Villa El Salvador – A Tour Through One of Lima’s Pueblo Joven

After travelling through South-East Asia for half a year and spending two weeks at home in Europe we are now ready for the second part of our trip: South America! Peru, Bolivia and Colombia is on the list but let us see where the wind will take us… 🙂

Our first stop: Lima, Peru. Most tourists who come to Peru’s capital probably only visit places like the historic center, Miraflores and Barranco. For good reason – these are the nice parts that are safe, have nice restaurants and cafes and a lot of stuff to see. This is also how we spent our days here in Lima. However, we started to ask ourselves how other parts look like when we saw a shanty town on a hill just north of Plaza Mayor. Soon we found information online about how to visit some of these places.

Thanks to Haku Tours it is now possible to see the “other side of Lima” by visiting a part of Villa El Salvador, a shanty town south-east of the city center.

View from a hill of a part of Villa El Salvador

This part of Lima began as a pueblo joven (shanty town) in the 1970s when people all over Peru and especially from the Andean region came to Lima to find work. It further grew when Peruvians fled from the terrorism of “Shining Path” and came to Lima. Since it only became an official part of Lima in 1983, most of the initial efforts were informal – people building their own houses, roads, water and electricity infrastructure.

Small girls playing and having a great time climbing a tree

However, today is no different. On the tour I was told that people who move to one the several pueblo joven in Lima need to live there for 10 years in order to be recognized as a legal citizen. During this waiting period people are not supported by the government and thus have to take care of themselves. This means people still build their own houses and infrastructure.

Locals in the process of building their own house

My guide also spoke about a deep sense of community among the people how live here. Since the government is not always supportive, the community builds facilities such as health and day care centers for children. Overal, people seem quite entrepreneurial. You look ahead and continue to build your house when you have money. This is why many houses look unfinished – they are constantly work in progress.

A baby day care center built by the local community

According to the guide from Haku not even all Limenos who live in Miraflores know about the scale of these shanty towns since they are “hidden away” by the hills surrounding Lima’s center. But it is especially the rough terrain that makes life difficult here. It is hard and expensive to build water pipes up the hills. The police often do not come since most of the area is not accessible by car.

The impression I got was that nevertheless people are happy here and look after each other. Looking down on an endless sea of houses in the golden afternoon sun had something calming and even a bit romantic to it. However, this is clearly a very biased and one-sided view from a tourist – possibly similar to those tourists who leave Lima thinking the whole city is like Miraflores… 🙂

Below are some more impressions of the tour:

View of another shanty town: Maria del Triunfo
Local sports field – locals gather here on Sundays for tournaments
The recently built yellow stairs are kind of a landmark here
Small (currently not active) garden using a net to catch water from fog
Family business selling animal food at the local market
Our first stop of the tour: buying fruit for the local kids on a market

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