Peru’s Machu Picchu reopens: What you should know

Bloomberg | | Posted by Krishna Priya Pallavi, Delhi
Feb 17, 2023 03:13 PM IST

After a wave of political unrest, the home of one of the world’s seven wonders wants tourists to return.

When anti-government protests erupted and turned violent in Lima and Cusco in January 2023, Peru’s tourism industry had just begun recovering from nearly two years of pandemic shutdowns, after suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world. News of tourists stranded at Machu Picchu spread—they were either helicoptered out or had to walk for seven hours along the train tracks down to Aguas Calientes, the small city in the valley below. A wave of trip cancellations to the country followed.

A general view of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in the Urubamba valley. (Photo by Carolina Paucar / AFP)
A general view of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in the Urubamba valley. (Photo by Carolina Paucar / AFP)

(Also Read | Peru reopens Inca-era stone citadel, Machu Picchu, after nearly a month)

A month later, Peru is trying to put it all behind and bring visitors back. Machu Picchu, which was indefinitely closed on Jan. 21, reopened to visitors on Feb. 15, the national government confirmed. Ticket sales have resumed, and the few tourists who waited it out were able to visit, according to local news. The reopening of the popular Unesco World Heritage Site came a day after Peruvian lawmakers voted to schedule presidential elections earlier than planned, in April 2024, in an effort to ease tensions.

“About three or four weeks ago, things looked really bad, and it was difficult for us, because tourism is a very sensitive industry,” says Raul Ccolque, guide and founder of Alpaca Expeditions, a trekking company based in Cusco and owned by Indigenous Peruvians that focuses on treks to Machu Picchu, including the popular four-day Inca Trail, which limits the number of daily hikers to 500, among others. “These days, things are getting better here in Peru. Everything is open in Cusco—shops, hotels. Everything has calmed down.” Government officials said in a press release that the reopening of the Inca citadel to tourism is conditional on no further protests threatening tourist activity, transportation and Machu Picchu staff.

“The significance of this reopening cannot be overstated—tourism industry losses are expected to exceed $400 million according to the latest government data, with Lima, Cusco, Puno and Arequipa among the most impacted regions,” says Fernando Rodriguez, general manager for global adventure outfit Intrepid Travel, which is based in Australia but has offices in Lima and Cusco. It offers 44 tours countrywide in Peru and has 40 full-time office staff in the country, plus 6o tour leaders, and more than 250 seasonal team members and contractors.

Intrepid confirmed to Bloomberg that it will restart its Peru tours on March 1, with 25 trips booked and scheduled, such as the 15-day Premium Peru departing out of Lima on March 19. This comes after it had to cancel a total of 140 departures. Interruptions and cancellations began in December 2022; the company later cancelled all Peru trips from Feb. 6-28.

Ccolque confirms having seen tourists out in Cusco again and at Machu Picchu. Some strikes might still happen, he says, but in general even when people were striking the protestors never attacked people. “I think Peru is a safe country to come to in general,” he says. “Especially the Cusco region.” The train company serving Machu Picchu, PeruRail, is running again, with service expected to increase as demand picks up, tour operators who spoke to Bloomberg confirmed. But the train to Lake Titicaca, in the Puno region southeast of Cusco, remains suspended, Ccolque says.

The Inca Trail is also currently closed, but that’s normal for this time of year; trail and campsite maintenance takes place every February. (January and February, Peru’s rainy season, see fewer tourists.) The trail is expected to reopen on March 1.

The year 2022 was a good year for Alpaca Expeditions. About 50% of tourists who were confirmed to hike in Peru in 2020 had to cancel because of Covid-19, and the other 50% rebooked for 2022, so as soon as the borders reopened, tourism started back up fairly quickly.

If You’re Going, Be Prepared

Peru and Machu Picchu’s busy tourist season kicks off in March and spikes through the summer. Ccolque recommends travellers always book trips in advance, including all logistics. Timed entry tickets to Machu Picchu for 2023 are limited to 4,500 per day, so advance purchases are essential.

The country’s official tourism website has remained silent about the January protests and disruptions to the tourism industry, but the Peru National Chamber of Tourism and the US Embassy in Peru share regular updates. For Americans, the State Department’s travel advisory for Peru, issued on Dec. 22, remains at Level 3: Reconsider Travel, advising increased caution due to crime and civil unrest. It also advises tourists not to travel to certain areas, including Cusco, but there are no specific references to Machu Picchu. The latest update also shows that the Peruvian government has extended the state of emergency in Lima and a handful of other provinces by 30 days as a precautionary measure.

When traveling abroad, it’s always a good idea for Americans to sign up online with the State Department’s Smart Traveller Enrollment Program for free up-to-the-minute alerts, and to register your location in case of any emergencies.

Aside from Cusco, tourist attractions in the north and east of Peru, including the Lambayeque beach circuit, are running as normal. The Ica region’s national reserves and attractions are also open, according to the tourism board’s emailed media updates. Cruises in the Amazon are operating as normal, they noted, including in tourist areas such as Iquitos.

Peru has also established a “Tourist Protection Network,” whereby tour operators, travel agencies and other services are able to communicate quickly with the tourist division of the national police of Peru to assist visitors in case of disruptions. Peru’s tourism board recommends travellers download the Tourist Police Peru app on their smartphone and keep emergency numbers handy, including those of the tourist police, Central Poltur ((01) 460-1060), and Peru’s tourist information office, Iperú ((01) 574-8000).

In 2019, 1.5 million people visited Machu Picchu. Alpaca’s Ccolque says he’s positive the worst of the protests has passed, as Cusco depends on tourism. “Bookings are coming back little by little,” he says. “Since Machu Picchu is opened, we’ve started receiving requests for treks for May, June, July and August.” Ccolque says most days in May and April are sold out for the Inca Trail. “Those are from bookings that weren’t cancelled, as well as new ones coming in now. That’s a good sign.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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