Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru

Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru

Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru

Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru

Synopsis

Speaking at a 1913 National Geographic Society gala, Hiram Bingham III, the American explorer celebrated for finding the "lost city" of the Andes two years earlier, suggested that Machu Picchu "is an awful name, but it is well worth remembering." Millions of travelers have since followed Bingham's advice. When Bingham first encountered Machu Picchu, the site was an obscure ruin. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is the focus of Peru's tourism economy. Mark Rice's history of Machu Picchu in the twentieth century--from its "discovery" to today's travel boom--reveals how Machu Picchu was transformed into both a global travel destination and a powerful symbol of the Peruvian nation.

Rice shows how the growth of tourism at Machu Picchu swayed Peruvian leaders to celebrate Andean culture as compatible with their vision of a modernizing nation. Encompassing debates about nationalism, Indigenous peoples' experiences, and cultural policy--as well as development and globalization--the book explores the contradictions and ironies of Machu Picchu's transformation. On a broader level, it calls attention to the importance of tourism in the creation of national identity in Peru and Latin America as a whole.

Excerpt

Speaking at a National Geographic Society gala in 1913, Hiram Bingham, the explorer celebrated for uncovering the famed “lost city” of the Andes less than two years earlier, confessed that Machu Picchu “is an awful name, but it is well worth remembering.” For over a century, it appears that millions of travelers have followed Bingham’s advice. When Bingham first arrived at Machu Picchu in 1911, the site was an obscure ruin. Now, Machu Picchu serves as the focus of a burgeoning tourism economy centered on the Cusco region of Peru. in 2017 alone, 1.5 million tourists visited Machu Picchu. It is the key attraction of a tourism industry that contributes $7.6 billion annually to the Peruvian economy and forms 3.9 percent of Peru’s national gdp. As Machu Picchu has evolved into a travel destination, so has its cultural prominence. Once considered a forgotten city, Machu Picchu is now known on a global scale. Spurred by tourism, Machu Picchu has become the central subject in numerous outlets that range from serious scholarly inquiries to television commercials marketing mobile phones. Machu Picchu’s increased touristic prominence has led the site to acquire its most important contemporary role: it serves as a powerful symbol of Peru that directly links its national identity to an Andean and Inca past. This book tells the story of how Machu Picchu came to occupy such a prominent place in Peruvian national identity and of the role tourism has played in its transformation.

It is tempting to think that Machu Picchu’s emergence as one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations was predestined from the moment Bingham arrived at the site in 1911. the tourist industry, which specializes in the fashioning of certain sites as sacred and fantastic, certainly has helped create the mythologized image of Machu Picchu as a lost city untouched by time. Yet, as historian Donna Brown reminds us, “Tourism is not destiny, imposed on a community or a region.” Even the development of most sui generis sites, including Machu Picchu, depended on pragmatic decisions to build political consensus, construct infrastructure, and create a cultural meaning attractive to travelers. Hal Rothman, analyzing tourism development in the U.S. West, observed that even the Grand Canyon “would remain no more than a remote geologic oddity” without the actions of developers, locals, and the state that transformed the site into a tourism destination.

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