Travel operator Dragoman helps alpacas return to ancient Inca trail

Alpacas have been reintroduced to the Ancascocha people in after 200 years.

Alpacas have been reintroduced to the Ancascocha people in after 200 years. - Credit: Archant

Alpacas have returned to an ancient Inca trail thanks to the efforts of a Debenham tour operator. SARAH CHAMBERS reports.

Tom Pilgrim, Dragoman's representative, and, right, the Ancascocha community leader

Tom Pilgrim, Dragoman's representative, and, right, the Ancascocha community leader - Credit: Archant

An award-winning responsible travel initiative by a Debenham-based travel operator has seen native alpacas return to an ancient Inca trail after an absence of 200 years and enabled the local Quechua community to regain skills lost for generations.

For the last decade, Dragoman, an overland tour operator, has pioneered Tarpuy Yachay, a project which uses an alternative Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, to help redistribute the tourist dollar in the region.

This brought in around $10,000 (US dollars) a year through passenger donations and helped environmental and educational projects such as tree-planting and running a school with its own teacher, eventually allowing a local community to become self-sufficient.

In 2013, after realising that goal, Dragoman decided the time was right to transfer its support to another community, the Ancascocha. Again, this was done by using a route exclusive to Dragoman and indigenous people.

One of the first initiatives, on the request of the local community, was to spend passenger donations on purchasing a herd of alpacas.

In May 2014, alpacas were reintroduced to the Ancascocha community in an area around the Sacred Valley for the first time in more than 200 years, followed by a second herd in August and a third in November. Since then, the alpacas have not only bred, but have just produced their first bales of wool.

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Anki Nordin, destinations manager for the Americas, said one problem they faced was the skills gap.

“Because the local community had not tended alpacas for so long, the people had lost husbandry skills such as shearing and spinning the yarn,” he explained.

Members of the original Tarpuy Yachay project helped bridge the skills gap, teaching the Ancascocha people skills which, assuming the survival of the now 60-strong herd, will be passed down to future generations.

Ultimately, the communities’ goal is to have at least four herds, or “hatos”, of alpacas so that the community becomes self-sustaining, selling the wool and woollen products to tourists, as well as introducing llamas for portering purposes both for the local communities’ use and for transporting tourist luggage on the trail to Machu Picchu.

Reintroducing indigenous animals to the region and rediscovering lost skills isn’t the only success story since the launch of the new project. Reforestation is also a major part of the agenda. With passengers’ help, the community is on track to plant at least 1,000 queñua or polylepis trees by the end of 2015, with 1,500 planned for next year.

“It’s wonderful that a Suffolk-based travel operator is helping communities on a global scale. We are thrilled that in the space of a year, the new project is on track to replicate the success of Tarpuy Yachay, a project which has won the Association of International Tour Operators (AITO) Sustainable Tourism Award,” said Anki.

“By providing the local community with financial and practical support, again, by refurbishing a local school and helping with a full-time local teacher, as well as facilitating regular donations from our travellers, we’re enabling the community to become self-sustainable.”

Feedback from leaders of the local community also indicates that the Ancascocha inhabitants have been buoyed by the early success of the initiatives.

“Now the communities are more enthusiastic to participate in other initiatives, such as repairing bridges nearby,” said Anki.

Three quarters of Dragoman passengers have chosen to travel the alternative Inca Trail.

It is anticipated that, due to its exclusivity, even more travellers will choose to take the new Inca Trail alternative, relieving overcrowding on the traditional Inca Trail and its infrastructure, which has to cope with 500 tourists day. It is also redistributing wealth to help support neighbouring communities, which until now had received little or no benefit from the growing numbers of trekkers in the area.