Tourism is an insufficiently developed economic activity in Peru, for various reasons including the great complexity of the country’s geography. Modern methods of geographic analysis together with images taken in air and land surveys help identify promising regions of the country for ecotourism in the eastern mountainous rainforests of the Andes, in particular the Ene River Basin. Due to its remoteness and difficult access, development there has been neglected by both the government and the private sector. Some of these areas have become a haven for settlers who engage in illegal economic activities which seriously damage the environment and the traditional livelihood of the region’s ancestral inhabitants. A solution to the present crisis is proposed through an ecotourism project which would take advantage of the countless attractive features of the region. This project requires serious interdisciplinary studies to design imaginative uses of the areas, and serious state support.

KEYWORDS: ecotourism, Ashaninka natives, narcotraffic, depredation, interdisciplinary studies, sustainable development




The extreme complexity of the Peruvian Geography, which is at the root of its great biological and ethnic diversity, is a barrier to the development of the country due to the difficulty of establishing efficient routes of transport. Many important archaeological sites and attractive places for ecotourism are either in faraway high places with poor roads or in the middle of the jungle with no infrastructure. In addition, Peru has serious economic, environmental and social problems which in the short run limit its ability to take advantage of its potential for sustainable development. This is reflected in insufficient investment in infrastructure.

The zones with the best ecotourism potential, the rainforests at the eastern foothills of the Andes, are seriously threatened by illegal logging and coca production for narcotraffic. The Ene river basin is one of these zones.

Rapid progress in information technology, together with the growing number of high resolution satellite images, give us increasingly useful tools and data for studying the geography of Peru. The coca producing areas are being monitored with greater accuracy [1] , and this enables us to better diagnose the problems of different regions, especially the Apurimac-Ene region, the largest producer of coca in Peru. Expeditions are more effectively planned using modern technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS) combined with high resolution digital photography and satellite imagery, giving us an in-depth view of many regions hitherto unknown to the world. Moreover, these elements are important aids for planning sustainable development projects.

This paper gives a general view of the geography of Peru and its relation to tourism, a more detailed view of the Ene river basin and surroundings, its people, its problems, its natural features, and a project proposal for developing ecotourism in an area around the Cutivireni and Quempiri sub-basins. This area, with an advantageous central location for air access, has a large number of attractive and unique natural features, and thus a great potential for ecotourism, but is presently almost totally undeveloped due to various factors analyzed here. This present situation, however, is in a way a favorable circumstance for ecotourism, since the natural beauty of large parts of the region remains almost intact to date.

Finally I shall mention some strategic considerations and suggestions for overcoming potential obstacles to the proposed project in the target area of the Ene River Basin.



The following maps and data convey a very general view of the Peruvian Geography and the Ene region. The information presented in this document should be supplemented by access to integrated GIS software with the gradual addition of graphic and descriptive elements. Google Earth provides information of this type through layers such as Panoramio and Places of Interest.

TOPOGRAPHY: The following topographical maps are derived from the Digital Elevation Model (DEM) obtained from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission – SRTM (US Geological Survey 2003).

Figure 1 is a shaded relief map of Peru as a whole, showing the highly irregular surface of the country in the Andes mountain region.

Figures 2 and 3 are two topographic maps of the Ene river basin and surroundings.

Figure 2 shows elevations with altitude intervals of 500 meters, derived from the continuous DEM by reclassification, a basic GIS function.

Figure 3 shows slopes derived from the continuous DEM, with the following intervals in degrees: 0-5, 5-10, 10-20, 20-40 and 40-up.  In this map it can clearly be seen that the 20 kilometer long area between the Quempiri and Ene rivers is almost flat, with a slope of less than 5 degrees, which would make it apt for establishing an airport of considerable size, subject to a detailed study of the terrain.


POLITICAL DIVISIONS OF PERU: 24 Departments (Regions), 195 Provinces and 1831 Districts.

Figure 4 gives a map corresponding to the 24 Departments. The Department of Junin is highlighted because it contains the Ene river basin, the main subject of this article. Population density is shown for each Department as inhabitants per square Kilometer.

Figures 5 and 6 show the political divisions of the Department of Junin.

Figure 5 shows the eight Provinces of Junin with their population densities.

Figure 6 shows the eight Districts of the Province of Satipo with their population densities. The main attractive features of the Ene river basin are contained in the District of Rio Tambo, which is the largest District in the Province of Satipo, and at the same time the one with the smallest population density.


ARCHAEOLOGY: Peru has thousands of archaeological sites covering a period of more than 5,000 years, many of which are in locations practically inaccessible at present, others are being excavated and do not have adequate facilities for tourists. There may be some important sites not yet discovered due to the extraordinarily difficult geography of the country, especially in the Eastern flank of the Andes which combines steep mountains and canyons with dense rainforests. This was the case of the famous archaeological site of Machupicchu until the year 1911 when it was discovered by Hiram Bingham in a remote location in the high jungle of southeastern Peru.

Figure 7 shows the location of some of the main archaeological sites in Peru. Since the area of interest around the Ene river basin has not been explored for archaeological remains, we insert a question mark in that area (see section on archaeological potential).


ATTRACTIVE LAND FEATURES: Some of the main natural geographic attractions of Peru are shown in Figure 8. It includes protected natural areas, especially beautiful waterfalls, caverns, canyons, “stone forests”, lakes, plateaus and beaches.


BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: The mega-biodiversity of Peru is related to its 84 “life zones” (INRENA 1995) that are in turn related to the varied topography of the Andes mountains. Another determining factor is the presence of the cold Humboldt current that flows parallel to the Peruvian coast. The total number of plant species in Peru is estimated at 25,000, 10% of the world total (Brack 2000). Table I gives a general idea of the number of endemic plant species as a function of the type of ecologic region (Leon 2006).

Peru is also mega-diverse in animal wildlife. It ranks 5th in the world in reptiles and amphibians (Duellman 2005) and 3rd in birds (Clements & Shany 2001). Of the 508 identified species of mammals, 12.8% are endemic, located mostly in the Eastern flank of the Andes (Yungas) and in the Amazon jungle (Pacheco et al 2009). Of the 736 sea fish species, 112 are of economic importance (IMARPE 1999).

Studies of biodiversity in the Ene River Basin are very incomplete in the sense that they are not related to the various geographic locations, in a region that has wide differences in life zones due to the extremely varied and complicated topography, practically unexplored by land. The Master Plan of the Otishi National Park [5] reports the plant and animal species in this region in its sections 2.2.4 on Life Zones and 2.2.5 on Wildlife (INRENA 2007, pages 28-31), based on a Rapid Assessment Program carried out with the cooperation of Conservation International and the Smithsonian Institution. They report 92 species of birds, 20 species of small mammals, 12 species of large mammals, 11 species of amphibians, 7 species of reptiles, 45 species of spiders, 17 species of crickets, 58 species of butterflies and 67 species of bees and wasps.



According to Brack (2000) in Peru there are 14 linguistic families and at least 44 distinct ethnic groups, of which 42 are found in the Amazon jungle. These native groups have important ancestral knowledge of the uses and properties of different species, of the genetic resources in plants and the methods of management. The importance of genetic resources is stressed by Brack, who mentions that Peru leads worldwide in species and varieties of potatoes (9 domesticated, around 3000 varieties and 180 wild species), hot chili (5 species and many varieties), corn (36 varieties), andean grains (quinua, kiwicha, canigua, tarhui), tubers (potato, oca, olluco, mashua) and andean roots (sweet potato, arracacha, llacon and others). Brack also mentions the very high number of species of fruits (650), medicinal plants (1408), ornamental plants (1600) and food plants (787) that have been ancestrally identified and utilized by the natives.



The existing information on tourist visits and their distribution in the various localities of Peru is very limited. Table II shows an estimate of the yearly number of foreign visitors to Peru and the income they produced between the years 1990 and 2005 (Cuanto 2007). These figures do not distinguish foreigners who visit exclusively for tourism from those who visit for other reasons, but the data gives an idea of the relative growth of tourism in recent years. For example, the low figures in the early 1990s were due to the negative effect of terrorism. From 1994 on tourism increased rapidly as terrorism was for the most part controlled.

Table 3 gives the number of tourist visitors for the 24 Departaments (Regions) of Peru according to MINCETUR [6]. We can see that the Departament of Junin, in whose extreme oriental part lies the Ene river basin, is among the 6 lowest of the country in number of tourist visitors. There is no breakdown of the statistics down to the Province level, so we cannot offer relative quantitative data on the Province of Satipo, which contains the Ene basin.
The low global figures in Table II point to the need of increasing the number of facilities available for tourists, mostly through new tourist centers that include infrastructure with air access. We have selected the region of the Ene river basin as a possible new tourist center because it has a great
potential for attracting tourists due to the variety of its natural features, its favorable topography for air access and its convenient central location, in spite of the narcotraffic and corruption prevailing presently in the zone, situation that we analyze in the section on Present Crisis.



The Ene river basin is located between the Eastern flank of the Andes Mountains and the western flank of the northern part of the Vilcabamba range of mountains, between Latitudes 12.27º S and 11.17º S and Longitudes 74.53º W and 73.35º W. It covers an area of about 9,760 Km2. The Ene river is a continuation of the Apurimac river, starting at the confluence of the Apurimac and the Mantaro rivers. Figure 9 shows the location of the Ene river basin including topographical data that shows that the Ene river goes through a wide valley between the mentioned Andes and Vilcabamba mountain ranges.

Politically, the Ene river basin is located in the Department of Junin, Province of Satipo, between the Districts of Río Tambo, Mazamari and Pangoa (Figure 6). The Ene River basin up to altitudes of around 2600 meters is covered by a dense evergreen montane forest as in most of the oriental flank of the Andes Mountains of Peru. The natives that have populated this area ancestrally are called the Ashaninka people.




The origins of the native groups that populate the central high jungle of Peru are not known with certitude, though some anthropologists claim that the migration to the region came from the Amazon jungle of Brazil (Rojas Zolezzi 1994). The Ashaninkas, who are the main ethnic group of the region, form part of the Arawak linguistic family that includes other groups such as the Asheninka, Nomatsiguenga, Machiguenga, Yanesha, Kaquinte and Yineyami, all of neighboring regions of the Central Jungle of Peru (Havlakof 2005). Some groups from the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon jungle also form part of the Arawak linguistic family.

Most of the Ashaninka people are organized in small independent communities numbering between 30 and 500 members, who work collectively in their daily tasks of obtaining their livelihood. Some have incorporated themselves precariously to the urban life.

Traditionally they obtained and produced all that they needed from their highly bio-diverse land, but in recent decades the communities that are in closer contact with the rest of the Nation are gradually depending more on money given their increasing need of products such as electric generators, motorboats, radio, telephone, and even computers, aside from the costs of educating their children. These increasing needs have forced many to accept the invading settlers who pay them to use their land for extracting its lumber and cultivating coca for cocaine production. The next sections give some detail and comments on this negative situation.

{New: Photo Gallery of Ashaninka People}




Between 1984 and 1992, the Ashaninkas were the main victims of a bloody war waged by the Shining Path Maoist terrorists, also known as “Sendero Luminoso” (Gagnon 1993). According to the report by the “Commission of Truth and Reconciliation” (Comisión de la Verdad 2003):

“There are no precise data, but the majority of specialists and institutions estimate that of 55,000 Ashaninkas, around 10,000 were displaced by force in the valleys of the rivers Ene, Tambo and Perené, 6,000 were killed and 5,000 were captured by the Communist terrorists, and it is estimated that during the years of the conflict between 30 and 40 Ashaninka communities disappeared.”

Many of the Ashaninkas that were abducted when they were small children are still in the hands of the terrorists, though some have been rescued in operations coordinated between the police and native organizations.

The massive displacement of the Ashaninkas from their native lands up to 1992 gave way to new settlers from the higher Andes mountains in the west who took over many of their lands. A few years after the bloody war, many of the displaced Ashaninkas came back to their lands, only to find that the new settlers had already been given official property rights over some of their territories.

Since 1992, year in which Shining Path was formally defeated by the Government, the present situation is relatively calm in the Ene river basin, because the groups of terrorists that remain in the region have opted for a “peaceful” tactic. However these groups are still preaching their communist doctrine in the region and at the same time profiting by the illegal activities of lumber extraction and cocaine production in the lands invaded by the mentioned Andean settlers and also in some lands that are legally owned by the Ashaninka Communities. The population of these narco-terrorist groups is growing and they are becoming gradually more powerful, posing a serious political threat to the Region, aside from the environmental damage that is caused by their irresponsible allies in the depredation of forests followed by coca cultivation.




Since 2001 the main coca plantations in Peru are being systematically monitored on a yearly basis with satellite analysis and aerial photographs (UNODC-DEVIDA 2002-2007). Some of the results, that are published in the Internet, are shown in the attached tables.


Table IV compares the coca cultivated areas of the main producing regions in Peru.

It should be noted that the Valley of the Rivers Apurimac and Ene (VRAE) is the only one whose area cultivated with coca has grown continuously in the period shown.

An adequate comparison of the main producing areas must take into account the productivity per hectare. According to the mentioned source (page 28), the Apurimac-Ene valley is highly productive and presently produces around 50% of the total coca production in Peru.


Table V shows that the production of coca in the Ene section of VRAE has grown at a far greater rate than the rest of the valley in the period 2002-2006.

{NEW: map of coca crops in the regional context surrounding the Ene river basin}

Due to the growing activities of lumber extraction and coca cultivation, many Ashaninka natives are abandoning their traditional means of livelihood. Quoting from the website of ACPC [7]:

“The survival of the Ashaninka and their environment, as well as their highly developed knowledge of the Amazonian forest is in serious danger: the presence of terrorist/drug traffickers, the appropriation of their lands for Coca plantations, immigrants from the highlands in search of fresh agricultural lands, and religious missionary sects.”

But not only is drug traffic the problem. As serious is illegal lumber extraction, due to the damage done to the environment, and the fact that coca plantations follow, as has been mentioned. This dramatic situation is well known by the authorities and the media, but nothing of significance is being done to remedy it, due to the lack of good projects that can ensure adequate alternative sources of income for the natives and settlers of the region.

Figure 10 and Figure 11, taken by the Ashaninka native Joel Rivera in August 2006 in the lower Cutivireni, illustrate the illegal mahogany traffic in the area.

{NEW: images of the depredation of the upper Ene valley and coca plantations}

In other words, the problems of the Ene valley are not only far from being solved but are becoming worse day by day. A comprehensive solution is urgently needed. This is the main reason for the need of carrying out an important interdisciplinary study with the support of international institutions, private investors and the Peruvian Government. This study should devise an adequate development strategy, which could be based on ecotourism, by virtue of the multiple attractive natural features of the region, that we enumerate in the following section.


The main features we have considered are the following:


Natural Bridge: this is the most emblematic feature of the region. The access by land is very difficult, but it can be clearly seen from light aircrafts due to its huge size. The next section tells the story of its discovery and the main land and air expeditions that have reached it.

Waterfalls: the Cutivireni river canyon and tributaries contain hundreds of waterfalls, dozens of which measure 100 meters high or more. The most famous of these are the 267 meter high Parijaro waterfall, also named “Seward” (OAS 1965), shown in Figure 12, and the multiple stage “Three Sisters Waterfall” whose first two stages are shown in Figure 13. The total drop of the Three Sisters waterfall is more than 900 meters. However, from the 4th stage on the water seems to disappear into underground caverns (Figure 14). This important waterfall, considered by the World Waterfall Database [8] the third tallest in the world, has never been photographed from the ground. The Tsiapo waterfall (Figure 15) is one of the most beautiful in the region. It can be reached by a four hour walk from the town of Cutivireni, going through a creek, so it is mostly accessible in the dry season. Other spectacular waterfalls in the Cutivireni river and tributaries, have not yet been named (Figure 16), or even discovered. Further explorations should permit the development of a comprehensive database of these important attractive features of the region.

{NEW: more images of waterfalls}

Lakes: most of the small lakes in the region lie in a zone of high mountains of the Vilcabamba range in the southeastern part of the Ene river basin and beyond. These lakes constitute the origins of some of the main Eastern tributaries of the Apurímac-Ene river such as the Pichari, Cutivireni, Mayoventi and Quempiri rivers, and the main Western tributaries of the Urubamba river, such as the Picha and Mantalo rivers. Most of these lakes, such as the Parodi lake (Baekeland 1964) lie just outside the Ene river basin, but can be considered part of the area of influence of the latter. There are several other small lakes dispersed in the various plateaus, that add beauty to the region.

{NEW: images of small lakes}


Canyons and Plateaus: the region within the Ene river basin that lies East of the Quempiri river and south of the Mamiri river, contains several plateaus that are abruptly cut by canyons, the largest of which is the Cutivireni canyon that in its deepest section reaches depths of more than 1,300 meters. The Mayoventi river, which is the main tributary of the Cutivireni river, is the next big canyon, whose maximum depth is around 1,000 meters. The Mamiri canyon, to the north of the Cutivireni canyon, reaches depths of around 800 meters. These numbers are gross estimates based on the 90 meter per pixel DEM. The plateaus are varied in size and their mean altitude ranges from 1,100 to 2,700 meters. Since these plateaus are for the most part without visible lagoons, and since there are numerous waterfalls in the canyons dividing these plateaus, it is safe to conclude that the underground water in these plateaus is the source of a great proportion of the water in the waterfalls.

{NEW: images of plateaus}

{NEW: images of gorges and canyons}

Caverns: there are many caverns of different sizes in the region, most of which have not yet been explored by land. Since many of them are located in the Otishi National Park, it will be necessary to obtain special permission from INRENA [9] for explorations. Eventually it should be advisable to open some of these places for tourists, once the necessary geographic, geological and ecological investigations are made concerning accessibility and security for visitors and possible environmental vulnerabilities. All over the world caverns are considered important tourist attractions. Examples of the touristic importance of caverns are given by 4 caverns in the United States of America (Kartchner, Carlsbad, Luray and the Mammoth cave), that in total attract more than 3 million visitors per year. These caverns are continuously monitored for possible environmental damage.


In the year 1961, while examining air photographs taken by the Canadian surveying company Hunting Associates, Alfonso Rizo Patron [10] observed that the Cutivireni river had an interruption in its course and concluded that there was a very large natural bridge in that location.

Twenty six years later the existence of this great natural feature, probably the largest of its kind in the world, was confirmed by a land expedition financed by the French magazine Paris Match (1987). See the picture in Figure 18 from this expedition.
In August of 2002 the renowned professional photographer Alejandro Balaguer took excellent pictures of the natural bridge from a light airplane, one of which is shown in Figure 19.

A second land expedition was successfully carried out in September 2006 by Ashaninka natives led by Joel Rivera, with ample experience in jungle expeditions (Figure 20).  This expedition is the first to have crossed under the bridge to the far side upstream (Figure 21). A great cavern was discovered in this expedition near the natural bridge (See Figure 22 and Figure 23).

The website of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society of USA [11] gives more information on this natural bridge, including detailed topography with dimensions.


{NEW: more images of natural bridge and nearby cavern}



In 1965 the Organization of American States (OAS) published a booklet proposing the creation of the “Cutibireni National Park”, on the basis of the natural beauty of the region (OAS 1965). The area considered by this project was approximately 2,100 square kilometers and did not include the area of the natural bridge and the real origin of the Cutivireni river. In the booklet they included the names of 20 waterfalls within their proposed Park. The Parijaro waterfall was named “Seward” in honor of the explorer who measured its height (267 meters).


{NEW: The complete document on the OAS Cutibireni project is now available in the following Internet location: . This document includes a large map that has serious georeferencing errors. Since the information in this map on the location of 20 important waterfalls of the Cutivireni river basin is of interest, a geographically corrected map is in the process of being elaborated with GIS methods which will soon be available in this site.}


The OAS Project was never given an official status, but in 1988 the Government created the “Zona Reservada del Apurímac” (a natural reserved area) with an area of 16,692 Km2 that included all of the area of the OAS Project plus all the rest of the Vilcabamba range of mountains up to the Tambo river in the North, the region of the high lakes including the Parodi Lake and a large area to the East limited by the Urubamba river.

The members of the 1987 land expedition to the natural bridge founded ACPC, an Association for the Conservation of the Cutivireni area that worked since its foundation to establish a natural park in the region. Their efforts culminated in January 2003 when the Otishi National Park was officially created together with two surrounding protected areas called “Reserva Comunal Ashaninka” and “Reserva Comunal Machiguenga”. The area of the Otishi Park is approximately 3,600 Km2, the area of the Ashaninka reserve is 1,845 Km2, and the area of the Machiguenga reserve is 2,189 Km2, totalling 7,094 Km2. The difference of 9,599 Km2 with respect to the previous “Zona Reservada del Apurímac” is considered to be a “buffer zone”.

The Master Plan for the Otishi Park  (INRENA 2007) was approved by the Government in May 2005 and is in effect for a period of 5 years until 2010. This document contains some useful information, especially various thematic maps. However, section 5.1 on the Objectives of Zoning, imposes some generalized restrictions which would require revision on the basis of serious interdisciplinary scientific studies. One example of this is the category of Areas of Strict Protection, “Protección Estricta” (PE, Page 62) that indiscriminately includes all areas at altitudes above 2,500 meters, covering a total area of 1,332.75 square kilometers. According to the Master Plan, the PE zones are supposed to be free of human intervention to perpetuity, and thus tourism is expressly prohibited in these areas. This seem to us quite arbitrary, since there are zones within the PE that offer excellent attractions for ecotourists (caverns and beautiful landscapes), such as is mentioned in the section on the PROPOSAL for a tourist project below. The PE areas should be thus redefined on the basis of further detailed exploration of zones of special interest for tourism that would not compromise the stability of the ecosystems of the region. Another restriction in the Master Plan that would need to be revised by future studies is one referring to the mentioned buffer zone (section 6.4, page 69 of the referred Master Plan), that states that in the buffer zone there should not be any large scale tourism. The problem here is economic. Unless the tourist business is large enough it will not offer a viable economic alternative to the present depredatory activities of the region. Therefore it is necessary to weigh the environmental costs of large scale tourism versus large scale depredation in order to choose the lesser evil. This aspect obviously requires studies based on rational criteria, not prejudice derived from unilateral and extreme conservationist views.

Figure 24 is a map showing the three protected areas of the region and most of the Ashaninka communities with legal rights that are located around the Ene river to the West and the Tambo river to the North of the protected areas. It should be noted that within the Otishi park there are some small isolated native communities that have little or no contact with the rest of western civilization. Five of them are shown in the map, three of which have been contacted in recent expeditions led by Joel Rivera.


