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The wonder of an eco tour to Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley

Responsible Tourism

Peru

Rodrigo is a Brazilian-American graphic artist. He recently took a tour to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. As over-tourism issues are (finally) being discussed by industry stakeholders, his insights on how to visit Machu Picchu in a responsible way are particularly valuable. In his own words:

Tourism is a very profitable industry for Peru largely thanks to attractions like Machu Picchu, as well as Cuzco – the Incan city tucked in the Andean mountains. Each year sees the visitor numbers growing, with The Guardian reporting that 2016 saw a record-breaking 1.4 million tourists heading to Machu Picchu. Tourism may have become one of the primary sources of income for the residents in the area, but it is also the leading contributor to its deterioration. In fact, UNESCO is now on the verge of adding the ancient city to its list of world heritage sites in danger because of these problems.

The situation has led the government to enforce stricter policies to limit the number of people going in and out of it, in an attempt to minimize the degradation of the historic site. As a result, the admission price has also been increased to further regulate the number of visitors. Even tour groups are now more proactive in promoting ecotourism and sustainable tourism to help mitigate the impact that this vast number of visitors each year has caused.

When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed the chance to go on an eco-tour of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Our group followed Transitions Abroad’s advice of arriving 72 hours before attempting the Inca Trail to allow our bodies to acclimatize to the elevation. To play safe, we even learned the ‘Relaxing Breath’ technique beforehand, an exercise which Leesa identified as helpful for regulating breathing and lowering blood pressure, in case we might need help in catching our breath once we begin the trek. Our group stayed in ecolodges in the Sacred Valley (there are several options in the area), keeping with our goal of making our visit as sustainable as possible.

Our itinerary included a tour of the Sacred Valley’s attractions, such as the Pisac market; the Ollantaytambo Archeological Site, which was once a fort of the Incas; the salt mines of Maras; and the hillside village of Chinchero. Of course, the crowning glory of the trip was exploring Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. While it may be tiring to trek in the Andes mountains for several days and to climb up Huayna Picchu, the reward is worth it: we were treated to a breathtaking view of the ancient city and the Urubamba River amid the Andes.

The group I joined took ecotourism very seriously. We were advised beforehand to bring reusable water bottles. Malay Mail Online earlier reported that plastic bottles make up a significant portion of the trash in and around the attractions. We were also warned by our guide to avoid touching the rocks of Machu Picchu because the chemicals on our skin – be it from sunscreen, lotion, or insect repellents – can actually damage the surface of the boulders over time, contributing to their deterioration.

While the wondrous sights left me awe-struck, I couldn’t help but be humbled by the experience. Thanks to our guide, I learned about the impact of each person who visits the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. We found out that the sheer volume of people entering the historic city can produce enough vibrations on the ground equivalent to a small earthquake. These regular movements through the years have led to boulders that make up Machu Picchu shifting, making them unstable and ultimately dangerous.

The guides and porters themselves are wary about what the impact of the continuous traffic can do to their national heritage – and their source of income. Sustainable Business Toolkit quoted one tour guide who commented that the weight of the tourists will lead to the literal collapse of the ancient city. I left Machu Picchu not just with a greater appreciation of the ancient Incan culture, but with a better understanding of the impact of people visiting tourist attractions. While it’s always good to travel and to learn more about the different cultures around us; we, as visitors, should also exercise responsibility so we don’t leave the places in a worse condition than when we arrived.

The Peruvian Government and UNESCO are taking measures to regulate tourist volumes into the citadel. Tour operators and travellers must also contribute to the conservation efforts, for instance by limiting the groups size and managing waste properly, so future generations can also enjoy a visit to this archeological wonder.

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