Americas, Peru, World

Trashing Machu Picchu: The Cost of Mass Tourism

Machu Picchu is one of the most remarkable historical sites in the world, set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Since it was discovered in 1911, the site gradually turned into a hotspot for tourists in South America. Today it holds many titles, such as UNESCO World Heritage Site and New Wonder of the World.

What seems concerning though, is what the site cannot hold anymore — its trash! These days, Machu Picchu hosts between 2,500 and 5,000 visitors per day, which amounts to 1 million on a yearly basis. According to the UN, tourists leave behind 14 tons of trash every day, and that only furthers the point that mass tourism can be dangerously toxic.

Is Machu Picchu Headed For Destruction?

Machu Picchu is very close to being added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger. Ironically enough, UNESCO’s recognition of Machu Picchu as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization” is partially what caused the ever-increasing onslaught of tourists.

Today, Machu Picchu has a serious waste problem. Each visitor leaves two to three kilos worth of trash: plastic bottles, cans, fruit peels. All of this is very hard to dispose of, mainly because Machu Picchu is located more than 2,000 meters above sea level. The trash is hard to transport on that terrain, and there is no available land nearby to use for waste treatment.

In 2013, 50 tons of garbage were removed from the Machu Picchu town. This insane amount of waste had to be transported by Peru Rail since the location doesn’t have road access. The local officials have tried on multiple occasions to create an efficient waste disposal plan. However, nothing has worked so far.

Macchu Picchu tourism
Tourists at Machu Picchu in Peru


Why Is Mass Tourism Dangerous?

Unfortunately, this situation is not exclusive to Machu Picchu. Tourist attractions all over the world are getting run down by people who are either unaware or do not care about their impact. Weak government regulations and the profiteering service industries are also very much to blame for this.

The Great Wall of China seems to be suffering under the feet of tourist mobs, and in 2015, it was concluded that 30% of this massive construction had been lost to erosion and human damage.

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex is also being gradually deteriorated by insane numbers of visitors. Countless other popular tourist locations fall under this category: the Taj Mahal, the Sistine Chapel, Altamira Caves, Mount Everest and Mont Saint Michel.

An increased number of tourists at a certain spot can start a chain of events.

Firstly, more and more vehicles travel to and from the location on a daily basis, which in turn causes air pollution and engenders the landscape. Not to mention sites where the government has approved helicopter landings, railways, hotel buildings and restaurants which are at an even higher risk of pollution, landfalls, erosion or overcrowding. Large masses of people at places that simply weren’t built to sustain them can cause severe damage to the construction and sometimes -irreversible deterioration.

What Can Be Done about Machu Picchu?

UNESCO gave Peru a deadline of two years to improve the conditions on-site before it’s added to the continuously growing list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. This year, it was decided that the Peruvian authorities did meet the requirements and Machu Picchu won’t be added to the list after all. What measures have been taken? So far, tourists are only able to use one of the three available hiking trails, and the number of daily visitors is limited to 2,500.

In comparison to the problems Machu Picchu is facing, this doesn’t seem enough. Other steps can be taken, even independently from the government, to ensure the safety of any popular tourist spot.

Refraining from commercialization is the key to preservation. Every new object or means of transportation added defaces the landscape and increases the risk of structural failure. The more consumables are sold on-site, the more likely it is to find trash lying around.

Of course, it goes without mentioning that the greatest responsibility falls on the tourist as an individual. Would it hurt you to keep that wrapper or empty plastic bottle in your backpack until you find an actual trash can? Environmentalist groups have talked about encouraging visitors to keep their trash until they find an appropriate place to dispose of or sort it.

The sad truth is that governments don’t want to be very strict with regulations since it turns away tourists and decreases the revenue. And no traveler, when given a chance, will back out of seeing something as monumental as Machu Picchu. That leaves us with the conclusion that this problem cannot be solved without responsibility taken on both sides.

About Martina Blazheska

Martina is a mechanical engineering student from Skopje, Macedonia. When she’s not drowning in homework, she likes to write articles. Her favorite things to write about are feminism, social justice, science, ecology and travel. Martina is fascinated with the influence of social media and hopes that her words can make a difference, no matter how big or small.

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