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Machu Picchu site at risk

From Times Staff And Wires

1 Peru

Calls are mounting for limiting visitors to the fragile Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, an increasingly popular tourist destination.

Some have suggested closing South America’s preeminent archeological monument one or two days a week as the number of annual visitors soars toward 1 million -- more than a tenfold increase since the early 1990s.

“We all know that Machu Picchu is in danger, that it can’t take many more people and we could lose it,” said Patricio Valderrama, a geologist with Peru’s Geologic Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. “We have to think about what is needed to be done to save it.”

U.N. officials have also voiced concern about the ancient complex, which is listed as a World Heritage Site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

No decision to limit access has been made, and the issue is extremely sensitive in a nation where tourism is a booming business. Peruvian President Alan Garcia recently referred to fears about Machu Picchu’s imminent demise as “alarmist.”

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The return of political stability to Peru and Machu Picchu’s haunting splendor and mystical aura have generated a virtual stampede to the “lost city,” which Hiram Bingham, a Yale University academic and explorer, stumbled across in 1911.

The sanctuary was likely abandoned about the time of the Spaniards’ arrival in Peru, experts say. Vegetation reclaimed the Inca haven until its revival as a must-see spot in the 20th century.

The current onslaught is contributing to destabilization of the structures. In 2000, a crew filming a beer commercial damaged the iconic Intiwatana, a ceremonial stone. And the Inca Trail, a 30-mile path to the ruins, has suffered from litter, muggings and crowding. A section is now closed every February.

2 Bermuda

A company that organizes cruises for gay and lesbian families canceled a planned July port call in this British island territory, citing concerns that church-led protesters would greet the ship. Premier Ewart Brown said his government was “saddened” by the decision of R Family Vacations, co-founded by Kelli Carpenter O’Donnell, the partner of TV personality Rosie O’Donnell, and maintains a policy of “inclusion and acceptance” of all visitors.

3 Ecuador

Declaring the world-famous Galapagos Islands at risk, Ecuador was considering limiting tourism permits to prevent further ecological damage. “We are pushing for a series of actions to overcome the huge institutional, environmental and social crisis in the islands,” President Rafael Correa said after signing an emergency decree.

4 Greece

The Greek government said it could take weeks to pump hundreds of tons of oil trapped in the tanks of a cruise ship that sank off the island of Santorini. A French tourist and his daughter were missing and feared drowned. Environmentalists said leaks from the Sea Diamond could produce a huge oil slick.

5 Caution spots

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned Americans against flying on Indonesian airlines after a string of accidents. It said Indonesia’s civil aviation authority did not meet international safety standards.

Separately, the State Department continued to urge Americans “to evaluate carefully the risks of travel to Indonesia,” citing the possibility of terrorist attacks.

The department also updated a public announcement on Mexico, saying visitors “should exercise caution when in unfamiliar areas” because of protests and drug violence.

More than 35 nations were mentioned in public announcements and warnings. For a full list, visit www.travel.state.gov.


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