From the Philippines to Peru, Ricardo Miranda and Allen Mercado don’t just travel; they leave a mark. Before the two adventurers landed in Lima, they had a common thread that would bring them together– their desire to make a difference in the world. From volunteering around the globe, their mutual passions led them to the idea that travel and volunteering do not have to be mutually exclusive, and together they would form Perú Social.
Perú Social plans sustainable volunteer trips, where small groups not only get to participate in a service project in Peru, but also get to see the best the country has to offer, from the must-sees to the hidden secrets. We at LocalAventura wanted to learn more, so we met up with the pair to discuss their vision for Perú Social and how they’re redefining volunteer travel.
Tell us about yourself!
R: I’m Ricardo Miranda, and I’m from Madrid and Portugal.
A: And I’m Allen Mercado and I’m from the Philippines.
R: We met when I was traveling in the Philippines and we started dating. My company then transferred me to Peru, and Allen decided to come with me. It was the first time in Peru for both of us and we fell in love with the country for its incredible landscapes and time-honored traditions.
How did you co-found Perú Social
R: Both of us have lots of volunteer experience. Allen had volunteered all over the Philippines and I had volunteered in Ethiopia and Mexico. Our experiences were great, but, you know, you travel so far and you never really explore the country because you are so focused on the work.
A: We also noticed that some of our volunteering experiences weren’t sustainable or provided many long-term benefits to the community. We didn’t just want to do charity, we wanted to collaborate with actual communities to help them achieve their goals. So we came up with Perú Social as a way for people to participate in sustainable volunteering opportunities, while also experiencing the best that Peru has to offer.
What is Perú Social? How does it work?
A: We don’t believe travel and volunteering should be mutually exclusive. Perú Social plans small, personalized group trips. We set travelers up with volunteer opportunities and exciting excursions with socially-responsible tour companies, such as LocalAventura! We also plan all the travel details, from meals to transport and activities.
Our volunteer opportunities are completely sustainable and are offered through local social workers who have been working with these communities for years. Through them, we’ve been able to identify the needs of the communities, and create projects that will make a real difference, and are sustainable in the long run.
What sort of volunteer opportunities are available?
R: We work in three areas— construction, education, and food sustainability. For our construction projects, we are building daycare centers, schools, community centers, soup kitchens, and basically any structure important for daily life and community engagement.
A: These communities are located in the highlands of Lima, so there are no supermarkets or local markets around. So, we are building communal gardens which will help out financially while also promoting healthy eating and providing kids with a fun, educational activity. Lastly, we provide teaching opportunities, where volunteers can partner with local schools and create lessons for students that can be carried out after our volunteers leave.
R: We’ve wanted to create a company like this for a while, but we didn’t know where to do it. When we moved to Peru, we quickly discovered that this was the perfect country for our project. Between the mountains and jungles, history and culture, there’s something for everyone here. The country also provides travelers with incredible opportunities to experience real authenticity as many of the local traditions remain untouched— as evidenced by the delicious cuisine.
A: Peru also still has a huge need for socio-economic development, so we knew our volunteer projects, if executed sustainably, could make a great impact.
Peru’s tourism industry has grown astronomically in the past years, how can we make this have a positive effect, rather than an adverse one?
R: The country has so much potential, but unfortunately there hasn’t been a sustainable system yet to further the tourism here. In order to build this sustainable tourism industry, it cannot be focused just on Machu Picchu. We love Machu Picchu, but there’s so much more to see, and we cannot keep exhausting the same spots.
What advice would you have for a traveler who is looking to travel sustainably, but doesn’t know how?
R: Look for authentic local guides. Make sure the tour companies you use not only hire locals, but also treat them well. Be conscious of the environment in each place you go and make sure to support local businesses while you’re there. Most importantly, don’t just see a place, immerse yourself in it. Basically don’t just go to Machu Picchu, stay in your nice hotel and leave. Venture out, go off the beaten path! Small decisions by the traveler, like choosing a responsible tour company, or visiting lesser-known spots, can make a big difference.
What are some of the best off-the-beaten-path spots in Peru, that many tourists miss?
R: If you are going to the jungle, most people go to Iquitos; we say check out Tarapoto, I think it’s the next big destination in the Peruvian jungle. It has the third largest waterfall in the world, and since most tourism companies don’t know about it, it’s really untouched and more authentic than Iquitos.
A: Also don’t miss Lima! Most people think of it as just a layover stop, but it’s really underrated. The city offers up some really cool stuff in art, history, nightlife, etc. Not to forget, it’s the foodie capital of South America, with three of the 50 Best Restaurants in the world.
Finally, we cannot recommend Huaraz enough. It’s a hikers paradise. You can spend a month there doing different hiking routes and never repeat a trail. There are nearly 430 lagoons, and you can really see the Andes at their best. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. We actually got engaged there!
Wow! That must be a great story!
R: It was! We did a hike called Laguna 69. The hike is seven hours, and the altitude is really tough, but it’s totally worth it. Everything about it is breathtaking: the color of water, the snow peaks, the layers of mountains. It’s so picturesque. I proposed when we got to the peak of the hike. It was the perfect spot.
Last question, what advice would you give someone going to Peru?
R: Experience the real Peru! Don’t be afraid of getting off the traditional path. Whether it’s in Peru or wherever else you travel, always try to leave a positive impact, because how we travel today will impact future generations.
For more information about Peru Social, check out their website at http://perusocial.com.pe