Peru devises new rules to tackle the mounting crowds on Machu Picchu


Visiting Machu Picchu requires strong lungs, steady legs and mighty decision-making skills. Among the questions you must ask yourself: Trek or train? Day trip from Cusco or overnight in Aguas Calientes? Pisco sour or Inca Kola? And the latest this-one-or-that-one to ponder: morning or afternoon shift? 

In an effort to protect Peru's most popular attraction from overcrowding and degradation, the Ministry of Culture issued a raft of rules last year that aims to protect the Inca site by modifying visitation practices. The regulations touch on many pillars of sightseeing, such as when you can visit, where you can walk and whether you can bring an umbrella.  

"Machu Picchu is a great attraction, but we are worried about its sustainability," said Sandra Doig, incoming tourism deputy director of PROMPERÚ, the Commission for the Promotion of Exports and Tourism of Peru. "It is being affected by too many people at the citadel at the same time."  

Tourist numbers have been creeping up over the years. Between January and July of last year, nearly 610,000 people tread on Machu Picchu, including an estimated 242,000 travelers from the United States, a 3 percent rise from 2016.  

To decongest the crowds, the government enacted several rules that it will test out and tweak through next July. For instance, visitors can no longer linger at the citadel from sunup to sundown but must choose one of two entry periods - 6 a.m. to noon or noon to 5:30 p.m. - and depart at the stated time. However, if they wish to visit for the whole day, they can purchase a morning and afternoon ticket for $70 each. Meanwhile, adventurers who bought a combo ticket for Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountain or Machu Picchu mountain can enter between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. They must complete the trek in four hours or less.  

Per the resolution, tourists must be accompanied by a certified guide, who can lead no more than 16 participants. (Guests returning in the afternoon or the following day do not need an escort as long as they possess a ticket stub from their first guided visit.) The guides and their charges must follow one of three circuits - no straying allowed. Circuit 1 is the most extensive and hardest on the quads; Circuit 3 is the easiest, though you will miss those epic panoramas. Finally, to mitigate damage, visitors are not permitted to bring umbrellas; bags larger than 15-by-13-by-8 inches; food and drinks, with the exception of bottled water; baby strollers; walking sticks or poles, unless the guest has special needs; tripods without a permit; drones; and shoes with spiky soles or sharp heels.  

The rules aren't hammered in stone. Over the next few months, Doig said officials "will be looking at the results and improving the system little by little."  

She added that one of their most pressing concerns is the congestion on the outskirts of the complex, especially at the shuttle station. The majority of visitors catch a round-trip bus from Aguas Calientes, and long lines are common.  

"One of the biggest problems is outside the citadel - the queue to take the bus," she said. "We have to improve that service."  

Of course, tourists can do their part without the government's nudge in the ribs. Doig reminds visitors to pack out any garbage, especially water bottles, and to never deface the UNESCO World Heritage site. She also urges tourists to venture beyond Machu Picchu. Kuelap, for instance, is a nature-rich archaeological site in the north that the Chachapoyas, or Warriors of the Cloud, built in the sixth century.  

"Kuelap is a mixture of what you find at Machu Picchu," Doig said.  

For even more adventure, Choquequirao is an Inca site three times the size of Machu Picchu. Officials are considering installing a cable car to help guests reach the top, but for now, the fortress is accessible only via a grueling two-day trek from Cusco.  

"It's more hardcore because of the altitude," she said.  

But what you lose in oxygen, you gain in elevation bragging rights: Choquequirao is nearly 2,000 feet higher than Machu Picchu.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

That time when a bear broke into our minivan on a family vacation in the Smokies

As we checked in and got directions to our mountain cabin, we were told we might encounter bears on the property.  Don’t feed them, we were warned.   OK, we said. Got it.   Not long after completing a 600-mile, nine-hour road trip from Chicago, we followed a winding road to an area just west of downtown Gatlinburg, Tenn...
Travel deals: Two-for-one river cruises and $300 off hiking and biking in Ireland

This week's best travel bargains around the globe.  - At Mountain Lodges of Peru, get 15 percent off the lodge-to-lodge Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu via foot or horseback. The six-night trekking trip costs $3,300 per person double (a savings of $590), and the equestrian trip costs $3,500 (a savings of $625). Both excursions involve round-trip...
Carnival expands Cuba offerings for 2019-2020

Carnival Cruise Line will expand its lineup of Cuba cruises for 2019-2020. An additional 23 sailings on five different ships will depart from four East Coast homeports. Carnival Sunshine will sail to Havana from Charleston, S.C.; Carnival Triumph from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Carnival Paradise from Tampa, Fla., and Carnival Victory and Carnival Sensation...
American travel to North Korea remains out of bounds

In September, the United States barred American travelers from visiting North Korea.  But a perceived thaw in relations after the release of three Americans imprisoned in North Korea and news of negotiations for a meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, has revived industry hopes for a travel rapprochement...
How to get to and enjoy a luxury trip to Paris for less

Interested in a late summer vacation to Paris, but think that peak travel season means it must be completely out of reach? August happens to be one of the most affordable times to visit the city, with even luxury hotels offering rates and inclusions that aren’t usually available during the rest of the year. Airfare to the city, it turns out,...
More Stories