Machu Picchu Might Have a New Airport and Everybody’s Not Happy

Machu Picchu Might Have a New Airport and Everybody’s Not Happy

We can’t deny that Machu Picchu is an amazing destination. As someone who loves history and its archaeological aspects, I’d love to go there and spend the whole day exploring everything. But building an airport near it (to enable easier access) is something that a lot of historians and environmentalists don’t support

Currently, bulldozers are clearing land for the new hub in Chinchero that lies 36 miles (around 20 minutes) from the site. Considered to be the gateway to the Sacred Valley, The Chinchero plateau and the surrounding area is rich in Inca history and culture. Protesters say that the project means this rich, beautiful landscape will be destroyed.

There’s a petition started by a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University, Natalia Majluf, urging the Peruvian president, Martín Vizcarra, to stop all clearing work and cancel the building of the airport.

Majluf wrote, “The airport planned in the town of Chinchero is a serious threat to the conservation of one of the most important heritage sites in the world. In addition to affecting the integrity of a complex Inca landscape, building an airport in the vicinity of the Sacred Valley will have irreparable effects due to noise, increased traffic and uncontrolled urbanization. We call on the President and the Government of Peru to reconsider this project.”

another ancient site in Chincheros by Ibrehaut (Ivan Brehaut L.) Wikimedia Commons
another ancient site in Chincheros by Ibrehaut (Ivan Brehaut L.) Wikimedia Commons

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Numerous historians, archaeologists and environmentalists have sent letters to President Vizcarra and they ask him to stop building it. It reads, “We do not pretend to deny that Cusco, a magnet for tourists from all over the world and a driver of the country’s growth, deserves to have a more adequate airport. Happily, the region offers other suitable areas for an efficient and modern construction able to meet a greater demand of visitors,”

“Leaving this project with so much conflict and changing it to look for new viable alternatives would represent a minimum loss for the State in comparison with the seriousness of the destruction of a universal heritage.”

The actual commencement of the plan all started in 2012 when the previous Peruvian president Ollanta Humala announced his plan to build the multi-billion dollar airport in a bid to further boost tourism to the area. Other than that, Humala enacted a law allowing the expropriation of land in Chinchero, but promised that local residents would be compensated.

This airport plan actually goes back to 1970s and local supporters loved the idea because of the construction jobs and other possible benefits the project could bring, for instance, giving visitors to the site direct flights from Latin America and the U.S.

Cuzco airport by Rodrigo.Argenton Wikimedia Commons
Cuzco airport by Rodrigo.Argenton Wikimedia Commons

If you want to go to Machu Picchu, you first need to fly into Cusco airport, which is more than 50 miles from the ruins, and then you take a bus or train or follow the Inca trail to the ancient site. Cusco airport only has one runway and only small narrow-body aircraft can land there. Most flights arrive from Peruvian capital Lima and Bolivian capital La Paz. The new Chinchero airport would be able to accommodate larger planes flying international routes from the rest of Latin America and the US.

Mark Rice, the author of “Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru” said that Cusco’s airport infrastructure is maxed out, another reason why Peruvian government needs to build Chinchero. However , Rice cautions that putting an airport so close to the site would do a “lot of damage” to the area’s breathtaking beauty.

When it’s finished, this airport would cut the distance tourists need to travel on the ground, with the closest airport to the tourist attraction currently being the single runway Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco, roughly 46 miles away. According to the Centre for Aviation, it will be complete in 2023. Simply put, tourists will have easier access to this ancient site.

The infamous site of Machu Picchu by Diego Delso Wikimedia Commons
The infamous site of Machu Picchu by Diego Delso Wikimedia Commons

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Should this go on, UNESCO has warned that the site may be placed on its list of world heritage sites in danger. The UN organisation has encouraged increasing conservation efforts to Machu Picchu’s adjacent land. “A considerable number of well-documented threats render the property vulnerable to losing its future integrity and will require permanent management attention,” it stated.

When questioned about the new airport’s harmful effects to the environment, history, and culture, Peru’s finance minister, Carlos Oliva, said that the airport is a necessity. “This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco. There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction,” he told journalists.

While it’s true that visitors can get to Machu Picchu easily with this airport and Peru can raise its economic benefits, the airport plan raises another concern, which is the welfare of the site itself. The ruins are already overburdened with visitors annually and there have been efforts to control the number of tourists by reducing admission times.

The completion of the airport means that the site will struggle more with growing crowds. already struggling to deal with growing crowds. A report said that the Machu Picchu handles almost 6,000 people per day, more than double the 2,500-person cap recommended by the UNESCO.

Machu Picchu Bahnstation which is rife with people. Photo of W. Bulach Wikimedia Commons
Machu Picchu Bahnstation which is rife with people. Photo of W. Bulach Wikimedia Commons

“The tourist impact is very grave,” said Nelson Huaman Quispe, a guide from Machu Picchu Andes Tours. “As there are a large quantity of tourists, you can’t control them,” he went on. Irresponsible tourists are reportedly climbing on the structures, taking rocks as souvenirs, and leaving marks on the ancient stones.

Tour operators of Machu Picchu are the ones which are more likely to benefit from the building of this airport. But not all are happy with this project. Rachel Williams, founder of Viva Expeditions, which specializes in travel to Latin America, says the airport will ruin the character of the area and decimate the economy of Cusco.

“Plane landings into the guts of the sacred valley is simply a bad idea. Air traffic in the area would create a lot of disturbance not only physically but the noise will shatter the peace degrading the whole sacred valley experience. More day trippers or ‘tick box tourists’ could start visiting Machu Picchu, creating a theme park out of a sacred place,” Williams stated.

“It seems ironic and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley, the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport ― right on top of exactly what the tourists have come here to see,” he said.

What’s your take on this situation? In one hand, this airport could boost economy and make things easier for visitors, but on the other hand, the impact is mostly negative for the amazing Machu Picchu and its surrounding environment. What do you think of this upcoming Peruvian infrastructure? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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