There are many destinations on this planet that seem nothing but perfect to us, letting us experience fantastic cultures and natural areas. However, appearances can be deceptive. We might not be aware of it, being immersed in our trip and stunned by everything we experience, but some destinations do face serious challenges.
Mass tourism, for example, is a big problem that is very difficult to tackle. It generates congestion, litter and lots of noise in places where tourists and the locals come to enjoy tranquility and time for themselves. Many activities can even be harmful to a destination’s culture, nature and sustainability. And believe it or not, these things also happen in our beloved Peru!
As much as we work to offer you sustainable trips and activities, some of this country’s places are not at all managed in a responsible way, which is why we recommend refraining from a visit. The following list of irresponsible destinations and experiences in Peru is not aimed at prohibiting you to visit any of them. We will not try to analyze the causes of any problems either, as they vary a lot and can be quite complex.
Instead, it is a call for attention, in which we want to sensibilize you, give you examples on how not to travel, and offer you some alternatives. We hope it provokes thought and makes you reflect on your own way of traveling not only Peru, but any other country in the world. If you want to inform yourself even more about the subject, feel free to read our article on How to Travel RESPONSibly.
“Local Life” at the Lake – The Uros Floating Islands
The highest navigable lake in the world; that is what lake Titicaca stands for and what makes it famous all over the world. The fact that the people here have built floating islands out of reed and live on them now, leaves us speechless. Of course, such a way of living is something we can only imagine, which is why we are eager to see it with our own eyes.
But even though in theory the Uros islands are a culturally rich place, very few ethnic groups living here have actually preserved their original traditions. It seems that many of the inhabitants of the floating islands have become animators instead of hosts, willing to do anything to gain the tourists’ preference. A lot of competition is happening here.
However, at this point, we want to use the opportunity to clarify something: the situation with the Uros islands is actually a lot more complex than often depicted and the locals have good reason for their behaviour. If you want to fully understand their situation without judging them straight away, we highly recommend you read our blog about The Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca.
Be that as it may, the Uros islands are not the ideal destination, if you want to have a true experience of cultural exchange with the inhabitants of Lake Titicaca. Fortunately, on other floating islands, there are still some families left who have managed to preserve their unique culture and who are willing to share it with you. Here, you won’t experience any staged authenticity, but have a great time with the locals.
A good example of a tour, on which you can get to know the floating islands without having a negative experience, is the one that takes you From Puno to Cusco the Impactful Way. You will visit various great places on lake Titicaca, one completely uninhabited island among them, and make your way to Cusco on the last day. If you have less time, the One-Day Chimu Floating Islands Tour could be a great alternative for you!
You might have noticed that on our Lake Titicaca Tour with Homestay on Taquile Island, you will still pass by the traditional Uros islands. Why? Because we make use of shared transportation to keep your price down, and those standard boat agencies still go to the standard places. Once arrived at Taquile, however, you’ll have your private authentic experience, and the contrast with the Uros islands will only be bigger. As we say: these visits will remind you of the value and importance of sustainable tourism destination management. There’s always something positive to be found, right?
“Idyllic” Oasis – Huacachina
You might be surprised to find Huacachina on this list of irresponsible destinations. Everyone goes there and it looks so nice and peaceful in the pictures. What could possibly be wrong with visiting an oasis in the middle of the desert? Unfortunately, we have to tell you that a whole lot of things are wrong with this place.
As you can see in the picture below, Huacachina is subject to overtourism. Providers here have driven their competition so far, that their services suffer from it. Accidents have happened during the famous buggy tours because operators focus more on gaining customers than actually caring for their safety and the quality of their experience. There is a lot of chaos going on here. Even simple things like picking up customers from a bus terminal have gone wrong many times in the past, when we still used to offer tours in Huacachina.
While the problems mentioned above make the experience a lot less enjoyable for you as a traveler, it is first and foremost the oasis itself that suffers from tourism. An oasis might seem to have poor biodiversity at first sight, but even this place is called home by different animals.
