Trekking in sacred places: Should we hike on holy ground?

Jul 07, 2022 BY AWE365 Team

Ciudad Perdida, Machu Picchu and Roraima. All sacred places and all top trekking holidays for thousands of tourists every year. But should we hike on holy ground? Does our modern impact anger the gods? And if we are in sacred places and sites of religious significance, can we ever balance our needs with those of the places we visit?

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu one of the best historical hiking holidays Pexels royalty free image

Hiking on sacred ground

Mount Roraima, the great tepuy of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana and inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It is a sacred link between earth and sky for the native Indians of the area. It’s their Mount Olympus! And with its endemic life forms and constantly shifting weather systems, it’s a mystical wonder even to an avid agnostic.

A telling sign of the lasting importance of Roraima’s spirituality is the necessity of all treks to be accompanied by at least one native Indian. It is his duty to offer a blessing to the 1800-metre rock face, and request divine permission to scale its heights.

Whilst it may seem phoney to the western tourist, it’s no effort to respect these beliefs! Also it is nice to know that there is a job that no one can be more qualified for than a native.

Trekking in sacred places Should we hike on holy ground Wikimedia CC image of Mount Roraima Venezuela by M M

Tourism in Holy places

I have not joined one of the many Machu Picchu trekking holidays, but it, and Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, have similar connotations. While the latter’s visitor numbers barely compare with the former both are ancient cities built by indigenous tribes. They’ve each fallen into disrepair under the conquistadors and been given new purpose through tourism.

Is trekking in sacred places the obvious evolution of holy grounds? While I feel these destinations should not be disturbed and altered beyond recognition, to leave them unseen would also be a great tragedy.

There is no difference in flocking to Athens to witness the Parthenon, just because it is still surrounded by an inhabited city. If Machu Picchu lay in the centre of Cusco, the nearest city, no one would question the right to disturb its sacred and bloodied soils or to hike on holy ground.

Trekking in sacred places Should we hike on holy ground Pxhere royalty free image of Parthenon in Athens

Does trekking in sacred places change them?

Lets check reality with concept. It is often suggested that these places risk losing their cultural identity. Foreign bars, tourist tat shops, gringo run hostels. But these places exist in London, Barcelona, Paris, and every major European city, but no one has suggested they are homogenous and devoid of their original cultural quirks.

Westerners must not have some patronising viewpoint of the developing world in terms of globalisation. It is ridiculous to create The West, and then try to resist less developed nations aspiring to our wealth.

Just because here we are afraid we will annihilate their cultures, despite single currencies and free trade not making that happen here. In Peru they just want tourists; surely we can deliver them and be respectful of its cultural history?

Machu Picchu one of best inca sites in Peru: Flickr image by Güldem Üstün

Does tourism improve lives?

In Colombia, the ironically titled ‘Ciudad Perdida’ (Lost City) also known as Teyuna, has caused more issues than just environmental damage and disturbances of the gods. Tourists have been repeatedly kidnapped from these guerrilla-ridden rainforests and the military now maintain a permanent presence at the city and park entrance.

If there were no tourists the possibility is these soldiers would be deployed elsewhere.  But it is easy to see how much the people who live along this route, who until 1972 many unaware of the spectacle in their midst, must benefit from the Teyuna / Ciudad Perdida trekking holidays.

Camps have been built, some right alongside local houses, and small eateries have sprung up in the gateway town. And when ‘The War On Drugs’, funded largely by the US, has destroyed much of these farmers’ crops and land, it is surely only right for tourists to give something back and open up new and lucrative industries?

Trekking on holy ground Wikimeida CC image of Teyuna Ciudad Perdida in Colombia by Dwayne Reilander

So should we hike on holy ground?

Roraima and Ciudad Perdida are very pleasurable due to the small number of tourist you encounter whilst there. Peru trekking holidays – especially to Machu Picchu – is a more popular choice. But has it become a victim of its own success?

So, as tourists and trekking fans, we should tread carefully. We must respect local culture, and at the same time be glad that we are privileged to witness these spectacles of natural and human greatness.

What do you think should we hike on holy ground?? Can indigenous culture and identity co-exist in harmony with our love of travel? Or are we taking with one hand as much as we bring with the other?

We hope you found this article about trekking in sacred places thought provoking. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And check out this article about the best historical hiking holidays for more ideas.

Colombia, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Mount Roraima, Peru, South America, Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida), Venezuela
Hiking, Trekking, Walking
Cultural, History, Holy, Sacred
Travel Articles

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