When you visit a new country, it’s not just about adding a new stamp in your passport. It’s about making the most of your time abroad and leaving a positive impact.
On this page, we shine a spotlight on 6 non-profit organizations that we’ve had the honor to connect with via exclusive interviews. They highlight volunteer projects and culture tours that you can join, as well as their ongoing social and sustainability programs that are continually benefiting local communities.
Want to travel to the rainforest in a sustainable way? Below, find a list of top eco-friendly jungle lodges in the Peruvian Amazon. In addition, check out a couple game-changing documentaries plus a simple little way that you yourself can fight deforestation each and every day.
“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education."
It's an entire movement that encompasses a wide range of sustainable, environmental, and culturally sensitive ways to practice tourism. Collectively, these efforts—both big and small—are making PLANET EARTH a better place.
Our Peru Responsible Travel eBook profiles how this movement has taken shape in the destinations we visit.
Download our free ebook and learn about:
There are volunteer projects galore in Peru!
No matter your age, interests, budget, and time limits (or lack thereof), you won’t be hard-pressed to find an opportunity to give back that’s right for you.
Check out the 6 volunteer projects below for a dose of giving back inspiration. We had a chance to sit and chat with each organization about their mission, their progress, and how you can join forces with them to make a difference. Whether you want to help bring education and creativity to local children, or aid in the development of recycling, eco-agriculture, and clean water in local villages, there is an opportunity awaiting.
Otra Cosa is an NGO with the mission of extending educational opportunities and social development programs to residents of low-income communities in Huanchaco, Peru and surrounding areas. The NGO has been serving the community since 2004, and currently has five active projects, all of which are part of the Huanchaco Education and Learning Programme (HELP). The projects include HELP Youth, HELP Literary, HELP Women, HELP Environment, and HELP English.
Let’s take a closer look at one of these programs. HELP Environment is all about providing local solutions to global environmental issues. This project has two main focuses: one being environmental education and the other being direct action to transform Huanchaco into a cleaner, greener place. The education side is dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to care for their local environment. There are beach clean-up projects, climate change workshops, and even hydroponic gardening classes. The direct impact side includes promoting and establishing organic waste recycling, composting, vermiculture access, local wetland conservation, and more.
Within this program, and the others, there are both volunteer and internship opportunities. Once selected, the organization will help arrange affordable, long-term housing as well as provide general and emergency support. The NGO is based in the Huanchaco/Trujillo area on the coast of Northern Peru, with two more remote locations further north. Otra Cosa Network is a registered Peruvian nonprofit as well as a UK Registered Charity.
Maximo Nivel was founded in 2003 and is an internationally accredited organization with institutes in Peru, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. The organization provides study abroad, education travel, and volunteer opportunities, in addition to international internships, TEFL certifications, and Spanish immersion experiences.
One of the volunteer offerings is an Indigenous Immersion program. Volunteers are given the opportunity to work and live with an indigenous family. This means getting a firsthand view into the low-impact, sustainable, and high quality ways of life in longstanding native villages.
The Andean immersion project, for example, is located in the Peruvian Andes, just 1 hour from Cusco. Here, volunteers are placed in an indigenous, Quechua-speaking community and live and work with a traditional Andean family. Tasks may include raising corn and potatoes, herding sheep and cows, light construction, working with kids at the local school, or traditional weaving. Work can vary depending on the needs and time of year, and volunteers are expected to work 4-6 hours a day Monday through Friday.
The experience comes complete with airport pick-up, host family accommodation in a shared room, breakfast and dinner 7 days a week, official certificate of volunteer service, letter of recommendation, and a 24/7 emergency contact number. Keep in mind that, as it is an immersion program, projects are typically off the grid with limited internet. Also bear in mind that there may be some cultural differences, in particular in the division of labor by gender, and as a visitor you are expected to fully respect and adhere to these traditions.
Proyecto Peru’s Organic Farming Project is located in a rural area, better known as the Cloud Forest, around four hours from the city of Cusco. This program is tailored to anyone that wants to have a hands-on experience in a small city with very few to no tourists.
In the area, people live off the production of coffee, tea, and other tropical fruits. Although they sell these products, they do not get too much extra in return. The mission of the program is to train and inform local farmers about how they can earn extra profits from their products, especially coffee and tea. The project teaches them how to process their products in a more organic way and also how to package them in order to sell them in the city of Cusco and/or abroad.