Unfortunately, tourism has led to the entire Oasis being littered, polluted and surrounded by hotel complexes. This natural habitat has been destroyed for animals living in the desert. Formerauthorities of the destination have even confirmed that the oasis is being maintained thanks to a water pump running on fuel. Otherwise, it would already have dried out by now. So, if you’ve ever read that Huacachina is “the only natural oasis of Latin America”, this is nothing but a lie. Of course, we understand if you’re having a hard time accepting everything you just read. Visiting the desert is on the bucket list of most people traveling to Peru. But rest assured that you don’t have to skip your trip to the desert. Our Magical Desert Tour, as well as the On Top of the Desert Tour in Nazca are both great experiences taking you to places much more beautiful than Huacachina. Here, you can go and enjoy your time without having to feel guilty about it.
Irresponsible Destination: “Rainbow” on Earth – Vinicunca
Vinicunca is definitely one of the most popular places in Peru after Machu Picchu. And even among the different Rainbow Mountains you can find in all of South America, it is the most well-known one. Again, its popularity has turned this place into a destination that we advise you not to visit.
Because of the popularity of Vinicunca and people’s unawareness of the problems it faces, we have dedicated a seperate blog to it, where we explain to you everything in detail. Read Why not to visit the Rainbow Mountain in Cusco to find out all about it!
Some of the World’s Best Trekkings – Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash
The Cordillera Blanca is a huge mountain chain of exceptional beauty located in the Northern Andes of Peru. For fans of trekkings, outdoor adventures and high altitude landscapes, this place is an absolute dream. But even remote areas such as this one can become subject to degradation if not protected in the correct way.
The Cordillera Huayhuash, for its part, faces problems like contamination due to mining and litter left by tourists and even guides. Its rivers and lagoons suffer more and more from this situation, not to speak of the wildlife living in the high altitudes. On top of that, the mountains’ glaciers are slowly fading away as a result of climate change.
Of course, we cannot stop climate change from one day to the next (don’t forget to travel responsibly though to do the best you can!). But one thing we can do is try to give the Cordillera Huayhuash a break and explore other trekking paths of the North. Our travel designers can offer you alternative treks, where almost no one goes. You can get the chance to explore them all by yourself. And obviously, when you do so, please do not leave any litter on the way and respect the place, to preserve the pristine nature.
In the foreseeable future, we will also add some of our best alternative trekking routes in the Huaraz region to our platform. For now, you can go to our Custom Itineraries Section to talk to our travel designers and find out which experience fits your wishes the most. If you prefer taking it a bit more easy, you can also have a look at our Experiences in Vicos. This is where the journey of RESPONSible Travel Peru started many years back. And we know that if you come here, you will have a great experience with our friend Pablo and feel the spirit of the mountain gods.
Generally, we can only recommend you to visit the Northern parts of Peru. Spreading tourism to more remote places of the country is an important mission for us, as it brings positive impact to communities living further away from touristic hubs. And of course, the beauty of the northern mountain chains is exceptional. If you’re interested in getting to know the less-visited places, you can read all about it in our Complete Guide to Off The Beaten Path Travel in Peru.
Other Activities we’d like you to Avoid
Motorized sports are generally irresponsible experiences
As a sustainable tour operator, we try to maximize our positive impact and minimize the negative one. Part of that work is reducing CO2 emissions wherever we can. Therefore, we like to offer tours that don’t generate unnecessary contamination.
Unsurprisingly, experiences such as the Buggy tours in Huacachina, Quad Tours to Maras and Moray, and flights over the Nazca lines are the kind of tours we prefer to avoid selling to our travelers. All of these experiences might be great fun. But think for a moment about the way you’d really like to travel and you will probably admit that there are better ways of doing it. Try Touring a Sea Kayak in Paracas on a Full Morning, for example. Or a bike ride in the desert! Zero emissions but lots of fun!
