Changing lives on the high plains of Puno

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There’s a reason over three million people travel to Peru every year. It’s one of the success stories of South American tourism. Of course it helps when your country includes windswept highlands, Andean mountain peaks and Amazon rainforest all in one photogenic package, not to mention a world-class food scene in Lima, well-preserved Quechua culture and the lost city of Machu Picchu. One thing that surprises some people on visiting Peru though is the altitude. Even major cities like Cusco creep well above 11,000 ft (3,352 m). These elevations pose a big challenge for travellers, but what’s less talked about is how affects Peruvian locals, particular the poor.

On the high planes of Puno (the gateway to Lake Titicaca) where elevations reach 12,500 ft (3,800m), the impact of altitude is pretty clear. It’s one of Peru’s poorest regions. Temperatures often drop below freezing. Malnutrition is a problem, as the high plains aren’t well irrigated or well suited for agriculture. The government also hasn’t invested much in local infrastructure or healthcare, leaving a lot of people at risk of poverty, exposure and social inequality. These are challenges most tour operators don’t talk about, let along tackle. It’s not the sort of thing you read in the average travel brochure. But one of our Foundation partners is doing something about it: Kusimayo.

RELATED: BOOK A TRIP BEFORE DECEMBER 20 TO HELP SUPPORT KUSIMAYO

Kusimayo by the numbers

Kusimayo is a Quechua word meaning ‘happy river’. Since 2008 this social enterprise has been operating on the high plains of Puno, helping to improve living conditions for local children, families and the elderly. Through their Thousands of Dreams program they’ve provided healthy breakfasts for over 1,000 preschool kids. Through their Warmth for Puno project, they’ve insulated 39 homes, increasing internal temperatures by 50°F (10°C) for over 350 people (they also hand out warm clothes before the winter winds sweep across the plains in June). They’re also involved in local agriculture, helping 44 families improve their farming techniques and generate a sustainable income through their Productive Puno program.

Kusimayo’s Thousands of Dreams