Amazon Village Visits
If your Iquitos tour operator says the package may include a visit to a native community, you should know what to expect.
“Native” these days means a highly staged experience, where Yagua or Bora Indians emerge in grass skirts, explain a few aspects of village life, do a quick song and dance, and then try to sell their handicrafts.
Some foreigners feel awkward with the situation. But before misjudging or making assumptions, here’s a review of the pros and cons of such experiences.
There are few remote tribes left in the Amazon, and tourists, missionaries, and even anthropologists should frankly leave them alone.
On the other hand, the indigenous communities who have chosen to contact the Western world are extremely glad to have the extra money that comes from tourism. For them, it is an important means of acquiring the cash to buy city items such as sugar, salt, gasoline, and medicine, which otherwise they simply could not afford.
The benefits of tourism for these people are even clearer with the visits to the mestizo or mixed-blood towns that have sprouted up along tributaries of the Amazon. Many of them began three or four decades ago with a few thatched huts but now boast soccer fields and schools. Many are close to lodges that employ villagers or have Indian markets that are visited by tourists.
These new sources of tourism income have helped change local economies and lessen the prevalence of game hunting.
Amazon visitors should choose lodges that employ local villagers with fair wages and are actively involved in improving the quality of life for nearby villages.
It is also a good idea to carry Peruvian soles, and not dollars, as the dollar has been dropping alongside the Peruvian sol in recent years. Dollars are also hard to exchange in the Amazon, and done so only at a steep discount in Iquitos or other cities.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition