Machu Picchu is an Inca royal estate constructed in the mid-15th century in Peru’s picturesque high jungle. As a seasonal retreat for celebrations, religious rituals, and administrative affairs when the Incas traveled beyond Cuzco, Machu Picchu was abandoned soon after Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Andes in 1531. The site was largely lost to the Western world until 1911, when a Yale University expedition led by Hiram Bingham lay claim to the scientific and historical “discovery” of the impressive complex of white-granite buildings and agricultural terraces. Contentious debates over cultural patrimony, conservation, indigenous rights, and neoliberal exploitation have enhanced Machu Picchu’s allure as one of the most famous archaeological remains in the Western Hemisphere.
The history of Colombian national parks started in 1948 with the establishment of a reserve for scientific research, which stood alone until the 1960s, when various state agencies created a few parks with quite different goals in mind, including preserving imposing landscapes and conserving water. This rather casual development changed after the growing international concern for the environment led to the creation of an environmental agency in 1968 and the enactment of an environmental code in 1974, which served as institutional platform for the planned expansion of a system of national parks based largely on ecological criteria.
Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the Office of National Parks has confronted its weakness by establishing parks which confer legal protection on areas whose natural attributes were deemed valuable. Such a strategy has led to confrontations with local populations living in and around parks, whose rights to resource use have been hampered. The office’s incapacity to properly enforce rules and its attempts to work with rural communities, especially indigenous groups, have to some extent mitigated such tensions. It has further sought to enlist the support of the middle classes and been forced to deal with illegal armed groups on the left and the right, as well as the national army, vying for territorial control. Although parks have not fulfilled their ideal, they have fostered the notion that the nation has a natural patrimony and have contributed decisively to its conservation.