Experiential Education & Community Service in Peru

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About

Peru isn’t the country you might expect it to be. Everyone has heard of Machu Picchu and the Incan civilization, but very few know that 60% of the country is the Amazon and much of the rest is coastal desert.

For adventurers, Peru’s canyons, mountains, glaciers, and beaches are a playground unlike anything they’ve ever seen. For history buffs, the Spanish colonial architecture sitting on top of traditional indigenous temples capture their fascination. But for true backpacktivists, Peru is the place where we prove that “backpacking with a purpose” really works. While most travelers simply pass along the ‘Gringo Trail’, hopping from overpriced tourist trap to party hostel, that isn’t our style.

At Operation Groundswell, we’ll dive deep into cultural exchange as we partner with various change makers in Peru who are impacting their communities in deeply positive ways. We examine issues around indigenous rights, access to quality of healthcare, LGBT rights, and environmental justice.

Highlights
  • Work alongside local indigenous organizations that are working tirelessly to defend indigenous rights, keep their cultural practices alive, and strengthen their communities.
  • Learn about how the effects of oil company operations impact our environment and human rights.
  • Live on an organic farm high up in the mountains, learning about sustainable agricultural methods, traditional medicine, and the real story of the Incas.
  • Explore the beautiful cobblestone streets of Cusco as we dive deep into various cultural classes that will give us a real sense of daily life in Peru.
  • Try some of the best Latin cuisine in South America while taking introductory Spanish classes!

Questions & Answers

Reviews

97%
based on 14 reviews
  • Impact 9.1
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.6
  • Value 9.6
  • Safety 9.6
Showing 1 - 14 of 14
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Sarah
10/10

Peru: Secrets of the Sacred Valley

This program hands down changed my life. Whenever someone asks me about it I get overcome with joy. My personal values could not align more with the values of the company and the program. I truly support everything they stand for and do (even down to offsetting the carbon footprint of your flight). The program leaders are knowledgeable and deeply caring, they enable you to make true and lasting connections with the people of Peru and with the other people in your program. By going on this trip I felt I received a genuine glimpse of Peru, rather than a typical tourists look at it. I stayed, lived, ate, and laughed with the people of Peru. And my life is better for it. I can not say enough good things about this organization or this program. I have irreplaceable memories, new friendships, and a better understanding of the world. Peru just makes your heart smile. Endlessly grateful for this expierence!

Yes, I recommend
Australia
Sierra
10/10

Peru: Amazon Adventure

I don't even know where to begin here, but I'll start by saying that this trip was absolutely incredible and has definitely had a huge impact on my life, not just for the views, for the things I've seen and done or for the friends I'm still in contact with, but for the lessons I've learned through it (which sounds really cheesy but just go and I promise you'll understand). I could go on for days about the program, but will try to cover the most important parts for anybody reading this curious about it.

It can be terrifying, thinking of going to a foreign country where you may not speak the language at all (like myself), to meet up with a group of strangers and do some very out-of-the-box things. This is not a holiday at a five star resort in the Bahamas, nor is it a cookie cutter Euro-trip. There are times that can push you, for various reasons (whether this may be the load of insects, the humidity in the jungle, the hiking, the physical labour, or even just trying to recover from drinking too much berry moonshine the night before). Regardless of these, there were moments on this trip that absolutely outweigh any and all of the negatives: sitting around a table as a group eating the feast you've prepared from fresh ingredients bought at the market that morning (bought using the Spanish you've learned), hiking up the last few steps to an incredible lookout (or a waterfall to stop and swim at), having a cold beer watching the sunset from the roof of a ferry boat driving up the Amazon river, having deep and meaningful candlelit conversations in the evenings with people closer to you than friends you've had for years, etc.

Operation Groundswell's programs are different in the way that they make you more self-aware, and really make you step back and look at your place in the program and in the world as a whole. The reflective group exercises make the program so much different from others, and the entire experience being as local as possible (food, transportation, accommodation, and the work itself) really allows you to experience something so different than you would be able to individually.

Small tip, a bug net shirt was a huge help to me to stay cool(er) and avoid some bites. Would also recommend a sleeping bag that compressed very small (vs the bulky one I brought).

Trust me on this one, this is a program you won't regret.

