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Volume 6 Issue 4 Highlights




Supply Chain

Conservation VIP

Since March 2005, The VolunTourist Newsletter has attempted to cover some of the most innovative, cutting edge VolunTourism programs around the world. This issue's "Supply Chain" is no exception. Quite possibly the most remarkable model of public-private partnership in the global VolunTourism space, Conservation VIP offers the rarest of opportunities - to conduct volunteer work on the Inca Trail and within Machu Picchu itself. In addition, Conservation VIP was recently named a recipient of a Tourism Cares matching grant to defray costs for the construction of the Grey Glacier Quebrada Suspension Bridge in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Want to go?!?

Background & History Of Conservation VIP

While visiting international parks as a tourist, Rich Tobin (CEO of Conservation VIP) came to believe his experiences as a US park ranger could contribute to the protection of national parks around the world. On a visit to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile, Rich explained to local rangers that many US parks invited volunteers to help. The international rangers incredulously asked, “Why would anyone want to do that?” This discussion was a real eye opener to Rich about how people in other countries viewed voluntourism. From these discussions came the idea of bringing volunteers to Torres del Paine National Park, leading to pilot voluntourism projects starting in 2005 and the creation of Conservation VIP in 2008.

In addition to direct involvement of park rangers and volunteers, Conservation VIP recognized that others must be involved to create a successful voluntourism program. Conservation VIP believed that if community members and local non-governmental organizations were engaged, they would see it was to their own benefit to help protect and support the park. Conservation VIP reached out to universities – both their researchers and students – to give them opportunities to learn about natural resources management. Conservation VIP also sought involvement of the Chilean Foreign Ministry and U.S. Department of State.

After successful pilot projects in Torres del Paine National Park, Conservation VIP began offering volun-tourism projects in Machu Picchu Sanctuary in Peru and Yosemite National Park in California.  Beginning in 2010, Conservation VIP expanded its volunteer expeditions in collaboration with REI Adventures. Already named one of the top ten "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure Magazine, REI Adventures sought to complement its outstanding adventure travel programs with voluntourism opportunities. In addition to these and other voluntourism projects already under development, Conservation VIP welcomes additional proposals to bring volun-tourism expeditions to parks around the world. 

Philosophy & Vision

Conservation Volunteers International Program (VIP) is dedicated to conservation and preservation of some of the world’s greatest landscapes and cultural sites. They accomplish this by providing opportunities for ordinary citizens to get their hands dirty doing extraordinary volunteer services.  Conservation VIP engages others – local park rangers, community members, local government, other non-profits, businesses, academia, and others – in their work.  Working together, volunteers repair trails, restore archaeological sites, replant vegetation, protect fish and wildlife, encourage community support, and learn from each other.  Conservation VIP volunteers make a difference in our world.

The vision of Conservation VIP is to provide innovative, premiere conservation voluntourism opportunities at the world’s greatest landscapes and cultural sites.  The cornerstones of their program include:

  • Camaraderie, environmental citizenship, green diplomacy, cross-cultural awareness, education, and hard, dirty work, with a few blisters thrown in;
  • A safe and stimulating environment for work, while creating wonderful memories amongst the volunteers, community members, and agency officials of the host countries;
  • Improving the sustainability of the landscapes volunteers visit, giving hope to those who love these places
  • While working and playing together, volunteers smile and laugh a lot;
  • Alumni volunteers passionately refer new volunteers, and;
  • Park managers compete for voluntourism programs led by Conservation VIP.

Possible Voluntary Service Activities In Which Voluntourists Would Participate

Machu Picchu Sanctuary

Volunteers participate in a variety of tasks assigned  by Peru's National Institute of Culture (INC) and the National Service for Protected Area Management (SERNANP). These tasks vary during each expedition and may include:

  • Restoration of archeological features by removing of exotic or unwanted vegetation from along the trails or the stone walls of buildings and agricultural terraces;
  • Maintenance of Inca trails;
  • Restoration of areas impacted by visitor use or fire;
  • Planting trees;
  • Collecting native plant seeds to be used in restoration projects, or;
  • Monitoring restoration study plots.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile 

Volunteers focus on trail repairs and resource restoration along the famous “W” hiking trail, the most popular hiking route in the park. Trail work includes widening and out-sloping the trail tread, installing dips and other water diversions, re-routing the trail away from sensitive habitat, clipping back vegetation encroaching on the trail, and moving rock to create dry trail tread or steps through steep sections of trail. 

For all expeditions, small groups of 4-6 volunteers are paired with experienced leaders who provide training, guidance and encouragement.  No previous experience is required.

Possible Touristic Activities In Which Voluntourists Would Participate

Conservation VIP expeditions focus on accomplishing critical work assigned by local park rangers. To safely and effectively accomplish our assignments, we include orientation tours, training and rest days in all our itineraries. This allows volunteers time to visit locations or participate in activities that both accomplish our mission and provide for optional leisure-time activities. For example, in our Machu Picchu volunteer expeditions, more than simply visiting archaeological sites as tourists, volunteers learn about the Inca and their construction methods in order to improve volunteer skills. Orientation visits include Sacsayhuaman, Tipon, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Cusco and the Sacred City of Machu Picchu.  During rest days, volunteers also have time to hike a section of the Royal Inca Trail, shop at local markets, or relax at the Aguas Calientes hot springs in Machu Picchu Pueblo.

During our Torres del Paine volunteer expeditions, participants receive orientation to the park en route to our work assignments in addition to rest day opportunities to hike backcountry trails leading to awe-inspiring views of active glaciers as well as rugged mountains towering 8,000 feet overhead.  Perhaps most importantly, volunteers travel to premier international destinations not simply as tourists, but as active members of volunteer expeditions working side-by-side with park rangers and local community members. Volunteers enjoy the camaraderie of travelers from around the world both at the project locations during the day and while enjoying wonderful meals or lodging together during the evening.

Sample Itinerary

Itinerary for Machu Picchu Sanctuary

Day 1. We meet in Cusco, ancient heart of the Inca Empire. We begin our volunteer expedition with orientation and safety training, then a city walking tour of Cusco, including visits to the Inca Sun Temple of Coricancha (now the Convento de Santo Dominigo) and the Cusco Cathedral.  

Day 2. We continue our orientation with a morning visit to Sacsayhuaman, a hilltop stone fortress overlooking Cusco. In the afternoon, we travel to Tipon archaeological site, one of the most elaborate and well-preserved examples of Inca agricultural activities.   

Day 3. Private van transfer from Cusco through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo. From here, we take a narrow-gauge railroad into the Urubamba River Gorge to the small community of Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes. In the afternoon, we begin our volunteer work.

Day 4-8. Continue volunteer activities within the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, including a full day of orientation within the Sacred City. On our last work day, volunteers may elect to return to the Sacred City early in the morning to climb Wayna Picchu Mountain, visit the Sun Gate of Intipunku, or hike the Royal Inca Trail.

Day 9. Return by train to Cusco, stopping to visit Ollantaytambo archaeological site and Pisac traditional open air market.

Day 10. Completion of volunteer expedition in Cusco.

Contact information

Richard Tobin
Conservation Volunteers International Program
P.O. Box 61912
Santa Barbara, California 93160 USA

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