Our South America gap year program explores cultural, political and ecological diversity in Bolivia and Peru.
The Central Andes of Peru and Bolivia are a region full of superlatives, existing at extremes. The ancient Land of the Incas contains a fascinating blend of vibrant cultures and dramatic landscapes placed in a modern context of political change and cultural identity issues. Through intensive Spanish language courses, numerous service learning opportunities, rugged travel, wilderness trekking and independent study, Andes and Amazon semester students explore the links between land and people, past and present. Students will also examine current political trends, social movements and environmental conservation efforts in the mountains and jungles of Bolivia and Peru.
All roads lead to La Paz and our time in Bolivia will revolve around this bustling urban center, with its palpable sense of important political, economic and social change. Students will experience the proud cultural heritage of La Paz while soaking up the warm hospitality of its residents.
From La Paz, the Andes and Amazon group will set out for our first rural home-stay in the Apolobamba Mountains along the Peruvian border to the north, one of the most remote corners of the Andes. Here we live with Kallawaya families, a culture renowned for its lineage of healers, fortune-tellers and shaman. We live as the locals do, helping harvest tubers and legumes and helping to make adobe bricks, each day bridging our two cultures, learning about subsistence and definitions of poverty. After home-stays and a 6-day trek in the Apolobamba, we move to our base in Sorata for the next month. Sitting at a temperate 6,000 feet, Sorata is stunningly beautiful, perched on a ridge below two 21,000 foot peaks, some of the highest in the Andes. In Sorata we develop Independent Study Projects with themes as varied as traditional weaving, current politics, Andean music and sustainable agriculture.
A traditional hacienda style farm perched on the banks of a rushing mountain stream will act as our classroom and program house. Here we will begin studies in cultural ecology by exploring the intricate links between the rich cultural heritage and natural landscape of the Andes region. We will meet daily with language instructors who guide us through intensive Spanish-language courses. At night, we bed down in traditional Aymara households, offering a rich contrast to the Kallawaya and Quechua culture of the Apolobamba. Our time in Sorata is also defined by the collaborative work we do with the Sorata Youth Association, affording opportunities to learn about leadership, grassroots development and youth-empowerment through sustainable development and service projects.
The contrast between barren high-alpine landscapes and lush tropical jungle is nowhere more stark than where the Andes meet the Amazon. To intimately experience this transition, we trek along pre-Incan trails known as “the path of gold” that dive from 15,000 foot passes above Sorata through verdant cloud-forests and into the unimaginably lush Amazon rainforest. We learn about Amazonian tribes, ecology, conservation and development in the Madidi National Park, (one of the most bio-diverse places in the world and one of Bolivia’s most contentious conservation projects) and we also visit the Manu National Park in Peru.
Rising back up from the Amazon to the higher climes of Peru, we arrive at Cuzco, the heart of Incan culture and a historic colonial Spanish city. From here we take excursions into the Sacred Valley and visit Machu Picchu, studying pre-Hispanic civilization and eco-tourism. We finish our time in Peru with a trip to surreal Lake Titicaca, with additional studies of pre-Columbian Tiahuanaco and Incan cultures amid this famous mythological birthplace of Andean civilization.
On the Andes and Amazon semester program, expect to hone your Spanish skills while discovering the links between vibrant indigenous peoples and the diverse and breathtaking landscapes they inhabit. Students will come away with a deep understanding of indigenous political trends, important challenges in conservation and development, and a first-hand understanding of day-to-day life in some of the earth’s most dramatic locales.
** The Andes & Amazon Semester is accredited through Prescott College, and students can opt to receive up to four 4-credit courses, though Prescott charges an additional fee. Please call Dragons for further details.
Land cost: USD 11,700
Begins in: Miami
Est. flight cost: USD 935
Following is a sample itinerary for Dragons' Andes & Amazon Semester Program. Our sample itineraries are based on past courses; in order to meet instructor team goals, as well as the goals and interests of particular student groups, future itineraries are subject to change. Please keep an eye on the course's Yak board for additional itinerary-related postings and updates.
Week 1-2: Fly to Sucre for course orientation in the mountains outside the city, learning cultural norms, coming together as a group, goal setting, etc. This orientation time will continue to our first four-day trek, taking advantage of Sucre’s more arid mountains since we’re still in the rainy season in the southern tropics. From here we’ll have five days of home stays and Spanish study before moving back toward the highlands near La Paz. We'll find that our time in Sucre, the country's judicial capital, greatly contrasts our coming experiences in the Bolivian highlands.
Week 3: Carnival in Oruro! Come back from Sucre by bus to Oruro and visit the spectacular carnival celebration here, one of the most important celebrations in all of Bolivia. Costumed traditional dances and water balloons define the occasion and will give a great perspective on celebration and ceremony in the Andes. Carnival continues for a couple of days, during which time travel is difficult and so we’ll take the time to be in La Paz to continue observing the celebration. We will have time to explore the city, watch more parades and possibly work with local artisans and development workers.
Week 4-6: Sorata time, first extended home stay and more language study. Dive in to ISP's, workshops on politics, agriculture, Andean shamanism and cosmology, etc. Weekend trip to Lake Titicaca: Agricultural-ecology expedition: to Santiago de Okola for three nights: traditional fishing village on Lake Titicaca, with home stays, in-depth look at agriculture and cultural traditions of afarming and fishing community. Further inquries into historic Andean Agriculure techniques and crops.
Week 7-8: Apolobamba expedition: From Sorata we travel to the Apolobamba. Hiking the Pacha Trail or High Apolobamba trail to the Kallawaya town of Kaata, with focus on ecological tiers, Andean ayllus (community-structures), etc. Finish with 4-day home stay in Kaata, a traditional Quechua village renowned as healers, shaman and artisans, in a dramatic setting facing the stunning southern Apolobamba skyline and the sacred Cerro Akhamani.
Week 9: Andes to Amazon expedition: Returning from the Apolobamba to La Paz, we will begin our next expedition into the Amazon. We start by hiking the Yunga Cruz trek from La Paz to Chulumani, again focusing on ecological tiers from the high Andes to the lowland Amazon and then visiting our last ecological tier, the yungas – focusing on issues around coca, sustainable development and other workshops.
Week 10-11: Amazon Expedition: From Chulumani we will make our way by bus and then boat to Pilon Lajas Biosphere Reserve: heading first to the Amazon town of Rurrenebaque and then into the forests up the Beni and then the Quiquibay Rivers to the Biosphere Reserve, looking at indigenous issues in the Tsimane-Moseten communities along the Quiquibay, Amazon cosmology, environmental conservation, resource issues, etc. At the end of this time we will travel back to La Paz to regroup and plan for our final two weeks.
Week 11-12: Final course expedition, student led to Southern Peru with opportunities to visit Cuzco, Choquequirao, Ausungate, Machu Picchu or other areas.
Week 13: Return to Sorata and do course-end activities and workshops, etc. Bringing the whole experience home!