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November/December 2006
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World Heritage Destinations Rated: South and Central America

Introduction    Africa (sub-Saharan)     Asia      Australia & New Zealand

    Middle East & North Africa   North America & the Caribbean  

South and Central America

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These lightly edited excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Argentina/Brazil: Iguazú Falls
Score: 61

"A small island of preserved rain forest in vastness of agricultural land almost bereft of wildlife and trees. Mass tourism, no feeling of local culture, shop-window ecology."

"Spectacular aesthetic appeal, some improvements in tourism have been made, much more needed."

"Since revitalization of the Brazilian National Park, this site has much improved."

"The national parks on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides need more transboundary cooperation. The natural aesthetic appeal continues to be a major draw. There is plenty of room for improving the interpretation of the park's biodiversity."

Argentina: Península Valdés
Score: 66

"Well-managed and worth the trip, this maritime Serengeti is a star wildlife site. Lodging was bleak a decade ago, but the new wave of ecolodges is very popular among Argentine planners."

"Key limits are water availability and fragility of some wildlife.  It is now a cruise ship destination for round the Horn cruises—significantly enlarging day visits on some days."  

"Nearing 100,000 visitors per year, this fragile peninsula is approaching a tipping point. Careful planning of infrastructure and gateway community development to manage the inevitable surge of interest will be key going forward."

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Belize: Barrier Reef
Score: 47

"Up until a few years ago, development along the coast and on the cayes of the Barrier Reef had been small-scale and fairly appropriate. Many of the conservation initiatives in place are run by local people who make a living in the marine reserve. The biggest threat has been a recent trend away from this smaller, appropriate scale toward mass tourism dominated by cruise ships.  Where cruise-ship passengers most commonly visit, the reef has been highly impacted and barely resembles the reef in the southern part of the country, where the number of visitors is much smaller."

"The condition of the reef is not being considered as the development of coastal areas and islands of Belize are accelerating. It seems that the balance between the accommodation of visitors and sustaining the reef assets has tipped severely toward the accommodation of visitors. The development of condo communities using nontraditional architecture detracts from the community-scape."

"When I performed research on this area, there was a sense of impending danger if tourism did not generate more support for conservation in the long term."

"When I first visited over 12 years ago, the condition of animals and plants was substantially better than it is today, and there was less visitation and more commitment on the part of visitors, who often were there due to serious interests in natural resources. Today, few people seem to even know what they are looking at."

"Global warming is a tremendous threat to the health of the reef system including more severe hurricanes due to the sea temperature increase."

Brazil: Historic center of Salvador (Pelourinho)
Score: 61

"Renovation of the city center has completely changed the aspect of the city, together with major police control. The place became more secure for tourists, but keeping the streets clean of the local population gives it a pasteurized touch. The intangible heritage represented by the original population and their habits has been lost. Once again a place where infrastructure serves tourists more than locals."

"Beautiful heritage site, excellent built heritage, interesting cultural demonstrations, but becoming touristy. There's a sense that the historic zone is not the 'real Salvador.' Need to reinforce and infuse authenticity using more performances of artists from city."

"The physical fabric of the historic site is well restored, however, the culture it once held is no longer there. Capoeira schools and Santeria practices no longer take place in the Pelourinho. The site holds many entertainment establishments and restaurants. It is mostly attractive in the evenings. There are plans to bring residents to the area to supplement those still living in the Santo Antonio area. This will greatly enhance the area's attractiveness."

Brazil: Pantanal
Score: 71

"The Pantanal is perfect for any tourist looking for wild animals and a paradise for birdwatchers. The culture of the Brazilian farmers is adapted now to tourism. Visitors can sleep, eat, and live the experiences of an old farm transformed into a safari lodge. The Pantanal is a place where the local people have benefited from tourism in a way that encourages the protection of the area, and where tourists are well informed about the locale."

"One of the few examples in Latin America of a working cattle landscape that retains its importance for wildlife conservation. Some excellent privately run attractions, such as Conservation International's Fazenda Rio Negro and working ranches with excellent wildlife observation."

"Pantaneiros have their own culture—an interesting blend of cattle ranching with wildlife. Unfortunately, rivers flowing into Pantanal now are badly polluted with sewage and pesticides. Plans for wood-burning steel plants at Corumbá will have a catastrophic effect."

"Generational division of farms and silting-in of the rivers (from agriculture outside the Pantanal) are the greatest threats at the moment. Not sustainable under current trends, and unlikely to become so."

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Chile: Rapa Nui (
Easter Island)
Score: 69

"This delicate cultural landscape would greatly suffer from the introduction of casino gambling to the islands as proposed in the past year. Its remoteness is one reason Easter Island is relatively well preserved."

"Active and sympathetic dialogue between native (Polynesian) Rapa Nui people and continental Chilean authorities. Settlement and squatting should not be expanded too much farther over the large areas of culturally and archaeologically significant landscapes."

