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Gadfly and flowers (Photo: Juan Luis Tord)
Wildcat (Photo: Juan Luis Tord)
Condors (Photo: Juan Luis Tord)
The Inca Trail (Photo: PromPeru)
Girl and llamas (Photo: Héctor Mazzotti)
Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu


Source: UNESCO

Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

VI (Managed Resource Protected Area)
Natural / Cultural World Heritage Site - Natural Criteria ii, iii / Cultural Criteria i, iii

8.35.12 (Yungas)

The site is located on the highest part of the eastern Andes, above the Rio Urubamba and northwest of Cusco (Cusco Department). The park is accessible by road or by rail from the lower valley and then bus or car to the ruins. 13°10'S, 72°33'W

Created as a historical sanctuary (Santuario Histórico) on 8 January 1981, under Law (Supreme Resolution) DS 001-81-AA. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1983.

AREA 32,592ha

Private ownership (property of four main "predios": Mandorpampa, Q'ente, Torontoy and Santa Rita de Q'ente).

ALTITUDE Ranges from 1,800 m. to 3,800 m. above sea level.

The site lies in the Selva Alta zone, and includes part of a highly dissected mountain massif of the high Andes plateau, which rises steeply from the Urubamba River valley. The area around the ruins of Machu Picchu consists of many rocky pinnacles with exposures supporting thin soils, although the area also includes sites with complex systems of old Inca terraced land constructed to conserve the soils. The Urubamba alluvial basin is an almost continuous zone of arable and pastoral farming land. Geologically the area is very complex, being a combination of marine sedimentary rocks of the Cretaceous-Tertiary period and intrusive volcanic material, including lavas and granites. The sedimentary deposits include Ordovician schists, slates and quartzite. Streams and rivers feed the major Rio Urubamba valley system as well as a number of smaller valleys in the north such as that of Quillabamba (MAA, 1986).

The annual temperature averages 16°C and annual rainfall is between 1500 mm and 3000 mm at low altitudes. At 2,500 m altitude the average temperature drops to 10.2°C, and annual rainfall is 2170 mm. The dry season lasts from May to September and the wet season from October to April.

The site has been influenced by man for many centuries, leading to a combination of man-made habitats, paramo grassland, Polylepis thickets, partially degraded virgin forest and former cultivated land which has reverted back to forest or scrub. At lower altitudes, patches of woodland predominate, their extent being dependant upon past human interference, especially during the Inca period. The vegetation rises from the dry subtropical forest along the river valleys to the very humid low montane forest. Trees represented in the denser woodland include locally endangered mahogany Swietenia macrophylla and species of the following genera; Ceder, Podocarpus (the only conifer in Peru), Lauraceae Ocotea, Cunoniaceae Weinmannia, Nectandra and Cecropia. A number of tree ferns are present, including Cyathea sp. and also palms such as Geromoina sp., Guasca sp. and Riupala sp. (MAA, 1981). Reeds Phragmites sp., willow and alder occur around rivers and streams, whilst open grassland, low shrubs and scattered thickets of Polylepis sp. and bamboo are found close to the ruins (Parker et al, 1982). The high altitude subalpine paramo includes many Graminae, Festuca sp., Stipa sp. and Puya sp. such as P. raimondii (I). The mountain ridges are characterised by bamboo Gaudua sp. (Parker et al., 1982).

Mammals include otter Lutra longicaudis, dwarf brocket deer Mazama chunyii, long-tailed weasel Mustela frenata, Pampas cat Felis colocolo and ocelot Felis pardalis. One of the most threatened species found within the area is spectacled bear Tremarctos ornatus (V) (Jorgenson, 1982). The bird community includes Andean condor Vultur gryphus and Andean cock-of-the-rock Rupicola peruviana. Low altitude areas and agricultural fields are characterised by the presence of mountain caracaras Phalcobaenus megalopterus and Andean lapwing Vanellus resplendus, whilst red-backed hawk Buteo polysoma, American kestrel Falco sparverius, speckled teal Anas flavirostris and Andean gull Larus serranus. Torrent duck Merganetta armata, white-capped dipper Cinclus leucocephalus and fasciated tiger-heron Tigrisoma lineatum are found in narrow stream valleys are associated with riverside trees. Species around the ruins include black-tailed trainbearer Lesbia victoriae, white-winged black-tyrant Knipolegus aterrimus, tufted tit tyrant Anairetes alpinus, cinereous conebill Conirostrum cinereum, blue-capped tanager Thraupis cyanocephala and rufous-collared sparrow Zonotrichia capensis. In addition, a new species of wren Thryothorus has been observed in the bamboo thickets (Parker et al., 1982). Snakes such as Boa sp. are present and there are numerous lizards and frogs in the damper areas.

