The Master Plan: Machu Picchu Reconceptualized

By Rick Vecchio ✐
Peruvian Times Contributing Editor ☄

An ambitious master plan for Machu Picchu was approved a few days ago that calls for a dramatic “reconceptualization” of the Inca Citadel, backed by a proposed $43.7 million* makeover of its tourist infrastructure.

A striking feature of the 2015-2019 plan is how it frames and deals with the problem of the increasing waves of visitors who have flocked to the iconic ruins since the 2007 designation of Machu Picchu as a “New Wonder of the World.”

Planned changes for Machu Picchu - graphicSince 2011, the average daily number of visitors to Machu Picchu has far exceeded the daily limit of 2,500 agreed to by Peru and UNESCO.  Starting in 2012, annual attendance has topped a million tourists.

Last year, Machu Picchu received 1,079,426 visitors, not including the 200-plus trekkers who entered the sanctuary each day from the Inca Trail, according to figures released by the Ministry of Culture.

(The complete official visitor totals were subsequently published in early May 2015: 1,141,177 people toured Machu Picchu in 2014.)

The new master plan calls for “the re-conceptualization of several foundations of the current management model” for Machu Picchu.

Planned Machu Picchu Visitor CenterThe Inca city is more than the iconic complex of granite buildings, fountains and temples we see in photos, exquisitely perched atop a mountain, the master plan states.

Machu Picchu is a “patrimonial network that unfolds across the mountain and is symbiotically integrated with it.” So the master plan proposes “changing the axis of the visitor experience” to perceive Machu Picchu as something conceptually larger — encompassing the mountain itself.

Dispersing the visitors and controlling crowd flow is the key here.

The entry point into Machu Picchu will be moved from the current entrance just outside the ruins to a visitor and orientation center in the jungle gorge below, where the Urubamba River snakes almost completely around the towering citadel in a horseshoe bend.

Visitor will fan out from there, transversing varied, new routes up to, around and through the citadel.

Machu Picchu planned bridge exitThe plan calls for building a new exit ramp, a help center and the installation of toilets within the ruins.

Once you’ve reached the sanctuary, you will be able to walk one of three predetermined routes through the complex, and face time limits at specific points to keep the traffic flowing.

Certified guides will “affirm and complement the official scientific talk given at the start in the visitors’ center.” Interpretive signs will mark the paths, under the watchful eyes of park guards and security cameras.

While the master plan does not specify a maximum visitor limit, calling instead for new impact studies, there is this revealing passage:

“Groups of 100 visitors will leave approximately every 10 minutes (from the visitor’s center) toward any of the possible options, easing up the congestion on the heritage space with the aid of interpretive signs and a more efficient action by the guides.”

If tourists were dispatched in groups of 100 every 10 minutes from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., that would mean 6,000 visitors per day, or more than 2 million a year.

UNESCO for years has urged Peru to get its Machu Picchu house in order or risk being placed on the list of endangered cultural heritage sites. So will the world heritage body accept the prospect of Peru doubling the current, non-sanctioned, number of visitors to the site?

The UNESCO-sponsored Master Plan for Machu Picchu in 2001 called for no more than 917 visitors per day – and no more than 385 visitors at any one time. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Culture — now the Ministry of Culture — recommended a maximum carrying capacity of 2,000 visitors. Peru’s central government advocated in 2002 for 3,400, and the parties settled in 2008 on a daily limit of 2,500 visitors.

It is worth pointing out, UNESCO’s insistence was based on a host of glaring problems, including the lack of an emergency management plan, increasing and poorly managed solid waste,  and  the impact of disputed road access to Machu Picchu from Santa María and Santa Teresa, located northwest of the sanctuary.

The new master plan purports to tackle all of those issues and have them solved for the coming 20 years. The Ministry of Culture, Peru’s National Service for Protected Natural Areas, or Sernanp, and local authorities started putting many of the larger pieces of this plan into place over the past two years.

Many who know what Machu Picchu was like before lament these changes. One of them, renowned archaeologist Gary Ziegler, speaks now nostalgically about a time not too long ago when there weren’t mobs of large tour groups led by guides carrying tall flags, nor lurking guards blowing shrill whistles at confused tourists who stray off the narrow marked paths, and few if any signs emblazoned with the words “Keep Moving.”

Gary wrote about it in the book he recently co-authored  with University of Colorado archeoastronomer, Kim Malville, Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sisters, Choquequirao and Llactapata.

I sent Gary the new master plan as soon as I got my hands on a copy and asked him what he thought, particularly about the prospect of the annual number of visitors increasing to two million or more a year.

He replied: “increased numbers, restricted routes and limited times all represent a disaster for a contemplative, spiritual visitation that the Incas’s most sacred mountain ceremonial center once offered.”


