Rich in culture and serving as a home base for visiting Machu Picchu, Cusco attracts large families and solo full-time travelers alike from around the globe. It’s easy to stay entertained in Cusco for quite a while – I spent a month wandering its streets. That said, there comes a time when breaking away from all the tour guide sales pitches becomes necessary for a weary traveler’s sanity.
Using Workaway for Off-The-Beaten-Path Travel
The towns around Cusco aren’t always a much better option in terms of escaping the tourism madness. Much of southern Peru is filled with knock-off alpaca sweater shops on every other street corner. However, as I write this from my base only a short bus ride away from Cusco, I can firmly say that I can step outside without encountering another tourist or sales pitch in sight.
Where am I?
Quillabamba sits roughly 40 km north of Machu Picchu in the epicenter of the coffee and cocoa region of Peru. Unlike the city of Cusco (which can get quite frigid), Quillabamba is tucked away in the rainforest and has a warm climate year-round. Its location and climate allow it to thrive in the cocoa industry, and much of the chocolate for sale in the Cusco region comes from Quillabamba.
The town itself is home to roughly 30,000 people, but feels much smaller and can easily be navigated by foot. The streets of Quillabamba come to life every morning – locals fill the Plaza de Armas and tuk-tuks can be heard down every street.
Flourishing but not overwhelming hectic, Quillabamba has a relaxed vibe. It truly is a locals-only town, where local farmers stretch their produce along the main thoroughfare each Thursday, selling an endless abundance of fruits, vegetables, and chocolate. The surrounding terrain is lush and mountainous, offering waterfall hikes and wildlife viewing that can’t be found in Cusco. In short, Quillabamba is the perfect escape from Cusco’s hustle.
My girlfriend and I discovered Quillabamba through a wonderful volunteer opportunity.
It would never have occurred to us to visit Quillabamba had we not come across an opening for volunteer English teachers on workaway.info.
For those not familiar with Workaway, it’s an online platform where travelers can connect with hosts who provide hospitality in exchange for volunteer service. We have used Workaway through much of South America as a means to extend our trip and experience off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Our Workaway experience brought us to Quillabamba, where we are currently teaching at the London College language school, which operates as an after-school program for kids ranging from ages four to fifteen. London College is run solely by a lovely Quillabamba native and her husband. The school itself sits directly below their house.
We have each been teaching for roughly twenty hours a week. In exchange, we receive a room for ourselves, breakfast, and lunch.
As volunteer English teachers, we have been able to experience local culture in a way we could have never imagined. Traveling through Workaway has taken us to many small towns and corners of the world that are completely off any tourist’s radar.
The beauty of volunteering is that it allows us to travel between teaching stints rather than be tied down by a full-time teaching contract.
For those looking for a way to travel for longer periods of time and visit lesser-known areas of a country, volunteering as an English teacher through Workaway may be the solution.
How to get to Quillabamba from Cusco:
From the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, you can walk to the bus station where buses leave for Quillabamba on an hourly basis. The station is called ‘Empresa de Transporte K’Intu’ and can be reached by walking up Calle Santa Clara towards San Pedro market.
Keep walking straight across the train tracks and bridge until you reach a fork in the road where you will keep left. Walk on for two blocks to Calle Inca and turn left from there. After two more blocks, take a right onto Calle Sacristanniyoc. The station will be directly on your right.
It’s roughly a five-hour bus ride along a fairly winding road to reach Quillabamba, but well worth it!