How can this program be improved?
Honestly nothing that I can think of. The overnight bus was long, so prepare for that, but it was authentic and cheaper than another flight, so is still the best option.
Yes, I recommend
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Paula
10/10

Peru Mind and Body

I wasn't sure what to expect with this program, as it was my first volunteer experience abroad. The program was to be dedicated to volunteering in sustainable organic agriculture, yoga, meditation, and hiking. Of course it delivered these things, but what sets Operation Groundswell apart is its dedication to meaningful learning and integration with the local culture. To elaborate, over 2 years later, the activities and discussions in which we partook still resonate with me. The delivery, combined with 2 INCREDIBLE group leaders (Gordon and Meg, you two are the bees' knees!!!), are exceptionally important to create a profound experience that you will take with you back into your own community, and future backpacktivism.

This program is not something that will be handed to you in a nice little package, but rather an invitation to engage with a new environment, new people, a new culture. OG goes to great lengths to ensure you truly have the opportunity to integrate with local communities, with the goal of great impact on both parties.

While the physical labour we offered the farm was certainly helpful for their progress, equally important was our understanding the challenges they face, especially in engaging their own community with their goals. Be prepared to be fully unplugged and immersed during this process!

In addition to volunteering, you will be signing up for some great adventuring - we climbed many a'mountain, with some yoga and meditation along the way! Overall, I must say the personal growth opportunity is exceptional in this program, and I am confident that OG has done an outstanding job structuring their trips to benefit everyone involved.

If you are considering becoming a backpacktivist, rest assured that OG is the right organization to take you on that journey!

Yes, I recommend
Allyson
9/10

Peru: Mind and Body Program

This 40-day trip with OG was my first time travelling outside of North America. Prior to the trip, I felt very supported by the OG staff when it came to logisitcs (flights, answering questions about program safety, etc). I also absolutely loved fundraising (I fundraised for my community contribution and program fee) because it 'forced' me to do more research on the non-
profits I'd be working with in country, and through that I was able to raise awareness before even stepping foot into the country! This is cheesy, but I tell everyone, it literally changed the trajectory of my life. I came home more confident, and with a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life. The program was amazing, my Program Leaders were BOMB, and I still keep in contact with the people I travelled with.

How can this program be improved?
More time working with the non-profits OG partners with.
Yes, I recommend
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Natalie
10/10

Peru - Mind & Body

I traveled with OG in May of 2014 to Peru. It was somewhat a spur of the moment decision and I could not regret it!

Travelling with OG gave my the opportunity to truly experience a new culture and learn from my fellow group members. We saw so much of the countries amazing nature as well as different elements of the culture. This was done through spending time learning Spanish, living with local family, and volunteering with local NGOs. The group leaders organized the trip perfectly for us all. We had lots of time to explore the country, volunteer with locals, and get to know each other. I took so much away from this trip. Additionally, the time following our volunteering to explore on our own time give me the chance to travel on my own for the first time with the help from group leaders who knew the area. I highly recommend Operational Groundswell to everyone looking for truly helping others as well travelling responsibly!

Yes, I recommend
Savannah
8/10

Peru Advanture

Honestly the trip was amazing, although it was kind of a roller coaster because there were times i wish the trip was “better” mostly in regards to how much I paid for the trip compared to how much you could pay on your own; I learnt a lot. And afterwards I realized that I didn’t pay to be fed, transported and brought in hikes, I was paying to learn new things that I’d never learn back home. For those who worry that the trip is expensive especially since you need to pay for your own flight, it is TOTALLY worth it! You pay for ans amazing time and amazing leaders and that’s what you get. They know all the little secrets around town and you will definitely not be disappointed. My leaders were and are amazing people in their own and had a crazy life story that I couldn’t get enough of. I made new life long friends that I’d never forget and hope to travel with in the near future.
We got free time through the trip to go walk around visit new places, eat where we want, go shopping, take pictures etc. We had choices of food we could eat when we ate out (we ate at a vegetarian restaurant and it was some of the best food I have ever eaten). We helped on a farm and learnt lots of new things about organic agriculture , got to take many hikes, saw a couple of archeological sites as well as one that no tourist would go to because it was defiantly off the beaten path.
A tip for future travelers would be to extend your trip after the OG trip. Your eyes and heart will be so much more open than it was before and you will really embrace and appreciate what the country and the people have to offer.
This trip changed my life in so many ways I can’t even describe , it was my first time traveling solo, at the age of 19 and I met so many new and amazing people on the way and the OG program made the trip so educational and purposeful I couldn’t imagine going to Peru without going with OG.

Moral of the story I highly recommend any OG trip. I’m already planning my next one and I am hoping to go to Ecuador. Woo!

A very grateful Alumni,
Savannah Dubien

How can this program be improved?
After the trip I did a crazy amount of thinking and I don’t think there is anything to change. This trip was amazing, the people and our leaders were amazing and I’d go back if I could.
Yes, I recommend
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Ben
10/10

Climbing Mountains

Our most challenging experience as a group was certainly faced early on in the high jungle near San Roque. We embarked on a hike that was considered by most of us as the most gruelling part of our Peruvian experience. We all became closer along the way. We encouraged each other, helped each other and became a real team as we made our way to unbelievable sights in the Peruvian jungle. We tested our limits and were rewarded with unforgettable nights near waterfalls and good food prepared by our incredible porters. We learned a lot along the way with our main guides Joel and Kenji as well. Overall, we came out of the jungle a stronger and more caring group. This experience sums up the trip so well for me because I loved how our team motivated each other to keep going when the going got tough and it was a truly rewarding sensation being able to experience all the sights with great friends.

How can this program be improved?
Having gardening gloves while working during a few of our projects would have been a good idea.
It should be a must to pack a pair of wool socks.
Yes, I recommend
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Jessica
10/10

Peru Amazon Adventure

Going to Peru with the operation groundswell team was the best decision I have made in a long time! It was definitely a life changer for me not only in what I physically experienced but also my perspectives and ideas about the world and how I should live in it.

It was so FUN! I have not laughed so much in years, and even just sitting here writing this I am smiling widely just remembering the excursions we had.

Spending the afternoon swimming/rafting down the river while in El Chino ranks near the top of the fun list along with fishing for piranhas in "sinking" mud in Puerto Prado!!

Working on the moloka's (thatched roof houses) was incredible. I loved getting dirty and involved, helping out in any way that I could, even if it was uncomfortable at times.

Getting food from the markets was one of my favorite things. There was fruit, veggies, nuts and pretty much a bit of everything in between. It was nice-especially on a budget! While in Iquitos I loved getting up early in the mornings and enjoying the market as it came alive while sipping my fruit smoothie.

The independent travel time to do what we wanted at the end was awesome! All of the things that we had been doing up until this time really helped to prepare us to be on our own.

So...go on this trip!! The only complaint that I would have is that I did not want to come home, it should have been longer than 6 weeks!

Yes, I recommend
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Ruben
10/10

This program is a life-changer!

Here's a quick rundown of what to expect in terms of the group, the food, the transportation, the volunteering, and the amazing group leaders.

The group: It's an amazing way to meet great people from a variety of different backgrounds! From my experience, over the course of the six weeks, you really do become very close with your group. I remember it being very tough to say goodbye at the end of the program. It really feels like you've known them a lot longer than you actually have. You're sure to enjoy the time you have with them during spanish class in Lima, the long trek to the jungle, the construction site, and those nights where you just have to just let loose and dance away the night (and many many more fun times).

The food: Most of the time you eat lunches at restaurants that serve delicious local food. For breakfasts and dinners, you will take turns preparing meals, working with a partner. Although cooking may sound like a chore now, it doesn't feel that way at all! It was so much fun going to the markets, haggling over prices to adhere to the budget, and the whipping up a dish that you and your partner worked hard to perfect. you will get the satisfaction of putting a smile on the hungry faces of your entire group. And if you fail to make a delicious meal, don't worry! At the very least you will get a laugh, and a pat on the back from you group for the commendable effort. Chances are though; your group will have such a hearty appetite, that they will eat pretty much anything you prepare (especially after those long days at the construction site...)!

The transportation: The program has a long "on-the-road" component at the beginning. Getting to Iquitos from Lima without any aerial transportation proves to be quite the journey. However, it is a beautiful journey. The landscape around you is constantly changing: from coast, to desert, to mountains, to jungle. This gives you a view of the wonderfully diverse landscape that belongs to the country of Peru. My favourite part was the boat rides. The river was stunning.

The volunteering: be prepared to get dirty and sweaty at the construction site! A typical workday begins by taking a 15 minute mototaxi ride aiming to get to the construction site at around 8am. The work goes until 4pm. The heat is intense and the work is demanding. It really was a challenge, so be prepared. But the physical challenge of it, and then seeing the results of your labor, was so rewarding. So don't shy away because of a little discomfort, take it in stride! At lunch, we were made delicious meals cooked by a friend of the program! This was a much needed hour long break.

The group leaders: I had Lynn and Mikel, and they truly are such outstanding people. They're funny, encouraging, compassionate, and energetic people. You'll miss them when the program ends - I guarantee you.

Those are some of the main aspects of the trip. But there is much much more in store for you, I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise. Go see for yourself! If you want an adventure, and some spectacular stories to tell, sign-up for this program and pick up that backpack!

PS: I did this program without knowing a word of Spanish - so don't let that hold you back! In fact almost my whole group were beginners to Spanish.