There are various testimonies by Ashaninkas referring to possible important undiscovered archaeological remains in the region of the Mantaro, Apurimac and Ene rivers (Ortiz 1976), which leads us to suggest that investigations should be carried out for the purpose of locating them. A historical and geographic reason is given by the rebellion of Manco Inca against Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquerors in the year 1535. Manco Inca was a younger brother of Inca ruler Atahualpa who was assassinated by the Spaniards in 1533. The young heir to the throne was initially befriended by Pizarro and used as a figure head of the Empire while the “conquistadores” proceeded to loot the country of most of its gold. The Vilcabamba mountains northwest of the city of Cuzco was the region towards which Manco and his people fled to escape from the Spaniards. Explorations by Gene Savoy in the sixties led him to believe he had found the “Lost City of the Incas” in a place called Espiritu Pampa (Hemming 2004). However, a close examination of the location of Espiritu Pampa in the geographic context (Figure 25) leads us to think that Gene Savoy may have fallen short from the true last refuge of the Inca elite.

It must be borne in mind that the Incas and other prehispanic Andean peoples constructed several thousand kilometers of what is known as the “Capaq Ñan” or “Inca Roads”, spanning from Ecuador through Bolivia and the north of Argentina, so the distance from Espíritu Pampa to the Northern Vilcabamba region in the Ene river basin (around 100 kilometers) is a very small addition that could easily have been realized by the creators of the marvelous buildings, roads, hydraulic works, and agricultural terraces that have made the Incas famous all over the world.



Most of the territory of the Ene river basin has not been explored by air or land. Many important natural features of great interest for naturalists or eco-tourists exist in this region that should be mapped in order to be able to develop a sound plan for the development of sustainable tourism in the region. The few air and land expeditions carried out to date have only uncovered a fraction of these features, of which countless waterfalls and caverns are especially notable in the area. In addition there is an archaeological potential in the region, which we mentioned in the last section.

Modern geographic hardware and software such as GPS and GIS are valuable aids in exploration, together with air photographs, satellite images and digital topographic models. Google Earth is a practical computer tool that combines many of these elements in one package.

An example of exploration methods is one carried out recently by SEANTEC S.A. A detailed analysis of a pair of air photographs of a rare plateau within the Otishi National Park was carried out. These photos show wide spaces without significant vegetation that would permit landing by helicopter. By examining a stereo anaglyph image derived from the pair of photographs (Figure 26), large holes and depressions were observed on the ground. A digital elevation model was then obtained by photogrammetric methods in order to obtain detailed measurements of the topography (Figures 27 and 28). Since no water is accumulated in these depressions, and the region has a high rainfall level, we conclude that this plateau contains a system of caverns. Next, a flight with a small aircraft was undertaken to see if entrances to caverns were visible that could be easily accessible for ground exploration. In the flight this was positively confirmed. Figure 29 is an IKONOS satellite image of the plateau, and Figure 30 is an image from the mentioned flight showing part of the plateau with some of the main holes. The next step is to visit the site by helicopter and make land exploration of each cavern entrance. This investigation is being carried out in the context of the project for a tourist center in the region that could have this rare plateau as one of its attractive locations. This aspect is developed in more detail below, in the section on the proposal for a tourist center.

The Government does not have the resources or the organization to carry out any type of exploration in this area, but should aid the efforts of the private sector and international groups of explorers in the realization of this necessary activity.



Given the complexity of the Peruvian Geography, it is quite costly to establish a new tourist center in many of the attractive places that lack present facilities. The investors normally try to evaluate the possible sites in terms of markets (potential income) versus investment and operating costs. However, it is clear that for remote places where there is presently no significant flow of tourists due to the lack of infrastructure (access, lodges) there is no predictable market, and since the investment cost depends on the size of the market (a projection of the number of tourists), then the benefits and costs of the project are not quantifiable. Therefore the evaluation of the possible value of a new tourist center depends on qualitative criteria.

The relative importance of different factors (criteria) will vary depending on who is doing the evaluation and the time horizon of the projects. For example, a location with attractive natural features but in a remote region with no infrastructure may be considered unattractive for private investors, but may be of high priority for the State due to strategic reasons.

The following is a list of different factors that can be used for evaluation of tourist projects:

1.     Beautiful landscapes and special natural features

2.     High biodiversity

3.     Proximity to land or air access

4.     Important archaeological ruins

The tourist project that is proposed in the next section is based on the fact that the selected area meets at least the first two of the mentioned factors in a high degree. The third factor, related to the ease of access, can be resolved by establishing a convenient airport in the area. The fourth factor, as was mentioned in a previous section, is a possibility that further exploration must elucidate.



Given the impressive natural features of the region, and their great number, it is fitting that tourists should be able to visit these places and generate income for the native peoples as well as for the country as a whole. Furthermore, given that the natives are presently embarking in illegal and depredatory activities for their short run survival, it is desirable to give them an alternative legal way to earn a living which at the same time does not harm the environment. Figure 31 is a preliminary map of the location of the proposed tourist center and some of the many attractive features of the Cutivireni and Quempiri river basins.

