Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic symbols of Peru and the Inca culture, but urban development threatens this archaeological treasure. UNESCO, the United Nations-run organization that protects historical and natural sites around the world, recently launched an evaluation to determine the level of preservation of Machu Picchu. The investigators found more stringent regulations are necessary to protect the ancient ruins.

"The authorities charged with protecting the archeological sites of Machu Picchu, located in the Cusco region, must take rigorous emergency measures to counter the growing disorganization of Aguas Calientes," Nuria Sanz, head of UNESCO for Latin America and the Caribbean, told the AFP (Agence France Presse) during a mission to Peru.

Located high in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu is a window into Incan civilization and one of the marvels of the old world. The mountainside city was designed to work with its natural surroundings. The raw materials used to construct Machu Picchu and the layout of the city have played a significant role in the preservation of the site thus far.

However, the increased urbanization of the surrounding area poses a threat to Machu Picchu's longevity. UNESCO has asked for the help of Peruvian officials in an effort to preserve the area. The nearest modern town, Aguas Calientes, is rapidly growing, as more hotels, restaurants and other businesses are springing in congruence with more visitors flocking to the area. Officials are calling for better management of this town as well as Machu Picchu to protect both areas.

As the number of people visiting Machu Picchu grows, there is more foot traffic passing through Aguas Calientes. The Peruvian government has taken measures to reduce the number of visitors to the citadel, and in July 2011 began limiting the number of entry tickets to be sold each day. This resulted in several well-publicized protests by backpackers and other visitors who had not pre-purchased their entry permits and could not visit Machu Picchu during the site’s 100 year anniversary celebrations. IE includes two entry permits per guest on our small-group Machu Picchu tours.

Travelers planning to visit this area should take care to leave as small of a footprint behind as possible, as the region is not only an archeological treasure, but also a home to many animals. Creatures like the spectacled bear, Andean cock-of-the-rock, ocelot, pampas cat, long-tailed weasel and even the boa make their home among the ruins, but a heavier human presence could pose a serious threat to this ecosystem if care is not taken. When you visit Machu Picchu, you will be able to learn about the animals living in the area as well as the people who called the mountains home.

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