Do Unofficial Animal Sanctuaries Offer Irresponsible Experiences in Peru?
Generally speaking, animal sanctuaries are great initiatives doing an important job in protecting our wildlife and spreading awareness. So, if you want to visit one of these, we definitely want to encourage you to do so! Your entrance fee is a great help to sanctuaries, which are very often short of cash, and you will also get to see wild animals from up close.
However, there are a few things you need to pay attention to before visiting an animal sanctuary. First of all, be aware that some of them obtain their animals illegally, not actually helping the wildlife. Instead, abuse can happen in these places, and animals will never actually be rehabilitated and reinserted into the wild.
To avoid ending up in a “sanctuary” like these, it is important to do good research beforehand. Look at reviews online and talk to people who have been to the place or who are experts of the destination or in the field of animal rescuing. Otherwise, you might be doing more harm than good by paying a visit to the wrong organization, which surely is not what you want.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that getting in too much contact with rehabilitating wildlife is harmful to them! We understand that cuddling with a sloth is a dream for many people. Nevertheless, if you really care about the wildlife and want to offer your help, you should not participate in volunteer programs offering such activities.
Many animals, when getting too close to humans, will get used to it and lose their natural fear of them. Later on, when they will be released (which might already be a challenge, as they might not want to let go of “their human”), animals will have a hard time caring for themselves in their natural habitat. They might as well approach humans, which could be poachers or other criminals, who will certainly not do them any good. Therefore, make sure to always opt for programmes where animals are not treated like pets.
Are you unsure about where to do your volunteer work to help wildlife in Peru? By helping out at the Amazon Shelter in Madre de Dios or the Amazon Rescue Center in Iquitos, you can certainly not go wrong! Here, animals are treated the way they should, and no unnecessary contact with them will take place.
Is feeding wild animals irresponsible?
Just as you shouldn’t get too close to wild animals, you shouldn’t try to feed them either. Even though it might be a nice spectacle to see them devour whatever it is that you offer them, and especially an interesting experience for young kids, it does not usually do any good to the animals.
Wildlife is supposed to live freely in nature, roam their territories and hunt or forage for their own food. That is what the term “WILDlife” stands for. It is part of any animal’s instinct to take care of themselves and fight for their lives. It is, however, not in their nature to be fed by humans.
This practice can not only make animals sick, but it also takes them their natural fear of humans and make them forget how to be responsible for themselves. It can even completely disrupt their natural habits, which they strongly rely on for their survival. In the case of marine turtles or sharks, for example, feeding them will make them stick to the place where they get the food. What they should be doing instead though is migrate through the sea to reach their mating and breeding grounds when it’s time for it.
To avoid disturbing wildlife in such a way, we ask you to stick to observing them and letting the guide explain to your kids what we know about this animal. Learning about wildlife has so much more value than making a show out of it, and you will soon find out how fascinating the natural world is.
Is it irresponsible to take pictures with alpacas in cities?
Arriving in Cusco, you will quickly notice the many women in colorful traditional clothes walking around with alpacas in the city. They show off adult alpacas but also young ones and let people take pictures with them for a small fee. While having your picture taken with one of these cute animals might be tempting, it is not something we like to see.
Why? It’s actually quite simple. Alpacas, like any other animal, should be living in freedom in the place where they belong: nature. High up in the Andes mountains, they get all of the space and food that they need to have a happy life. Spending their days in the cities among traffic and low-quality air is not what they should be doing.
What’s even sadder about the whole business, is that baby alpacas tend to be separated from their mothers to be shown to tourists. And we probably all agree that no newborn would like to be taken away from their mother, not knowing where she is or if they are going to see her again.
