Conservation VIP does work on the trails leading to Machu Picchu.
Courtesy Photo

Love traveling and want to contribute something valuable to the world as you explore it? Join the local nonprofit Conservation Volunteers International Program (Conservation VIP) on their November 8-22 expedition to Machu Picchu and experience this iconic Incan fortress while helping local park rangers care for it.

Machu Picchu is Peru’s most famous attraction, but is lately being loved to death according to an Associated Press article released this July. Nearly 800,000 tourists visit the site each year, double the amount visiting just 10 years ago, which conservationists advising UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee warn is threatening the integrity of the ancient ruins. Citing fires, severe erosion, and ever-increasing development, UNESCO may be forced to add Machu Picchu to its list of endangered sites.

Trail repair work being done in Peru by Santa Barbara-based Conservation VIP.
Courtesy Photo

Ordinary citizens, however, can help combat this degradation with Conservation VIP, which is dedicated to inspiring U.S. volunteers to take their joy for travel and turn it into constructive activity protecting some of the world’s greatest natural and cultural treasures.

Chair and founder of the nonprofit, Richard Tobin – who served as a ranger for the Los Padres National Forest for three decades and quit to begin Conversation VIP – first went to Machu Picchu 20 years ago, before the site had garnered international attention. “We spent a week backpacking on the Inca Trail seeing no other hikers,” he reminisced. “When we arrived in Machu Picchu, only a handful of other visitors who had taken the train from Cuzco were present.”

Santa Barbara's Conservation VIP does trail work in the most amazing of settings. And they need more volunteers.
Courtesy Photo

Since then, Tobin has seen a steady increase in crowds on return trips to Machu Picchu. The Conservation VIP expeditions respond directly to this by putting U.S. volunteers side-by-side with locals repairing trails, planting trees, assisting archaeologists, training park rangers, and implementing visitor surveys to improve park management together. “We also are encouraging collaboration between the Machu Picchu Sanctuary and the [nearby] community of Aguas Calientes to reduce the effects of rapid development,” Tobin explain. “For example, we are searching for ways to address the broken sewage treatment facility that now allows raw sewage to flow into the Urubamba River within the Sanctuary and downstream into the Amazon.”

Torres del Paine is one of the world's most stunning places, and you can help make it better with Conservation VIP.
Courtesy Photo

Tobin developed the idea of proactive traveling during a trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, where it was apparent to him as a former park ranger that increased visitation was taking a toll on the park and its staff. Park officials there confirmed his suspicions acknowledging their lack of resources and training to respond to the increase in tourism and invited Tobin back. And back he came with a team of volunteers for the first successful Conservation VIP trip in 2005, where volunteers were able to experience the country and its citizens, not as tourists, but as special guests of the government and its people. He has been going back ever since.

If you can’t swing the November 8 trip to Machu Picchu, don’t fret, you have more time to plan ahead for the trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia leaving March 2009. An added incentive is that costs for the trip may be tax-deductible. To get more information or sign up, check out or send an email to


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