In Quechua, the language of the lost Incan Empire, Peru means “Land of Abundance,” a description that fits this country perfectly. The vibrant capital, Lima, is nestled in beside the Pacific Ocean, while the city of Cusco sits amongst the sprawling Andean highlands, as they sink into the secretive depths of the Amazon Rainforest. Sound intense?It is. Peru gives a whole new meaning to the idea of ethnic and geographic diversity. For high school students with a taste for adventure and a thirst for unique cultural exchange, Peru is ideal. Delve into Inca mysteries, community projects, and the Spanish language; you can do all this and more through nearly any high school program in Peru.
Stretching along the western coast of South America, Peru is the third-largest country in the entire region. But, what makes Peru a captivating destination for high school programs abroad? The Andes Mountains slice through the middle of the country, splitting it into two very different, independent cultural regions. In the north, around Lima, you will encounter modern Peru at its finest. Alternatively, in the southern, high-altitude region that encompasses Cusco, you can discover ancient traditions, which have survived for thousands of years.
A starting point for many high school programs in Peru, and an excellent base for learning about present-day Peru, is the modern, thriving city of Lima. One of the largest cities in South America, Lima combines the colonial charm of its historic city center with internationally renowned cuisine. Added to this are exciting opportunities for cultural and language exchange with the large number of young Peruvians that call the capital city home.
If you’re looking for a more traditional Peruvian experience, then you may be interested in the historically important city of Cusco, perched high in the Andes Mountains. Once the capital of the Incan Empire, modern Cusco is a fascinating and visually stunning city, where crumbling ruins stand shoulder to shoulder with colonial Spanish architecture. Many high school programs in Peru spend at least some time in the nearby Sacred Valley, where students can live and work alongside locals. Situated on the doorstep of Machu Picchu, Cusco is the perfect environment for students who want to absorb Peruvian traditions, experience the relics of distant cultures, and learn a new language.
If both of the latter cities sound great, but you’re worried about staying in touch with family back home while you’re away, rest assured that Peru has come leaps and bounds in terms of internet access in both cities. In some rural places, communication can be a little tricky, but living off-grid for a few days will give you even more time to explore this amazing country and truly experience the Peruvian way of life.
High School Programs in Peru
Peru is certainly not lacking in high school programs to suit the tastes of any high school student seeking an incredible international experience. Program opportunities range from high-adrenaline adventure travel to rural cultural integration to language immersion to volunteering projects covering everything from conservation to archaeology to medicine.
Community service programs are the most popular type of high school program in Peru. Service programs typically involve volunteering during the week, with weekends set aside for pre-arranged tours to places of interest, including the must-see Machu Picchu. For those seeking hands-on experience, volunteer programs are excellent, as these programs are carefully structured, use bilingual guides, and allow participants to contribute to pre-organised volunteering projects. Not to mention students can earn some very valuable community service hours, possibly up to 100 hours for a three week trip alone.
While service programs tend to spend a longer period in a specific destination(s), adventure travel programs will generally begin in Lima and then take students to many other fascinating parts of the country. When we say adventure travel, we mean wildlife watching, sandboarding in a desert oasis, and hiking through incredible mountain landscapes, including, of course, Machu Picchu. Plus, if you want to make your time in Peru even more meaningful, some programs combine adventure travel with a short stint of volunteering (two for the price of one? kind of!).
Fancy learning Spanish or Quechua? Peru is a great location to take language immersion courses. Language courses, in some cases, are available through local universities and require you to have previous knowledge of Spanish. But, never fear, the vast majority of language programs in Peru for high school students cater to those with only beginner level Spanish skills. By combining language immersion with a volunteer project, as is offered through many programs, you’ll have an excellent environment in which to practice your new vocabulary.
Regardless of which type of high school program in Peru you choose, the perfect time to visit is in June or July, when the majority of programs happen to run (lucky for you it’s the dry season, which will make the experience vastly more enjoyable!). If you’re between 16 and 19 years of age, then there are plenty of program options to pick from in Peru, and there are even a few programs for students as young as 14 too.
Scholarships & Costs
Prices for high school programs in Peru vary significantly, depending upon the length of the program and the type of activities that are included. In general, two weeks will cost around $2,000 or more, excluding flights to and from Peru. Be sure to read the small print, as some program providers include travel and medical insurance, but this isn’t always the case. To help you cover the costs, there are a range of scholarships available for students who want to participate in high school programs in Peru, and individual providers often have their own scholarships which can help students pay a proportion of the fees too.
High school programs in Peru are ideal for first-time, teen travelers because everything from accommodation to transport and meals is typically included in up-front program costs, so students won’t have to spend much once in-country. Just make sure you don’t buy too many cosy llama jumpers! Added to this, Peru is one of the cheapest countries in all of South America, so even a few luxuries won’t set students back too much.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodations can vary greatly between high school programs in Peru, but most program providers give students the option of staying in either hostels or homestays. Homestays can be an ideal setting for high school students, as these involve living in the house of a local family, where students will join the family for meals, family events, and day to day life. This housing option gives students the chance to swap stories about cultural differences and make friendships that will, no doubt, last a lifetime.
If you’re visiting the jungle or embarking on an environmentally-focused program, you’ll often find yourself in rustic, Amazon lodges complete with silky mosquito nets to keep any unpleasant night time visitors at bay. In some programs, accommodation will be more basic and adventurous. You may even stay with your whole group in a community building where you’ll sleep on simple camping mats or in sleeping bags.
In terms of visas, high school students from the U.S. and most European countries are not required to obtain a visa if staying in Peru for less than 180 days. If your program entails earning academic credit or you will be staying for a full year, you will likely need to apply for a study visa with the support of an educational institution in Peru.
Teens bound for Peru should refer to GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to find the latest news and regulations for travel to Peru.
Benefits & Challenges
Any visit to Peru is likely to shock the system, but this is one of the best reasons to visit. Yes, traveling to a country with a different language and culture can be intimidating; but, all high school programs in Peru will provide structured, exciting introductions to the country, traditions, and its people, and help you quickly feel at home.
What’s more? By taking part in a service project that, at times, completely takes you out of your comfort zone, will help you to recognize quite how much you can achieve and just how strong your work ethic is. You’ll see the impact of your efforts on not only the local community but also on yourself. Your transformation from tourist to meaningful traveler, who has connected, worked, and spoken with a diverse range of new people, will be an experience that you are unlikely to ever forget.
Peru is a country that offers everything, for the adventurous, altruistic, or just plain motivated teen. It is brimming with fascinating cultural traditions, landmarks, and stunning scenery, all ready and waiting to be admired by you. Take a leap of faith and discover just what a baller you can be!