Peru is a diverse country that boasts dramatic natural landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, and a rich history illustrated by ruins, both famous and obscure. Located in western South America, between Chile and Ecuador, this is a unique country where you will feel welcomed from the moment you arrive.

Learn About Peru

Peru has one of the most interesting histories of any South American country. Ancient Peru was the seat of several prominent Andean civilizations, most notably that the Incas, whose empire was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. They have left behind the impressive ruins of Machu Picchu for modern-day travelers to Peru to enjoy!

Although a Spanish-speaking country as a result of colonization, you still might hear aboriginal languages, such as Quechua and Aymara, at your volunteer assignment. When it comes to ethnic diversity, Peru is a melting pot of Amerindians, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. This assortment of influences can be seen in paintings, tasted in the abundant variety of Peruvian cuisine, and heard in music. Peru gained independence in 1821 from the Spanish, and in 1980, returned to being a democratic society.

Peru’s more recent history includes the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist insurgent organization starting internal conflict in the 1980s. As a result of this organization, based largely in rural areas of Peru, a pueblo joven (shantytown) developed in the vast, empty sand flats due to the urgent housing needs of immigrant Peruvian families. Today, volunteers work in several of Lima’s ‘asentamientos humanos’ which translates to human settlements. We work in Villa Maria del Triunfo, San Juan de Miraflores, and Chorrillos. In these communities we collaborate with local community leaders to ensure our work in child health and education meet the needs of the people we aim to empower.

The capital city of Lima is an intriguing mix of modern and traditional, ancient and evolving. With over 10 million citizens, Lima is Peru’s largest city, and it has something for just about everyone. You may be visiting a local artisan market one day, and a bustling modern shopping mall the next. As Lima is often called the “culinary capital of South America,” you can have a meal of haute cuisine by a world-renowned chef, or snack at ceviche stands around your neighborhood. On your weekend, you may find yourself indulging in nightlife that can rival that of any big city worldwide, and then touring ancient ruins at the Pachacamac archaeological site the very next day. Lima is a land of contrasts and contradictions, and just when you think you’ve gotten it pinned down, it will morph into something else entirely.

Peru features extremely diverse geographies, from Lima located on the coast, to jungles, mountains, and deserts. Peru has it all.

If you choose to explore this incredible country on a weekend trip, or before or after the program, there are a few precautions to keep in mind. When traveling through the Andes Mountains, keep well hydrated and, if hiking longer distances, travel with an experienced guide. You may even meet a few llamas on your journey! In the desert, the climate can easily get into the 90s and above, so wear appropriate sun protection and always carry water on you. Finally, in the jungle and in some other areas outside of Lima, there may be mosquitos (as well as a wide variety of tropical birds, animals, and insects), so always carry bug repellent.

Cultural Do’s and Don’ts

Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.

  • Learn some basic Spanish phrases
  • Address people formally when greeting
  • Use phrases like Good morning sir: “Buenos días, señor”.
  • Tip very much!
  • Take a taxi without first negotiating the fare
  • Be too affectionate in public (it’s frowned upon)

Fun Fact: Peru is home to the highest sand dune, the highest navigable lake, the driest desert, and the deepest canyon in the world!

Culture Shock

Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?

Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, it's cultural norms, and it's people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.

Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.

"I - I hardly know, Sir, just at the present," Alice replied rather shyly, "at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  • Have a sense humor.
    Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
  • Expect differences.
    In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
  • ...but look for what’s the same.
    You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
  • Keep learning.
    Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.

Language Skills

Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.

Here are a few key phrases to get you started:
Spanish Phrases
Hello – ¡Hola!
Please – Por favor
How are you? – ¿Cómo estás?
Do you Speak English? – ¿Hablas Inglés?
Thank you – Gracias

Ready for the next level? Practice your Spanish with these online sites:

Babbel »
Rosetta Stone »

Recommended Reading and Films

We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of Peru so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:

Travel & Leisure: A Trip Through Peru »
CCS Blog: Fall in Love with Lima
If you love food as much as the CCS Staff, take a look at this Youtube video, it will make your mouth water! Just one of the many reasons to get excited about your upcoming trip to Lima!YouTube: Food in Peru

Free Time

Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends. Free time is an important part of your experience for independent exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always have some great, local tips to share.

Start your planning with a few of our favorite suggestions, but also remember that you can plan most of your trips once you arrive in-country (especially if flights aren’t required) with your fellow volunteers.

Flying over the Lineas de Nazca, a mysterious series of ancient geoglyphs, drawn in the desert by what some believe to be one of the earliest civilizations, is a unique reminder that in Peru, ancient surprises are around just about every corner.

Complete your trip of Peru by checking out Machu Picchu. Declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, thousands of people visit this mecca every year and bask in the Andean sun while having their breath taken away by the beauty of this ancient center built by the Incas. (Plan this trip before or after your program as it can take 3 to 5 days to complete)

Despite the miles of beautiful coast lines, the beach isn’t the only place to surf in Peru. You can try to hang ten on one of the biggest sand dunes in the world. Sandboarding down the sandy slopes can be an ultimate rush. And don’t worry, if you’re not interested in sandboarding, the view can also be enjoyed from a ride in a dune buggy.

Training Sessions

If you’re ready to start learning more, review your online Training Sessions below (these are required – so make sure you allocate enough time to review each of these trainings, each under 30-minutes). About two weeks before your program begins, you’ll join your final pre-departure call with your group. We can’t wait for you to join us, meet your fellow volunteers, and explore all that CCS has to offer.

Training Call 1:
How to be a Successful Volunteer »

Training Call 2:
Savvy Street Smarts »

Training Call 3:
Volunteer Work Assignments »

GO TO: Volunteering in Lima

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