Featured Explorer: Marisol Mosquera | Airheart

Featured Explorer: Marisol Mosquera

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April is Earth Month, and we're excited to feature the stories of some incredible travelers who have a focus on sustainable and responsible travel. The first of our April features is Marisol Mosquera, the founder and CEO of Aracari Travel. Aracari Travel provides high-end and sustainable travel experiences in the Andean region. 

Marisol was born in Peru, raised in Spain, and spent the early years of her financial career living in places like New York and London. Her connection to her home country never faded, though. Eventually, her love of Peru and travel, and a desire to have a career change that would provide her more fulfillment, was the catalyst for the creation of Aracari Travel.

Over the last 25 years, Aracari Travel has expanded its travel experiences in Peru to Bolivia and The Galápagos Islands. Their dedication to ensuring that travelers have a close connection with the life, culture, and art of each destination has earned Marisol and Aracari Travel worldwide recognition.

Marisol has been named a Top Travel Specialist by Condé Nast for 14 consecutive years and has been selected by the Travel + Leisure A-List as a specialist for Peru and Bolivia. Aracari Travel has also been awarded Positive Luxury's Butterfly Mark in recognition of its responsible travel initiatives. 

We talked with Marisol about how Aracari Travel was created, the importance of sustainable travel, her career advice for others, and an exciting project her company has just launched.

Can you talk with us about how you had the idea to create Aracari Travel?

I was an investment banker in London and studied international business and finance. I started working as an investment banker in major firms when I was 22 and did very well. I had always focused on being self-sufficient and financially independent, and investment banking allowed me to accomplish that at an early age. Over the 10 years I worked there, I continued to go up the ladder and felt more and more disappointed with the corporate system. It really didn't provide what I wanted, which was a sense of purpose and commitment to my client. When I could serve my clients and help them do well, I was happy. As I was promoted and had to "fit in" to the mold of making money as the primary goal, I became disappointed. 

I had always loved to travel and explore and had little time to do that because of my banker life. I took off at the age of 28 to find myself, traveling for a year on my own around the world with a focus on Asia. I backpacked by myself and had adventures in places like Tibet, Burma, and Bhutan. My world opened up as I discovered so many things I knew nothing about. This was when I realized I wanted to do something different than working for someone else in a big corporation. During my year off, I also spent time in my native Peru, where I had been many times before and had a strong bond with, thanks to my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother still lived there, and she was a big draw for me to go back. For many years, Peru was a mess economically and politically, and in the early 90s, it started to stabilize. It became an interesting option for me to do something in Peru. I didn't know what it could be, but the seed was planted in my head. 

I went back to banking in London, this time as a stockbroker dealing in Latin American stocks. That connected me with Peru, where I started going often for business. I realized that tourism could be a very big catalyst for development in the country where I was born because of its outstanding culture, natural and archaeological attractions, and, of course, its cuisine. Cuisine has always been important for Peruvians, but it had no international projection, and it was so underdeveloped compared to what I had seen done in Asia. The pieces started falling into place. I initially thought to set up an eco-lodge or several eco-lodges in different ecosystems in Peru, such as the mountains, the jungle, and the desert coast. 

I quit my job in London and left for Peru. The decision was made for me because I didn't see myself continuing in an environment that made me "poorer" in the things that matter to me. My job provided glamour and money, but I had zero flexibility, zero freedom, zero purpose, and zero creativity. I always follow my intuition. The idea of creating something new, having flexibility, freedom to create my life and write my own script, and know that I could touch people's lives and help those less privileged made me very happy. In hindsight, it was a pretty crazy idea to leave my job in a highly competitive environment at a top-level firm in a top-level city to move to an underdeveloped country and start something that didn't exist. In Peru, and in South America for that matter, the type of tourism that I wanted to create did not exist yet. I applied what I had seen elsewhere to Peru, but I was the pioneer there. 

My parents were worried because they knew it was such a different environment than what I had grown up with. The industry was very male-dominated, but I carried on after taking some advice from friends in the hospitality business. They told me that Peru was still too underdeveloped to create my business idea and that it made more business sense for me to set up a tour operator/inbound travel company to control the flow of visitors and then later build the hotel if I wanted to, rather than the reverse. That was wise advice. The problem was that I had no idea of how to do it, how travel was commercialized, or what the supply chain was. So, I crisscrossed Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador by bus. I went to every festival and climbed every mountain to learn about my product. I connected myself to people in the worlds of art and culture and nature and exploration, people who are still my friends now and who collaborate with Aracari. 

Plus, the internet era was dawning, and I felt it was going to change everything (and it did). I embraced it from the beginning. aracari.com was launched in 1997 before most companies in the sector had websites. 

How has your business evolved over the last 25 years? 

It has evolved in many ways because the tourism industry has evolved. The tourism industry has grown and segmented, and Peru has evolved as well, so Aracari has had to adjust. We looked inward and looked around, rebranded and adjusted our course, and embraced technology and everything that it brings with it. We promote authentic and sustainable luxury, and we can't just be pushing luxury hotels. We need to look deeper. The last notable adjustment we made was a result of the pandemic. We have gone back to our roots of providing very, very unique and authentic experiences outside the realm of conventional luxury. For example, we have launched our own "Green Stays of Peru" report where we are delving deep into the commitment to sustainability of each of our main partners as a way of helping our clients make decisions. We have also transformed the business to be digital and cloud-based so that we can be more efficient and productive. 

What is the importance of sustainable travel to you, and how do you incorporate this into your business?

For me, sustainability, which has been in our mission statement from the very beginning, means:

"To promote Peru's natural and cultural attractions sustainably through high-quality, low impact tourism."

It is about ensuring the long-term survival of the attractions and educating the local people, so they embrace modernity but are still proud of their culture and heritage, so they protect it. In my view, active management by tourism authorities and destination managers is key to ensuring the best interests of the destination and that the local people are looked after, not only those of large hotel groups and corporations. 

As a top travel specialist for Peru, Bolivia, and The Galápagos Islands, what are some of your personal favorite places to visit or activities to do within these destinations?

The interaction with the local people, the wonderful festivals I have been able to participate in, like the pilgrimage to the "Star of Snow" or Quyllurit'i in the southern Andes. The Señor de los Temblores or Corpus Christi in Cusco. The magical world of the cloud people of Chachapoyas in northern Peru was a true highlight traveling with scholars, writers, and explorers. Another favorite has been going to the rainforest of Manu/Tambopata. It was literally a new world for me. I have learned so much.

What has traveling taught you about yourself?

I'm happiest while exploring. Learning and travel fulfill that very basic need I have. Through travel, I have been able to learn about culture, archaeology, anthropology, and so many other disciplines, as well as meet explorers, authors, and artists. This has been a dream come true for me. Traveling has also taught me to be humble and less judgemental. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

The whole journey is the highlight. But if there is one highlight, if you can call it that, it is the moment when I walked out of that old life and embraced this new one. 

Do you have any career advice for others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Take risks, be bold, and follow your gut. Think of the journey. If you have intention, you will reach a wonderful destination. It may be a different destination than you thought, but that doesn't matter.

Do you have any other upcoming projects or travels that you'd like to share?

The most exciting project is the Aracari Shop. The Aracari Shop is a way for us to bring the Andes to your home. It began as an idea during the pandemic when we started bringing the Andes to our audience's homes through a series of lectures, events, and live streams you can find here

The obvious next step was a shop, but a special one, through which we are coining the term "Andean Luxury." In the Andes, there are amazing artisans and artists with exquisite output who need exposure. We want to promote their products, techniques, and stories at the same time. 

To learn more about Aracari Travel, visit their website.

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