Words: Tom Laing
We touch down at Puerto Maldonado, southeast Peru, on a landing strip cut through the jungle. The fact that our destination, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, is accessible solely by boat only adds to the appeal as we head deep into the Peruvian Amazon to the rustic jungle-lodge and its 42,000 acre private reserve. Stand-alone cabañas, an a la carte restaurant and a spa sum up five-star luxury, despite this remotest of settings. But thread count aside, this is a hotel chain with a difference.
As hotels around the globe vie amongst themselves to provide guests with the latest in luxury travel, all too often opulence comes at the expense of their environmental and social responsibilities. However, for the past 30 years Peruvian boutique hotel chain Inkaterra have proven compromise isn’t necessary, providing a top of the range travel experience whilst promoting responsible travel, conservation and research efforts in an ecologically sensitive and biodiverse part of the world.
Image: Reserva Amazonica Inkaterra
Settling into the lodge, my attention switches to my feet as a swift movement on the floor catches my eye. A tarantula, dark and hairy and the size of my fist, marches purposefully towards the bar, probably in search of a pisco sour whilst escaping the tropical downpour outside.
Early next morning after a quick breakfast of astonishingly fresh fruit, we head off downstream towards Gamitana Farm. The Inkaterra Asociación (ITA) – a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of the Peruvian Amazon – uses it to teach sustainable farming techniques to local Amazonian communities. Rows of sliced plantains dry in the sun whilst plump avocados ripen overhead, eyed by squawking macaws. Agroforestry and organic farming techniques are just one way that the Inkaterra Group uses ecotourism to fund conservation projects which benefit the local population and maintain the natural biodiversity of the region.
Image: Reserva Amazonica Inkaterra
The route back from Gamitana is a little less direct. A path winds its way through the jungle and we quickly lose sight of the farm. Our guide continuously keeps count of our group – the undergrowth is thick in places and it wouldn’t do to lose a straggler to a hungry anaconda, or a jaguar for that matter.
We reach a small tributary of the Madre de Dios River, where canoes wait to take us back to the launch. Caimans, alligator-like creatures that can grow to four metres or more, watch us from the banks, sliding lazily into the water as we pass. Huge brazil nut trees and kapoks soar above the canopy, often in the suffocating embrace of a strangler fig; a silent battle that might take 100 years for a victor to emerge.
Deep in this corner of the Peruvian Amazon, with the deafening roar of the jungle in our ears and surrounded by an abundance of wildlife and lush vegetation, it would be easy to forget how delicate the ecosystem is, and indeed how vulnerable. After all, the largest of these trees would have been around before the Spanish discovered the New World – some have been known to live a thousand years.
But at least here, unlike other parts of the Amazon, rainforest destruction and habitat loss are not such an immediate threat. Forestry conservation programmes and biodiversity monitoring projects have been implemented for over 30 years by Inkaterra and the ITA as it has looked to protect and restore the forests. The organisation even monitors carbon sequestration whilst ensuring that the Inkaterra group itself is carbon neutral.
Our next stop is the village of Aguas Calientes and Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, high up in the Andean cloud forest. A train winds through the Sacred Valley from Cusco, passing lesser-known Inca ruins as it follows the Urubamba River.
The hotel is a collection of colonial style cottages with white washed walls, bare wooden beams and cast iron fittings. Set within 12 acres of orchid gardens, the houses are connected by stone pathways that wind through the grounds. The gardens are home to more than 350 different orchid species alone, including 14 new to science discovered on this very property.
The morning brings clear skies and glorious sunshine, ideal for a trip up to Machu Picchu itself. The 15th century citadel, perched over 2,400 metres above sea level and surrounded by dense forest, provides the most significant legacy of the Inca civilization, and one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. Even the llamas that call it home seem to stop to admire the stunning views between mouthfuls of grass and photoshoots with tourists.
After hiking around Machu Picchu for the best part of a day, a trip to the Unu Spa for De-Stress massages provides welcome respite for mind and body. It’s no surprise when my masseuse mentions the oils on offer are organic, derived from local botanical extracts.
Setting the tone and striking the balance just right, the carbon neutral Inkaterra is a pioneer in a sea of many currents. For the sake of the people, flora and wildlife that call this part of the world home, we can only hope that more hotels will follow in their wake.
For information and reservations, refer to www.inkaterra.com
About the author: Tom Laing grew up in the Sussex countryside and spent holidays in the Scottish Highlands trying to light fires in the drizzle. Fittingly, he wrote his first travel piece after staying in a yurt in Scotland. Whilst he developed a bad case of wanderlust at an early age, eco travel and sustainability have always been key and Tom is often found planting trees and off-setting his carbon. Currently based in Santiago, Chile, these days he mainly travels around Latin America but has been to over 70 countries around the globe.