For my 2017 holiday plans, I made a personal decision to buck my traditional itinerary of going home for the holidays by signing up for a two-week volunteer project in Cusco, and I can honestly say it was a life-changing experience that I would highly recommend for anyone either interested in volunteer work or is interested in visiting Peru.
To give some background, I'm a 32 year old graduated & full-time employee and I was specifically looking for a holiday project to both coincide with my work schedule and because of personal desires to volunteer and give during the holidays. This was my second project I've done with Maximo Nivel, my previous project in the summer of 2017 which was teaching English for 2-5th grade students in Guatemala. Also, my project in Guatemala was my first truly legitimate volunteer project and my first time traveling to Latin America. I never took the opportunity to volunteer when I was younger, and was something I regretted and pursued to make up when I had the opportunity. I met someone that recommended me to Maximo from her experience, and that's what led me to Guatemala & I was so impressed with how well that project went that I decided to do another round with Maximo in Peru for the holidays.
From the moment I read the description of the "Cusco Holiday Experience Project," I was sold with it having a holiday theme and different projects every day. Overall, I really enjoyed the variety and exposure with my work and would get my strong recommendations. Everything Maximo promised was granted, as I got to volunteer on a new project every weekday (except Christmas & New Years Day), and did things such as supporting a christmas party for children, hands-on work with travelling to an Andean village to support a farm, a community center renovation project, and multiple medical campaigns for both human and veterinary work.
For those specifically interested in this project, I have a couple of caveats that you should be aware of. it is a bit challenging to do a different project every day in that you have to be prepared for new training and inherited challenges by doing volunteer work in this manner. Additionally, you should also be aware of the fact that you miss out on a stronger personal sense of impact of your work by having to do something new every day. With all that, Maximo did a fantastic job making me feel prepared every day for my new project, while being realistic with the work itself and allowing me to connect with the people I worked with and enjoy the variety of environments I was in at the same time. I do feel that I made an impact with my work and got a lot out of it on a personal level.
Outside of the volunteer work, I had an adequate amount of time to explore Peru and can't say enough how awesome of a country it is to visit. I had 2 free weekends, New Years & Christmas Day, and a third independent week without volunteer work to get to explore. While working, my shifts during the week were 4 hour shifts (not necessarily counting travel to/from the locations, which can add 1-2 hours), and I generally had good amounts of time in afternoons to explore. From my experience as well as other co-volunteers, I would recommend making efforts to have at least 1 week of your own time without volunteering, as the free afternoons can be shortened easily and you may miss out on activities that you thought you would have time for.
Activity wise, I did a lot with my time in Peru. I did day trips (Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain, Lake Humantay), afternoon activities (ATV's, Paragliding), and a 4-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. One highly valuable aspect with signing up to Volunteer in Cusco with Maximo is that they are partnered with "American Inca Trail," a fantastic tourism outfitter right next door to Maximo that has tons of activities at reasonable prices. What's especially nice about AIT is their service, particularly with understanding our volunteer schedules at Maximo, and they make substantial efforts to accommodate your activities with your schedules (such as holding shuttles). Everything I signed up for was all under AIT and I highly recommend them across the board, as they really enhanced my volunteer project to become a vacation as well.
For my living situation in Cusco, I was living with around 10 total volunteers at an excellent host family that was very warm and accommodating. One noteworthy thing that made my holiday special was that I got to share a delicious christmas eve dinner and party with them that I will never forget. While there are some things I had to adjust to (sharing a cramped room with four other people, small breakfasts, water shortages), none of that tarnished my experience in Cusco and a lot of these things are inherited with doing volunteer work, which you should be mindful of what you're signing up for. I can even add my house with my previous project in Guatemala with Maximo had a larger private room & better food, but I definitely did not have the same connection with that host family that I did with this one in Cusco and would much prefer living with a warm host with these "sacrifices."
I again, strongly encourage you to consider volunteering with Maximo. I've done two different projects now at different locations, and can not emphasize how much both experiences have changed me. I've gained so much by living with a family and co-volunteers with these projects on a mental, social, and spiritual level. I love having the opportunity to use my volunteer & vacation hours in this way rather than sitting in a resort, and Maximo does a fantastic catering to my desires across the board.