Machu Picchu Reopens

This is no April Fools prank: Peru’s iconic destination, Machu Picchu, officially reopens to the public today, after being closed since late January when heavy rains and damaging landslides crippled the routes in and out of the 15th-century Inca citadel.

As the most touristed site in South America and the source of 90 percent of Peru’s tourism revenue, the closing of Machu Picchu has impacted tourism to Peru as well as its people, as Andrew Berg reported in March here on IT.

The closing of Machu Picchu illustrates Peru’s overdependence on the site as its tourism cash cow and highlights the country’s need to reorient its tourism economy. In the Peruvian Times, Cusco’s regional president made this point and mentioned a slew of other impressive Inca sites not far from Machu Picchu that most of us have never heard of, much less visited, including:

•    Moray, elliptical terraces and amphitheater, where the Inca may have practiced experimental agriculture;
•    Tipón, Wiracocha’s royal gardens and site of 12 terraces with canals and waterfalls (pictured left);
•    Sacsayhuamán, a fortress not a 25-minute walk from Cusco, featuring three overlapping platforms each over 1,000 feet long;
•    Tambomachay, the Inca baths about 35 minutes drive from Cusco;
•    Kenko, only 15 minutes from Cusco, contains a 19-foot high puma-shaped block.

An estimated 850,000 tourists visited Machu Picchu in 2008. This year’s two-month closing, depending where you get your numbers, likely cost the government between $160 million and $416 million.

Despite the loss in revenue both for the government and the 175,000 local people who make their livings directly from Machu Picchu tourism, the forced closing of the site prompted a reconsideration of how to preserve the site. In fact, in 2008, UNESCO threatened to demote Machu Picchu to being labeled an endangered site due to disagreements over crowd control at the site and UNESCO’s management plan for it, which stated that no more than 917 people should visit the site any given day and no more than 385 should be there at any time.

Since 2008, UNESCO, the National Institute of Culture (INC), and the Peruvian government have compromised, with the government pledging $13.25 million to preserve the ruins, install a fiber optic surveillance system of them, and implement a more controlled entry ticket method.

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Today, Machu Picchu is reopening gradually, as Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon (!) is likely to make an appearance as part of the Cusco Pone campaign set to revitalize tourism in the region. Many tour outfitters and even LAN Airlines are offering promotional deals to entice travelers back to the site. The INC is rationing

the number of the tickets available to prevent an inundation of the site. INC will permit only those hikers on the Inca Trail who can show a return ticket and a confirmed seat on the train from Machu Picchu to Piscacucho. Once the rest of the rail lines servicing Machu Picchu are repaired in coming months, however, the number of tourists will jump back from 1,500 to 2,500 a day.

While many of us would love to see Machu Picchu first-hand, how can we balance those travel dreams with our responsibility to preserve the site for future generations?

Photos: Top, My Shot User Tara Mohtadi; Top left of Moray, and middle of Tipón via PromPeru.

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