchu. When we arrive to this 15th century Inca city more than 2,430 metres above sea level, the picture-perfect view from high above the ancient ruins is shrouded in clouds. But, as we walk around this world wonder, the clouds lift revealing the stone structure, a testament to the strength and ingenuity of the Inca Empire.