Keeping Nature Beautiful: A Guide to Sustainable Tourism
Awamaki strives to improve the lives of local communities by tackling poverty head on. By creating opportunities in the Peruvian tourism industry, with the homestay program being just one example of this, Awamaki helps families in both built up and rural areas add to their incomes and pass on their way of living to interested and respectful guests. However, just as the communities involved in the programmes have a responsibility to the visitors coming from far and wide to see the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo and the outlying villages, tourists must also respect the local community wherever they visit. Awamaki firmly believes in keeping nature as, well, nature intended! By keeping several points in mind, all visitors can be assured of a warm welcome whenever they choose to return.
Supporting the Local Community
Peru has benefited from one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the past decade, and although the global recession certainly had an impact, growth remains stable. President Ollanta Humala recently spoke of the economic condition, saying that the economy remains “solid” despite signs that indicate a slowdown in growth. However, much of this wealth is distributed amongst businesses in urban areas such as Lima and Cusco, with small rural areas still having to fight desperately against poverty. Even in Ollantaytambo, which benefits from passing visitors headed to Machu Picchu, the bulk of successful tourism businesses are owned and operated by foreigners or professional employees drafted in from larger cities. Additionally, women often struggle to make headway in a largely male-dominated business world, with gender inequalities rife in rural areas. Awamaki aims to address these inequalities by encouraging tourists to reap the benefits on offer in local communities. The Quechua Community Visit allows visitors to meet and interact with members of the women’s weaving cooperative, based in the high-altitude community of Patacancha. As well as getting a little hands-on experience and learning about the lives of the indigenous community, tourists also have the opportunity to purchase handmade textiles – the uniqueness and high quality of these items beats visiting a chain store any day.
Although Ollantaytambo benefits from around half a million tourists making their way to Machu Picchu annually, the U.N World Heritage Site is not the only attraction in the area by far. Thanks to Awamaki’s location in the Peruvian Andes, it sees many mountain climbers with a range of experience looking to feel, quite literally, on top of the world during their vacation. However, while this is great news for tourism, the influx of mountaineers does come with its downsides. One need only look at Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, to see the environmental impact climbers can have upon their surroundings – in fact, the problem has become so severe that the volunteer cleaning team “Saving Mount Everest” managed to shift eight tons of trash from just below the summit in one year alone. Obviously, the communities living in the higher reaches of the Andes do not deserve to be affected by a similar problem, so traveling in an eco-friendly manner is a key responsibility for climbers. This can include little things, such as collecting all garbage and bringing it back down the mountain to dispose of safely, to digging pit toilets that can easily be filled and covered over when leaving camp. Furthermore, following the tips and advice of experienced climbers when it comes to packing for the trip means climbers will not be tempted to overload their backpacks and have to dump objects upon reaching higher altitudes.
Examples of Etiquette
Peru is an extremely friendly country which welcomes visitors from around the world. However, as with any country, there are certain codes of conduct which will help visitors blend in easily and gain acceptance within local communities. Although Peru shares many similarities with Spain, the language being only one, the way of greeting a stranger differs hugely. While in Spain kissing on the cheek is a way of life, a handshake will go down much better if meeting someone for the first time. Haggling in the marketplace is very common and can be great fun, but it is important to remain respectful of stallholders and shopkeepers at all times. Finally, dressing in a relatively conservative manner is recommended, especially in churches and monasteries.