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.”
Since 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.
The 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.
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.