Luckily, you don’t have to refrain from meeting alpacas at all. There will be many occasions for you to see them roaming freely, which is a much more beautiful experience anyway. For example, you can go hiking with these beautiful animals without doing them any harm. Have a look at our Inca Road to Huchuy Qosqo with Llamas or the Authentic Valley Experience with Llamas and Pachamanca, which are two great examples of such an activity.
Unfair Competition on the Way to Machu Picchu
Lastly, we have a few pieces of information to share about visiting Machu Picchu. Being one of the seven New World Wonders, this place is every traveler’s dream. And we agree that visiting these ancient Inca ruins will give you the most intense and beautiful feelings. You will sense the incredible history that marks this place, the spirit of the mountains surrounding you, and be completely immersed in the culture of the Incas.
The same goes for Aguas Calientes, the small town from which people depart when visiting Machu Picchu. This place in the middle of the mountains just feels unreal. Coming here, seems like going back in time and makes you feel disconnected from the rest of the world.
Understandably, the magic of Machu Picchu and its surroundings is so captivating to us, that we might abandon thoughts about sustainability. Whereas Machu Picchu itself cannot be considered an irresponsible destination (and for sure we don’t intend to stop you from visiting it), the different transportation companies taking you there don’t make such a good impression.
First of all, the trains leaving from Cusco or the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes have a ridiculously high price compared to other trains of the world. Yes, even the lowest budget one is very beautiful inside and out, well equipped and offers all of the amazing views of the landscapes. But even for that comfort, the high price is simply not justified.
It seems that the two companies offering train rides to Aguas Calientes have agreed on these very high prices, simply because they have the power to do so. Thus, they are exploiting tourists, whose only other option would be hiking to the small town (which is more than perfect for some of us, but complicated for others).
Similarly, the bus company offering transportation from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu has fixed some incredibly high prices for its service. Having the monopoly in taking people to the entrance of Machu Picchu, the company suggests an alternative to the one-hour ascent you’d have to do if refraining from transportation. Again, some travelers might be happy to hike up to the ruins. Others, who might not have the strength or even the physical ability to do so, depend on the bus company and are forced to pay for the overpriced ticket.
At the same time, Consettur strategically hinders other bus companies from entering the market. Making use of their monopoly, they are still the only company operating the bus route to Machu Picchu. Due to this situation, the number of local people benefiting from this service is highly limited, even though it could potentially be enormous, given the importance of the route.
Unlike the problems mentioned here-above, we like to encourage you to visit Machu Picchu. We are fully aware of the importance and beauty of these ancient ruins and don’t want anyone to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. As said above, Machu Picchu itself is not unsustainable, and actually well-managed by the Ministry of Culture. Therefore: go and enjoy this magical place!
So, why did we tell you all of the above if we advise you to visit Machu Picchu regardless? It’s simply because we want you to be aware of the problems related to this destination and give you food for thought. One can never learn enough when it comes to sustainability and RESPONSible travel options.
If you really want to avoid using the overpriced transportation modes, you might want to have a look at our different Sacred Valley Tours. All of them take you to the famous ruins on a Multi-Day Trek ending in Aguas Calientes. When leaving Machu Picchu, you will still take the train, because you would lose too much time otherwise. But to get there, you will enjoy Peru’s nature and the company of local families instead.
Traveling RESPONSibly to Peru
As you can see from the examples given in this article, different problems making destinations and activities unsustainable are not always visible at first sight. Who would have thought that Huacachina, this seemingly natural and incredible oasis, is, in reality, a horribly competitive place that is only being maintained artificially? Or that there are “animal sanctuaries” out there, that do more harm than good?
Because of such unsustainable practices hiding in all kinds of places, we want to encourage you to be a mindful and critical traveler at all times. We can hardly warn you about every irresponsible destination on this planet, or even just in Peru. Instead, it lies in your hands to travel consciously, observe everything you see and analyze the situation. Only by doing that, we can make sure to avoid harmful practices while visiting other countries. We all share the responsibility of leaving a positive impact rather than a negative one.