"Given that the terrestrial environment was destroyed a long time ago, this is not as great a concern as maintaining the cultural artifacts." 

Ecuador: Galápagos Islands
Score: 44

"All the superlatives, both good and bad. Unsurpassable aesthetic appeal and ecological quality. Social and cultural integrity are questionable due to the large number of immigrants from the mainland who have little understanding and appreciation for the natural values of the Galápagos."

"The islands retain a staggering 95 percent of their endemic, or native, species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world."

"Striking for the unique wildlife but evidence of the threats, such as feral animals, introduced domestics, and exotic plants are obvious everywhere. The towns on the islands are rapidly growing and packed with tourists. The park service appears weak and struggling."

"From the tourist's view, the trails and islands seem well maintained. Boat landings and groups are regulated. No trash or degradation of natural sites evident, and animals still quite docile. The political organization of the site is, however, a mess, with continuing change of directors and bureaucratic problems. Population growth, fishermen, both sea-cucumber and offshore Japanese, are a major threat. The Charles Darwin Foundation is its saving grace."

"Tourism growth must be carefully examined. Would recommend capping size of boats allowed in archipelago. Must not give up on dialogue with fishermen and other local citizens."

"The outlook is pretty bleak. The islands seem to be at a crossroads. Discussions of increasing the size of cruise ships and the corruption surrounding illegal fishing activities and immigration pose
serious threats."

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Honduras: Copán and environs
Score: 61

"Site has great aesthetic, historic and scientific appeal and the nearby village retains much of the local culture, food, and traditions. However, site management is weak; maintenance of monuments is minimal, and site interpretation is almost nonexistent."

"With a bit of creative interjection or management of the biodiversity aspects, this site would be even more amazing. Sustainable and improvable."

"… recent controversy about the construction of an airport only 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) from the site."

"The site itself continues to have a wonderful sense of 'discovery' about it. Visitors are not isolated from the resources."

"The archaeologists at Copán have helped to develop this area beyond just the hard scientific facts: community development."

"Lack of stakeholders coming to a consensus on public-use planning for the Copán Valley. Not prepared to manage a huge increase in visitation."

Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo
Score: 41

"The site is magnificent and the ruins at Portobelo are extraordinary, but the lack of care is evident. I picked up trash my entire walk and had a cubic foot by the time I left, 30 minutes later. And yet, the charm of the place itself leaks through."

 "Portobelo still has huge problems as a modern town built on top of many ruins, which detracts from the aesthetic appeal and threatens the cultural significance of the site. Major deforestation is occurring within a legally created national park that surrounds Portobelo. The San Lorenzo natural area surrounding the fort is in much better condition than is Portobelo itself. Efforts are currently underway in San Lorenzo to increase participation by local residents."

"A lack of concerted efforts and leadership in conservation continues to plague these significant historic sites."

"An exceptional site in serious trouble. Portobelo-San Lorenzo has been invaded by the local people, and there is a total lack of awareness of the value of this site, resulting in a lack of management and of preservation. The site has aesthetic potential, both cultural and natural, however no elements are foreseen to improve this dramatic situation."

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Peru: Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred (Vilcanota) Valley
Score: 54

"Cuzco is a wonderful Heritage site that can accommodate many tourists. The Sacred Valley also has many opportunities to get off the beaten path and see fascinating built and socio-cultural heritage. Excellent efforts at supporting local art, crafts, and culture are everywhere in evidence. Machu Picchu itself is poorly managed—the reserve is ecologically threatened, local benefits are not good (porters and workers are underpaid and overworked), and the built monument is very crowded. There is a need for a more controlled, ecologically sound management system."

"Kudos to Peru for keeping the monument as spotless as possible; the number of visitors to the historical sites seems fairly well managed. It is always a pleasure to see all the Peruvian schoolchildren visiting these sites along with the tourists from other countries."

"Control and management of tourists actually on Machu Picchu is good and the guides are excellent."

"Cuzco was a bit overwhelming—there were so many tourists that it was hard at times to walk on the sidewalks. History, both pre-conquest and colonial, drips from every corner of the city. I loved the Sacred Valley. It was less crowded, more 'real' in terms of serving an important agricultural purpose."

"Peru has many other sites as worthy of visiting as Machu Picchu—it will be an improvement when the tourism impact on Machu Picchu is spread around to its many lesser-developed sites and the international community gains a better understanding of the broader cultural heritage of Peru."

Peru: Nasca lines and environs
Score: 52

"Amazing site—best appreciated from the air. Local piston-engine planes may not be very safe, but safer overflights are available from Lima. However, little local benefit is derived from the lines."

"People have not taken good care of the lines, as they ride in their cars and quads through these deserts full of mystery."

"The little town of Nasca offers modest facilities for overnight visitors, and makes a comfortable living from them. There seems to be little justification for anything more extensive."

"The local population has lost its cultural relationship with this site. The lines are perceived by the community only as a source of income. The lines are well preserved, however, other portions of the sites and monuments (like the irrigation system) are not."

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