Map of Peru

Destination Overview

Once home to the mighty Incan Empire, Peru provides a fascinating contrast between the ancient and modern worlds. Diverse cultures balance the oldest traditions with modern life in a cultural stew that changes every day. It’s also home to some of the world’s wildest landscapes that are guaranteed to forge a genuine connection with the natural world. The blend between this connection to nature and a turbulent colonial past has created one of the most sophisticated cultures and countries in South America.

No city captures the essence of South America like colonial Cuzco. Once the capital of the Inca, this fascinating city offers an array of activities for the urban traveler – from impressive art districts to traditional food markets and from stunning colonial architecture to Incan ruins. Few cities offer such a visual contrast between the past and present as it’s not uncommon to see modern businesspeople and indigenous Quechua walking side-by-side down ancient cobblestone streets.

Urban life and the struggle to keep up with the pace of modernization has allowed the festering of some notorious social problems in Cuzco and Peru at large. An estimated 25% of Peruvian mothers are under the age of 18. Four out of ten Peruvian women are victims of abuse. Often women and children lack adequate support at home or in the community and are overwhelmed by a social stigma. Babies are abandoned; impoverished mothers and children resort to begging on the streets to meet their basic needs. This remains an indigenous issue that rarely, if ever, affects foreigners.

Outside the city, visitors can raft, trek, cycle, or ride their way on horseback through colonial villages and mountain peaks alike – this small corner of the world is jam packed with adventure. The scenery of this region is often overlooked by travelers with their sights set on Machu Picchu. Tourists rarely connect the dots between Cuzco and the basecamp at Aguas Calientes and therefore miss out on the history that lives in the valley’s indigenous practices, festivals, and celebrations. Each summer, GoBeyond students experience South America’s almost surreal combination of modernity and tradition by embarking on our student volunteer programs in Peru. Explore the journeys above to learn more about our South American volunteer programs.

“The hike was to the waterfall from Aguas Calientes, Peru was unsurprisingly, stunning. Once we reached the outskirts of the town we walked beside the Urubamba River. The river was littered with huge, smooth, limestone boulders. Combined with the surrounding mountains, the only thing I could think to do was sing the Jurassic Park theme song. We veered off to a dirt track after about an hour. We walked through what felt like a jungle. I could hear the rushing water but couldn’t see it through the thick vegetation. When we reached the clearing, I was immediately graced with the cool mist of the waterfall on my hot skin. The torrent of water was actually turquoise.”
-Shannon P. - Webster Groves, MO