Volunteer opportunities in Peru can be found all over the country, from the depths of the Amazon Jungle to the snow topped mountains and blue glacier lakes of Huaraz. Individuals who volunteer in Peru will find themselves feeling extremely cherished by the people they help and shocked by the local’s own generosity and friendly nature. Peru is home to some of the most renowned archeological remains in the world; learn about the tragic tale of Atahualpa, the last Incan King with a weekend in Cajamarca, or test your balance sandboarding down the dunes near the desert oasis of Huacachina, all while volunteering abroad in Peru.
Beginning in March 2017, Peru has been faced with immense flooding, rendering many families homeless and leading to numerous other issues. As this tragic flooding continues, availability of volunteer opportunities in Peru may vary, depending on the organization and location.
Cusco, the red roofed city, was once the capital of the Incan Empire and has gained its modern fame as a gateway to Machu Picchu, because there are multiple Incan Trails that lead from Cusco to the famous mountain ruins. It is a charming city which provides easy access to several ancient ruins and green valleys. But with all the magnificence beyond Cusco, many forget what is offered within the city itself. Volunteers in Cusco can walk just ten minutes from the Plaza de Armas (the city center) to visit Sacsayhuaman, an ancient Incan military fortress. Cusco also has a plethora of Cathedrals and ancient Incan architecture living side-by-side. It is also filled with Spanish Language Schools so it is a great place to study Spanish on the side.
While volunteering in Cusco you will see many foreigners, so if you are looking for an off the beaten path, secluded experience where you will meet no one but Peruvians, then Cusco is not the place. That being said there are many volunteer organizations in Peru that are based in Cusco, but many do the majority of their work in the surrounding area.
Lima, a sprawling and bustling city, will surprise many with its ample volunteer opportunities. The city has grown so quickly over the last two decades that it is hard to pinpoint the needs of its ever-growing population. Droves of people from rural locations moved to the city in the late 1980s and early ‘90s as a result of The Shining Path, a terrorist/guerilla organization that was active in rural areas during that time. The quick growth of the city resulted in disorganization as Lima expanded. The criss cross streets of Centro de Limo leave you quickly lost when you attempt to travel outwards, and “Shanty Towns” frame as well as sprinkle nearly the entire city.
Centro de Limo is identical to cities in Spain in many ways, with giant Spanish style mansions left from the conquistadores, cathedrals, and tons of shopping and restaurants. Volunteering in Lima’s shanty towns can seem a million miles away, as many lack any real structure and schools are often shacks with tin roofs. Playgrounds need repairs, buildings need new paint, children need supervision, and teachers need educational assistance in these communities.
Lima is an allusive city; many of its problems are slightly hidden behind the well-to-do districts, where most students studying in Peru live, or the historic center and ocean cliffs, where tourists flock. While it is a much less popular location for volunteering in Peru, there is plenty of need for volunteer projects in Lima.
Rural Areas. Smaller cities, like Chiclayo on the western coast and The White City of Arequipa, offer ample opportunities to volunteer in Peru as well. Volunteers can choose between extremely secluded villages in the Amazon or mid sized towns.
Volunteer Projects in Peru
Around 15 percent of the population lives in poverty and classism thrives. People with native Quechua background and darker skin are openly looked down upon and live in an entirely different world, even within the same city as their lighter skinned counterparts. The idea of changing the life you were born into is difficult and often not even considered an option, which leads to a range of complex needs and highly impactful volunteer programs in Peru.
On top of these social issues, Peru has been faced with extensive flooding since early March 2017, leaving thousands of families homeless as flooding continues. Therefore, diaster relief voluntering in Peru is a particularly important type of volunteer work to consider currently.
Community Development & Education. These are the most prevalent volunteer projects in Peru, spanning from teaching English and clean water projects, to city clean ups and construction projects. The political terrorism of the 80s and the ensuing influx of the population strained resources and left many people without their traditional lifestyle and work. People in the rural areas are in need of better educational opportunities and community projects that can ease the difficulty of daily life.
