A Walk in the Treetops: Located in Virgin Rainforest in the Peruviafi Amazon, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Can Rightly Claim to Be a Responsible Tourism Pioneer. A Supporter of Ecological Research and Numerous Social and Environmental Programmes for More Than 30 Years, It's Also a Great Place to Go to See Some Amazing Wildlife

By Torr, Geordie | Geographical, September 2009 | Go to article overview

A Walk in the Treetops: Located in Virgin Rainforest in the Peruviafi Amazon, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Can Rightly Claim to Be a Responsible Tourism Pioneer. A Supporter of Ecological Research and Numerous Social and Environmental Programmes for More Than 30 Years, It's Also a Great Place to Go to See Some Amazing Wildlife


Torr, Geordie, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Getting into the rainforest canopy is a tricky business. You can use high-tech climbing gear or drop down from above using a specially adapted hot-air balloon. Or you can do what I'm doing: gingerly making my way along the rather disconcertingly bouncy canopy walkway at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica in the Peruvian jungle.

More than 400 metres long, 30 metres above the ground, anchored with steel cables and enclosed with chest-high mesh, Reserva Amazonica's canopy walkway is as safe as can be, but it's definitely not for the fainthearted--they even give you a certificate if you complete it.

Those brave enough to, well, brave it, are rewarded with an unparalleled rainforest experience, as they come face to face with brightly coloured birds and, if they're lucky, troops of sprightly monkeys--no craning your neck for a fleeting glimpse; here you're up at their level.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Amazing rainforest experiences is what Reserva Amazonica does best. The reserve is located 14 kilometres down the Madre de Dios ('Mother of God') River from the remote settlement of Puerto Maldonado, a 45-minute boat ride that takes visitors past white caiman sitting impassively on the riverbanks, rows of small freshwater turtles basking on exposed debris and the odd posse of illegal gold panners.

Set in a grassy clearing cut from the surrounding jungle, the main lodge--an airy two-storey building designed by the wife of founder and chairman of Inkaterra Jose Koechlin--sits adjacent to 35 basic but well-appointed palm-roofed cabanas, themselves modelled on the huts of the local Ese-Eja and Machiguenga people.

All of the buildings are made using local materials and techniques--and local labour--and the furniture is made on site using off cuts from the local saw mill. Indeed, everywhere you look is bare wood--you won't see much in the way of paint. Even the sinks are carved from stone-hard quinilla wood.

The lodge is set in 7,800-hectares of virgin rainforest that Inkaterra has leased from the government. Indeed, so well integrated is the lodge that among the regular visitors are numerous examples of the local wildlife. As I'm settling into my cabana, I hear an odd grunting noise outside that turns out to be a pair of agoutis--large rodents that look like guinea pigs on steroids--that are chasing each other across the lawn. Another strange sound, this time a loud grinding coming from a big palm tree, is revealed to be the product of a gorgeous rich-red squirrel. As I'm watching it, a hummingbird whirrs by, and all the while, parakeets chatter noisily in the trees above.

RESPONSIBLE PIONEER

Inkaterra can lay claim to being a true pioneer of responsible tourism: the lodge was established in 1975, long before the term was invented; indeed, even before 'ecotourism' was coined. 'We started in the early 1970s after putting together the team that produced [the Werner Herzog film] Aguirre, The Wrath of God,' Koechlin tells me. 'We had such a good team that the question was how to carry on with that group of people. The simple thought was that since we liked the rainforest, why not try to find somewhere to start a lodge?

'And finally we came here,' he continues. 'At that time, Puerto Maldonado had a gravel airstrip. There was nobody here. Madre de Dios state covered 84,000 square kilometres but was home to only 6,000 people. It was a three-month journey to Cusco by road. So staples, or whatever else you needed, were very difficult to get. There was no food--you had to go and say, "Lady, can you sell me your hen?".'

The low population density and the lack of roads into the region meant that it had been spared the rapacious logging that had taken place elsewhere in Peru. And after two years of searching for the right spot, Koechlin was awarded Peru's first ecotourism concession and Reserva Amazonica was born.

Right from the start, the operation had a science focus. …

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A Walk in the Treetops: Located in Virgin Rainforest in the Peruviafi Amazon, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Can Rightly Claim to Be a Responsible Tourism Pioneer. A Supporter of Ecological Research and Numerous Social and Environmental Programmes for More Than 30 Years, It's Also a Great Place to Go to See Some Amazing Wildlife
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