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The alternative Machu Picchu: a hike to find the ‘real’ lost world of the Incas | Peru holidays

The alternative Machu Picchu: a hike to find the ‘real’ lost world of the Incas | Peru holidays

‘It’s very simple,” Bruce says. “If travellers go far, on long-haul journeys, they should go for longer.” I’m sitting in a Peruvian mountain village with Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, a Canadian travel company with a mission. Below us on a narrow rocky terrace, a group of brightly dressed women in bowler hats are chatting while they work. Some are spinning alpaca wool, others are knitting, and a couple are weaving narrow strips of cloth. “Travellers need to connect with locals,” Bruce continues, “but they should also bring economic benefits to communities.”

I am in South America on a mission myself. I want to see how, or if, tourism can help with the huge challenges of social inequality and the climate crisis. I’m taking Bruce’s advice about travelling for longer to heart: I am going to loop south through Bolivia, then start a 3,000-mile journey down the Amazon to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. En route, I want to see how the individual tourist can support worthwhile projects, particularly with Indigenous peoples, and also enjoy a wonderful experience.

Across the Andean valley, the mountainside is etched with terraces, like a great human thumbprint on the harsh high-altitude terrain. We are in Ccaccaccollo, a weaving community that is a showcase for the G Adventures method. In 2003, a woman from the village, Francisca, approached Bruce with a grievance. Their menfolk were porters on the nearby Inca Trail, carrying gear for foreign hikers. But no visitors had ever come to their mountainside village. The women were economically sidelined, left at home to dig potatoes, and financially dependent on the men.

Francisca takes up the story: “We had traditional weaving skills so we formed a co-operative, then asked Bruce to bring groups here. We wanted to sell the things we were making.”

For Bruce, it was a turning point. He had set up G Adventures in 1990 with the idea that travellers needed help to connect with locals, an ethos that had meant only using local guides. Here was an opportunity to do more. His hiking groups began stopping at the village on their way to the starting point of the four-day Inca Trail. Very quickly this revolutionised the…

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