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Would You Consider a Volunteer Vacation? What If It Was in Machu Picchu?

What makes a vacation unforgettable? For some, it's putting in some hard work in a spectacular setting.

Machu Picchu Volunteer Vacation with REITowering 1,500 feet above the raging Urubamba River in Peru's Andean highlands, Machu Picchu beckons travelers from around the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and rightfully so. For nearly 400 years, this mountain citadel was abandoned and lost in the jungles of Peru. It was not rediscovered until 1911, when a Yale professor, Hiram Bingham, found the site overrun with vegetation. It is now one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world.

The amount of traffic to the Sacred City, Machu Picchu's main sanctuary site, has caused impacts to the cultural and natural resources within the park. Park rangers do all they can to help preserve the area but more work is constantly needed.

REI Adventures offers 6 different active tours to Machu Picchu. Although they are all run with sustainability as a major focus, in 2010 we decided to offer a 7th tour, giving visitors the chance to experience the area while giving back in very impactful ways. By partnering with the nonprofit Conservation Volunteers International Program (CVIP), REI now provides a volunteer vacation to Machu Picchu.

Cleaning ruins on the Machu Picchu Volunteer VacationIn early November, a group of 11 REI members flew down to Peru to get their hands dirty doing some extraordinary volunteer work in places tourists are normally not allowed to enter. Instead of visiting Machu Picchu alongside thousands of other travelers who come for short visits before returning to Cusco, these volunteers toured the Sacred City virtually alone.

Jungle plants grow quickly on building walls and agricultural terraces, damaging these archaeological treasures. Volunteers were asked to remove these plants before growing roots would cause damage. While tourists looked on, REI volunteers stood in the steps of Inca craftsmen who first constructed and maintained these structures more than 500 years ago.

Cleaning ruins on the Machu Picchu Volunteer VacationVolunteers worked alongside park rangers and were later invited into their homes as friends. It is definitely a unique way to experience the impressive area. One volunteer commented, "Sitting outside the restaurant to drink a cold beer at the end of the day and share stories with other volunteers was great. We became like locals, sitting on the patio watching the tourists walk by, while some of the rangers walking home stopped to say hello."

Guide training on the Machu Picchu Volunteer VacationTo prepare for the conservation work, volunteers received training inside the Sacred City by the head archaeologist, anthropologist and natural resource specialist for Machu Picchu. One REI volunteer expressed her reaction to this experience: "As soon as I entered the small hidden room inside the Sacred City and the archaeologist explained the religious ceremony that the Inca held in that secret place, my whole body tingled. There was something in there, a powerful force, that I will never forget."

Trail work at a butterfly sanctuary on the Machu Picchu Volunteer VacationIn addition to the work inside the Sacred City, these REI volunteers performed trail work to a portion of an Inca trail, planted trees, painted boundary monuments, built a wall within a butterfly sanctuary and visited several other historic sites. Note: The Peruvian government determines where each volunteer group will work. REI groups may be assigned to areas both inside and/or outside the Sacred City. 

These ordinary people use their limited vacation time to create extraordinary impacts, both personally and for Machu Picchu. For some, it is their first time experiencing the site, yet for others it is a way they can give back to a place that formed a powerful impression earlier in their life.

One volunteer from the November trip confessed: "This trip opened my eyes to the importance of giving back. I had no idea how much work went into protecting these international treasures. I really have a better appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the rangers."

REI and CVIP offer 2 other volunteer vacations to Torres del Paine National Park and Yosemite National Park.

Have you spent your vacation time volunteering? Tell us about your experience.

Pictured below: the first REI group of Machu Picchu volunteers.

Posted on at 12:53 PM

Tagged: CVIP, REI Adventures, Travel, Volunteer Vacation, machu picchu and stewardship

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I volunteer every summer with a group called Teacher Restoration Corps, we're based in Wisconsin. We work with the NPS and USFS restoring historical structures mostly in the western US and Alaska. I've seen many beautiful places and it feels great to give back to the places that bring such pleasure to everyone.

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