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Behind the Scenes of an Award-Winning Film on Machu Picchu

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The trek through Peru’s Vilcamba Mountains on the less-traveled Salkantay route to Machu Picchu has built-in drama, from the awe-inspiring landscapes to the physical exertion to the near-spiritual connection that travelers forge with nature. GLP Films partnered with the Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) to capture this experience through the perspective of a longtime guide—and won first place in the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s “Adventure in Motion” contest this fall.

Find out how they wove this compelling travel narrative and how you can have your own immersive, meaningful experience in Peru with MLP.

What were the production challenges of filming this trek to Machu Picchu?
GLP Films: We shot the Salkantay Trek story in five days, and our crew completed the entire journey, including traversing the high altitude Salkantay Pass. The physicality of the experience was challenging—we’ve had some experience hauling camera gear before, just not at 15,000 feet! We were huffing it up the mountain and trying to get ahead of the group, so we could then turn around and get the shots we needed. The fact that the trip spanned multiple days allowed us to be more creative, since we were able to nail the shots we knew we wanted, and then try to figure out other interesting ideas.

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How did you choose the guide Dalmiro Portillo to be the film’s narrator?
GLP Films: From the beginning of our partnership with MLP, we had a shared vision: to focus on an authentic, experiential story, rather than the typical promotional videos you often see in the travel industry. Both parties agreed the most powerful way to tell this story would be through a local mountain guide. And Dalmiro Portillo came recommended based on MLP’s positive relationship with him. We quickly felt Dalmiro’s sincerity and passion for his work, and especially his love for the mountains and traditional Andean culture.  After just one phone call we knew Dalmiro was the voice of the film, and ultimately the heart of the story.

Dalmiro talks about pachamama as a philosophy and the importance of Mother Earth. What made you focus on this message?
GLP Films:  So much of the Salkantay Trek experience is about connecting with nature. It was intentional that the film opens with the traditional pachamama (Mother Earth) ceremony. This sets the stage for the rest of the film and parallels the real-life journey in which travelers are introduced to pachamama and a certain mindset to help prepare them for the journey ahead. Focusing on the connection to nature was also representative of MLP’s core mission to provide meaningful travel experiences that protect culture, traditions, and the environment. 

Storytelling is such an important part of travel film—how do you structure your narrative?
GLP Films:  We wanted to tell an authentic story, not make a commercial, and knew the best way to do that would be through our main character, Dalmiro. He’s one of the very best at what he does, and it was a unique opportunity to explore why he continues to guide treks after so many years. We were able to touch on some Andean traditions and the spiritual aspects of the mountains through Dalmiro’s perspective. The mountains almost become a character themselves, demanding to be revered and even met with trepidation. We learn to respect and appreciate them through Dalmiro. And paired with the demanding journey of the trekkers, we begin to see a narrative come together around the physical and spiritual challenges of the trek and how it inspires our innate connections with nature. 

Salkantay Inca Trail - The Ultimate Trek to Machu Picchu from GLP Films on Vimeo.

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What tips do you have for travelers looking to make their own films?  
GLP Films:  Ultimately, you need a reason for your audience to care.  Why should they watch your film, what compels them to invest in your story? While scenery and drone shots are certainly awe-inspiring, travel is so much more than that. It’s about the people, the cultures, and the stories behind the places you visit. Conducting interviews and capturing great audio will complement your imagery and take your content to a new level. Go beyond “top 10” lists and delve into culture, history, and lesser-known experiences.  It’s the authentic, personal stories that you remember, and that your audience connects with as well. 

Mountain Lodges of Peru celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016. How have your offerings evolved?
MLP:  We’ve added activities like mountain biking and zip-lining to enrich the Salkantay Trek experience. And we launched a multi-activity program, The Lares Adventure to Machu Picchu, that includes cultural experiences in the backcountry of Sacred Valley and Cusco as well as optional hiking and mountain biking—appealing to travelers with varied interests and fitness levels. Machu Picchu Sanctuary has seen a recent increase in visitors, especially during the morning. So we encourage guests to stay an extra day to enjoy a quieter afternoon experience. 

How do you help connect travelers with the local culture and travel deeper in Peru? 
MLP: We’re doing adventure travel, which means taking people out of their comfort zone. We create unique experiences by avoiding traditional tourist itineraries in favor of remote places where guests can find authentic and spontaneous culture.

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Our mission statement includes a commitment to work with local communities to alleviate poverty and improve health and education. We support weavers’ cooperatives, an elementary school, an organic coffee farming community, and a native tree reforestation initiative along the Salkantay route. In the Lares region, we established joint ventures with two mountain communities; they share directly in the revenues of the lodges and employ many locals. Through these partnerships, we provide guests unique access to communities proud to share their ways of life and involve guests in activities such as helping harvest potatoes or celebrate a holiday.

What does travel mean to you? 
MLP: It’s a two-way conversation between the traveler and the people and places one meets along the way. It allows you to be changed by different cultures, foods, and landscapes while at the same time allowing you to create a positive impact. Travel on foot specifically forces you to slow down and pay more attention to the terrain, to challenge yourself physically, and to engage with the people you meet on the trail. And sustainability in travel is an essential component to protect natural and cultural resources for the benefit of the local community and environment.

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