Is 'Sustainable Tourism' possible in Peru's Andes? - The answer is here.

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Peru has to be one of the most well-known hotspots for some of the most extraordinary and challenging hiking in the world. Think high mountain passes, verdant sub-tropical forests, ancient Royal Incan pathways and archaeological sites and of course, remote rural and traditional villages.

Tourism is, of course, vitally important to the economy for many people in and around Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu in Peru. The number of visitors is carefully controlled both along the famous Inca Trail and the citadel of Machu Picchu itself but still there will always be a huge impact on the surrounding environs from these activities.

There is one particular organisation though that has really led the way in this region in terms of taking its social and environmental responsibilities very seriously and setting up some incredibly vital local projects in harmony with their own tourism operation.

Mountain Lodges of Peru set up some years ago a series of locally constructed luxury lodges in the middle of the Andes along the alternative (but equally stunning) Salkantay hiking trail.

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From the start there were considerable challenges to face in doing this in an area with no road access whatsoever. How to get the materials in, how to get waste out, how to involve local communities in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way without destroying the traditional ways of life that have existed here for centuries?

As the project took hold, the lodges were eventually constructed using materials all brought in by local mules and llamas. Local villagers were able to take up positions in the lodges to provide services to the visiting trekkers. But it was evident that the region needed to benefit more from outside support.

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The local school was all but a ruin, so they could not attract a teacher to come. The surrounding hills were strewn with non-biodegradable waste as there was no means of removing it with no road infrastructure. Amazing local artisans skilled in traditional textile weaving had to trek for days to reach any markets for their goods in order to produce an income and medical and other services were non-existent.

So it was that Mountain Lodges of Peru launched Yanapana, a non-profit organisation. The primary objective of Yanapana is to help to reduce the conditions of extreme poverty in the Andean highlands as well as aiming to improve the quality of life of its local inhabitants by encouraging and supporting sustainable community development.

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It has grown over the years to support a whole array of incredible and vital projects in this region. Solid waste recycling was high on the agenda early on not just to support the lodge operations but to offer a service of recycling to local residents, at the same time employing the local llama drivers to be the transport system.

Improvement of education facilities was also quickly top of a very long list as they sought to construct better buildings for the teachers and children as well as aiming to provide nutritious lunches in future.

Mountain Lodges of Peru have encouraged and developed production of local crafts and produce, being some of their first customers and bringing their goods to new markets. Improving the medical facilities both for local inhabitants and their animals has also made excellent progress with cancer screening programmes and regular veterinary clinics for horses and mules already now in place. Specially marked trails, to help protect and catalogue important local flora and fauna, have been really successful.

I think this is a really wonderful example of how tourism has created and supported a vital NGO that really makes a difference to all aspects of life in this spectacular and remote region of the Peruvian Andes.

Images courtesy of Mountain Lodges of Peru

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Posted by: Louise Mumford

Posted on: 28th December 2016

Read more: Posts about Latin America

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