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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 12:47 GMT
Bridge stirs the waters in Machu Picchu
By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Peru

In the year that Peru is trying to get Machu Picchu voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, there are growing tensions over the country's greatest tourist attraction.

Machu Picchu is located high in the Andes Mountains

A former mayor has built a bridge which creates a new route to the World Heritage site, threatening to bring more tourists and, some say, open up a new route for drug traffickers.

The 80-metre long Carilluchayoc bridge, which crosses the Vilcanota river near the base of the 15th-Century Inca citadel, is to be inaugurated in February, despite a court order prohibiting its construction and protests from the government and environmentalists.

There is concern that - with around 2,500 visitors a day - there are already too many tourists tramping around the ruins. The UN's cultural division, Unesco, is due to inspect the site this year to decide whether it should be classed as an endangered heritage site.

But the former mayor of La Convencion province, Fedia Castro, whose term ended recently, says the village of Santa Teresa needs the bridge to end its isolation and bring commerce and tourism.

The villagers currently have to undertake a 15-hour journey along treacherous roads to take their agricultural produce to market in the regional capital, Cusco. The bridge will allow them to take it by lorry in just three hours.

'Profit-orientated'

The bridge has strong support in La Convencion province and across the region from people who believe the inhabitants of Santa Teresa should be able to benefit from Cusco region's booming tourism industry.

The companies... are thinking of profit. My task is to give to the next generation the opportunity to continue seeing this wonder for the centuries to come
David Ugarte
Cusco National Cultural Institute
But there are others who have voiced concern, particularly those charged with protecting Peru's archaeological and cultural heritage.

The director of Cusco's National Cultural Institute, David Ugarte, says he is not opposed to the bridge in principle but he is worried about the potential increase in tourism.

"We don't deny that they need a proper road for this area, but the mayor's slogan that it's 'the bridge or death' lacks credibility and seriousness," he says.

Mr Ugarte says the site was not designed for the number of tourists who now visit it and could not sustain more.

"The companies... are thinking of profit. My task is to give to the next generation the opportunity to continue seeing this wonder for the centuries to come," he says.

"The tourism companies take around 2,500 people up there every day. They want to take 5,000 a day or more. If that happens, in 10 years' time there will be no longer be a Machu Picchu. It's not only part of our heritage, it's part of humanity's."

'Proper management'

There is currently only one route to Machu Picchu from the city of Cusco and that is by train. PeruRail, which is owned by the British company Orient Express Hotels has had a monopoly on transport through the Sacred Valley since 1999. Tourists can pay between $70 (35) and $450 for a return trip.

Carilluchayoc bridge (2005 picture)
The bridge is due to be completed in February
But when the Carilluchayoc bridge is completed, backpackers will be able to take a $4 bus ride to the foot of the site using a different route.

Patricio Zucconi, who manages the Orient Express-run Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge Hotel, says with proper management the site could sustain many more tourists.

He says the Inca ruins simply need more than one entrance and exit point and he estimates as many as 4,000 visitors could come and go every day.

"The problem is the way Machu Picchu is managed. There are too many state bodies in charge of it," he says.

Mr Zucconi warns without proper controls on the bridge, the flora and fauna in the national park which surrounds the ruins will suffer because of the increased number of tours.

But Orient Express Hotels has angered some local leaders.

"They just take all the money out of the region," says the newly-elected Regional President of Cusco, Hugo Gonzales.

"The constitution of Peru prohibits monopolies. PeruRail has a monopoly because 92% of the tourists who visit Machu Picchu go by the railway."

Mr Gonzales says he fully supports the building of the bridge but the company has opposed it because it wants to hold on to its monopoly on the rail route.

More visitors

The problem dates back to 1998 when the old village of Santa Teresa, located near the railway, was destroyed in a landslide. The villagers were forced to relocate when the government refused to rebuild it.

Map
Despite its opposition to the bridge, the government has done nothing to prevent its building.

Officials have said the bridge will provide a new route for cocaine traffickers in La Convencion province, which is under a state of emergency because of its coca production.

Mr Gonzales acknowledges there may be a drug-trafficking problem but says without the bridge the villagers are forced to carry their produce by foot for miles.

"It's not acceptable that there are big profits for the owners of the railway line and hotels, yet five minutes from Cusco we have extreme poverty," he said.

A spokeswoman for Orient Express Hotels, Yasmine Martin, says her company rescued the site from mismanagement by the regional authorities and provides community projects, employment and rubbish collection.

"We provide a subsidised train service for the local people twice a day at the cost of $800,000 a year," she says. " Show me the company which offers even $10,000 year for the local population"

With the imminent opening of the bridge there is every indication that 2007 will bring more visitors to Machu Picchu.

As the various companies and state bodies struggle for dominion over this once-lost city, it seems that ultimately no-one wants to kill the goose which lays the golden egg.


SEE ALSO
Peru bans flights over Inca ruins
08 Sep 06 |  Americas
Peru to sue Yale over Inca pieces
03 Mar 06 |  Americas
Peruvian plan to save Inca city
19 Apr 05 |  Americas

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