Emerging Destinations: Off the Beaten Path | Yampu Tours

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Recently, during the weekend of February 25th, Yampu Tours exhibited at the New York Times Travel Show in New York City.  While at the show Vice President and co-founder Monica Irauzqui participated in a panel discussion focusing on emerging destinations and off the beaten path destinations in South America.  The presentation and following discussion were a great success and we were very proud to present at such a large and infamous show.  The following is Monica’s presentation about “off the beaten path” Yampu tours in Peru and Colombia.

My favorite place to enjoy off the beaten path and experiential travel is Peru.  Even though Peru is a very popular destination, it still offers many authentic and local experiences for travelers.  While there are many cultural experiences that can be arranged according to the interests of the clients, other experiences happen spontaneously.

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In Peru adventurous travelers can hike to remote villages located along the Andes Mountains.

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Clients that enjoy the delicacies of food and beverages can partake in a culinary tour that explores the regional produce and cuisine.  Other opportunities for clients to embrace the Peruvian culture include: visiting a pottery or weaving studio, visiting a local village, biking around the countryside, or partaking in a local game of pickup soccer.

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Peruvian food is one of the culinary world’s best kept secret.  The indigenous products and fresh produce of the different regions of Peru provide exquisite tastes, textures, and bright colors.  The eclectic cooking methods used in Peru encompass different influences from Mayan, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese cultures: the result is sophisticated and tasty dishes.

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Yampu offers a Culinary Tour of Peru that highlight the amazing Peruvian cuisine that is such a large part of the culture.  The culinary tour begins when clients meet Yampu’s Chef, an instructor at the culinary institute in Cuzco, in a local market where together they select fresh ingredients.

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After the market clients continue on to the Chef’s personal home where they are instructed on how to prepare a delicious local meal.  Jose and I have met with this chef and during our lesson we prepared fresh trout ceviche.

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Trout is not a fish commonly used in ceviche but with just a few simple ingredients I was pleasantly surprised.  Once the meal was fully prepared the three of us sat at the dinner table and enjoyed dinner, pisco sours, and delicious Peruvian red wine.

Some of the best opportunities to truly mingle with the locals are by visiting the villages.  During one of our trips in Peru we took a trip to the rural village of Patabamba located high over the Sacred Valley with our children.  On our way up to the village we stopped at a potato farm to learn their techniques and how they dehydrate potatoes, a popular Peruvian ingredient.

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After a few hours in the car, which we were the only car on the road, we climbed up the mountain to an elevation 16,000 feet above sea level looking down into the Sacred Valley.  (To put this impressive view into perspective the Sacred Valley is 9,000 feet above sea level).

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Our local guide spoke the regional language, Quechua, and once we reached the village he mingled with the locals to find the weaving studio.  The weaving studio was a truly amazing experience and filled with large looms and bright dyes used to make the vividly colorful textiles.  The women working in the studio were extremely friendly and eager to demonstrate their weaving techniques.  Hanging on the wall of their studio was a sales and expenses board. I found this extremely interesting because in Yampu’s New York office we have a similar board; it’s humbling to  see how alike and yet different we all are.

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While chatting with the local weaving ladies they began to explain more about their textile business.  The ladies sell their crafts at the large and popular Pisac market located far below in the Sacred Valley.  These women do not have cars and so daily they walk walk 3-4 hours down the mountain into the Valley at the very early in the morning to sell their crafts; at the end of the night make the same trek back up into the mountains to return home. The food part of the market is a largely social experience for the locals and the ladies enjoy going to the market, however I was stunned and amazed by their dedication and persistence.

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After we left the weaving studio our guide took us to the home of a local woman who rents out a room in her house for hikers and travelers that are passing through.  At Yampu we get several client inquiries about family stays, and there are definitely a lot of opportunities.  Family stays are important experiences that allow clients to embrace local daily life and appreciate cultural and lifestyle differences.  However, they are not for everyone, the homestays are not luxurious and are often without heat, running water, and electricity.

While visiting the Senora’s house she demonstrated local cooking methods to us that combine potatoes, aji, vegetables, and whatever meat is available into one big black pot.  The pot is placed over a dome shaped stove and the ingredients all simmer together.  A local specialty in Peru is guinea pig and while the guide was translating the Senora’s demonstrations several “local specialties” were running around the house.