The Cutivireni-Quempiri area has many favorable characteristics that may justify the creation of an important tourist center, subject to the realization of a thorough interdisciplinary study that should be made with the collaboration of the authorities of the country as well as of the natives themselves. One of these characteristics is the existence of an area between the Ene and Quempiri rivers that seems especially apt for establishing an airport of sufficient size for receiving large aircraft. This is important since the influx of a large number of visitors is a necessary condition for the economic sustainability of a tourist project in this zone. The remoteness of the region makes other transport alternatives unfeasible, aside from the fact that building roads of access to the area will only contribute to the accelerated degradation of the environment, as has been the experience in other jungle areas in Peru (CDC–UNALM 2004, and SEANTEC 2005).

From the proposed airport in Quempiri, the sightseeing flights over the attractive areas would be much shorter and efficient than presently whereby flights with light airplanes have to be made from Satipo or Mazamari at 148 kilometers and 134 kilometers from the Natural Bridge, respectively. The airport at Quempiri would be at only 52 kilometers from the said bridge, with the consequent saving in time and costs for each flight. Thus, many companies with light aircraft could have an important incentive to give this kind of tourist service.

Another important element in this tourist project is the role of helicopters for access to especially attractive areas located in plateaus that have been studied in detail through air photographs, and that can only be reached by this means. One of these areas has been photographed by air (Figure 30) and shows wide spaces without significant vegetation where a base can be established to perform detailed scientific ground studies. Eventually, if these studies find it is feasible, the scientific base can be expanded into a facility for tourists. The attractive features of this 2 kilometer long plateau, at around 2,700 meters above sea level, are a probable cavern system, and spectacular views all around due to its privileged altitude, higher than most of the neighbouring areas. Also, the plateau is at a distance of only 10 kilometers from the natural bridge, and from another important cave system at an altitude of over 2,500 meters in an area with two waterfalls, that has recently been identified through high resolution stereo photographs (Figure 32). Also, there are many plateaus nearby that have not been explored that have similar characteristics.

{NEW: more images of plateaus in the Otishi National Park}

At this point, it is clear that the establishment of an adequate base for scientific studies of the region, hitherto almost unexplored, is an important step for determining what types of interesting touristic activities can be permissible in the region and where they are to be located, which in turn is crucial for establishing an economic alternative for the inhabitants of this region that is seriously endangered with all sorts of illegal and depredatory activities.

Another important element of the proposed project is the role that would be assigned to those communities of the Ene river basin that are located to the west and north of the Cutivireni and Quempiri sub-basins. The proposed solution is that these communities would provide agricultural and natural medicinal products to the local market that would be created by the new tourist center. If this market grows to a sufficient level, this would provide a true agricultural alternative to these communities that could substitute their present depredatory activities.

Finally, it must be mentioned that the proposed tourist center must start in a small scale and grow gradually to a sufficient scale to make it economically and socially significant for the region. This crucial aspect must be studied by an interdisciplinary team due to the complexity of the project. The mentioned study must develop a comprehensive strategy for the short, medium and long term, taking into account the critical situation of the zone that requires fast decisions to be taken. One aspect that would have to be studied as soon as possible is the feasibility of a medium sized airport in Quempiri and the necessary implementation of security forces that will guarantee that this airport is not used for illegal purposes such as narcotraffic.



Most of the present international tourists arrive by jetliners to Peru through the Jorge Chavez airport in the Province of Callao next to the city of Lima. The incoming traffic to this airport is therefore quite heavy and will soon become a bottleneck if international tourism to Peru is going to grow at rates that would be expected given its great archaeological and natural attractions. Therefore, it is necessary to look for other possible sites as alternatives for direct arrival of tourists to Peru. These should offer sufficient attractions in themselves, and at the same time be strategically located relatively close to other attractive tourist sites in order to be a convenient stopping point in route to these other sites.

Figure 33 is offered as an illustration of the possible logistic advantages of establishing an airport in the Cutivireni-Quempiri area in the medium and long run, subject to the approval of the competent authorities on the basis of the required feasibility studies. The location is ideal since it is at the same side of the high Andes mountains as the important airports of Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado and much closer to them than the present international airport of Callao. Thus tourists interested mainly in ecotourism could have shorter, more efficient itineraries to these tourist destinations without having to stop in Lima.



There are several obstacles for the sustainable development of the Ene river basin, such as:

  1. The remoteness and the consequent difficulty of access to the area.

  2. Some conservationist groups oppose tourism in a large scale under the premise that it will cause environmental damage.

  3. Another obstacle is derived from the presence of illegal producers of lumber and coca.

  4. The native communities of Cutivireni and Quempiri have been opposing ecotourism for reasons that are not clear but could be related to the fact that they are starting to profit from the illegal depredatory activities. This is understandable given the increasing deterioration of the natural environment that has ancestrally given them their sustenance.