Healthcare. The level of access to health care varies greatly throughout the country, making medical volunteering in Peru a high demand placement. In more rural areas, disease prevention is almost nonexistent, and what developed countries would consider simple procedures are much more serious and life threatening. For example, a chipped tooth could result in the tooth being pulled rather than simply being filled. Diabetes is a growing issue because of unbalanced diets and some areas of the country have literally no access to health clinics at all. Preventative education, assisting with physical exams, and encouraging personal hygiene are common responsibilities. Individuals looking to volunteer in Peru in the medical field may sometimes required, or at least encouraged, to have knowledge of the Spanish language.
Environment & Conservation. Peru’s diverse geography and vast Amazon Rainforest make it a prime location for environmental and conservation volunteer placements. These projects are hands on and perfect for volunteers seeking outdoor time. The most popular locations are environmental volunteering in Peru are the Amazon Basin, the Urubamba Valley, and Lake Titicaca.
Volunteer placements in Peru typically last around four weeks, but longer and shorter stays are widely available.
Costs & Affordability
In general, volunteering in Peru is affordable. The bargaining side of Peruvian culture helps expenses stay low, as does the favorable exchange rate. Markets and small shops are easy to find in cities and most small towns alike, and price is never a static number but more of an open discussion. Unlike many other countries, Peru does not seem to hike up prices for foreigners so intensely and instinctively. Instead locals will pitch foreigners a price, especially for things like taxi rides and tours, but it is usually comparable to the local pricing, and they will easily change if you speak in Spanish or give some indication that you know what the price should be. Volunteers in Peru will be able ot grab a quick bite for just a couple dollars or experience five star dining for little more than $20 USD.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodations for individuals volunteering in Peru will vary even within the same neighborhoods in the same cities. Common accommodations options available are homestays, volunteer houses, or hotels/hostels, both in urban and rural areas. In some volunteer programs in Peru, volunteers will be asked to share a room with another volunteer during their stay. Homestays or living with Peruvians is the best way to become familiar with the culture of Peru, as one would expect.
While most urban areas will have WiFi in almost every establishment, this is not the case for rural places. However, if your accommodation happens to be in a rural area, Internet cafes are still popular, so you can find a cafe to plug into at some point.
If volunteering in Peru for 90 days or less, U.S, Canadian, U.K., and Australian citizens do not need to obtain a tourist visa, as long as they have a current up-to-date passport. It is recommended that your passport is valid for at least six months past the last date of your travel.
Benefits & Challenges
Wide Selection. Peru has a unique benefit in that there is a very strong presence of NGOs and volunteer organizations that range from super small local projects to larger companies that will have every bit of your trip arranged.
Spanish is highly recommended. Peru is an ideal South American location for learning Spanish, since Peruvians are known for speaking clearly, more slowly, and with a more understandable accent than their neighboring countries. English fluency or even proficiency is not prevalent in many areas, although Peruvians are very interested in learning English and willing to try to speak it. Strangers on the street or in the markets are typically patient, will speak slowly, and repeat themselves without the slightest hint of annoyance, but if you get into a more casual or friendly environment it can be hard to feel involved without a knowledge of the language.
Counterfeit Capital of the World. No joke, Peru was actually given this lovely title in recent years. You WILL encounter fake money and will see the locals inspect the bills and even coins scrupulously. So follow the tips below to avoid counterfeit currency:
- Touch. The Nuevo Sol is printed on 100 percent cotton giving it a unique, soft yet strong feel. They are not crisp and crinkly like most currencies. There should be some dimension to it. Run your fingers along the bill and be sure you feel it.
- Look. Bills also have watermarks which is nothing special in terms of currency, but be sure when you hold the note up to the light the image (the face and denomination) is striking and clear. If it is blurry it may be fake.
- Quality Counts. Peruvians are a bit particular about the state of the money. You can have problems using bills with tears or missing corners so take care of your bills.