An immersive experience in Cusco and Machu Picchu delivers far more than snapshots.
By Karin Nunan
What is it about getting off the beaten track with your daughter that makes the bonding experience so unforgettable?
Sharing a journey to Peru with my six-year-old and a group of other mom-daughter travelers, there were so many highlights – trekking to Machu Picchu, seeing llamas, eating chocolate, meeting Peruvian female role models – but it was far more than seeing the sights together. Our trip was life-changing for all of the 8 moms and 10 daughters in the group.
A Mom-Daughter Tour
When I hatched this idea for a mother-daughter group trip in 2018, it was after a laborious process of researching every group travel offering on the market. With the growing number of family trips and women-only group trips, I was surprised that I could not find exactly what I was looking for.
It wasn’t that I did not want to bring my husband, but after a year of (unsuccessfully) balancing work and life, I was craving a week alone with my young daughter. No work. No cell phone. No distractions. I wanted an experience that included: a cultural immersion program to give her a glimpse into a world outside of her own, adventure to keep her engaged, outdoor time to keep us active, and relaxing time to allow us to recharge together.
As a sustainability expert, it was also important to me that we go with a travel company that puts giving back to the environment, local economy and community above profits. So when my search came up empty, I called my long-time friends at GOOD Travel.
Based in New Zealand, GOOD Travel’s mission is to empower travelers to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact. Co-founder Eliza Raymond knew that there would be no better way to achieve this mission than through inspiring young travelers to connect and care about the people and places they visit.
A Girl-Driven Itinerary
GOOD and I worked to jointly develop an itinerary – vetted first by my daughter, naturally. Her infectious enthusiasm recruited friends from school (and ultimately their moms) and I used the endorsement to encourage other overworked moms in my network and beyond to join our inaugural trip. Just a few months later, our community of 18 female travelers aged 5 to 50 was off to Cusco.
In transit, the other seven moms and I shared our expectations of what we wanted this trip to instill within our comparatively privileged girls from the U.S., Australia, and Singapore. We wanted them to get an understanding of new cultures, a glimpse into how others live, and perspective they can’t gain from their own backyards. We united in the fact that raising children with empathy, compassion, and perseverance in today’s world – when us moms are pulled in so many different directions – is a major challenge. However, we all felt that travel could make a difference. But I worried, could we deliver? Could one week in Peru really make a difference?
While such a trip might have seemed too adventurous during the pandemic, vaccination rates and health safeguards have assured GOOD Travel that it will be safe to resume these experiences in 2022 and beyond.
“We are being very cautious as we relaunch trips. After talking with our partner organization in Peru, we feel optimistic that it will be safe to travel to Peru by July 2022,” says Shelley Bragg, co-founder of GOOD Travel. “It appears that the vaccination rate in Peru should be high by this time and there are also proactive safety measures in place within the country. We have also adjusted our travel policies to minimize risk: we are keeping our group to a maximum of 12 people, we require adults to be vaccinated (and children if they are able to be at that time) and we require COVID-19 testing to be done 72 hours prior to departure.”
To safeguard travelers, GOOD Travel will offer refunds if public health conditions in Peru change.
“Given the uncertainty with travel at the moment, we will continue to assess the situation in Peru and 90 days prior to the trip departure, we will make a final decision as to whether the trip should go ahead. Should we decide to cancel the trip prior to 90 days, we are able to offer refunds to our travelers (the details of this are explained further in our Terms of Service).”
Connecting with “Peruvian Hearts”
When my daughter and I landed in Cusco back in 2018, our group was met by the Peruvian Hearts scholars, local girls with whom we would spend the week. They met us with signs, confetti, hugs, smiles, balloons, more hugs, love, and an endless amount of enthusiasm. We were off to a great start.
We spent our first full day in Cusco with our new girlfriends. The organization works to end poverty and gender inequality by educating young women and creating community leaders. For these girls, it is more than just a club, it is a lifeline: To be selected as a scholar is highly competitive. Not only must a girl be incredibly driven with high grades and come from a low-income family but she must have big dreams as well.
The scholars we met were working towards high school and college degrees in engineering, science, teaching and one was working towards her Michelin Star. And while not a requirement, it was no coincidence that every scholar with whom we shared the week was passionate about education, unrivaled in her enthusiasm for changing the world, and madly in love with the mountains in her backyard.
