Shanty town tours offer different view of Peru

Shanty town tours offer different view of Peru

Tourists in Peru are increasingly combining visits to the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu with tours to sample the life lived by so many of the country's people - in its slums.

The sights and tastes of Lima's huge shanty towns are not the standard fare of tourists, who are mostly drawn to Peru's majestic sites or to sample the country's renowned cuisine.

Yet for some travellers, the slums are precisely why they come - to experience the other side of this diverse Andean nation.

This is a Lima where shacks cling precariously to sandy hillsides and the flat roofs of board-and-tin hovels stretch as far as the eye can see on treeless moonscapes. Humble meals are served on battered plates.

Ashok Arasu, an Australian doctor, and his physician wife Cherry Wu decided to hike on one of the many misty, grey hills that hold slums in Lima, where a third of Peru's population lives.

He said: "We didn't know there were areas like this. I saw something comparable once in Cambodia."

The couple handed out notebooks, pencils and socks to many of the children they met, at a time when the shanty town endures the cool, damp weather of the Southern Hemisphere's winter.

Other tourists have been known to bring medicine to help treat respiratory infections that affect children in the slums, or they help paint houses.

Edwin Rojas is the founder of Haku Tours, which offers tourists guided trips around the sprawling shanty towns that sprang up around Lima and other cities as people fled the countryside amid the brutal war with Shining Path and Tupac Amaru guerrillas.

"I want to be just and honest with the visitors who come to get to know my country, Mr Rojas said. "Peru is a country full of 'young towns'."

He said his firm is the only travel agency that offers "shanty town tours", along with more traditional historical and culinary tours of Lima.

It takes about 400 tourists a year to the slums, in groups of two to six, at a cost of £33 per person.

Participants sometimes visit slum markets or they eat meals with local families, sampling daily fare very different from the exquisite dishes served in posh Lima restaurants and increasingly around the world.

"More than a tour, it is an anthropological experience for foreigners to get to know the local people with mutual respect," Mr Rojas said.

He is aware that similar slum tours in Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Nairobi and Johannesburg have been criticised as exploiting the poor, but he said he has built ties with community leaders in Lima's shanty towns.

"What we do here is more sensitive because when we visit these communities we help the people and get to know the best of them," he said.

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