New Regulations for Mach Picchu
By Abraham Lama
More and more tourists, especially the young, are coming to Peru and bypassing the rail route on their way to the Incan city of Machu Picchu, making the 48 km trip on foot instead, following the trails that lead through the Andean mountains and cross incredible tropical valleys.
LIMA, (Tierramérica).- Along the route of what is known as the Incan Trail, which is a four-day and three-night trip, visitors skirt deep chasms and cross a canyon on a hanging bride until reaching the point where they can see the jewel made of stone - the ruins of Machu Picchu, officially discovered in 1911.
Just 32,000 hectares, this archeological sanctuary is an ecotourism destination, and the most popular adventure trip in Peru.
The area is home to great biodiversity. Though most travelers are unaware of it, the valleys and mountainsides of the Incan Trail hold approximately 350 varieties of orchids.
Throughout this incredible natural scenery, the 74,542 visitors in 1999 and nearly 95,000 last year left some five to seven tons of garbage daily, mostly non-biodegradable items such as plastic bottles. In some cases, the tourists caused fires.
Beginning this year, the backpacking tourists will have to follow new regulations. In the first place, their numbers must be smaller.
In the months of high season for tourism, some 1,200 people started the Incan route each day. In 2001, there can be no more than 500 people on the trails at any one time.
The groups of hikers can be no larger than 40 people, including guides and those who carry the camping equipment, food and cooking fuel.
In addition, the trails will be closed one month each year to repair the inevitable damage caused by so many people passing through.
It is prohibited to cook or heat food using firewood, meaning that backpackers must use gas-based stoves instead.
The haulers must carry all packaging, and food-based solid waste and other garbage until the end of the journey. No one is to carry backpacks weighing more than 25 kilos.
Those who chose to hike up to Machu Picchu must register with authorized agencies and hire certified guides and carriers, who undergo health exams and are trained in environmental conservation.
Tourist agencies will be responsible for compliance with the strict preservation rules included in the ''Regulations for Tourist Use of the Network of Incan Trails in the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu,'' and must assume responsibility for the infractions committed by visitors in their care.
* Abraham Lama is an IPS correspondent.