Peru was the cradle of the Inca Empire and later became the seat of the Viceroyalty of Peru which had jurisdiction over all of Spanish South America. It is home to many indigenous ethnic groups and it's the layers of great civilisations that make it so intriguing.
It also has some of South America's most spectacular and varied scenery. The Peruvian Andes are home to millions of indigenous highlanders who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life. The mountains are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and beckon world-class adventurers en masse.
View slideshow of Peru's Challenge Volunteer programme
In the south of the country, Cuzco lies cradled by the Andes at an altitude of 3400 metres. It has the thinnest air in South America, and is a city best explored on foot, resulting in even the fittest gasping for breath and grappling with headaches and nausea.
It is recommended, suggested and strongly advised that visitors take a couple of days just resting to acclimatise before doing almost anything. Some travellers even spend time in a lower-altitude village so they don't become tempted to over-do it in Cuzco too soon.
Once breathing becomes easy again, it's not hard to see why Cuzco imperial city of Machu Picchu and capital of the Inca Empire is one of South America's highlights.
It is stately and historic, with stone streets and building foundations laid by the Incas over five centuries ago. While its Plaza de Armas is a mecca for throngs of travellers, it has preserved its own character and enduring appeal. A fascinating blend of pre-Columbian and colonial history sits side by side with contemporary mestizo culture.
Cuzco's highlights include both Incan ruins, such as Sacsayhuamán, a seemingly impregnable fortress on a hill, and Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun. It also has wonderful colonial-era baroque and Renaissance churches and mansions. The heart of the historic centre has suffered relatively few modern intrusions apart from a staggering number of souvenir shops, travel agencies, hotels and restaurants overflowing with visitors.
Despite all the beauty and history, life for many Peruvians is tough.
Enter Australian Jane Gavel and Peruvian Selvy Ugaz who have set up Peru's Challenge. The not-for-profit organisation works with volunteer travellers to improve education, health and hygiene standards in indigenous mountain villages.
Within Cuzco, 75 percent of the population lives in abject poverty and 60 percent of its inhabitants have at least one unsatisfied basic need. Levels of education and literacy are worse than the national average, with Cuzco among the worst in the country at 18 percent.
Most of Peru's Challenge's work focuses in and around Cuzco in some of its poorest areas. The population of communities they assist are essentially indigenous, of Quechua origin, uneducated and malnourished. Sadly, none of the economic benefits of tourism seem to reach rural communities.
The Challenge differs from most volunteer organisations as it offers complete volunteer travel packages, each designed to offer the chance to travel in South America affordably, at the same time contributing directly to local communities and creating opportunities, particularly for the children of Peru. It is a wonderful way to experience and understand the country.
Volunteers are the life-blood and by joining a Peru's Challenge programme you will:
- Create opportunities for the children of Peru; basic education, healthy food and fresh running water
- Travel in one of the most magical and picturesque locations on earth.
- Live in Cuzco, the oldest inhabited city in the western hemisphere
- Explore sacred ruins of the mighty Inca civilisation
- Surround yourself in the language and culture of the indigenous mountain people of Peru
To become a Peru's Challenge volunteer you don't need to speak a word of Spanish though it would be an advantage or have ever worked with children. It is rewarding for all ages the youngest so far was six and the oldest 74. Groups of friends and families are welcome and discounts are offered to three or more people who volunteer together.
An interest in working with children, health and nutrition, arranging fundraisers, living and working with Peru's indigenous people and helping with reading, writing, dance, drama, music and sport opens Peru's Challenge doors for you.
You may choose a specific project you would like to work on or divide your time between all of them. A Learn to Speak Spanish language course is included and most of the Challenge's local staff speaks some English. Each volunteer contributes around 25-30 hours a week, leaving plenty of time to see some fascinating places and meet some wonderful people.
Cuzco in the south of Peru.
Peru's Challenge four-, eight- and 12-week programs start at around $2480 per person including air transfers from Lima to Cuzco, accommodation, several tours, salsa and Peruvian cooking classes and a four-day trek to Machu Picchu. Programs start every month with the exception of February.
Aerolineas Argentinas has return flights to Lima.
- Sydney, $2429
- Melbourne and Brisbane, $2529
- Adelaide, $2859
- Perth and Darwin, $3299
Valid for sale and ticketing until March 15, 2007 and for travel between March 1 and November 30, 2007. Conditions apply. Prices correct at March 8, 2007.
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