Beaches, resorts, breakfast buffets, and pina coladas. Those are often the first things you think about when it comes to going on a family vacation. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Those moments give the family a chance to bond, play, rest, and recover from the grind of daily life. And while we’ve had our share of those kinds of trips during our full-time travels, there’s a different kind of experience that leaves an indelible impression on our whole family. And that’s experiential family travel.
Experiential Family Travel with Our Whole Village
Experiential family travel is the act of immersive, present, and meaningful interaction with a country’s traditions, values, and culture. This usually means stepping out of your comfort zone and into the shoes of someone much, much different from you. We recently had the opportunity to do just that when we visited the indigenous village of Huilloc, located in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Inca. The experience was set up by Our Whole Village, an organization dedicated to developing good global citizens through purposeful family travel.
The Village of Huilloc, Peru
The village of Huilloc is about an hour away from Ollantaytambo, and the drive itself feels like a step back in time. A dirt road connects the village to nearby areas, with various farms dotting the mountainous landscape. We were welcomed by Feliciano and Fortunata, our hosts for the day. They prepared a natural tea that would help us acclimate to the high altitude in the region (over 11,000 feet), and we snacked on roasted corn while they introduced themselves and their village.
Huilloc has a population of less than 1,000 people, and the entire village is dedicated to practicing and upholding Inca and Quechua customs and traditions. This means that they wear their traditional garb, which consists of a colorful maroon poncho and hat for men, and a black skirt, red shawl, and hat for the women. The women of Huilloc weave all of the fabrics themselves, and the process to create one outfit can take them up to six months! The men tend to their various crops from dawn to dusk, and barter for goods with nearby villages, since they can’t grow all the crops they need at such a high altitude.
Life is simple in Huilloc. Kids run around the village effortlessly, learning the Inca customs in and out of the classroom. Many of them stay in the village well into adulthood, while others choose to depart to work in nearby Ollantaytambo and Cusco. Our day and night there was not action-packed like a regular tour would be; we fully immersed ourselves into their culture, learning as much as we can about their passion of Inca history and their mission to uphold their customs for future generations.
An Ancestral Offering Ceremony
We were also fortunate to witness an ancestral offering ceremony. We hiked with a few of the men in the village to a cave 15 minutes away. There, they offered various daily items, such as blue corn, tea leaves, beer, and more to Pachamama, their deity for Mother Earth. They then buried the offering above the cave, hoping for good health, happiness, and fortune. The rite itself was filled with songs, and music was played with their local instruments.
Once the sun set, temperatures dropped dramatically, even in June we had what seemed to be freezing temperatures. We huddled by their fireplace, ate dinner consisting of rice, fish, and vegetables, and went to bed, exhausted and fulfilled by the whole experience. We returned to Ollantaytambo the next morning, and throughout the drive, each of us seemed to contemplate the meaningfulness of the activities that we witnessed in Huilloc.
I can confidently say that our day in Huilloc was one that we will not be forgetting anytime soon. We were fortunate to be able to communicate with our hosts in Spanish, even though the primary language in the village is Quechua. Our guide, whom accompanied us on the trip, spoke, Spanish, Quechua, and English, so he was able to translate for us as well. Our children were able to not only play with the local kids there, but take part in meaningful and educational family travel experiences alongside us. They got to experience what life is like in an authentic Quechua village, and now they will have that experience to recall when they learn about Inca culture in the classroom.
Meaningful Travel in Peru
Although we were nervous to be out of our comfort zone during our visit, our worries quickly faded away and shifted to feelings of gratitude as we felt the warm welcome of our hosts and other villagers. Our Jetsetting Family was honored to capture their customs and traditions through photo and video, and are blessed to have gained a deeper cultural awareness for Peruvian culture throughout this experience.
For those that are planning a trip to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, I highly recommend taking a day to at least visit Huilloc. A visit there will help you identify the differences across lifestyles in the Sacred Valley, and the memories you make as a family will remain with you for a long time.