Archaeologists, historians, tour guides and others are petitioning to prevent the Peruvian government from building an international airport near Machu Picchu. Construction for the multi-billion-dollar airport, which is intended to curtail tourists’ travel time to the ancient Inca citadel, began earlier this year, with bulldozers clearing several tonnes of earth for the site in Chinchero, the gateway to the Sacred Valley. The project is due to be completed in 2023.
Reaching the Unesco World Heritage Site on foot can take several days of hiking, with the most common trail from Cusco, which is 48 miles away and has a small airport taking four to five days. Tourists can also opt for the truncated train line from Cusco through the Andes Mountains, which takes approximately three hours. The site draws more than a million visitors each year, more than double what is recommended by Unesco to protect the site.
Natalia Majluf, the Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University who started the petition, argues that the project is short-sighted and puts the ancient site at risk. The planned airport “endangers the conservation of one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the world, affecting the integrity of a complex Inca landscape”, the petition states, and “will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanisation”.
The Peruvian government says the project will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and other economic opportunities. In an interview with The Guardian, Chinchero’s mayor, Luis Cusicana, says that local leaders have been pushing for such an airport since the 1970s, with indigenous communities in the area having already sold their land to the state.