We visited their homes, met their families, shared meals, danced, sang, went on a picnic, listened to their stories, and listened to our girls later that night reflecting on those stories. Carlota used to walk 4 hours a day to primary school and back (“That’s like Machu Picchu every day,” said one of our nine-year-olds.) Without electricity and running water, and oftentimes not enough money to eat dinner, Aldy stays up all night studying for exams. Persevering against a broken home and numerous challenges, Yanet defied the odds to stay in school. And MaFi told stories of facing discrimination as the only girl in her engineering classes. Our daughters were genuinely impressed by their commitment: This trip was making a difference in their perspectives – even with the younger ones.
We left Cusco the next day for the Sacred Valley with Aldy in tow. She had agreed to come to Machu Picchu to give a helping hand to the younger girls if needed. What we found is that the girls didn’t need Aldy’s help but craved her attention. The girls dragged her around a small ancient village that we had stopped in to try our hand at learning their famous weaving tradition. On the train to Aguas Calientes, they all wanted to sit with her. They wanted to know everything about Peru – does she really eat Guinea Pig? (“At the local food market.”) Has she ever been to Machu Picchu? (“Only once when she was really little.”) What are her biggest worries? (“Grades.”) What are her happiest moments? (“Any time spent with the other scholars.”)
After a night of exploring the amazing craft markets in Aguas Calientes, the girls tucked themselves into bed quickly knowing the next morning was an early start. We had to get to the top of Machu Picchu before the sun. And our group was determined to meet all challenges! That night, as I lay awake in my bed looking up at the mountain, relaxed, happy and listening to my daughter’s soft breathing, it occurred to me: We were only a few days into the trip and I had already achieved my personal goal of being entirely unplugged from the world and focused solely on my daughter. Nothing could feel better. Crossing the 5th Wonder of the World off my bucket list was going to be icing on the cake.
The next morning we were first in line for the bus (while some of our crew chose to hike up) and we spent a beautiful morning with a sustainable local tour company, Apus Peru, who taught us so much about the magnificent history of the Incas. We explored the mountain and forced our daughters to sit through endless photos – they complied as if somehow understanding the innate nature moms have of wanting to capture such moments for all of posterity. That night after returning to the Sacred Valley, we all slept soundly. The next day some explored the valley and went hiking, some stayed to relax on the grounds of our eco-hotel, while others participated in a cooking workshop. Our legs were tired but our hearts were full and our excitement was still endless.
We spent the rest of the magical trip trekking through the Andes Mountains with conservationists from the Llama Pack Project who dedicate their lives to protecting llamas.
We learned how to make Peruvian chocolate in a cacao workshop at the ChocoMuseo and we shopped in local markets that support neighboring communities. Back in Cusco, we had a dinner at the Peruvian Hearts scholars’ shared apartment where we spent hours dancing and singing. On our final night, we had a “mom’s night out” (while the girls had a pizza and movie night in the hotel with Aldy) which allowed us to celebrate our journey. We all agreed our girls were happy, we were happy, and we all learned so much about not only Peru but about ourselves.
Sure, we had a melt-down or two. And we moved up mountains slower than others. There were broken braces, treks through towns for tampons, missed meals, late buses, lost teddy bears, and tired feet. But our girls rose to every challenge – just like the Peruvian Heart scholars. Our girls were in Peru to be responsible travelers, kind and compassionate friends, researchers of new cultures, explorers of new experiences, and appreciative of all they have. And we moms were there to prove to our formidable enemy – time – that we can connect with our girls in meaningful and memorable ways.
And my daughter still talks about the llamas (she is going to be a conservationist, she says) and the chocolate. But just the other day, as she was drawing in her school reflection journal, unprompted, she looked up at me and said, “I was just thinking of Aldy. I wonder how she is doing in school. I miss her.”
GOOD Travel is looking to change more lives next year:
Karin Nunan – Updated November 2021
Karin is a former third-generation airline industry director who has lived on 5 continents and traveled to over 100 countries. Her young daughter has already spent time in 20 countries ranging from Nepal to Oman to Peru. Karin’s passion is planning experiential travel for families and helping children find their place in the world through exploration.
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