Homestays and Slow travel
Elena continues: “Better Places specializes in community-based tourism. That means that we organize trips that improve social conditions in Peru and leave a minimal ecological footprint. We do this with homestays, which allow tourists to stay with locals. Alternatively, we book stays in eco-lodges and hotels that support social projects, such as helping underprivileged young people. To encourage tourists to experience slow travel and stay longer in one place, we organize cycling and walking tours with local guides. That way the population benefits from tourism, while travellers experience real Peruvian life.”
This type of travel is not self-evident for the local partners Better Places works with, explains Elena. “Therefore, part of our job is to explain how they can make the stay of tourists as sustainable as possible. We discourage the use of single-use plastics, for example, and assist them with getting solar panels to generate renewable energy.”
Lodging at the Locals
Time to put the theory to the test, so the next day we hop on bikes. On a route that runs through the Sacred Valley, we see the Peruvian countryside from up-close. Our very knowledgeable guides tell us all about the history of the area, its people, and the threats they face. We regularly interrupt our cycling to visit archaeological Inca sites, such as ruins of ancient temples and agricultural lands, built as round terraces. “This is where the Incas developed techniques for growing crops in high altitudes” our guide Max explains.
The following days we literally follow in the footsteps of the Incas. Under the leadership of a local guide we hike on trails that the Incas used to reach all corners of their vast empire. Narrow paths through dense forests and along steep cliffs give us a sense of what living here 500 years ago must have been like. As we follow a different way than most hikers, we often walk with just our group of five en route to our homestays. While staying at local families’ homes we are catapulted back to 2019 and get a glimpse of what their life is like.
This area to the northwest of Cusco is well-known for its small-scale tea and coffee plantations. We make our way to a forest and meet the director of a tea plantation. “Those plants underneath the trees, that’s tea” he explains. “The forest creates a perfect ecosystem for our organic tea.” We get to pick the leaves, before bringing our harvest to the processing building, where we learn to make tea from the leaves. The next day, after another hike, we meet our new hosts, Alejandro and his family. Soon after, we find ourselves picking coffee beans on the hill above their house. “Choose only the red beans, the green ones are not yet ripe”, Alejandro instructs us. By helping with the entire process from plant to cup, we experience first-hand how much work it is to make a cup of coffee. Over dinner at their home, we learn more about the way of life of the family and the challenges they face to earn a decent living. Alejandro receives only a fraction of the retail prices for his beans, so we are glad to contribute to his income by staying with him. And we gladly buy some coffee directly from him.