Picchu Guide - Conservation
THE FUTURE OF
In August 2003, UNESCO threatened to put Machu Picchu on its list of World
Heritage sites at risk. Unbridled tourism has made it the most visited
archaeological site in South America, contributing something in the region of US
$40 million to the Peruvian economy. Tourism to Peru, and in particular to the
Cusco region, has seen considerable growth in the past few months as people look
for a safe holiday destination, away from the threat of terrorism and the
The increasing number of visitors to Machu Picchu, which can reach upwards of
2500 a day, has however started to take its toll. Pathways have been eroded,
salt deposits left by sticky hands on precious Inca stones, more rubbish
generated by day-trippers, not to mention the buses from Aguas Calientes which
cough up polluting fumes every time they plough to the ruins and back.
Experts predict that visitor figures could rise to as high as 5000 a day if some
kind of limits aren’t introduced. In response to UNESCO’s criticism, the
Peruvian government has come up with a $130 million dollar ten-year master plan
aimed at tackling the main problems. It proposes for example a substantial
increase in the admission fee for overseas visitors together with capping
numbers at 2500 per day. In a region given to landslides, monitoring of the
earth’s movements by satellite also forms part of the plan. What the government
intends to do about the absence of urban planning in Aguas Calientes and an
alternative system of transport up to Machu Picchu, both areas of concern
highlighted by UNESCO, is still unclear.
In another recent proposal, the government has also suggested shutting the Inca
Trail for three months of every year, from January to March, to safeguard the
historic highway against damage during the rainy season. In its words, this
would “protect the erosion of soil, destruction of flora and fauna and build-up
of rubbish.” With numbers already limited to 500 people starting the Inca Trail
each day, including local personnel, and with January and February the quietest
months for tourism, will such a measure really make all that much difference?
Many travel industry specialists believe that trekkers will instead turn their
attention to some of the alternative Inca trails to places like Choquequirao or
Ausangate, trails which are currently unregulated and which risk significant
degradation and contamination themselves as a result.
The Inca Trail has seen the benefits of capping numbers at 500 per day – there
is less litter than in previous years, less waste disposal to deal with. It
would therefore seem to make sense that similar measures are taken at Machu
Picchu itself in order to preserve this pristine example of Inca engineering for
future generations. In the meantime, you can play your part by ensuring that you
keep to designated paths, get rid of rubbish responsibly and don’t climb or sit
on the stonework.