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UW Alumni Tours Blog

Archive for November, 2012

Protecting the World’s Wonders: Machu Picchu and the Galapagos

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

UW Alumni Tours has just added an additional departure for an amazing tour of Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. With only 20 spaces each, these packages routinely sell out, so act today to reserve your spot!

The ruins at Machu Picchu are an archaeological wonder. Nearly intact after centuries of neglect, this site truly lets the visitor walk in the footsteps of the ancients and see how they lived their daily lives. Likewise, the Galapagos Islands are a remarkably diverse and fragile natural preserve, kept safe from the depredations of hunters for millennia. How is it possible that these two places survived through the ages?

Well, for starters, for much of their histories, both places were remarkably difficult to get to.

Machu Picchu

A UW Alumni Tours group shows their Husky Pride near Machu Picchu

Nestled high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the small settlement of Machu Picchu served as an estate for the Inca emperors for a little over a century until the time of the Spanish conquest. Despite its location near Cuzco, the Spanish never found it. While reports of a fabulous ruined city in the mountains began trickling out as early as the 1870’s, it wasn’t until 1911, when an 11-year-old Quechua buy led the American historian Hiram Bingham to the site, that word started to get out. Even then, for decades getting to Machu Picchu involved a multi-day trek over steep mountain passes. Now a train will take you to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (there is still no road), and you can hike the rest of the way or take a bus in about an hour.

Machu Picchu’s remote location and its fame as an archeological site have led some people to attempt shortcuts. Bridges, cable cars, and highways have all been proposed, and from the 1980s into the 1990s, it was possible to hire a helicopter to land you right in Machu Picchu’s central courtyard.

These days, the Peruvian government is taking steps to limit the number of tourists who go through Machu Picchu. Visitors are limited to 2,000 each day, and access to the inner citadel is further limited to just 400. There is only one hotel at the site, the 31-room Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge; everybody else must head back down to stay further away. (By the way: The UW Alumni Tours Machu Picchu and the Galapagos tour includes a night’s stay at the Sanctuary Lodge, meaning travelers will have access to the site after everybody leaves in the evening and before anyone arrives the next morning)

Traveler with Turtle

This traveler with UW Alumni Tours learns that, if you play it cool, the Galapagos wildlife may come to you.

While Machu Picchu was hidden away fairly close to populated areas, the Galapagos Islands owe their preservation to their extreme isolation. Over 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos have very little fresh water to support human settlement. Despite some evidence of pre-Columbian visits to the island, there is no sign the islands were ever permanently inhabited before they were charted by the Spanish in the 16th Century. The first known permanent human resident on Galapagos was an Irish sailor who was marooned there for two years in the early 1800’s. Before that, it was used as a hideout for English pirates preying upon Spanish treasure galleons headed home with holds full of Peruvian silver.

The next few hundred years brought the usual environmental impacts of growing human settlements. Along with the pirates, whalers used the islands as a stopping-off point, introducing rats, goats, pigs, dogs and cats to some of the islands. In 1820, a fire lit by a whaling crew burned out of control and destroyed the island of Floreana.  In 2001, an oil spill threatened the islands, but winds and ocean currents helped disperse the oil before much damage was done. The islands have been a national park since 1930, but it was not until the late 1950s that real conservation efforts began to take place, attempting to balance needs of the delicate ecosystems of the islands with research and tourism.

Today, the islands are home to about 25,000 people, half of whom live in the town of Puerto Ayora.  Tourism is strictly controlled, with access to about 97% of the islands requiring the presence of a licensed guide for every 16 members of a group, and access to the park islands is often booked up months in advance.

Working with a reputable travel program, like UW Alumni Tours, makes sure every leg of your trip is on the up-and-up, so these remarkable natural and cultural treasures are protected for future generations.

Find out more about UW Alumni Tours Machu Picchu & the Galapagos tour.