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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK

World: Americas

Inca site cable car plan sparks anger

Access to Machu Picchu will be a good deal easier

By Malcolm Brabant in Machu Picchu

Since time began nothing has obscured the dawn in this corner of the Andes. The Incas built Machu Picchu high in the mountains largely because it was so remote.

Now these pristine mountains are about to be transformed for ever by Swiss engineering, much to the horror of many travellers who trek for days along the Inca Trail to sample the magic of Machu Picchu.

[ image:  ]
"We've travelled over 40km over the most amazing terrain to get here, and now people are just going to fly through the air by cable car - it just seems wrong," says British tourist Amy Grundy.

Ruth Charamboulos from Australia is also opposed to the idea. "The cable car itself I think it's just ridiculous - you might as well put a chair-lift up the Inca Trail, if they're going to do that."

Same experience

The cable car will hoist visitors from the banks of the Urubamba River and take them 500m up the mountain pass to a point 300m from the Machu Picchu ruins.

The cable car structure will be visible from the site's famous Sun Temple. But according to developers it will not encroach on the most popular view of the Hidden City, towards the peak known as Huena Pichu.

Roberto Persivales, a spokesman for the consortium of developers which plans to build the cable car, believes the plan won't damage the site.

"Once people - even archeologists I've spoken to, and architects - see the real path that the cable car will take, they see that this cable car will not ruin any of the existing views and the experience that we've had in the past will be the same," he says.

Winners and losers

[ image: Many tourists hike the Inca Trail from Cuzco into the mountains]
Many tourists hike the Inca Trail from Cuzco into the mountains
An increase in tourist traffic which a cable car might bring could be good for the musicians and craftsmen who make a living around the ruins, but it would hurt the local bus drivers who currently shuttle visitors between the valley floor and the summit. They could lose up to 80% of their business.

Charles Munn works in eco-tourism in Peru. He says that a cable car could improve the environment - by reducing the road traffic - but he still has reservations.

"Big-business tourism causes me concern in Machu Picchu and many other areas because the local people often earn so little money from the tourism while a few companies make a lot of money - and they have no stake in protecting the region," he says.

Saturation point

But the main concern of people opposed to the project is the developers' plan to raise the number of visitors above the current annual figure of 350,000.

Many consider this to be saturation point and Unesco is among those bodies which believe that Peru is in danger of killing off the golden goose.

The UN cultural organisation argues that the vulnerable citadel will not be able to withstand the increase in tourist traffic which the cable car would bring.

However, the Peruvian government insists it will preserve the character of Machu Picchu and is likely to resist any outside interference.

And with the developers anxious to start work as soon as possible, the opponents don't have much time.

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