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Another destination off the beaten path where clients can interact with locals is Lake Titicaca and the community of the Floating Isles of Uros.  There are hundreds of these floating islands and they are made entirely of reed.  The islands are magnificent to see and extremely popular with travelers but interacting with the locals allows for unique experiences.

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My family visited another local island community on island of Taquile.  We met with a local family that demonstrated regional farming, cooking, and weaving techniques.  In this particular Peruvian community, unlike in Patabamba, only the men are able to weave while the women make tassels for the hats.

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The Grandfather was the local Shaman of Taquile and was particularly interested in demonstrating how to use ancient farming tools, and local cooking methods.  One regional cooking method uses potatoes and mud to create traditional Peruvian dishes.  The family prepared us a delicious meal that we enjoyed with them inside their home.

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Later in the afternoon, on our way out of the village, we passed a local group celebrating a marriage.  This was a truly memorable experience for my family and was completely random making it all the more special.

Peru encompasses several extremely different communities from those located high in the Andes Mountains to the communities deep in the Amazon.  There are several communities that line off of the Pacay Samiria Reserve, a flooded forest covering five million acres at the headwaters of the Amazon basin.

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It is extremely important for me that I introduce my children to various cultures and I was eager to bring them to a local Amazonian school.  The children had a wonderful time interacting with the locals and we brought prepared packages for each child that included: notebooks, pencils, pencil sharpeners, and crayons.

We frequently have clients asking us how they can participate and volunteer in the local villages that they visit and Yampu has a few ways of doing this.  For all of our adventure tours in Peru we have a Give Back to Peru Program.  During this tour clients are taken to lunch at a restaurant built and run by the locals and the money clients spend here for lunch is put directly into the community to help clean the water or repopulate the forests.

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Reforestation is very important in Peru and clients often want to leave behind a souvenir of their travels that betters the community.  To this end, clients have the opportunity to plant a tree in the village to help with the reforestation process.

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Like myself, there are several clients that are interested in visiting and donating to local schools.  The children of these schools love to receive crayons, pencils, erasers, and other supplies we typically take advantage of.   Yampu can also contact the school before the client arrives to see what the school may need specifically and the client can donate something a little more.

Peru is an extremely popular destination with several communities and regions that are overlooked by mainstream tourism.  In contrast, Colombia is not a hugely popular tourist destination and also offers several opportunities to engage off of the beaten path.

The countryside in Colombia is simply gorgeous with tall green mountains, small colonial villages lost in time, the wild Amazon jungle, and beautiful deserted beaches.

One stunningly beautiful colonial village is Villa de Leyva located in a valley in the heart of Andalucia.  This authentic colonial town was founded in 1572 and its beautiful white buildings truly embrace traditional Spanish architecture.

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Also located in Colombia is Tayrona National Park where travelers hike for an hour an a half through the impressive jungle and suddenly arrive at a surreal beach with wandering wild horses.

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The Lost City of Ciudad Perdida is in Colombia as well and Yampu offers a 7 day trip for avid hikers.  The trek is not along the Inca Trail and while the views are pristine the accommodations are not and hikers often sleep in hammocks.

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The mud baths at Totumo Volcano are very popular tourist destinations, but definitely a great experience! The tours that are done here are in small intimate groups and there are several opportunities to interact with fellow travelers and locals.  The tour begins with a drive through the scenic countryside winding amongst villages untouched by tourists to reach the mud baths entirely run by locals.  After a rejuvenating dip in the mud, locals sponge travelers off and send them to a nearby secluded blue lagoon where the grill is prepared to serve delicious Colombian cuisine.

The island of Nuqui off of Colombia is a serene location perfect for clients looking to experience undiscovered destinations.  The island is covered in high green mountains and long sandy beaches.  The waters surrounding Nuqui are ideal for divers because of the plentiful wildlife particularly from July to October when the humpback whales migrate through from Antarctica.  The island is paradise complete with locals eager to interact with travelers, thermal baths, and unimaginable landscapes.

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Whether you decide to go to the most traveled country or the least traveled country, travelers can be sure that there are always several opportunities to engage with local communities that will make their trips unforgettable.

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