I could write about my experience in Cusco for days. I spent exactly 12 weeks from March to May of 2018 in the beautiful city I grew to call home. I began my stay working with disabilities and special needs, but soon discovered that volunteering in an animal shelter was a better fit for me after seeing so many stray dogs on the streets and knowing I had to help in any way I could. I can't even describe the feeling of waking up each morning with such a sense of purpose and love for what I was doing. Dogs are looked at as a means of protection for the household and nothing more. They are often mistreated, thrown out on the streets, sold on the black market, and even killed. The owner of the shelter was incredible - I have never seen such passion for animal rights and she taught me so much. At the shelter we took care of some of the animals that had been rescued every day by cleaning up after them, feeding them, and spending time with them and on the weekends we often did spay and neuter campaigns with local veterinarians. I even adopted two street dogs from the shelter myself - two sisters named Patricia and Bonnie. I was with Patricia for her surgery (spay) my second day at the shelter and was appalled at what I saw. The anesthesia is just awful there and she woke up three times during it. After that, I took care of her in her recovery and we bonded immediately. Three weeks after I arrived in the US she came home and five months later her sister joined us!
My host family was incredible and consisted of a mom and dad. I still consider them family. Because they didn't speak any English, my Spanish skills increased ten fold. It's a myth that people in Cusco speak English, so definitely practice your Spanish before hand! I was able to take Spanish classes at a local language center for two weeks which helped a lot.
Life in Cusco was so easy. Public transportation is only 80 cents by bus or you can catch a cab for around 5-6 soles (4 soles only for locals). The rain was constant my first month there, but soon it became dry season and the sun was out every day, however the cold was still a shock to my system as a fourth generation Floridian; the heat is definitely in my blood! My first two weeks I was alone since there were no other volunteers at the time. As awful as it was in the beginning I am so grateful for it now because it made me get out of my comfort zone and really immerse myself in the culture. The locals are definitely hustlers. You will have prices increased as a foreigner, but you can bargain with them - definitely stand your ground! On the whole, things were incredibly cheap with the exchange rate. We had a volunteer dinner every week which was a great way to get to know new people coming in (at max there were eight of us total). I could go to dinner with two other people and get two appetizers, three meals, dessert, and drinks for around $60. This also made extra traveling much easier in terms of price. I felt safe even late at night and usually walked home (about 45 min) if I was coming from the Plaza at night with no problems at all.
Every weekend I took a tour and I took off one week of volunteering to travel. From spending a weekend in Quillabamba, seeing Sacsaywaman, Puka Pukara, Qenko, Tambomachay and Qoricancha, Easter at the church of San Francisco, hiking Rainbow Mountain at 17,000 ft, white water rafting the Urubama, getting two new tattoos, taking an airplane over the Nazca lines, riding a dune buggy through the sand dunes of Huacachina, visiting a monestary in Arequipa, discovering Lake Titicaca in Puno and on Taquile Island, to seeing the incredible Machu Picchu, my tirp was nothing short of spectacular. Being in a place of such history and culture was like stepping into a book.
I learned so much about myself and really learned to take every chance that comes my way so I can look back on my life and say I truly lived it through both traveling and helping those in need. I have gained everything from my time in Peru and have made friends from all over the world that will last a lifetime (I am going to Jordan with one of them this coming July!). If you're even considering going to volunteer in Cusco, DO IT. You will not regret it. Love Volunteers was there every step of the way. They answered my emails so quickly and were checking up on me constantly. As a smaller volunteer organization, I feel they really created an authentic experience! I am forever grateful to them!