This hotel wants to save the rain forest

A sanctuary for native species, Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu hotel is at the forefront of sustainable tourism.

Ever since its 1911 rediscovery, the fabled Inca city of Machu Picchu has been hailed as one of the world’s wonders. Its intricate architecture and terraced slopes draw a million visitors a year, who flock to the lodges and hostels in nearby Aguas Calientes.

Among those is a hotel that’s a destination in its own right. Set in a global gem of biodiversity, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is one of the finest—and oldest—ecotourism destinations in Peru.

“The question is, why did the Inca go to Machu Picchu?” says José Koechlin. “It’s because of the scenery, the nature.”

Koechlin, who founded Inkaterra in 1975 with the country’s first private concession for rain forest tourism, takes a businesslike approach to conservation. “If you’re running a business, you need to know your stock,” Koechlin says of the thorough ecological surveys conducted by the hotel’s core staff of scientists.

Their work has blossomed: From butterflies to bromeliads, more than 1,500 species are preserved on Inkaterra land, including 28 species introduced to science by Koechlin’s “inventories.” Three new orchids have been discovered at Machu Picchu this year alone.

But Inkaterra’s conservation work isn’t limited to tallying up flora and fauna (or advocating for the rare, famous spectacled bear). In partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Koechlin has recently set his sights on restoring and protecting two ecological corridors—one in the biodiverse southeastern Madre de Dios region and one in the formerly rich fishing waters off Cabo Blanco to the north.

He’s even gone so far as to test new deep-mining techniques on his own land, a strategy he hopes will encourage locals to give up destructive shallow mining practices in favor of more profitable—and sustainable—strategies.

For Koechlin, sustainable development is as much social as environmental. “You need to develop wealth so that local people have a better quality of life. As you sustain, what are you sustaining? We need a good future for nature and for humans.”

And as for advice to visitors …

“Most people come [to Machu Picchu] because of the manmade,” Kochelin says. “But once they’re there, let’s have them look around. Let’s focus on the green mountains and see—what’s there that makes it green?”

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