‘They become my family’: how rural ecotourism is changing lives in Andean communities

There is a group of women entrepreneurs from the Chacan community in Cusco, Peru who welcome tourists into their homes so they can experience the rural Andean way of life.

Leocadia is one such campesina. Through learning opportunities with the Centro Bartolome de las Casas (CBC), a Cuso International partner in Peru, she successfully launched her own ecotourism package. When guests stay at her home, they are invited to join her in her daily activities, learn how she makes traditional medicines from local plants, and try their hand at traditional weaving techniques.

Leocadia in her home.

Through her business, Leocadia has access to her own income. And ecotourism allows her to maintain her culture and traditions. But it’s not only about what she shares with her guests.

“Before we lived only from our land. We worked with our husbands in the fields and cooked. Now we also live from tourism and this is enriching,” says Leocadia. “They visit us from other countries in order to have an exchange with us. They learn about our way of life and we learn about theirs. We talk and exchange points of view at the table. I like working and living with tourists, they become my family.”

Cuso International volunteers work with the CBC by providing technical assistance in the area of sustainable tourism. The women gain knowledge and skills in the areas of marketing, collecting payments and financial management, and constructing tours that focus on topics like traditional gastronomy and weaving.

Ecotourism is providing the women of the cooperative with more financial independence, the ability to work from home while caring for growing children and pay for their schooling, and the opportunity to share and pass on cultural traditions, knowledge and skills to the younger generation.

Amie Gibson, Fundraising Officer at Cuso International, says for her, meeting the women involved with the CBC was the highlight of the Cuso Challenge Trek for Good to Machu Picchu in 2018.

“It was amazing to see the entrepreneurial spirit of these women. They want to be successful not only for themselves but for their children. And an offshoot of this is they get to proudly share their culture with people from around the world,” says Amie.

“I came away amazed by the profound level of generosity that was shown towards us. We could not thank them enough for showing us their hospitality, their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit and, most of all, a glimpse into their beautiful culture. It was a truly inspiring experience.”

Astrid Nielsen, a professional forester in Ottawa, signed up for the 2020 Cuso Challenge Trek to Machu Picchu because of the opportunity to visit the CBC.

“This trip appealed to me because, in addition to the adventure, I also get to make a difference in the world,” she says. “I feel lucky everyday to be blessed with good physical and mental health and to have everything I need to live a comfortable and safe life. I recognize that I am so fortunate and like to do what I can to help. Meeting the people that Cuso supports through these initiatives makes it a much more meaningful trip.”