Our volunteers have different activities during the week, including days of harvest, roasting coffee, and packaging. They also take care of the tropical plants in the area, including passion fruit, pineapple, citrus, cassava, bananas, and more. Volunteers work Monday to Saturday 8am to 1pm, with time for fun leisure activities, like chocolate workshops, Peruvian cooking classes, and hikes to waterfalls or archaeological sites.
Peru Volunteer is a Peru-based volunteer organization, started in 2013. The mission of the organization is to help support local community development in Peru with the aid of volunteers from across the globe. All projects are located in and around Cusco, and are easily reachable by public transport. Focus areas include english classes, physical education, kindergarten, special education, dog shelter campaigns, and water filter installation.
The water filter project is in its beginning phases, and the mission is to provide clean drinking water to those who need it most. Throughout Peru, tap water contains unhealthy bacteria that makes it unsafe to consume. Water filters are an effective and affordable solution that can disinfect tap water, making it healthy to drink.
Tasks for this project include scouting locations—like schools and communities—that are in need of clean water, documenting the installation and use of the water filters, creating promotional materials to raise funds for buying more filters, and also demonstrating how to use and clean the filter for ongoing use.
Opportunities are available all year long and volunteers can combine different projects for no extra cost. Participants also have the opportunity to learn Spanish, with 20 hours of classes per week. The volunteer house is in a safe and central location, and accommodations include shared bedroom and bathroom, Wi-Fi, a well-equipped kitchen, rooftop terrace, and more. Opportunities to lodge with a host family are also available.
FairMail has been improving the lives of underprivileged teenagers in Peru since 2006. The mission of the organization is for all adolescents to have the opportunity to educate and develop themselves creatively and professionally—and they achieve this through the art of photography.
The concept is simple. First, free photography classes are held for teens in Peru who would not have otherwise had access to such classes. During this time they learn the elements of photography, different techniques, and spend time practicing taking photos. Next, their best photos are sold through FairMail on fair trade, high-quality greeting cards. Finally, 60 percent of profits go right back to the teen who shot the photo, who can then use their earnings to finance their housing and higher education.
There are three ways that people can contribute to this project. One is to buy fair trade greeting cards. By buying these cards, rather than the generic ones at local chain stores, they help encourage teens to unleash their creativity while supporting their professional development. The second is to embark on a photography excursion, where travelers accompany teens on an adventure to a beautiful, remote Peruvian landscape and take photos together. The third option is to volunteer, with opportunities to be a photography teacher, social ability trainer, graphic designer, or english teacher. Intermediate spanish required to volunteer.
Volunteer HQ was formed in 2007 by Executive Director Dan Radcliffe, after returning to his home country of New Zealand following a volunteer trip in Kenya. He loved his experience and the meaningful relationships he developed with the people of the community. However, he felt that the program, like many others he found online, was far too expensive given the true cost.
In opening Volunteer HQ, he envisioned making a volunteer program that is affordable to all. He has since brought that vision to life and now has 108,850 volunteers across 50 destinations in Africa, Asia, South America, Central America, North America, the Carribean, and the Pacific.
One program, and one of the longest standing at Volunteer HQ, is located in Cusco. Here, volunteers can choose from 10 projects across Cusco and the surrounding Andean valleys. Options include teaching, childcare, medical, construction, eco-agriculture conservation, and jungle conservation.
The eco-agriculture program is exciting for anyone who loves nature and farming. Volunteers journey into the cloud forests in the high jungles of the Andes to help local coffee, tea, and cacao farmers adopt efficient and sustainable farming practices. Tasks can vary depending on the time of year, but typically include clearing out land, weeding, harvesting, tilling fields, and planting seeds. This is a great opportunity to connect with the local village and help establish ecological practices.
No matter the program, volunteers are provided with training, 24/7 in-country support, airport pick up, orientation, placement, accommodation, meals, and discounts on language lessons.
Ecotourism is a cornerstone for the tourism industry in Peru’s jungle destinations. If volunteering is not part of your trip, staying at an eco-friendly lodge is another superb way to exercise responsible travel.
Amazon ecolodges emphasize the importance of reducing environmental impacts and respecting local knowledge. From materials used to construct it to everyday business operations, each eco-friendly lodge is dedicated to putting sustainability into practice while at the same time giving back to the indigenous communities of the Amazon region.
As an ecolodge guest the result is an amplified experience which fosters your appreciation and respect for the natural beauty and traditions of the jungle. You also become an agent to change and advocate for raises awareness of the severity of the problems facing the Amazon region and the people who live there.
Posada Amazonas is owned by the local Community of Infierno and managed in partnership with Rainforest Expeditions. From the cooks to your jungle guide, the staff you interact with at the lodge will likely be from the area. In this way, the lodge is a source of livelihood for the community and proceeds are also recycled into development projects that further the sustainable practices of the lodge.
