A Treehouse in Peru

Richard Morgan looks down on the world from his perch in the Peruvian jungle.

If you’re going to go so far as to have a private luxury treehouse in the Peruvian Amazon accessible only by Ewok-inspired treetop canopy wooden bridges, it makes sense to have an on-call jungle butler on the ground. For emergencies. Or for more towels.

That’s the idea behind the recent expansion at Inkaterra’s Reserva Amazonica, about an hour down the river from Puerto Maldonado. The treehouse suite hopes to ameloriate a particular thorny problem Peru has: how to get tourists to enjoy its spectacular environmental splendor – the jungles, the rivers, the mountains, the World Wonder of Machu Picchu, etc. – without having the whole country look like the last day of spring break in Acapulco, all cigarette butts and crushed beer cans and regret.

Much has been written about this dangerous game. There’s the fratty party town at the bottom of Mount Everest. The trashing of the national parks. The concerns about preserving ruins. It’s an especially weird problem for luxury travel; the Grand Canyon gets too touristy, so people head to Arches National Park, which gets too touristy so people head to Denali, and on and on. Like locusts with fannypacks.

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Inkaterra, though, has pioneered luxury environmentalism. Its resort menus use organic, local food. Its bathrooms use toiletries made from local herbs. The resorts themselves have carefully small footprints: a restored 16th-century manor house in Cuzco; casitas amid a huge rare orchid arboretum and bird sanctuary in Aguas Calientes (the Machu Picchu base town accessible only by train); or an Amazon outpost that still continues its heritage as research center.

And while the autumnal cold is settling into our daily routines stateside, in Peru spring has sprung. The getting is good. And the conscientiousness is serious. Inkaterra’s founding president, fourth-generation Peruvian José Koechlin von Stein, is a leader in sustainable tourism in Peru, and has sought out opportunities to sync up ecotourism and conservation projects for the past 35 years. He’s partnered with the National Geographic Society to develop treetop canopy research facilites in the southeastern Peruvian jungle, and is currently working with National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations on the creation of a Geotourism Mapguide to the Sacred Valley.

At a recent party honoring the renowned Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Wilson credited Koechlin von Stein with sponsoring his seminal research into the diversity of ants. “If we can get people interested, we can get people to care,” Koechlin von Stein said over evening tea in the backyard of his estate in Lima.

His wife, Denise Guislain, did not recall the particulars of the Wilson episode, but she had a good reason. “I was sitting next to Harrison Ford,” she confessed in a Carolina Herrera dress, her Michael Kors perfume swirling around her, smiling. “I don’t remember anything but him.”

Photos: Inkaterra