Machu Picchu, Overrun and Underappreciated?

Llamas graze on the terraced landscape at Machu Picchu in Peru. (Photo by Bruno J. Navarro)

In a list of 7 Massively Popular Travel Destinations That Tourists Have Ruined, the inclusion of the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu saddened me the most.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a 15th century stone city that sits 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level in the Andes mountain range. Abandoned at some point after the Spanish conquest of the continent, it sat dormant for ages until Hiram Bingham III “discovered” it with the help of local guides in 1911.

It has long loomed large in my imagination since I first visited my ancestral homeland of Peru at age five. (That was also the trip that sparked a still-vivid and death-defying bus ride on the banks of the Urubamba River.)

Business Insider writes:

Machu Picchu has a 2,500-visitors-a-day limit set by Peru and UNESCO. It has far exceeded this since 2011, drawing in nearly 1.3 million visitors to the site in 2015 alone, according to Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism. Overcrowding has taken its toll on the ancient ruins, and the government has now laid out a plan to reduce the number of visitors who can come.

Back when I visited, it felt like a grand adventure, via an early-morning train from Lima to Aguas Calientes, followed by a bus that traversed switchbacks up the steep access points to the archaelogical site. Black-and-white photos from my family’s visits beginning in the 1970s show a scarcity of tourists and large expanses within the ruins without any other human beings.

Yet it’s not like that today.

Is there a way to increase cultural awareness and promote travel-based learning of the world while avoiding the pitfalls of tourism?


Featured photo via Found the World.

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