An international campaign is now underway to press the Peruvian authorities to abandon the scheme to build a new international airport at Chinchero in order to facilitate tourism to Machu Picchu. As we wrote last week, this is an issue likely to complicate the life of Peru’s newly-appointed culture minister, Luis Jaime Castillo.
As Peru’s premier tourist attraction, the ruins of Machu Picchu are already saturated by visitors. In 2017, they attracted 1.5 million visitors, double the rate recommended by UNESCO. Schemes are currently afoot to try to limit the length of visits to either morning or afternoon shifts.
The new airport will accommodate wide-bodied aircraft which will greatly increase the numbers visiting the site, as well as others in and around Cuzco. Flights will originate in the United States, other parts of Latin America and even Europe, effectively bypassing Lima.
Cuzco’s existing airport is limited to short-haul narrow aircraft which helps stem the flow of visitors somewhat, even though the number of flights has multiplied in recent years.
Chinchero is an ancient Inca town located on the route between Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It has been a tourist magnet itself on account of its history and scenic location. It is threatened with virtual obliteration from the new airport.
Local opinion has long been divided on the airport scheme which has suffered numerous delays because of, among other things, contractual irregularities. Many powerful voices, especially those who benefit from the tourist trade in one way or another, have lobbied in favour of go-ahead.
However, increasingly, anthropologists, historians and others have weighed in to oppose the project on account of the damage it will do to the attraction which brings people to Cuzco in the first place. A petition is now being addressed to President Martín Vizcarra at the very moment that bulldozers move into Chinchero to clear the site for construction work to begin.
Opponents argue that the future of Cuzco and its tourist sites is a matter of worldwide importance and should not be left up to those locals who, including peasants in Chinchero itself who have sold their land for small fortunes, are out to make as much as possible in the shortest possible time.