Suspension bridge attracting tourists to low-income Peruvian capital district
By Paula Bayarte
Lima, Mar 2 (EFE).- A simple suspension footbridge rises high above thousands of houses outside the densely populated Peruvian capital district of San Juan de Lurigancho.
Offering colorful wooden boards – each about a half-meter apart – for intrepid adventure tourists to walk on, it has become a magnet for those wanting a chance to visit a different part of Lima, take spectacular photos of the mountainous scenery in that city’s outskirts and unknowingly help improve the quality of life of local residents.
“We saw tourism could be the best way to preserve this ecosystem, … while also benefiting the population,” Jorman Cabello, co-founder of the “Make Your World Green” organization, told Efe at the top of a hill at one end of the bridge.
Cabello, who grew up in that district that more than 1.2 million people call home, said he and his best friend launched that eco-friendly tourism initiative with two purposes in mind – to protect the hill from waste contamination and generate revenue for the community.
“We grew up without parks, sports fields or quality public spaces. One of the only recreational, entertainment alternatives we had was going up the hill, and in winter it would fill up with plants so that motivated us even more. Unfortunately, both this hill and all the others in San Juan de Lurigancho and in other districts are being invaded, destroyed,” Cabello said.
Accessing the bridge requires a climb up a stairway located near a land invasion site and then a further steep climb up the hill itself to a lookout point where one of South America’s largest districts spreads out below.
But the real adventure begins when people strap on their protective gear and start walking, one board at a time, across the suspension bridge, which has already attracted more than 2,000 tourists since opening one month ago.
Two women take photos of the district and surrounding landscape before putting on their helmets. One of them admits to being “very afraid.”
Like many other tourists, they heard about this attraction on the social media app TikTok, which is largely responsible for the daily presence of tourists and for long lines forming there on weekends.
“We haven’t spent much on getting the word out. Social media has done it all. TikTok has been our main means of promotion. ‘Influencers’ have come, travelers, the media … and that’s helped us in growing this and so people understand and know that San Juan de Lurigancho isn’t just something negative, dangerous or crime-ridden,” Cabello said.
“Make Your World Green” was launched in 2015 with the goal of improving the roughly 250 hectares of highland ecosystem that lies beneath the hilltops and, according to Cabello, constitutes one of Lima’s only “green lungs.”
To that end, the young people that belong to that organization started organizing small visits into the hills and gradually attracted larger numbers of visitors.
Even so, they realized they would have to “take it to another level” and create a tourist attraction to have a significant impact on the lives of local residents.
The suspension bridge proved to be the perfect solution.
“Thanks to the tourism proceeds, we’re able to meet the basic needs of a group of local residents who previously lived around a ‘chancheria’ (an informal pig farm) and had no electricity, water … sewage service. They had nothing,” Cabello said.
He added that they are now enjoying new basic services that “no municipality nor other institution had provided them,” adding that their improved quality of life stems from “their commitment to preserve the hills and capitalize on tourism and this strategy that’s been very beneficial to the community.”
The arrival of tourists also has made the value of their natural surroundings clear to local residents, Cabello said while receiving assistance from several women and girls in collecting garbage discarded on the hill by local residents and tourists.
“I want it to look nice now that people are coming,” said the owner of a food shop that is located next to the stairway and, thanks to the power of social media, could become a new popular stop-off point on the way to the bridge. EFE