I step off the bus with my sustainable development class and head down a small hill towards the Huantanay River that runs through Cusco, Peru. Before the river is visible, an intense putrid scent arises and a littered garbage path appears leading toward the river. We soon learn that the river is a garbage and wastewater collector for one-third of the Cusco population that does not pay or receive government aid for trash collection or sewage systems. The river eventually blends into the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, which features white water rafting tours and many riverside hotels and restaurants. Finally, the river finds its way to the Pacific Ocean.
Standing over the brown river rapids, I cannot help but wonder if any garbage I have created during my study abroad experience thus far is in the river and headed toward the ocean. How many tourists in Cusco know about this river and this issue? If some tourists do know, what are they doing to minimize their impact? It is estimated that 1.5 million tourists visit Cusco every year and tourism is a large contributor to the Peruvian economy. However, there is very little information on the environmental distress this quantity of tourists creates. Instead, during my research for potential solutions to tourism pollution, I found a call to action for Sustainable Tourism. In fact, the United Nations mandated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
The UN explains three main pillars for promoting sustainable tourism. The first is to promote environmental practices, like reducing plastic use. Second, help to respect and protect natural and cultural sites. Third, support the local community by shopping and eating local, or volunteer with local charity projects. Below are the ways I decided to answer the UN’s call and integrate the three pillars into my daily life in Cusco:
- Reduce Plastic
I already use a reusable water bottle, but as an avid coffee drinker, I realize I am constantly using plastic and paper to-go coffee cups in my dash to morning classes. I purchased a reusable coffee cup and now always go to Inti Coffee, a local organic coffee shop.
- Respect and Support Natural and Cultural Sites
While planning a field trip to a culturally rich and poor region in Cusco, my history of the Incan Civilization class decided to collect money to purchase food donations and garbage bags. We cleaned ancient Inca trails and brought food to a local Guinea pig farm. We not only helped maintain a historical site, but we got to learn more about the Peruvian food culture.
- Shop and Eat Local
Before I eat or shop anywhere, I always try to ask questions or do research beforehand. Where did the ingredients or supplies come from? Do they have any type of sustainable certification or a social impact attached to the business? Cusco does offer a sustainable local business industry that I have only started to discover and cannot wait to explore more on my path toward Sustainable Tourism.
The world awaits…discover it.