Yes, you want to see the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu when you travel to Peru. But this trip offers the chance to do more by lending a hand at a special school in Cusco. This writer says the trip really shaped her perspective in life.
Travel to Peru to Do Good
I was privileged to be invited to join a delegation of health care professionals from Seattle Children’s Hospital (SCH) to spent two weeks in Cusco, a large Andean city that is home to the remarkable Manos Unidas Camino Nuevos primary school.
This institution delivers education and much-needed services to children with disabilities and to their families. We volunteered at this special school, providing physical therapy to the students. I’m happy to share some of the highlights of our meaningful visit with Manos Unidas in the Sacred Valley.
My Peruvian adventure was an amazing experience both personally and professionally and I will hold on to these memories for a long time to come. Due to generous contributions from the Seattle community, we were able to bring many therapy supplies down to the school and its families.
We spent much time training families and teachers in all of our techniques to facilitate sustainable changes to the children’s day-to-day routine.
Prior to our trip, I wasn’t sure about the lasting impact we would have on these Peruvian children, but I left with a strong feeling of hope. There were several kids that were not moving much when we arrived, but many were laughing and playing by the time we said our goodbyes, and two children were even walking. These Andean families we met along the way were often tearful and beyond grateful. Our full trip blog post and photos can be seen here.
Arriving in Peru
While we flew into Lima Airport, we didn’t spend any time in the Peruvian capital. I’ll have to save exploring the South American capital city’s Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods for another trip.
Instead, we headed immediately to Cusco (locally spelled Cuzco), which, with its population of nearly 430,000 residents, is one of only a few major cities in the Sacred Valley. Known for its beautiful vistas and high altitudes, Cusco sits more than 11,000 feet above sea level in the Peruvian Andes and was a lofty base from which to make several day trips.
Exploring Cusco, Peru
Stunning Cusco, once the capital of the ancient Inca Empire, is literally and figuratively breathtaking and offers many lessons in Incan and Spanish history. Cusco was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and is famous for its beautiful main square, the Plaza de Armas.
We had the opportunity to explore the ancient Inca ruins and enjoy some of the local cuisine, including ceviche, a seafood dish, and pisco, a type of brandy. On Sundays, the locals close down the streets to allow vendors and artisans to sell their goods. We also walked through local cafes and practiced our limited Spanish at the ferías (flea markets), and we sampled our way through the chocolate museum.
Of course, one of the trip’s highlights was the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu. Early one morning, we gathered our belongings and began our trek from Cusco. Of course, many adventurous travelers arrive at Machu Picchu after trekking the 55 miles from Cusco on all or part of the Inca Trail, which passes through a cloud forest, past ancient settlements and many Incan ruins.
TravelingMom Tip: Hikers should allow time to acclimatize in Peru’s high altitudes in order to avoid altitude sickness. And always buy travel insurance.
We got to Machu Picchu the easy way. Three hours after boarding a Peru Rail train and traveling through the beautiful landscape of the Sacred Valley, we reached Aguas Calientes, the main gateway town located near the base of Machu Picchu. We relaxed overnight, enjoying the natural hot springs (Aguas Calientes means “hot waters” in Spanish) and some traditional Peruvian food and pisco for dinner. The next day, we woke up early to catch the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail ends at Machu Picchu. That is where we met Carmen, our exceptional Peru travel guide. Carmen guided us throughout the ruins of Machu Picchu and gave us an in-depth history of this spectacular place, which deserves its designation as the “Wonder of the World.” The 15th-century Inca citadel is set on a mountain ridge with spectacular views. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti.
After exploring, we took the rest of the day to shop the local markets of Aguas Calientes before traveling to the town of Pisac, where we were welcomed into the guest home of Celeste Marion, Co-founder of Manos Unidas. That is a non-profit school for special education in Cusco. It’s mission is to help improve the quality of life for children with disabilities and their families
I feel fortunate to have visited one of South America’s most iconic regions and I hope to return to Peru again some day with my family, as it was a beautiful place with a warm and friendly culture. I highly recommend Peru as a travel destination!
For now, I find myself trying to hold on to a few Peruvian customs that I hope to integrate into our day-to-day lives in the United States, including:
- Intentionally greeting each other with a hug and kiss as opposed to barely looking up from our devices.
- Increasing engagement during our family meal times.
Lastly, I hope we can all pause for a moment to be thankful for winning the lottery of being born healthy in America. Even on our worst day here, we have so much.
April, 2020, Trip to Lend A Hand in Peru
I invite you to join Global Family Travels next April on this wonderful adventure to Peru. It offers the opportunity to Learn, Serve and Immerse.
On this nine-day trip to Peru, you will learn about the ancient history and cultures of the Sacred Valley and volunteer with Manos Unidas Peru. You will be welcomed by the diverse Peruvian people who take pride in offering incredible services and experiences to visitors. That includes traditional foods, celebrations and festivals.
Note that April is the beginning of the dry season in the Sacred Valley. Up to 80 percent of the region’s annual precipitation comes during the rainy season, which runs from November to March.
Day 1: Arrive at Lima Airport (Jorge Chávez International Airport) in the early morning, and connect on a flight to Cusco. Upon arrival, transfer to Cusco hotel to recover from jet lag and rest.
Day 2: Morning orientation with Manos Unidas Founder and Executive Director, followed by a Cusco city tour and visit nearby Inca ruins. Welcome lunch at Manos Unidas Café.
Day 3: Spend the day volunteering at Manos Unidos school, learn more about the program and participate in a special Olympics activity.
Day 4: Meet with Manos Unidos families in their rural or urban community homes and work on a service project together.
Day 5: Travel to Pisac. We will get a chance to explore this quaint town, famous for its artisan markets.
Day 6: After breakfast we will visit Lake Kinsa Cocha and Amaru Quechua community.
Day 7: After an early breakfast, we will visit the ancient ruins of Moray, Inca Salt mines and archaeological town of Ollantaytambo, and finally take a train to Aguas Calientes where we spend the night.
Day 8: Spend the day exploring Machu Picchu, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Day 9: Morning visit with Manos Unidas’ young adult vocational training program site, followed by a farewell lunch a Manos Unidas Café. We head to the Cusco airport for our flight back to Lima and our flight back home.
Please visit Global Family Travels for a detailed itinerary and to book your spot on this trip of a lifetime!
This post was written by Debra Glazer.