While certainly indulgent, the Mountain Lodges of Peru weren't opened just to provide hikers with more comfortable accommodations. Umbert, who's been working on tourism projects with Peru's indigenous people for 10 years, wanted to create an enterprise that helped the economically depressed communities of Salkantay achieve a higher standard of living. Eighty percent of the staff is local, and Umbert has helped community entrepreneurs start small businesses including a tourist shuttle service and a fish farm. He also started an NGO to provide health care, education, and other necessities to the people.
Mountain Lodges of Peru sells the Salkantay Trek as a fully inclusive seven-day package, with bimonthly trips in 2008 and biweekly departures in 2009. You start with two nights getting acclimatized at Salkantay Lodge and then take four days to complete the 22-mile trek, staying at Wayra, Colpa, and Lucma Lodges. The trail begins in the high Andes near 12,000 feet, climbs to nearly 15,000 feet, and then descends into cloud forest, passing through villages along the way. At the end of the trek, you'll spend the night in a hotel near the base of Machu Picchu, and then have a whole day to explore the ruins.
"The trip exceeded our expectations," says Calgary resident Jean Hollingworth, who completed the trek in March with her husband. "The views were spectacular and it was fascinating meeting Peruvian people. Our guide knew almost all the locals and so we were able to visit with some families. We especially loved the idea that at the end of a challenging day of hiking we could go to a great lodge, where we were treated like royalty—hot water bottles in our bed at night, and clean, dry boots in the morning."
Trip planning:Trips are scheduled regularly through 2009. Rates include all ground transportation from Cuzco, six nights' accommodations, all meals, guides and porters, and a Machu Picchu tour. Airfare is extra. Round-trip September fares from Miami to Cuzco start at $932, including taxes, on LAN Airlines. You may also book this experience as part of a longer Peru tour with Mountain Travel Sobek.
Nature immersion on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Lodge:Maho Bay Camps Price:from $80 per night
Way back in 1976 when being environmentally friendly meant not shooting the wildlife, Stanley Selengut opened some of the world's first eco-accommodations, Maho Bay Camps, a tent-cabin village set on 14 acres of tropical forest bordering Virgin Islands National Park. He built the cabins on platforms within the forest in such a way that the native plants and animals could continue to live largely undisturbed, and also made sure the white-sand beach and coral reef the camp overlooked went undamaged. His concept caught on, and now Selengut is credited as one of the founders of the ecotourism movement. Thirty-two years and dozens of awards and accolades later, Maho Bay still offers some of the most ecologically friendly lodgings in the Caribbean. With rates from $80 per night, Maho Bay is also one of the region's best values.