Study and volunteer programs, including Spanish-language programs, are often a great way to travel in and experience a country with greater depth than most independent and package travel allows. Cultural immersion and integration with locals are the aims of many such programs, leading to a richer experience for many travelers.
Volunteering, in particular, often leads to greater culture sensitivity and cross-cultural learning experiences. Especially in a developing, largely poor country such as Peru, volunteers see up close the realities of the lack of running water and electricity, the relative absence of luxuries, and simple, home-cooked foods—not to mention local customs and traditions. And at least for a short time, volunteers get the rewarding opportunity to lend their abilities and sweat toward addressing some of the challenges Peruvians face. Such aspects of Peruvian life might be considerably more difficult to apprehend if staying in nice hotels and dining at upscale restaurants.
Most volunteer organizations are not-for-profit entities that charge participants to go abroad (to cover administrative and other costs), so volunteering isn't usually a way to get a free vacation. If you're concerned, though, ask about the cost breakdown for costs and field expenses. Any established, reputable volunteer organization should be willing to do this. Then you could always compare those costs to what traveling on your own would amount to.
Volunteer & Working Trips
Below are several institutions and organizations that work on humanitarian and sustainable development projects in Peru. Some international relief organizations such as Doctors Without Borders (www.doctorswithoutborders.org) and CARE (www.care.org) accept volunteers to work crises and relief efforts. The devastating earthquakes in southern Peru in 2001 and 2007 brought hundreds of volunteers to Peru.
Cross-Cultural Solutions (www.crossculturalsolutions.org; tel. 800/380-4777), with offices in New Rochelle, New York, and Brighton, U.K., offers weeklong volunteer programs in Peru (in Lima's Villa El Salvador shantytown). The "Volunteer Abroad" section lists a number of opportunities for volunteering in Peru, including teaching and environmental research. Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org; tel. 888/839-3535), with headquarters in New York and a local field office in Urubamba (in the Sacred Valley), organizes several unique volunteer and internship opportunities in Peru, including Inca restoration projects (such as the Sacsayhuamán ruins on the outskirts of Cusco), rainforest conservation, teaching, nursing, and dentistry. The World Leadership School (www.worldleadershipschool.com; tel. 303/679-3412) is a Colorado-based organization that operates 3- to 4-week programs concentrating on infrastructure and natural disaster prevention in El Carmen, on the desert coast; cultural preservation in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley; and climate change and ecosystem preservation in Puerto Maldonado, gateway to the southern Amazon. Lima-based Mundo Azul (www.mundoazul.org; tel. 01/99410-4206) takes volunteers on environmental conservation and sustainable development programs along the coast (marine biology research) and in the rainforest (threatened species). Trips off the coast south of Lima to view and photographically document the large population of playful dolphins may be the most fun you can have doing an environmentally conscious volunteer program.
Another volunteer program is Volunteers for Peace (www.vfp.org; tel. 802/259-2759), based in Vermont.
Earthwatch Institute (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org) has a unique mission: It sends travelers out to work in the field alongside scientists involved in archaeology and environmental conservation. There are three Peru research and education trips: You can join a 13-day excavation of a pre-Inca site, assist with research of Peruvian macaws, or document the biology of Andean rivers. But the trips are not all work; they're a way to see a fascinating slice of the country from an insider's—academic or conservationist—perspective.
Academic Trips & Language Classes
Consider local language schools, located in Cusco, Lima, and Arequipa, which offer both short- and long-term study programs, often with home stays. Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) occasionally lists Spanish-study programs of short duration in Peru and other South American countries; follow the "Study Abroad" tab on the website for options.
One standout school in Cusco is the Amigos Spanish School, Zaguan del Cielo B-23 (www.spanishcusco.com; tel. 084/242-292), a nonprofit school that assists disadvantaged children through its Amigos Foundation. In Lima, El Sol Escuela de Español, Grimaldo de Solar 469, Miraflores (www.elsol.idiomasperu.com; tel. 800/381-1806), marries language classes to cooking workshops, dance classes, and other activities. Also in Lima, Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano, Angamos Oeste 160, Miraflores (www.icpna.edu.pe; tel. 01/241-1940) offers long-term classes, usually with daily 1-hour sessions from branches in Lima and Cusco.
Food & Wine Trips
Peru's sophisticated, diverse cuisine has attracted a great deal of worldwide attention in recent years, and gastronomic tourism is taking hold in Peru. Multiple companies offer food-centric vacations.
English-speaking Peruvian Ericka LaMadrid’s Delectable Peru gourmet food tours (www.delectableperu.com; tel. 239/244-2336 in the U.S.) are some of the most comprehensive food tours being offered in Lima. On the tours you can chat and take cooking classes with top Peruvian chefs, ask what ingredient(s) make a dish a delight, see where the magic happens in the kitchen, and learn about some of the many treats specific to Peru. Delectable Peru specializes in custom tours, many of them focusing on a specific dish or type of food, such as ceviche or Nikkei. Set tours are available as well.
Kansas-based Culture Explorers (www.cultureexplorers.com; tel. 215/870-3585) runs in-depth, tailor-made culinary tours that include dinners at top restaurants, cooking workshops, celebratory feasts, and visits to culinary schools with some of the proceeds going to help social enterprises in the country.
Taste of Peru (www.taste-of-peru.com; tel. 866/217-1542) is run by Magical Cusco Tours, a Peru/U.S.-based company in operation for more than 2 decades. Tours range from standard day trips and cooking classes at top Peruvian restaurants to multiday culinary tours with accommodations and transportation that combine an array of activities in different parts of the country, especially Lima and Cusco.
Aracari (www.aracari.com; tel. 312/239-8726 in the U.S., or 020/3287-5262 in the U.K.), an upscale Peruvian agency that designs excellent custom tours, has a free Peru culinary guide on its website. On offer are a 10-day "Peru with Flavor" trip and personalized culinary tours with exclusive visits to private houses and haciendas for private luncheons and cocktails, as well as cooking classes, visits to food markets, and dining at some of the finest restaurants in Peru.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.