  5. The rigid procedures of the international finance and governmental institutions for obtaining funds for development projects. These procedures tend to favor standard types of projects with fast payback periods instead of well designed and integrated projects focusing in the long run, that require serious and imaginative studies.

  6. The lack of interest of local capitalists in such a remote and problematic area as the Ene river basin, also without adequate infrastructure.



The possibility of creating a tourist center in the Cutivireni-Quempiri area has to be based on decisions by the native communities of the region to embark on an economic development strategy based on tourism. These communities have ancestral and legal rights over their territories, and therefore any solution to their present problems should not be imposed from outside. Obviously they do not have experience in modern tourist business, so the idea has to be “sold” to them. This can only be achieved through dialogue, which requires a sustained effort by organizations with the administrative and financial capabilities to carry out this activity.

Another complementary activity in this direction is the organization of Seminars and Training courses to give to the interested members of these communities the necessary knowledge and criteria in relation to tourist enterprises so they can relay this knowledge to the rest of the members of their communities who have to make the final decisions on whether or not to develop a tourist project, and its magnitude.

The proposed project does not imply that all the natives in the region would be forced to change their lifestyle in a traumatic process. Only a relatively few of the members of the Ashaninka communities in the Region would have to change their ancestral ways of living in the event that a large scale tourist project is materialized. The people who would work in building and operating the tourist center would be selected by an administrative body that would be created with the participation of the communities involved, who would decide how many of their members would be assigned to these tasks.



          The depredation and narcotraffic present in the target zone of this paper cannot be stopped without an alternative project of sufficient magnitude to give the people of the zone jobs and income to meet their increasing needs. A critical choice must be made between large scale depredation and narcotraffic versus large scale tourism.

          The government does not at this time have the sufficient resources to give this region solutions for their serious problems. It requires the collaboration of the private sector (national and international) for designing imaginative development projects.

          Given that this region has suffered from invasions and terrorism in the last 2 decades, and is presently in a crisis of depredation and narcotraffic, the Government should assign the adequate priority in terms of control and security so that the risk of investments is minimized.

          A large section of the area of interest for tourism in the Ene river basin is presently classified as a National Park (Otishi), with a series of arbitrary restrictions for entry that are detailed in the present Master Plan for the Park. Regulations for entry to this zone should be redesigned so as to permit tourists’ visits under controlled conditions.



          The techniques of geographic analysis, combined with information obtained in expeditions are useful means for planning the development of tourism in Peru. However these techniques are only a part of an integrated methodology that must be employed to ensure good planning.

          Human aspects must be considered: many regions with ecotouristic potential in Peru are the ancestral homes of native communities that are the legal owners of many of the territories where new tourist projects could be implemented. They must make the final decision about the investments to be made.

          Immediate action in the form of sustainable projects is needed to counteract the increasing power of the illegal groups of lumber and cocaine producers and the consequent deterioration of the rainforests that are the ancestral homes of the natives in Peru. The Government is not suited for developing specific projects, so it must support private initiatives.

          Action must be preceded by well devised plans, and good planning requires well motivated teams of study in multiple disciplines, including natives with their special knowledge of the environment.

          A comprehensive interdisciplinary study should be carried out including diagnosis, elaboration of a development strategy, and a feasibility study for the inmediate investment projects for the Ene river basin area (for example basic infrastructure such as an airport).

          In order to attract the interest of possible investors (public or private) for the necessary investments, it is important to publicize the great natural features of the target region. One way to do this is through more exploration and scientific studies by land and air expeditions to obtain relevant information for determining the adequacy of different zones for tourist activity, together with excellent images and videos for publishing.

{NEW: Selected links on Ecotourism}



Christian Contreras and Abel Revoredo prepared the maps and collaborated with constructive criticism during the whole project; Marisa Ocrospoma gave us data on biological diversity; Sandro Saettone and David Rivera provided data on the Ashaninka natives; Maria Teresa Menéndez, Luis Miguel Sánchez and Jorge Gómez read the drafts and offered valuable suggestions. Architect Víctor Aguilar, Director of the Department of Rural Constructions in the Universidad Agraria La Molina (UNALM), provided us with computing facilities at the University`s Laboratorio de Planeamiento, Modelamiento y Ordenamiento Territorial and discussed with us some of the main issues involved. Also, thanks to Marek Lubinski of the NGO Uncaria, Professors Zdzislaw Jan Ryn of the Jagiellonian University, Zbigniew Mirek of the W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Andrzej Paulo from the Akademia Gorniczo-Hutnicza and a long list of other friends from Krakow, as well as speleologist Andrzej Ciszewski, for their stimulating interest in this work. Finally, my indebtedness to my father, Alfonso Rizo Patrón who since 1959 inspired my interest in the Ene region with his pioneering Peru-Vía Plan and his discovery of the Natural Bridge.