The Machu Picchu remains the country’s icon for tourist activity, but Peru’s numerous protected areas—currently a hundred strong, including privately owned and locally administered ones—are contributing just as much to national tourism. Traffic to these areas is growing by about 18% every year, according to local journal El Comercio.
Sernanp, Peru’s national agency in charge of protected areas, currently oversees 71 sites deemed to require government protection. There are 11 more overseen by the regional administrations and 31 that are privately owned, according to Sernanp specialist Juan Carlos Heaton. They cover roughly14.5% of Peru’s land area.
Of these, only about 15 are open to tourism, but all may possibly be developed into tourist sites down the road. Among the most visited in recent years are the Huascaran National Mark Tingo María, Pacaya-Samiria, Tambopata, Paracas, and the Titicaca National Reserve.
Heaton expects some 870,000 tourists to visit these sites this year, up from about 749,000 last year and from 630,000 in 2009. Revenue from these visits will help raise funds for further maintenance and improvement of the sites, as well as the economy of small neighboring towns, he added.
Sernanp promotes the protected areas and ensures the safety of locals and visitors largely with funding from Peru’s Ministry of Environment. It also works with regional tourism groups, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police, and PromPerú, the country’s tourism and export promotion agency.
To keep the tourist traffic from leaving too big a footprint on the local environment, Sernanp has put plans in place to control tourist use and impose regulations on both visitors and tourism companies. Specialists are assigned to each site, where they will plan preservation measures according to particular visitor types and the area’s specific needs.
Peru has long set the example for the conservation and management of protected sites in South America, along with its neighbor Brazil. Since the 1960s, says Heaton, the country has imposed controls on biodiversity conservation and the reduction of environmental footprints, all while continuing to attract visitors and stimulate international tourism.
Natural protected areas were first designated in the Constitution of Peru in 1993, during which a map of 63 naturally, historically, and culturally significant sites was laid out. The list has since grown substantially, and Peru is now known as one of the world’s most megadiverse countries (those that hold a large part of the earth’s living species).