Nestled amid jungle vegetation and less than an hour boat ride from Puerto Maldonado, Posada Amazonas is ideal for an introduction to the jungle. The lodge’s open-air design spreads over a single level property and extends into all of its three-wall guestrooms that open into a windowless veranda for close contact with the jungle environment. Nature activities include exploring an ox bow lake that is home to a family of giant river otters, visits to a parrot and macaw clay lick, and seeing over the jungle from a 40 meter tall canopy tower.
Posada Amazonas Lodge is located 45 minutes by bus plus another 45 minutes by boat from Puerto Maldonado. Traverse through 9,500 hectares of private, protected rainforest—a concession given by the government.
Muyana is a small-scale lodge located upstream from Iquitos not far from the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Mimicking local design, the thatched-roof buildings at the lodge are constructed on stilts to prevent flooding when the Amazon River runs high. Guest bungalows are basic, but comfortable, and include a terrace overlooking the forest or river. Guided activities include canoe trips to spot wildlife in the surrounding lakes, birdwatching, night hikes, and visits to a local community.
Many employees and guides at Mayana are from the nearby small village of San Juan de Yanayaca, so local families benefit from tourism too. The lodge has a recycling program and provides guests with organic bath products that are environmentally friendly, prepared meals using locally grown produce.
3 hours by boat from Iquitos
Add deeper meaning to your surf trip by volunteering alongside the local residents in Peru. Give back with projects related to community outreach, environmental health, and entrepreneurship empowerment.
Skateboarding is more than a recreational activity. Concrete Jungle Foundation uses skateboarding as a tool to teach life skills and self-empowerment to underprivileged youth in Trujillo, Peru and across the globe. Providing free skateparks and classes is at the core, while volunteer teachers and project managers keep the positivity rolling.
Transform lives with the gift of renewable energy. Volunteer to build wind turbines to help rural communities gain access to clean, reliable energy where traditional electricity is not accessible .
Haku Tours duals as a local travel company and nonprofit organization. Proceeds from the tour are recycled back into the local community. A food tasting tour and shanty town tour are among the many options.
What if you can make a difference just by searching the web?
You can! With Ecosia, every single search you make plants trees. In fact, the organization has already planted 71 million trees (and counting) with the help of more than 8 million active users.
Not quite ready to pack your bags? No problem. You do not have to travel the world to make a difference, you can do it right from your laptop!
Where has Ecoasia planted trees so far? Haiti, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Indonesia. A simple little switch to fight deforestation worldwide.
Over 71 million trees have been planted so far.
Add the free Ecosia extension to your computer and use it to search the web.
Search ads generate income for Ecosia.
Then, Ecosia uses this income to plant trees.
Basically, Ecosia is the search engine that plants trees with its ad revenue. Cool, right?!
Peru is the 10th most forested area in the world and beholds 13% of the Amazon rainforest. In fact, more than half of the country is covered in forests—that’s 260,000 square miles of trees. As a result, it is also one of the top 10 most diverse places on the planet, and each and every plant, animal, and person depends on these mighty trees for everything from the food they eat to the air they breathe.
Unfortunately, more than 1000 miles of Peruvian rainforest is cut down every year. It is one of the most rapidly deforested and degraded places on earth, and an alarming 80% of this deforestation is done illegally. Without the Amazon, billions of pounds of CO2 would contaminate the atmosphere and 10% of the world’s biodiversity would be lost.
Luckily, there are many people working to end deforestation, and many things you can do to support this process. For example, there are organizations like Progreso, Ecosia, and One Tree Planted that aim to reforest the mountains and jungles of Peru. By supporting these organizations, contacting your elected officials, reducing paper and wood consumption, reducing beef consumption, and spreading the word, you truly can help make a difference.
Macaws stand out from other jungle wildlife because of their beauty and curious habits. They also star in this amazing documentary project brought to us by the research team and creative minds from the Tambopata Research Center.
“The Macaw Project” shares how illegal mining and logging endanger macaw populations living in the Tambopata Reserve in southeast Peru. The hope is that viewers will gain a better understanding of how these threats are causing widespread devastation throughout the Amazon and the dire need to protect its fragile ecosystems.
For travelers, the message of the documentary is not to stay at home, but rather visit with a responsible conscience and be an agent for change.
Conservation efforts in the Amazon go hand-in-hand with the development of a sustainable ecotourism industry. For our Peru for Less team, the decision to sponsor and support “The Macaw Project” documentary was a no-brainer.