Wonder selection threatens Machu Picchu

August 2007 -

On Friday 13 July 2007, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of south-eastern Peru was voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Unesco refused to take part in this global media event because it would make no positive contribution to the lasting protection of our cultural heritage.


Machu Picchu

The UN cultural body has repeatedly warned that Machu Picchu's high visitor numbers – currently 2500 a day – could irreparably damage the site. In 2003 the organisation threatened to remove the citadel from its list of endangered world heritage. That was widely seen as a critical response to the quality of the Peruvian government's 1998 master plan to protect Machu Picchu and its surrounding Vilcanota valley.

Lima bowed to the censure in 2005 by announcing that it was prepared to invest US$132.5 million in socio-economic development projects and sustainable tourism in the region, as well as a satellite system to monitor the frequent earthquakes around Machu Picchu.

At a workshop organised jointly with the Peruvian National Institute for Culture (INC) in April this year, however, Unesco demanded more participation by the local population in the citadel's management. It also called for greater co-operation between national government agencies and the local authority in Aguas Calientes to stem the uncontrolled growth of the tourist village below Machu Picchu.

In response, Jorge Prado Tisoc, Deputy Director of INC Cusco, stated that his organisation hopes to relieve pressure on the site by spreading tourism more widely throughout the region over the next few years. But Machu Picchu's inclusion on the list of modern wonders could thwart that effort. In the past month alone, visitor numbers have risen sharply.

The director of the Regional Tourist Office has come up with his own solution to the problem: raising the site's admission fee from US$40 to US$100. Machu Picchu could again become the preserve of a rich elite – not so different from its glory days, when the citadel is believed to have an exclusive retreat for the Inca rulers of Cusco.