There is really only one example everyone ever gives when asked to typify the intrigue and architectural showmanship of the Andean People: Machu Picchu. Pan Pipes, a close second.
Be it the result of that Adventures of Tintin comic, or the National Geographic screensaver you have looping on you desktop, once you’ve seen or even heard of Machu Picchu it will be indelibly etched on your mind. It is hardly a surprise then that since the late 1990s Peru has seen a steady increase in tourists trekking up the Andes and exploring the ancient Inca city. Whilst visitors have consistently left enriched and enlightened after a Machu Picchu trek, for local Peruvians the situation has not always been win-win.
The mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu were once only visited by archeologists and more determined backpackers. In 1992 around 9,000 tourists were recorded at the site for the whole year. Within ten years this had risen to over 150,000 and swelled to a boggling 400,000 in 2000. Peru had clearly become a very popular tourist destination. But as with many a rise to popularity, the outcome is not always beneficial in the long-term. The dramatic increase in visitors threatened to erode the site through overcrowding and garbage and local porters, overburdened and underpaid, were being shamelessly exploited.
As a result, Machu Picchu has been teetering on the edge of World Heritage “danger status” for decades. And whilst tourism flourished, the immediate local communities drew very little direct benefit.
By the end of the year 2000 the shenanigans were finally over and travellers were no longer able to simply turn up to take on the four day trial without guides or permits.
This was a turning point for Machu Picchu. New requirements meant that tour operators could use only assigned campsites, had to carry all refuse with them and safer propane fuel replaced volatile open fires. New legislation also meant better circumstances for the porters who were no longer at the beck and call of visitors. Groups of more than seven required two guides and were limited to carrying 25 kg of luggage instead of the previous over 50 kg.
Yet still more can be done to help plough the rewards of Machu Picchu’s tourism back into the Peruvian communities -- in many ways the true custodians of Machu Picchu. Whilst the tourism in their area often benefits the broader economy (with the exception of the small recompense given to the local porters), little of the takings translates into sustainable growth and development for these people. (This is not to mention the revenue that is siphoned back into the pockets of foreign tour providers and guides, more on which will be in another post.)
Land in the Andes is ill-suited for growing sufficient crops to sustain the small villages surrounding Machu Picchu. Farming in the area suffered further setbacks in 2012, following extreme rainfall during which crops were destroyed and landslides removed precious topsoil.
This is why Inspired Escapes have helped to found High Andes Food For Change, an initiative that helps to plough tourism income back into the communities surrounding Machu Picchu -- quite literally.
When you trek Machu Picchu with Inspired Escapes you will not only give financial support to this initiative, but will also take an active part in its realisation, helping to build greenhouses that are enabling the community to maximise its crop yields. And once the harvests gain momentum there is the option to sell surplus, at reasonable prices, to the neighbouring communities.
Learn more about our Machu Picchu trek that takes a less-used path to the site and how Inspired Escapes will help to translate your adventure into not only lasting memories for you, but enduring, positive change for the people of the Andes.