How can this program be improved?
Make it longer!
Yes, I recommend
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Sarah
10/10

The Best Decision I've Made

I traveled with Operation Groundswell (OG) to Peru in May of 2014. It was truly one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Traveling with OG ensured that I would have the opportunity to try something new everyday, get a full taste of Peru as a nation- from mountains to beaches, and tourist sites to tiny rural villages, as well as make a meaningful impact and build relationships along the way. I could not have asked for a better experience.

Our group spent a week in Lima, taking spanish lessons, participating in a yoga and meditation course, exploring the city, and soaking up as many flavors, sounds, and views as we could.

The following two weeks were spent doing meaningful volunteer work with community partners that OG has a deep history with, ensuring sustainability and community input into the work we did. Through these two weeks I had the privilege of living with a Peruvian family for five days, building new relationships with community members and affectionate children, learning more about Incan history, learning many traditional medicine practices, seeing some of the most amazing starry nights, enjoying some of the best meals I've ever had, working hard, and laughing with my group members- day in and day out. It was an incredible two weeks that opened my eyes up to a new way to travel, sustainable volunteering, and the value of community input and assessment. I could not be more grateful for this time.

Following our group's volunteer time we were allotted ten days of independent travel time, an incredible gift at that point in the trip. Participants were invited to see whatever else they wanted to and were able to, on their own agenda. I traveled with seven other girls to see Colca Canyon (the second deepest canyon in the world), and then enjoyed four beautiful days at Paracas beach. We had a blast, and despite minimal spanish skills, gained an enormous sense of accomplishment in traveling independently.

The conclusion of the program took place as the full group conveined in Huacachina, the most amazing and beautiful oasis resort in the desert. Believe me when I say, your breath will get taken away, as you watch the sunset from the top of a desert peak, while the moon rises behind you.

During disorientation (our last week together), the group had numerous intentional conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of our trip together, all geared to provide OG with improvements they can make on their programs. However, with all honesty, as I wrote my own evaluation of the trip, I had nothing but positive things to say.

This trip allowed for me to explore the world without having to leave home for a year. I made some of the most amazing friends. The theme of the program generated dozens of meaningful and deep conversations, initiated and beautifully led by our two trip leaders. I learned countless new things about myself, discovered new passions, and found myself returning home while simultaneously planning my next opportunity to leave.

I would 100% recommend Operation Groundswell to anyone who has a heart to serve, explore, learn, and grow.

How can this program be improved?
By the end of the trip, my only wish was it could have lasted longer.
Yes, I recommend
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Samantha
10/10

An Unforgettable Trip

Spending 6 weeks overseas with OG gave me the confidence to go explore and travel independently. The simple travel knowledge I gained of backpacking ethically and responsibly will continue with me on my future adventures.
I am so grateful with how safe and comfortable I felt the whole trip. Roughing it is so much more fun if you can just laugh at the situation and embrace the dirt. The hostels we stayed in felt safe and homey. It wasn't easy to get homesick. Especially, the hostel in Iquitos. It was our home base for about 2.5 weeks and the hostess welcomed us with open arms and was extremely hospitable.
The language barrier was a struggle, since I knew barely any Spanish. Fortunately, the first week of the trip, we received some lessons from an amazing school and they were flexible with teaching us what we wanted to know. It was also so much fun too. Nothing like taking a boring language class in high school.
My favourite part of the trip by far was the jungle trek. We boated from Iquitos to a community on the edge of the Amazon called El Chino. Spear fishing and swimming in the Amazonian waters was an experience I will not forget anytime soon. Canoeing under the canopy of the trees with the leader using a machete to guide us through the waters ... hearing the beautiful sounds of the birds and monkeys playing overhead ... and just being in the moment, deep in the jungle was the most peaceful thing I have ever experienced. I would go back in a heart beat if that was possible. I would pass on the mosquitos though. Those buggers... Bring bug spray. A lot. And the natural stuff does not work (out of personal experience).
If you're up for roughing it, meeting friends you'll keep in contact with long after the trip is over, waking up early and staying up late, getting a little muddy, embracing new experiences, learning about a foreign culture, all with the safety of Operation Groundswell behind you, this trip is for you.

How can this program be improved?
The budget for the food needs to be higher. I spent way too much money on snacks because I was hungry all the time. This goes for everyone else in my group as well. Or maybe just a snack budget. Going from having breakfast at 630am to not having lunch until 1am was a struggle. Especially since we were volunteering in the sun during that time.

There also needs to be more clarification on paying our way back from ITT to the disorientation location.
Yes, I recommend
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Jessica
10/10

Amazon Adventure was incredible!

