Mountain Lodges of Peru provides sophisticated lodge-to-lodge treks through the mountainous regions of Peru leading to the incomparable ruins of Machu Picchu. Established in 2001 by the Umbert family, the operator’s two exhibitions, Salkantay Journey and the new Lares Adventure, provide adventure-seekers with a full cultural immersion into remote Andean communities with the comfort of seven well-appointed lodges, one restful hotel and another lodge opening in Patacancha in late 2017.
General Manager Enrique Umbert Jr. works alongside his father who founded the company. He received a degree in business administration and marketing as well as post-graduate work in tourism and hospitality management. Living in Cusco has allowed him to witness and value concepts such as local entrepreneurship, cultural and heritage worth, social perspectives, as well as an enterprises’ adaptation to new environments. He has a special interest in entrepreneurial innovation in tourism and hospitality as well as corporate social responsibility and created Yanapana Peru, a non-profit civil association dedicated improving the quality of life through sustainable community development in the Andean Highlands. When not exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley and growing the company, Enrique mountain bikes, snowboards and more around the globe.
How do the experiences you offer at Mountain Lodges of Peru give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Peru?
First of all, we’re doing adventure travel which means that we’re taking people out of their comfort zone. Second, we create unique experiences by avoiding traditional tourist itineraries and instead go to remote places where guests can find authentic and spontaneous culture. We let the locations guide our work, and identify the distinctive elements and resources that make it so interesting, so that the itineraries are reflective of the area and timing, and fluid from trip to trip. By developing structures to provide access to these areas with very in-depth knowledge, Mountain Lodges of Peru has also been able to create the opportunities for these unique experiences to happen, such as helping harvest potatoes for a Pachamanca lunch or engaging in holiday festivities. Additionally, when we do visit traditional sites, we take alternate, less-traveled routes or arrive at off-peak hours for a less crowded experience.
What does sustainable tourism mean to you?
Sustainable tourism is based on identifying the resources that a given place presents to you. It means leveraging the value of these resources and exploring their full potential through generating commitment to the true value and their sustainability over time.
Sustainability tourism is not just a philanthropic activity, but also a more tangible, short-term cycle. You are protecting the value of resources that provide you benefits in turn. It is measuring and balancing the impact of tourist activity in a certain area and making sure it’s in harmony and balance with the benefits of using the local resource.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since you began almost ten years ago?
When starting Mountain Lodges of Peru almost 10 years ago, we were focused on designing, implementing and sustaining logistics and operations as well as generating sustainable relationships with local communities for our trekking-focused Salkantay Trek. Throughout the years, we’ve been able to access and offer more cultural interactions through the relationships we’ve built along the way with local communities and people, which gives us ability to access and therefore, dig deeper into cultural heritage and history. We now have a second itinerary, the Lares Adventure, in the Sacred Valley along the Lares Trail where travelers experience a mix of an active adventure and an intimate look into remote Andean communities.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important.
It’s important for guests to understand the importance of the level of access that we provide. It’s a very slow, deep process, and a lot of people ask, “Wow, this is a beautiful lodge in a remote location, how did you build it?” We built it by two cultures coming together. There are logistical challenges with building along the route in the remote places, but we lay the groundwork and cultivate the relationships through a lot of hard work.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
I wish every guest knew that there are multiple aspects to understanding the history in the past, present and future of a place. People often come to Peru and will be solely focused on visiting Machu Picchu. I wish every guest knew and was open to the idea of exploring further and trying to make a collection of experiences in different fields, whether it be environmental, archaeological, historical or artistic and culinary, for a more broadened and enriched understanding of what Peru is all about.
What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?
To make the most of the Mountain Lodges of Peru experiences, we recommend guests learn a few key phrases of the Quechua language to interact with and gain respect of locals. We provide guests with a packet of terms and pronunciations, and encourage them to engage with the communities we visit. Demonstrating a desire to learn more about the community warms up the residents and allows for more authentic and in-depth exchanges.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Spontaneous travel really excites me. Instead of creating a set itinerary, I have seen a rising trend of travelers engaging in unstructured and unplanned activities. With spontaneous travel, travelers are putting their itinerary in the hands of a local expert or specialist. Guests are attracted to an area and a general culture, and activities are designed on a day-by-day basis or by whatever they can get their hands on at the time. We do this to a degree at Mountain Lodges of Peru as the itineraries are fluid based on seasonality, access and guests’ interests, and it would be interesting to explore on a larger level.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Before the trip, I would recommend travelers learn as much as possible about the country they are visiting, including its history or the local language to provide context of their setting. I would also suggest having pre-programmed and pre-structured activities, but also having time to explore and design activities on the spot—spontaneous travel.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Firstly, innovation has helped my business grow—Mountain Lodges of Peru tries to see how we can do new things in a different way and old things in a new way.
Secondly, we are committed to engaging with local communities and incorporating them into the business process. Today, we’ve evolved in the nature of those relationships with equity partnerships in the community and have gained access to an area which was not possible before. With the ability to gain access to areas that are otherwise inaccessible to tourism comes with benefits of being able to explore local cultures and communities.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Interacting with people as much as I can and engaging with people beyond business relationships has helped me be successful, developing interpersonal skills and a deeper appreciation of different cultures. When visiting different lodges and catching up with the community, we, of course, talk shop, but we’ve created relationships on a deeper, personal level, too. This helps build trust and a more established rapport on a business level, but also leads to more enriching relationships.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
On the third day of The Salkantay Trek a few years ago, we were hiking up a path and many people were struggling as it was a tough route, and when we reached the top, the group spontaneously formed a circle. Everyone was reflecting on the experience and what it meant to them, and one couple shared that they just lost a son and were grieving. Normally, this level of emotion makes people uncomfortable, however there’s something about these transcendental experiences that make people connect with their most essential parts of themselves. The couple went out of their comfort zone, but felt support and found community and receptiveness from the group.