Active Project

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Cusco Region, Peru

Tangible Remnants of the Inca Empire

The Cusco region attracts more than four million visitors annually - including one out of every three foreign visitors to Peru - on their way to visit Machu Picchu. The iconic royal retreat is the best-known tangible remnant of the Inca Empire, which arose out of the Andean Plateau near Cusco and grew to encompass most of the Andean highlands. The Urubamba river valley, also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, envelops a fertile agricultural landscape, punctuated by small villages of Quechua-speaking communities and dotted with the surviving remains of great Inca family estates.

Plans for a New Airport Threaten the Valley

Since it was first proposed in the 1980s, the vision of a new, modern airport that would welcome international flights from as far afield as Europe and North America has tantalized many in the regional capital. A new airport in the Sacred Valley would overcome the limitations presented by Cusco’s current airport and would make it possible for international tourists to visit the region without a necessary stop in Lima, the national capital. Following several false starts, the project is now underway.

While the material benefits of a new airport have been frequently touted, there has been little attempt to account for its social costs. The chosen location for the airport is an area of land in the plain outside Chinchero, an Andean market town of 10,000 that sustains an indigenous culture, amid fifteenth-century Inca ruins, including Inca ruler Topa Inca Yupanqui’s personal royal estate and a sixteenth century colonial church. One part of the lands for the airport was bought from Chinchero’s three peasants’ communities (Yanacona, Ayllopongo and Rachchi Ayllo) by the regional government and transferred in 2013 to the Peruvian Ministry of Transportation and Communications in a deal that would ensure informed decision-making by indigenous people were sidestepped. The revival of the project has fueled land speculation and the unregulated growth of hotels, businesses, and infrastructure, disrupting the communal ownership of land that prevailed in the Andes for centuries and inevitably fraying of the close connection between landscape and local identity that has long characterized life in the Sacred Valley.

Archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, and other experts have also raised the alarm about the physical impact of the undertaking on the material remains of Inca culture on the Chinchero plateau and on other sites nearby, such as Ollantaytambo, Moray and Maras. An online petition calling for a radical rethinking of the project has collected more than 100,000 signatures. In 2019, UNESCO requested the Peruvian Government a heritage impact assessment to evaluate the possible impacts to three World Heritage Sites in Cusco: Machu Picchu, Qhapac Ñan road network and the Historic Center of Cusco.

2020 World Monuments Watch

By including the Sacred Valley on the 2020 World Monuments Watch, WMF adds its voice to the many concerns raised about the Chinchero airport, and about the just distribution of the rewards of tourism-based development around global heritage destinations. Through the Watch we intend to continue the search for inclusive and equitable solutions to the development of the Sacred Valley.

In October and November 2020, WMF collaborated with Cusco's Regional Office of Culture to organize a talk on cultural heritage management and collective native communities' rights as well as a virtual forum on cultural heritage, tourism, and sustainability. Both events helped raise awareness of the threats to the Sacred Valley and encouraged collective action among its residents in order to reactivate tourism in the area.

In February 2021, WMF sent a letter to request Peruvian President, Francisco Sagasti, to postpone the works at the Chinchero airport until the heritage impact assessment requested by UNESCO in 2019 is approved and made public. WMF will continue to advocate for the preservation of the Sacred Valley’s cultural landscape.

Last updated: March 2021.

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