An Introduction to Peru for Volunteers

Color travel map of Peru

Famed for Machu Picchu and its Incan history, Peru lies bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

While the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu draw 2,500 visitors per day, there are countless places meriting a visit of their own: the ruins of Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimú Empire; the mysterious 1,500-year-old geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines; the Incan ruins and living indigenous villages of the Sacred Valley; the crafts market and Spanish colonial center of the Arequipa.

The colonial city of Cusco makes an ideal base for trips to the Sacred Valley, including Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.

In addition, the fourth-largest Latin American country (by area) boasts Amazonian rainforests teeming with flora and fauna, and world-class surfing along its golden coastline.

Statistics testify to the need for volunteers: Peru has a gross national income per capita of US$4,700 (2011 World Bank figures), and more than 30 percent of the country’s population lives below the national poverty line. Fittingly, many of the opportunities in Peru relate to education and community development, such as replacing fire pits in homes with stoves, working with special-needs children, or supporting microenterprises. There is also conservation work—restoring natural habitats and rehabilitating wild animals, for example.

Close up view of traditional Andean weaving seen as part of an Awamaki organization tour.
Organizations like Awamaki in Peru support and empower rural women. Photo © McKay Savage, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.