From the happening capital of Lima to cobblestoned Andean villages, Peru leaves an indelible impression as a place of incredible diversity, bustling commerce and innovation. The past decade has seen Peru emerge as one of the region's fastest growing economies. Though the pace of progress has slowed, there are many positives. That doesn’t mean there are no tangles to be worked out – environmental woes, a growing drug trade and political uncertainty – but by and large, Peru is finding its way.
A Culture of Pay-offs
Want to test your Spanish? See how well you can follow Peruvian politics as analyzed by your disgruntled Lima taxi driver. It isn’t easy. In the past few years, national events have taken more twists and turns than an Andean highway. It goes something like this. In 2017, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was found to have taken payoffs from a scandal-ridden construction company. His impeachment stalled for a lack of votes – votes that were later shown to be bought by his supporters. Kuczynski eventually resigned and was replaced by Vice President Martin Vizcarra in 2018.
Just several months afterward, tapes emerged showing judges negotiating fees for favorable court decisions. Since the executive branch has the power to name judges, it revealed a potentially infinite cycle of political corruption. A spate of judges, including the president of the judiciary, resigned after the scandal. Yet the public still clamors for reforms with public protests in cities throughout the country. One could say the roots of corruption run deep. In the time of the Spanish colony, local authorities and viceroys operated under a system of tributes that likely set the stage for future mischief.
Over the past decade, Peru has had one of the region’s fastest growing economies, averaging at a rate of 5.9%, according to World Bank data. No small feat, the national poverty rate has been halved in the mere space of a decade. However, the good times haven’t trickled down to everyone: rural areas account for 44% of the population below the poverty line, with indigenous populations and the Andean highlands hit the hardest.
Between 2014 and 2017, Peru’s growth slowed, largely in response to the drop in the price of its main export, copper, in the international market. Many think the economy is poised to rebound, both with industry, including growing mining profits, and investments in infrastructure. Tourism is also big: the number of foreign travelers going to Peru almost tripled between 2003 and 2014 from 1.3 to 3.2 million.
Growth has its own painful costs. Mining has caused serious environmental concerns, with heavy metal pollution a huge issue in mining communities. Another issue is overvisitation wearing on Machu Picchu, the continent’s number one attraction. And then there's fast population growth: the influx of 400,000 Venezuelan refugees in one year, with more on the way, is straining infrastructure and social services. Yet it’s outside forces in the pipeline, like volatile international markets and local climate instability, that may have the greatest influence in shaping the coming years.
The Machu Picchu Gold Rush
When two tourist trains collided in the middle of the 2018 high season, injuring 15 people, the fever pitch of Machu Picchu visitation was finally seeing hard consequences. With 1.3 million visitors in 2016, the site visitation increased 38% over five years. Seems becoming one of the New Seven Wonders of the World has its price.
Unesco has long been pressuring for better control of visitation at the site. In response, Machu Picchu introduced timed entry tickets in July 2017, with morning and afternoon sessions. While visitation is now more evenly distributed throughout the day, even more tourists are allowed in on a daily basis, with administrators even considering adding a third time slot, which would put even greater demands on local transportation and infrastructure.
Proposals to build a tram to whisk visitors up to the ancient citadel have some rechristening the site Disney Picchu. A sister site to Machu Picchu, the ruins of Choquequirao, could go the same route. Today reaching the Inca ruins involves a hard four-day round-trip trek. A proposed tram could transport 2000 visitors daily (versus the 30 current daily visitors) in a 15-minute tram ride. Some responsible Cuzco tour operators have already responded to the Machu Picchu quandary by offering a more diverse portfolio of tours to disperse the overflow. Many in the tourism industry fear the eventual consequences of overexploitation.