Peru Amazon Adventure trip was an incredible experience that I will always remember. Some of the highlights were taking a ferry up an Amazon River tributary for 3 days to get to Iquitos, the largest city in the world not accessible by road, getting to know the local children in Pampachica, where we were working for 2 weeks, helping the area recover from severe flooding, and working with Mayantu, an organization of Peruvian university students. This trip offered an opportunity to travel in a way that I never otherwise would have, and got to really experience local culture. Another great part of all OG trips is the week of Independent Travel Time, when we got to explore the country on our own and manage the complications that come with travelling.

Yes, I recommend
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Colin
9/10

Peru Winter Break!

Though it was only a two week program I felt I gained a considerable amount of experience; far more than even the last few years living in my home town. It made me a much more confident traveler (taking many different means of transportation and almost missing my flight from Toronto to Lima. A friend and I had to run from one end of the airport to the other, only just making it. I always wanted to do that!).

I feel much more cultured. Being in a place that is so far away from home with so many cultural differences it was amazing to actually feel a part of it. Though I was a foreigner in Peru (and was often called "Gringo" or my favorite "Clear Man") I always felt safe and welcome.

The country itself is breathtaking. I have never seen such beautiful landscapes in all my life. The way the mountains seem to go on forever and the way the sky turns a bright orange as the sun passes behind them. There was so much variety in the land that I was always kept intrigued and surprised.

The OG program itself was very well put together. We were constantly trying new things and every day was something fresh and amazing. Whether it was a three day hike through Colca Canyon, sand boarding near an oasis, or a scavenger hunt through the streets of Arequipa, it was non stop enjoyment.

The volunteering gave all of us a sense of pride that we hold dear. We all worked hard to build a new home and privacy wall for a man and his two loved canine friends. There is much more to it than I initially thought, but with every new day came a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn. With the extra money we had fund raised we decided to buy school supplies for another family in need. Being able to help a family and actually see first hand how much they appreciate it is something I will never forget. Every one of us walked away from our volunteer work feeling a sense of accomplishment and love for those we helped. In their own way, they were helping us too.

The trip leaders were extremely confident and knowledgeable of everything we encountered which gave the whole experience a sense of security. However they weren't only good trip leaders, they were also great friends. Everyone involved in the trip got along so well and it just felt like a big family. It felt like I knew these people for years. Our trip leaders, Laura and Bec, made it feel like we were all equal. Yes, they were in charge of the planning and they guided us through, but I always felt they were just two other good friends we were happy to be traveling with.

THE FOOD! Do not even get me started. I tried so many different and fantastic dishes I don't know where to begin. We received amazing hospitality everywhere we stayed and even learned a few Peruvian cooking techniques along the way.

I enjoyed every part of this program and would love to take part in another OG program as soon as I can!

How can this program be improved?
At certain points when I was trying to prepare for the trip I found it hard to contact people in OG to get the information I was looking for. At points I was going about a week without getting a response to my question. HOWEVER, I did get all my questions answered and everything ran smoothly. I think it may have been my pre-trip nervousness, but it passed as soon as I left the province.
Yes, I recommend
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LauraAnnChubb
10/10

Participate in Something that Matters!

Traveling with OG "Mind & Body" was a completely refreshing volunteer experience. In the past I have worked with overseas programs where I found myself questioning where my money was really going. I didn't have one moment like that in Peru. From day one, your trip leaders immerse you into the culture, history, language, and the lifestyle of what it really means to be Peruvian. Together with your group, you take turns going to the local shops to buy food and prepare it for the group; you work alongside community members doing things their way, to meet the greater need of the community.

Peru was definitely physically demanding, but at the same time physically rewarding. Working together to build a greenhouse was a hard task, but at the end of the week I felt I could really see the vision Christian & Marisol had for Sembrando Semillas. For our other placement in the mountain community of Chuhuay, the physical component was overshadowed by the smiles and the hospitality of its community members. In such a short period the people made every effort to make us feel as though we too we a part of their community.

The adventure aspect is unbeatable. I am not sure you could take a vacation anywhere and experience as much fun and take in as much culture as we did with OG in Peru! Bike tours, sand boarding, Machu Picchu, hot springs, camping, Spanish lessons, local cuisine, zip-lining, white-water rafting, morning yoga and so much more!
Remember what you do matters, and how you do it- matters. If you want to do something that matters, join OG!

How can this program be improved?
Can I say make the program duration longer here?

Maybe talk about independent travel time a little earlier or just give an information kit before we arrive so that the volunteers can have time to think about what it is they want to do and see beforehand. That way time isn't spent/lost focusing on ITT when we are working!
Yes, I recommend

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About Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and...