Machu Picchu stands 2,430 m above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.
Embedded within a dramatic landscape at the meeting point between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Inca civilization. Recognized for outstanding cultural and natural values, the mixed World Heritage property covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys surrounding its heart, the spectacular archaeological monument of “La Ciudadela” (the Citadel) at more than 2,400 meters above sea level. Built in the fifteenth century Machu Picchu was abandoned when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. It was not until 1911 that the archaeological complex was made known to the outside world.
The approximately 200 structures making up this outstanding religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural centre are set on a steep ridge, crisscrossed by stone terraces. Following a rigorous plan the city is divided into a lower and upper part, separating the farming from residential areas, with a large square between the two. To this day, many of Machu Picchu’s mysteries remain unresolved, including the exact role it may have played in the Incas’ sophisticated understanding of astronomy and domestication of wild plant species.
The massive yet refined architecture of Machu Picchu blends exceptionally well with the stunning natural environment, with which it is intricately linked. Numerous subsidiary centres, an extensive road and trail system, irrigation canals and agricultural terraces bear witness to longstanding, often on-going human use. The rugged topography making some areas difficult to access has resulted in a mosaic of used areas and diverse natural habitats. The Eastern slopes of the tropical Andes with its enormous gradient from high altitude “Puna” grasslands and Polylepis thickets to montane cloud forests all the way down towards the tropical lowland forests are known to harbour a rich biodiversity and high endemism of global significance. Despite its small size the property contributes to conserving a very rich habitat and species diversity with remarkable endemic and relict flora and fauna.
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments, and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery.
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The state-owned Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is an integral part of Peru’s national protected areas system and enjoys protection through several layers of a comprehensive legal framework for both cultural and natural heritage. The boundaries of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu are clearly defined and the protected area is surrounded by a buffer zone exceeding the size of the property.
The Management Unit of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu (UGM) was established in 1999 to lead the strategies contained in the Master Plans, which are the regularly updated governing documents for the management of the property. UGM was reactivated in 2011 and is comprised of representatives of the Ministries of Culture, Environment and Foreign Trade and Tourism, the Regional Government of Cusco, serving as the President of the Executive Committee, and the local municipality of Machu Picchu. A platform bringing together key governmental representatives at all levels is indispensable for the management of a property which forms part of Peru’s very identity and is the country’s primary domestic and international tourist destination.
Notwithstanding the adequate legislative and formal management framework, there are important challenges to the inter-institutional governance and the effectiveness of management and protection of the property. The dispersed legislation would benefit from further harmonization and despite existing efforts the involvement of various ministries and governmental levels ranging from local to national remains a complex task, including in light of the sharing of the significant tourism revenues. Tourism itself represents a double-edged sword by providing economic benefits but also by resulting in major cultural and ecological impacts. The strongly increasing number of visitors to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu must be matched by an adequate management regulating access, diversifying the offer and efforts to fully understand and minimize impacts. A larger appropriate and increasing share of the significant tourism revenues could be re-invested in planning and management. The planning and organization of transportation and infrastructure construction, as well as the sanitary and safety conditions for both tourists and new residents attracted by tourism requires the creation of high quality and new long-term solutions, and is a significant ongoing concern.
Since the time of inscription consistent concerns have been expressed about ecosystem degradation through logging, firewood and commercial plant collection, poor waste management, poaching, agricultural encroachment in the absence of clear land tenure arrangements, introduced species and water pollution from both urban waste and agro-chemicals in the Urubamba River, in addition from pressures derived from broader development in the region. It is important to remember that the overall risks are aggravated by the location in a high altitude with extreme topography and weather conditions and thus susceptibility to natural disasters. Continuous efforts are needed to comply with protected areas and other legislation and plans and prevent further degradation. There is also great potential for restoring degraded areas.