Buying land and building things on it is a fairly surefire recipe for trouble with the locals. Kris Tompkins of the Patagonia Land Trust can tell you all about that. Saying that, even when you’re from the area it’s not easy. So it was for Enrique Umbert when he decided to build a series of remote lodges in the Salkantay valley of the Peruvian Andes.
A couple of decades ago, when Enrique visited the region he figured that a lot of people would come see it if they were only provided with a higher level of comfort and hospitality. He also had the magnificently ambitious aim of eliminating poverty in Salkantay.
Of course, many locals were suspicious of his motives. The rumours ranged from him building a dam to charge locals for their water to his building a brothel! At the same time, he was fighting Peruvian bureaucracy to get permission for the construction. Through sheer determination, and thick skin, Enrique persevered and the lodges which were built are now a highly successful social and economic project.
Mountain Lodges of Peru consists of a series of six well-appointed lodges on the Salkantay route to Machu Picchu plus two very nice hotels in Cusco – a new lodge is also due to open in Patacancha very soon.
More importantly, the lodges are a big part of the local economy having effectively eradicated poverty in Salkantay. They did this a few ways, first is that they prioritised employment of women thereby ensuring that the money was better distributed. All of the lodges are managed by women. In addition, the lodges source as much produce as they can from women’s co-operatives locally. For instance, they taught the local women to make jam and now buy that jam for the lodges.
Enrique and his team also increased wages in the region, much to the delight of his employees and annoyance of other tourism companies. Decent wages are paid to the guides, drivers, cleaners, porters, etc, far higher than was traditionally paid.
But it is certainly not only about women, in fact, anyone and everyone who wanted to work was given a job as part of the Mountain Lodges team. It is for this reason that the project stands as the best example of integration and social responsibility in South America.
Nor is it just about doing good, the lodges combine traditional Inca building techniques and modern creature comforts including hot tubs, down bedding and gourmet food and wines. Nothing really beats arriving after a long day of hiking in the high Andes to find warm welcome, glass of wine and big bed. You even wake up in the morning to find that your boots have been scrubbed!
Next time you plan a trip to Peru, you might like to consider experiencing this unique lodge-to-lodge experience on the way to Machu Picchu, you won’t regret it.