El Nio-battered Machu Picchu

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 16-22, 1998
Living conditions in Bogota
Finding a sea-kayaking outfitter in Iceland
El Niño-battered Machu Picchu
Tackling Tuckerman's Ravine

El Niño-battered Machu Picchu
Question: We are planning a trip to climb Machu Picchu very soon. Was the damage of the fire so extensive as to make the trip now worthwhile? Is it still awe inspiring?

Annandale, New Jersey

Adventure Adviser: Machu Picchu has survived the fall of the Inca Empire, the Spanish Conquest, and the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of tourists, but it is questionable whether it will survive El Niño. Last September, the fires wreaked havoc on the ruins, cracking many of the finely-cut stones that make up the base of more than 300 buildings at the site. Carbon residue from the fires has permanently blackened some low-lying structures, and so much foliage has burned away that erosion has caused some walkways to be very unstable. According to a Peruvian environmental expert interviewed by the Houston Chronicles last January, "People who now visit the site will see only a fraction of what they would have seen a few months ago."

But that's only half the story. Last February, El Niño's torrential rains hit, causing floods and mud slides throughout the country. Although government officials say that Machu Picchu itself hasn't been affected by the slides, the U.S. State Department has issued a public announcement stating that "travelers to Peru from February to June 1998 should be aware that severe weather, including heavy rains, floods, and mudslides caused by the El Niño current is affecting land travel in some areas of the country." Road closures and bridge washouts have occurred unexpectedly and the Pan American Highway, both north and south of Lima, has been closed at times. As a result of the flooding, sanitary conditions have been worsened and an increase in cholera, malaria, and dysentery has been reported in some areas. If you decide to travel to Peru, you should contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international traveler's hotline at 404-332-4559 for the most recent update on outbreaks.

Despite the current tragedies, Machu Picchu is still considered one of the man-made wonders of the world. Though some of it will be closed to tourists until the year 2001 for reconstructive surgery, it's worth the trip. You may, however, want to wait until El Niño has exhausted her wrath.

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