The park was established to protect the landscape of the renowned Machu Picchu archaeological site, founded by the Inca culture. It is thought that it was a royal Inca residence and was perhaps the centre for collecting coca from surrounding plantations. The site eventually fell into ruin, was covered by the encroaching forest, and 'lost to science' until re-discovery in 1911. There are also the remains of the Inca Way in the area, and local legends, including that of the spectacled bear, which is thought to serve as a messenger between the spirits of the high elevations and those of the jungle (Anon, 1981).

Much of the park area is settled with many small campesino communities and farms especially on the lower slopes. The original inhabitants were skilled in irrigation and built terraces and drainage which extend long distances across irregular ground. Agriculture (maize and barley) and livestock grazing (llamas, cattle and sheep) are the dominant economic activities and occur in over 20,000ha of the park. The local economy is also supported by tourists visiting the Inca ruins (MAA, 1981; Peyton, 1983). The nearby city of Cusco was the Inca capital and still remains an important town with over 105,000 inhabitants. It is the administrative and commercial centre for a considerable part of the Urubamba basin (INRENA, pers. comm., 1995).

In the mid 1980s, some 180,000 people annually visited the Inca Trail and the ruins. More recently, the figure has risen to 300,000, including 7,000 on the Inca trails (Ferreyros, 1988). Accommodation includes a hotel and camping facilities. A museum exists at the ruins and there are plans to develop the area further for tourism.

Since 1982, research has been undertaken on the ecology of the spectacled bear in cooperation with the New York Zoological Society (Peyton, 1982). Vegetation transects have been undertaken, and over 4,500 herbarium specimens have been collected. Numerous bird studies have been made (Parker et al., 1982).

This urban creation of the Inca Empire, which appears to have been naturally cut in the continuous rock escarpment, is an area of outstanding natural beauty which encompasses patches of high altitude habitats and associated wildlife. The site also harbours populations of the threatened spectacled bear.


  • Anon. (1988). Fire reaps havoc in wildlife sanctuary. Animals international. VIII/27. p4.
  • Anon. (1988b). Fire claim jungle bears. The Guardian newspaper. 17 August, 1988. p5.
  • Dourojeanni, M.J. (1985). Management problems in the Andean National Parks and protected areas of Peru. In The Hindu Kush-Himalaya. Kathmandu: King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and the International Centre for integrated mountain development 159-161pp.
  • Ferreyros, A. (1988). Situación actual de los Parques Nacionales y Otras Unidades de Conservación en El Perú. Asociación de Ecología y Conservación.
  • Jorgenson, J.P (1982). Peru report. Spectacled bear specialist group Newsletter 3. 6-8.
  • Jorgenson, J.P (1983). Peru field report. Spectacled bear specialist group Newsletter 4. 11-12.
  • MAA (1981). Lista de información actualizada sobre unidades de conservación. Ministerio de Agricultura y Alimentación, Lima. Report. 2pp
  • Parker, T.A. (1980). Notes on little known birds of the upper Urubamba Valley, southern Peru. Auk 97: 167-176.
  • Parker, T.A. and J.P. O'Neill (1976). An introduction to bird-finding in Peru: Part II. The Carpish Pass Region of the Eastern Andes along the Central Highway. Birding 8: 205-216.
  • Parker, T.A., Parker, S.A. and Plenge, M.A. (1982). An annotated checklist of Peruvian birds. Buteo books, Vermillion, South Dakota.
  • Peru (1981). Machu Picchu. World Heritage nomination.
  • Peyton, B. (1983). Spectacled bear habitat use in the historical sanctuary of Machu Picchu and adjacent areas. Abstract of paper presented at the 6th international conference on bear research and management, presented by the Bear Biology Association, The Grand Canyon Squire Inn, Arizona, February 18-22.
  • Plan COPESCO (1974) Machu Picchu Report and plan. Centro de Servicios del Parque Nacional Machu Picchu. 114 pp

DATE August 1987, revised May 1989, September 1989 and May 1990, August 1995

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