Peru's Incan ruins under seige

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The ruined Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman

If you've always had a craving to visit the ancient Incan wonders of Peru, better hurry. And, if you go, please watch your step -- in every sense of the word.

While the financially depressed South American nation has only recently begun being noticed for its upscale spa and resort facilities (see stories here and here), the effects of years of unthinking tourism have begun to be spotted as well.

The ruins of the famous Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman, for example, have been defaced with a large accumulation of modern graffiti, much of it with indelible-ink pens.

"Its sad that these things happen," Park Director Washington Camacho told the newspaper El Comercio. "Our security covers 80% of the park and we're getting better at it, but there is also a lack of respect" from visitors.

The ruins are located on a hilltop above Cuzco, the ancient Incan capital. Archaologists say the fortress was built in the 1100s by the Killke culture and later enlarged during the Inca empire, which flourished from the 1400s until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.

Cuzco is the center of Peruvian tourism today, a starting point for tours and individual visitors to begin their treks through the Andes mountains to the famous Machu Picchu jungle ruins.

David Sheppard, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told the Reuters news agency, "Machu Picchu faces a lot of ... challenges relating to tourism, uncontrolled growth of urban settlements, landslides, fires, etc."

He said the IUCN wants Machu Picchu, built in the 15th Century, to be added to a list of about 30 endangered sites worldwide among a total of 851 properties overseen by the United Natrions Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A danger listing can help mobilize donors but can be seen as criticism of current protection policies, Reuters noted.

"We haven't heard from Peru," he said. "We're not trying to blow a whistle. We're trying to identify the practical responses."

He cited an alleged lack of sufficient control over the number of visitor as well as building expansion of the town of Aguas Calientes in the valley below the Inca site among major threats.

"There needs to be a much tighter tourism management plan," Sheppard said. "Some of the urban planning needs to be much more tightly controlled."

Scattered citizen protests have popped up around Peru, opposing two new tourism laws that would ease restrictions on construction -- mostly hotels -- near archeological sites and historic zones.

The Congress responded in February by modifying the laws to allow regional and local governments more power in determining private development around cultural treasures, including Machu Picchu.
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