Move over, Machu Picchu: there is more to see in Peru | ET REALITY

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Elvis Lexin La Torre Uñaccori knows very well that one wonder of the world often creates a less wonderful world of waste: he is the mayor of Machu Picchu Pueblo, the gateway to the bucket list destination in Peru that attracts millions of visitors (and its garbage) every year.

Mr. La Torre shared this experience in waste and waste management in February, at a two-day summit he organized on environmental and infrastructure advances at the Inca citadel. Before 99 mayors and other municipal leaders from across Peru, Mr. La Torre spoke about a plastic bottle compactor, glass bottle pulverizer and processor that his town developed for hotel and restaurant food scraps.

But the main goal of the summit went beyond food waste and recycling initiatives; It was about disseminating effective practices for sustainable tourism throughout Peru, part of a national desire to accelerate tourism development of lesser-known archaeological sites and their local towns. In recent years, the country has engaged in a grassroots effort to elevate its vast trove of archaeological sites that are often as well preserved or culturally significant as Machu Picchu itself.

“Machu Picchu is a wonder seen by the world. We are lucky. But there are many wonders in Peru waiting to be seen,” said La Torre.

Local leaders like La Torre’s have filled a power vacuum in Peru, which has had seven presidents since 2016, all from different political parties. Violent protests following his last transfer of power, in December 2022, led to a mass evacuation of tourists from Machu Picchu and a total closure of the site for 21 days.

The importance of Machu Picchu and tourism in general for the economy of Peru is unquestionable. Madeleine Burns Vidaurrazaga, Peru’s deputy tourism minister, said the industry in 2019 accounted for $8.9 billion, or 3.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and 1.5 million jobs.

Ms. Burns said that in 2023 the Peruvian government increased its annual tourism budget to $100 million, about a 15 percent increase from last year’s $87 million, and then dedicated an additional $144 million for tourism infrastructure, marketing and support for artisans and companies with less than 50 employees. In December, Ms. Burns plans to launch a national campaign called “Perú al Natural” that will highlight National park huascaran and other “nature and adventure hot spots” and complement better-known sites such as the nazca linesAncient geoglyphs etched in the coastal desert of southern Peru.

“We have gems, but we don’t know how to use them, how to discuss them, how to share them,” Burns said, adding that his tourism models are Egypt and India, both of which have expanded their tourism offerings and infrastructure. beyond the Great Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

“We have a living culture and a living history,” said José Koechlin, president of Canatur, national tourism agency of Peru. “We are one of the cradles of civilization at the level of Egypt or Mesopotamia. But it needs a gentle nudge.” A gentle push.

In 1975, Mr. Koechlin founded Inkaterraa Peru-based ecotourism company that now employs 600 workers across several properties.

“We can make things happen on our own terms. It is challenging, but also exciting,” said Mr. Koechlin.

One of Mr. Koechlin’s employees, Joaquín Escudero, was transferred from Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu hotel, where he worked as general manager, to become general manager of Hacienda Urubamba, his property in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, in 2014. In 2017, he founded a tourism alliance in the region that now includes 14 local restaurants, hotels, travel agencies and a clinic. The alliance recently met with local police chiefs to draw up security strategies, including creating special patrols and installing security cameras for tourists and locals alike.

Escudero has lobbied the local government to improve roads and wastewater treatment for the entire community. “We don’t live on another planet,” he said of the travel industry in Peru. “We are in the same towns. We’re neighbors. I want to feel proud of my neighborhood. “Pride is the magic that transforms stones into wonders of the world.”

For some of Peru’s indigenous Quechua people, the move to expand tourism is also an opportunity to increase the visibility of their ancestors and culture.

“Peru is not just Machu Picchu. “It is the home of a vast empire,” he said. Roger Gabriel Caviedes, a tour guide through the Cusco region who is of mixed Andean descent and who grew up speaking Quechua. “If tourists can see our entire history, we have a chance to exist in their hearts, not just on their Instagrams.”

Caviedes is especially hopeful that tourism can develop around Waqrapukaraan Inca fortress, and Vilcabamba, the last bastion of the Inca Empire before the Spanish-led conquest in 1572.

“When someone arrives in Cuzco or even Peru, most of the names (of places, of plants, of birds, of rivers and of mountains) are Quechua,” Caviedes said. “By sharing this knowledge with tourists, I am maintaining the Quechua cultural heritage.”

One of the obstacles to the expansion of tourism in Peru is that many archaeological sites can only be reached through intense hiking. After a four-hour drive from the city of Cusco, the round-trip hike from the Capuliyoc trailhead to Choquequirao, an Inca citadel three times the size of Machu Picchu, requires four days.

However, industry experts are encouraged by the rapid pre-pandemic increase in travel by younger tourists to rainbow mountain, which requires a two-hour walk after a four-hour drive from Cusco. In 2019, government agencies reported it received a record 440,676 foreign visitors.

“Rainbow Mountain is not just a possibility,” said Burns, deputy tourism minister. “It’s a test of other possibilities.”

To create access to those possibilities, infrastructure projects abound.

A new airport for Cusco, offering international service, is scheduled to be completed in 2025. The development is expected to eliminate the need for 80-minute flights to Cusco from Lima, the country’s capital and home to one of five international airports. From Peru. . (Lima is also renovating its airport, which will be completed by 2025.) Similarly, Ms. Burns said a cabled gondola to Choquequirao is being planned, to be completed by 2029.

New visitors can contribute new prices. In the first eight months of 2023, the luxury hotelier Belmond’s Andean Explorer The train service from Cusco to Lake Titicaca generated $1,758 per passenger, compared to $327 in revenue per passenger for the service to Machu Picchu. Hiram Bingham Trainaccording to Carla Reyes, Belmond communications director for Peru.

“It’s a different way of experiencing and seeing things,” said Seema Kapur, director of travel design for Latin America at the Trip to Jacada agency. “But it’s not about getting up at 4 in the morning or having a long day. It is within comfort.”

This year, luxury tour group Black Tomato began itineraries to Huchuy Qosqo (a royal estate of Viracocha, the eighth Inca ruler) that include a candlelit sunset dinner by a local chef amid the ruins. . The five-night package starts at $6,800 per person, without international flights.

At the same time, a visit to Machu Picchu has become a highly choreographed experience with specific arrival times, time-limited visits, cordoned off areas, and maximum daily visitor limits (now set at 4,044).

“It was almost like the Disneyfication of the Incas,” said Rachel Rucker-Schmidt, 48, a tourist from Dallas, of her visit to Machu Picchu last summer. “It was like being back in Texas. They were all Americans, just a little less special. It was nice to see but it had a different vibe. “We had resigned ourselves to crossing it off the list.”

Then his family went to Moray, a terraced farm built by the Incas, where they met less than a dozen other tourists. “It was very intimate,” Rucker-Schmidt said. “We were often the only people there with locals.”

Her husband, Jason, 48, agreed. “I found him much more charming,” she said of Moray. “They weren’t presenting it to you in perfect condition. He remains, but not at the same level as Machu Picchu. “Everyone has the same photo of Machu Picchu.”

Moray and the eight-hour hikes the family completed across the Andean desert also resonated with his daughter, 15-year-old Trilby. “It was more of a local point of view,” she said. “We were basically in Peru’s backyard.”

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