Exploring the Realities of Lima’s Shanty Towns

Homes carefully constructed from scrap

For our final day in Lima (and our final day in Peru), we had something a little different planned.  We’d be turning our backs on the local site and the local food to get outside the city (a city we admittedly were not really enjoying) and seeing the other side of life in Lima.  Around noon, Edwin of Haku Tours picked us up and we drove out of the city to visit one of the shanty towns built on a nearby hillside.

We drove up gravel roads as the homes became more and more run down.  The tour started on a main street of sorts, lined with open storefronts that housed small markets.  We learned more about some of the fruit of the area and moved on to a small indoor meat market.  The cleanliness of the market was…suspect…but the people were making do with what they had, and I wasn’t going to be one to judge given the circumstances.

After the markets, we walked up steep stairs to see more of the homes jammed in across the hillside, learning that they were cobbled together with whatever scraps the people could find.  Despite living in such poor conditions, the people were incredibly friendly and hospitable—much more so than I could see myself being in those situations.  The children especially were happy to follow us on our tour and take pictures with us (which Edwin said we should e-mail to Haku Tours for them to print out and give back to the families, as this was one of the only opportunities for them to have pictures of themselves).

Hanging out with a local family

We learned about the local life, saw into a shanty house and their “kitchen” and met a few more people.  And while it could have definitely started to feel like exploitation—these white people who are rich by any standard applied to the shanty towns, coming to look at their suffering and get a little dose of poverty porn—we were reassured by how much Haku Tours gives back to the community and helps with things like uniforms for the children to go to school. Edwin even gave a young girl a few pesos for a drawing she had made that she offered me, since both the drawing and I had beards.

Being dominated in soccer by a bunch of children

Near the end of the tour, we came upon a soccer field near the top of the hill, and I was invited to join the children there to play.  I was wearing hiking boots at the time, but even without that excuse I’m sure the kids would have schooled me regardless.  They were also playing with a partially deflated ball that they had received from a tourist two years prior, but were happy to have that much.  Had I known, I certainly would’ve bought a new ball for them in Lima—a few dollars for me would’ve made them so happy.

While it may not seem like a “fun” or “exciting” thing to do with your time, seeing how the less fortunate live in other countries, or how developing countries are forgetting their people, can be a very important part of your trip.  Traveling isn’t all eating the best food and staying in hotels; traveling should be about learning and experiencing things, even if those things don’t make the loveliest Instagram pictures.

Some of the local children excited about having their picture taken

I would definitely recommend Haku Tours for their knowledge of the area and involvement in the community, and I would also highly recommend bringing something for the people there.  A ball for the kids, some clothes you don’t wear anymore, anything to help out.  The tour will give back to the community, but you can have an impact as well.

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