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Five ways to travel with more purpose

South America’s incredible diversity of landscapes, cultures and cuisines will amaze, excite, and enchant you. The even better news is that – with just a little thought – your trip can have an equally positive impact on the people and places you visit. Read on to find out how to travel with purpose…

Sustainable Travel International’s “travel better” pledge provides a handy roadmap for travelers keen to engage in sustainable tourism. It urges them to LIGHTEN the footprint of their travels, CONSERVE the wild places they explore, SUPPORT the people and communities they visit, RESPECT the wildlife they see, and CELEBRATE cultures authentically and respectfully. This all sounds wonderful – but how do you do it in practice?

1. Feast on the low-hanging fruit of sustainable travel

Bring a reusable water canteen along (water filters are ubiquitous in high-end hotels and restaurants), and reject single-use plastic bags. Places like Machu Picchu have already banned them, but little souvenir shops still hand out plastic bags.

Take shorter showers, reuse your hotel towels, and bring your own (biodegradable) bar soaps, shampoos and conditioners (yes, these are a thing) along. Not only will it reduce your plastic footprint, but there’s also no chance of messy explosions in your luggage. What’s more, solid state cosmetics are allowed in carry-on luggage.

It’s also a great idea to opt for direct flights wherever possible – this is more comfortable for you and the planet as planes burn more fuel during take-off and landing. Once you’re in South America, you may want to consider traveling overland (the continent has some wonderful long-distance trains) and staying longer on the continent (this 12-day Andean highlights trip has only two internal flights) to make the most out of your international flights.

Think twice about that helicopter flip. The views from the cable car are just as epic. (Photo: Davi Costa)

2. Support local enterprises (but don’t fall into the sympathy tourism trap)

To ensure your dollars have maximum impact, buy locally produced souvenirs either at source or from a shop that ensures artisans get their fair share. While most establishments claim to do this, not all walk the talk. Here’s a list of noble handcrafts outlets in Peru. For other countries, simply Googling ‘fair trade handcrafts’ should do the trick.

  • Bridge of Hope in Lima, has an extensive range of Peruvian crafts, textiles and handiwork.

  • Threads of Peru in Cusco is the place to buy traditional Andean textiles.

  • Casa de la Mujer in Lima: if you can imagine it, they can knit it.

Eating (and drinking) in local restaurants, cafés, and bars is another way of boosting the local economy as the money you pay will filter through to servers, cooks, farmers, and more. And when you find yourself in a more touristy establishment, you can still do your bit to keep things local by not ordering the Norwegian salmon / French champagne.

Instead of going on school/orphanage visits which can interrupt the daily life of the kids (we shy away from such visits in our itineraries), why not seek opportunities for authentic cultural exchange? If you’re going on a trek, for example, getting to know your porters can be a really enriching experience.

3. Use carbon credits to offset the footprint of your trip

For most of our clients there’s no avoiding flying in and out of South America. But you’d be surprised at how easy – and affordable – it is to buy carbon credits to offset the carbon emissions caused by your flight(s). Interestingly, the commercial aviation industry contributes only 2.4% of global carbon emissions, although this figure is higher among developed nations.

The Amazon Rainforest is also known as the lungs of the world.

According to Terrapass, one of the most reputable carbon offsetters in North America, you can offset a return trip from LAX to Cusco, gateway to Machu Picchu, for only $29 per person. The site’s carbon calculator gives you the option to calculate the carbon cost of a single flight, or to do a wider analysis of the impact of your choices both at home and on the road. When you’re done, you can pay online in a matter of minutes. This Washington Post article gives a good overview of the ins and outs of carbon offsets.

4. Try not to contribute to overtourism

The dawn of the Instagram Age, coupled with the rapid increase in the number of people who can afford to travel, has led to overtourism affecting places like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Machu Picchu. While tourism can be a massive force for good, overtourism always ends up having a detrimental impact on the cities/archeological ruins/pristine wildernesses themselves, and the people who live in or near them.

The good news is that – in South America at least – off the beaten path destinations are often a stone’s throw from the tourist traps. Instead of hiking the cleverly-marketed Inca Trail, why not go on a trek on another section of the 25,000-mile network of Inca Trails? While you’re at it, consider visiting one of the Inca cities no-one has heard of or exploring the virtually untouched Ecuadorean Amazon instead of the sections in Brazil and Peru which see higher tourist traffic.

When people travel on the Inca road, they place real economic value on this important patrimony while also combating overtourism. 

Avoiding overpopular spots won’t just be more pleasant for you. Provided you choose carefully, it will also have a net-positive impact on the people and places you visit. This is why we don’t do the common one-day hike to the Instagram-tastic Rainbow Mountain. Instead we offer an exclusive two-day program that takes you far from the madding crowd on a non-eroded (and utterly breathtaking) trail to the varicolored spectacle.

5. Choose a provider who shares your worldview

At SA Expeditions we believe wholeheartedly that tourism has the potential to bring dignified income to the forgotten people of South America and the world. We’ve pioneered community-based tourism in the Choquechaca Valley and our ongoing effort to take tourists to the Great Inca Trail combats overtourism and preserves Incan patrimony. All our trips are set up so that 70% or more of the capital generated gets injected into the specific local, regional, and national economies. We only work with lodges, hotels and tour providers who place value on:

  • Community: The people of South America are an integral part of our team. This means that when you purchase a trip with us, you can ensure that you’re directly supporting the livelihoods of the people in our destinations.

  • Conservation: Travel can be a positive, powerful force in the protection of ecology and ways of life. By placing economic value on vulnerable environmental and cultural heritage, you can promote conservation while also enjoying meaningful experiences.

  • Awareness: Our company’s exploration initiatives in South America build critical awareness to promote sustainable tourism development and put economic value on vulnerable natural and cultural heritage.

Now that we’ve shown you how travel can be personally enlightening and good for the planet, why not take a look at some of our most sustainable tours?

The Choquechaca to Machu Picchu Trek is a unique and authentic experience developed by SA Expeditions in conjunction with the community of the Choquechaca Valley.

Hiking the Great Inca Trail to Huánuco Pampa will give you a chance to experience one of the greatest engineering feats of pre-industrial man, while also preserving this UNESCO site and providing dignified income for the people of this remote corner of Northern Peru. Alternatively, our Active Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu tour will allow you take in some of the lesser-known secrets of the ancient Inca heartland, including a visit to the traditional community which kindled our belief that tourism could be a force for good in the first place.

Contact one of our South America Destination Experts now to start crafting the South American adventure of your dreams.

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