Chinchero, Peru: Outrage over new airport being built for visitors to Machu Picchu

A new airport being built close to the famed but fragile Machu Picchu has sparked international outrage, with some saying it will cause irrevocable damage to - or even destroy - the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Bulldozers have begun clearing land for the multi billion-dollar international airport at Chinchero, the gateway to the Sacred Valley in the Peruvian Andes, once the heart of the Inca Empire. 

petition against the new airport started by Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University, claims that it "endangers one of the most important historic and archeological sites in the world. 

"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," the petition, signed by archaeologists and historians from around the world, says. 

The petition calls upon Peruvian president, Martin Vizcarra, to reconsider or relocate the airport. 

New Zealand-based travel company Viva Expeditions has added its voice to the argument, saying the airport "will erode all that is considered sacred about the Sacred Valley.

"The world will gain another theme park and forever lose the special feeling of discovery when visiting Machu Picchu," the company, which specialises in trips to Latin America, said in a release. 

Viva founder Rachel Williams added: "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."

UK tour operator Responsible Travel has also started a petition agains the airport, claiming it would "destroy" the sacred site. 

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Machu Picchu already receives around double the number of visitors recommended by UNESCO, the petition notes. 

"We are gravely concerned about plans to further exploit this site, through building an international airport with direct flights from the US and Latin America.  Archaeologists believe it will lead to the destruction of Machu Picchu.  As tourists, and people working in the tourism industry, we urge the Peruvian government to reconsider this disastrous decision."

Most visitors to Machu Picchu fly into Cusco airport, which has only one runway limited to taking narrow aircraft on stopover flights from Peru's capital, Lima, and nearby cities, The Guardian reported. The new airport would allow direct flights from across Latin America and the US. 

The Peruvian government aims to complete the new airport by 2023, the report stated. 

"This airport will be built as soon as possible because it's very necessary for the city of Cusco," Peru's finance minister, Carlos Oliva, told media in April. "There's a series of technical studies which support this airport's construction." 

Set on a high plain overlooking the surrounding peaks, the village of Chinchero, about 30 kilometres from Cusco, is home to Inca ruins which include a palace, aqueduct and terraces. 

Stuff.co.nz

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