 Excerpt from Machu Picchu Master Plan 2015-2019

“Visitor Management System:  The visitors’ center also forms a part of the visitor flow system, because the concentrations created by the current means of access (train and buses) will be managed in this center, from where groups of 100 visitors will leave (approximately) every 10 minutes toward any of the possible visit options, easing up the congestion on the heritage space with the aid of interpretive signs and a more efficient action by the guides, who will readjust their role to affirm and complement the official scientific talk given at the start in the visitors’ center.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited the figure $14.6 million as the proposed investment for infrastructure development called for in the 2015-2019 Machu Picchu Master Plan. According to the technical specifications presented by the Ministry of Culture to Peru’s Investment Promotion Agency, ProInversion, the correct figure is S/.131,274,109.68, or USD43,749,036.33 .

Rick Vecchio is also director of marketing and development for Fertur Peru Travel, which is owned by his wife, Siduith Ferrer, and is a commercial sponsor of Andean Air Mail & PERUVIAN TIMES. You can read more of his articles on the Peruvian Travel Trends blog.


  1. I’m not sure what the Machu Picchu people can do at this juncture, other than rethink the whole approach. The current system, barely controlled chaos with self-designated guides, cannot continue. Yes, I remember the good old days, mid-1960s when the place was pretty much wide open and you could sleep out in the ruins. (I did.) Those days — the days of 100 visitors a day — are never returning.

    I looked up Machu Picchu in the 1966 South American Handbook. An entry ticket was 30 soles, about US$1.10. If Aguas Calientes even existed, it’s not mentioned. The only hotel, the Turista facing the ruins, was US$6.50. Lunch was US2.00. The good old days.

    Making the Machu Picchu experience two parts, 1/ an educational center and 2/ a more controlled tour of the ruins themselves, strikes me as reasonable and forward looking. Daniel Buck

  2. I can remember also the good old days, when Machu Picchu was a wonderful place to visit, small crowds taking their time enjoying the beautiful scenery. Even entering the site at night, taking part in spiritual ceremonies with both touristS and peruvian friends. Those days are long past. My peruvian wife was born and raised on a small farm very close to Machu Picchu. She worked many years in the hotel industry in Machu Picchu, so she knows the people and the history of the place from a very personal perspective. Her observation of Machu Picchu’s transformation from a peaceful spiritual place, into a place run by intense greed, all the way from the local people who run the hotels and restaurants , to the management of Machu Picchu. Many of these people are members of her extended family.

    All of the constant stream of concepts to increase the volume of tourists, is all about the money, even if it ruins the infrastructure of Machu Picchu. Having two million people a year march through the place will ruin the place. It was designed and built by the the exceptional Inca engineers, for only a few thousand people wearing sandals. Million of pairs of hiking boots have already taken it’s toll on the stone walkways and stairs. What will be the next idea, install concrete walkways? Where will they find the space to build more hotels and other infrastructure in Aguas Calientes?

    If the management of Machu Picchu wants more profits (money) , then why not just raise the entry fee to 400 or 500 dollars for tourists and local people alike. Then Machu Picchu will be saved, cut the entry volume to 500 thousand people a year. After all, most tourists pay well over one thousand dollars just for their airline ticket.

    Why not develop Choquequirao? Lots of talk about a cable car system to access the site. Then that would require the government to invest money in the project. Two million tourists each year at Machu Picchu is a better plan, more profit. The whole topic is very sad.

    • Roy — you have said it the way it is. I visited Machu Picchu several times in the 60s and it was as you described. Before the invasion by hordes of tourists. Unfortunately, Peru needs to depend on tourism for a major part of its economy for an ever growing “young” population. So they simply sell, sell, sell whatever they can.

  3. Neil Marshall says:

    Machu Picchu! Now a money “cow”! Wonderful(that’s sarcasm!)
    There will be no time to contemplate the wonder of the accomplishment, the beauty of the environment, nor the ancient celestial alignments and their purposes. The original “infrastructure will take a beating as have the steps and other hard rock exposures in ancient buildings throughout Europe and elsewhere! People are to be herded “like cattle” through and out on a time table.

    • “No sense in going there ever!”
      We’ll speak for yourself dude!
      How arrogant.
      Like there are so many black people killed everyday by the police in USA, NO SENSE GOING THERE, EVER!

  4. Please note the correction @MailOnline of the amount Peru plans to spend to carry out the infrastructure work called for in the 2015-2019 Machu Picchu Master Plan.

    The figure your reporter Emily Payne derived when she lifted our story without attribution or checking the facts is wrong. The correct figure is about £27,192,990. Do you plan to issue a correction of your own?

  5. Well what other choices do they have. The site has to be preserved. At least it will be a safer trip to the top.


  6. Pingback: UNESCO chief tours Machu Picchu and lauds the beautiful experience on Peruvian Travel Trends

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