It has attracted generations of travellers from around the world, becoming the quintessential image of Peru. The Machu Picchu ruins, high in the Andes mountain range, remain the country’s most important tourism asset. The government is implementing a plan to revamp the site in order to manage the continued growth in visitor numbers.
The $14.6m re-conceptualisation plan was approved in April 2015 and will be implemented through to 2019. The plan is tasked with finding a sustainable way to manage the access of visitors to the site, which will be crucial for the long-term health of Peru’s tourism industry. This will involve the creation of new infrastructure, such as a visitor centre, new roads and the structuring of new pathways to allow visitors to circulate through the site. “Having something like Machu Picchu is a blessing for tourism. It is a strong product, is immediately recognisable and brings a lot of travellers to the country,” Luis Villa Prado, general manager at the National Chamber of Tourism, told OBG.
The ancient ruins have seen a steady increase of visitors over the years. In 2014 a total of 1.08m people entered the site, in addition to an average of 200 trekkers that reach the ruins daily. Although Machu Picchu has long been an attraction point for foreign and domestic visitors alike, favourable conditions in recent years have made it even more popular. Besides the improvement of Peru’s economic and political situation during the 1990s, popular online initiatives such as the 2007 “New 7 Wonders of The World” competition, which invited travellers to pick their favourite places around the world, also had an impact in raising the profile of the 15th-century site.
To protect the site from deterioration due to the new foot-traffic, UNESCO and the Peruvian government came to an agreement in 2008 that determined that the maximum sustainable number of visitors recommended to enter the citadel was 2500 per day. According to Villa Prado, those estimates might be out-dated. “There are monuments more delicate and more antique than Machu Picchu that receive tens of thousands of visitors, so I think that the site should be open to more people. But of course, there should be a code of conduct,” he told OBG. “Circuits need to be created. The citadel has six entrances, but only one is used.”
Authorities are banking on an improved design in the flow of visitors to increase the maximum number of daily entries. Government studies suggest that the site has the capacity to support up to 6000 people at any given time. “If you create circuits for people to follow, you won’t have them all at one place at the same time,” Villa Prado told OBG.
If the maximum number is to rise to 6000 per day, total annual visitors could exceed 2m. Authorities have estimated that about 100 visitors will be allowed to enter the site from the visitor centre every 10 minutes. The use of accredited tour guides will also be made mandatory. Part of the strategy to increase the number of visitors that can be in the site at any given time will rest on enlarging the enclosed area around the archaeological site. The entry into Machu Picchu is currently done relatively close to the ruins, but authorities aim to move the entrance farther away. This would be linked with new site paths, time limits and a more carefully planned traffic flow.
One of the biggest projects Peru is undertaking is the construction of a new international airport in Chinchero, close the city of Cusco, which acts as a gateway to the ancient site. The $658m facility will be able to handle 4.5m passengers, and up to 5.7m if expansion work is done in the future. This will raise the number of connections for tourists wanting to visit Machu Picchu without transiting through Lima.
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