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Tourism Contributes to Machu Picchu’s Status as an Endangered Historical Site

Recently, considerable attention has been paid to tourism’s affect on particular travel destinations. One site under scrutiny is Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca city in Peru’s Andes Mountains. Geological research, controversial development projects, and actions by preservation groups have caused the world to turn an increasingly watchful eye on this historical landmark.

A recent Newsweek article listed Machu Picchu among the world’s top endangered travel destinations and concluded that “the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is in danger of becoming a victim of its own popularity.”

Whether directly or indirectly, much of the debate surrounding the future of Machu Picchu involves the effects of tourism. Most sources seem to agree that tourism is taking its toll on the site in some way.

Newsweek estimates as many as 500,000 people visit the site each year. The Los Angeles Times reported that tourism has increased tenfold since 1991, mainly as a result of Peru’s increased political stability.

It seems visitors treading on the site has compacted the soil and weakened building foundations; hikers are also criticized for littering the trail up to the summit.

Tourism has also been linked to potential landslides. At a 2001 UN symposium, New Scientist magazine reported that the site is in serious danger of another landslide (in 1995 and 1996, two landslides blocked road access), one that could destroy the landmark entirely.

When an eight-million-dollar plan to run cable cars up the mountain was approved by the government, a report by The International Counsel of Scientific Associations for UNESCO in 1999 argued that the vibrations might trigger a landslide.

Proponents of the plan argued it would reduce pollution, increase visitation to the site, and provide a safer route for travelers (; some (including the chief archeologist at the time) also said the threat of a landslide was not as serious as many thought.

Critics felt the cable car would compromise Machu Picchu’s natural beauty and feared the effects of increased visitation. After UNESCO threatened to place Machu Picchu on its list of endangered sites ( and The World Monuments Watch temporarily included Machu Picchu on their list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World, (
Peruvian officials decided against the construction. Some are still skeptical, however. Even though President Alejandro Toledo pledged to safeguard the site at his inauguration in 2001, he has not entirely opposed construction.

This string of events drew even more attention to the site and fueled safeguarding efforts. Peru has received money from environmental and preservation groups, as well as foreign governments. In one instance, Finland traded Peru’s outstanding debt for a conservation plan called Programa Machu Picchu.
Introduced to improve administration of the site, establish strategies for protecting the environment and the town of Aguas Calientes, the program has already implemented fire-prevention and waste-management plans.
Peru’s National Institute of Culture created a ten-year master plan, geared to “sustainable tourism.”

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