A new airport under construction in Peru has drawn international outrage, with charges that it will lead to the destruction of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cusco has outgrown Astete International Airport (CUZ). Its single runway cannot handle widebody aircraft and its lack of space limits flights options. Recognizing that the Sacred Valley, home to the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu, and other Incan relics is an ever-popular tourist attraction, the Peruvian government has embarked upon the construction of a new airport in nearby Chinchero that could handle widebody aircraft and usher in an era of increased tourism to the region.
That is exactly what has angered many. Archeologists, historians, and environmentalists from all over the world have signed a petition against the airport, which warns:
An airport in the surroundings of the Sacred Valley will affect the integrity of a complex Inca landscape and will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanisation.
Chinchero is 30km from Cusco and home to its own Incan ruins, including a palace, aqueduct and terraces.
One travel agent, Rachel Williams, who specializes in Machu Picchu tours for Aussies and Kiwis, told Traveller:
Plane landings into the guts of the sacred valley is simply a bad idea. Air traffic in the area would create a lot of disturbance not only physically but the noise will shatter the peace degrading the whole sacred valley experience. More day trippers or “tick box tourists” could start visiting Machu Picchu, creating a theme park out of a sacred place.
Are these simply routine objections from voices holding conflicting interests or legitimate outrage? Time will tell.
The new airport is scheduled to open in 2023. Thus far, the Peruvian government seems 100% behind the project.
As for me, I’m torn. My own trip to Machu Picchu was one of the best trips of my life. I want to take my wife and son here and I’d hate to see it turn into an “amusement” park. But I also cannot blame the Peruvian government for wanting to bolster revenue where it can…there’s a fine line, isn’t there? Visiting Machu Picchu should not only be for the wealthy or those with extra time on their hand to make the costly and time-consuming back-and-forth trips via train from Cusco.