Tierra de Los Yachaqs is a rural community based tourism initiative that welcome visitors to their villages to learn about traditional life in the Andes. From learning to weave in the village of Amaru, to hiking in the Sacred Valley, this is an authentic way to understand rural lifestyles first-hand. Aracari’s Founder Marisol Mosquera shares her experience walking the Route of the Achupalla and escaping mass tourism entirely.
Traditional life with Tierra de los Yachaqs
Everybody who heads to Machu Picchu visits the Sacred Valley and Cusco which sees crowds sticking to the main and more popular sights. While “ticking off” the major sights is must for most visitors, to get you closer to the real Andean Peru it is well worth getting off the gringo trail for a more authentic and tourist-free experience. Community-based tourism initiative Tierra de los Yachaqs achieves just that.
Getting away from the crowds
It takes relatively little effort to reach areas where traditional life is the norm, and where very few visitors go, by simply driving uphill a bit towards the majestic mountains that line the Urubamba valley. Despite being close to the ‘core’ Sacred Valley circuit – known for Incan ruins like Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero, it is a world away. I recently visited with some friends and the result was a day full of the joy of true discovery. It was a close approach, which felt very and refreshingly authentic, to traditional rural life in the Andes.
Andean Village Life
Approximately 60 families live in the community of Janac Chuquibamba, near the village of Lamay, half an hour away on an unpaved road off of the main road from Cusco to Urubamba. These families, whose livelihood consists mainly of animal husbandry, subsistence agriculture and horticulture, have formed an association to run a community based tourism project in order to receive visitors and offer them a glimpse at their way of life.
Hike to see the Achupalla Plant
In this particular community, the highlight of the visit is the hike, 45 minutes uphill to the top then 45 minutes back down while learning about the Achupalla plant that grows wild in the rocky ridges and is widely used as fuel, natural medicine, to build fences and to provide food for cuys (guinea pigs).
This project is well run, and the local people receive a lot of logistical support and advice from the NGO that is helping them. They are first taught about the principles of running a tourism business and hosting guests, then they receive training and then assistance on how to keep their enterprise sustainable in the future, so the experience remains intact. I was very impressed at how authentic it felt, how well organised it was and how much fun it turned out to be.
The sun was shining and the fields were in full bloom as my five friends and I ascended in our van, along the bumpy road to the community. During the steep ascent along a narrow gorge, with streams and creeks on both sides of the road, there were many vantage points that afforded stupendous views of the mountains that surrounded us.
A musical welcome
On arrival, a musical band comprised of a handful of men of all ages, all in local attire, was expecting us playing traditional instruments. The most curious of these traditional instruments is the potuto (sea conch) which was played both by the Varayoc (village leader) and by a young member of the group. Once we were duly welcomed, we were swiftly escorted by the local ladies to try our traditional outfits for the day. In this part of the mountains, local people wear their traditional attire for themselves, not for the tourists. I suppose they have figured that visitors who enjoy photographing the locals in traditional attire will also like to dress up–and they were quite right!
Lunch with the locals
The association members host visitors at each of their homes in rotation. After a quick sit-down snack at one of the locals´ homes, which consisted of local fresh herb tea, papaya pancakes and potato croquettes, we set off on our hike, preceded by the local band playing soft music. After hiking amidst fields of lupin, cantutas and other wildflowers we reached the designated spot where we sat down to learn about the Achupalla plant (a sort of agave) and the myths and legends that surround it, as well as its medicinal and nutritional properties, The explanation included opening one plant and finding the suksakuro worm which inhabits it and is considered a delicacy and very nutritious!
Approximately two hours later we were back at our hosts home, this time to have a hearty, natural, nutritious and tasty lunch, all locally sourced and prepared: trout, veggie pizza (with and without suksakuros!), quinoa salad and tumbo pudding. Dancing ensued, then more music and goodbyes as we headed home.
In an increasingly over commercialised part of Peru, heading out to the hills to meet the locals of Janac Chiquibamba to enjoy their warm hospitality, support their efforts as tourism entrepreneurs, and learn about their customs and way of life was a major treat for my fellow travellers and myself and possibly one of the best ways to enjoy a perfect weather day in the Andes of Peru.
Visit Tierra de Los Yachaq communities with Aracari
Contact us for more information or to arrange a visit as part of a private, tailormade trip to Peru.