It’s one of the world’s most famous ancient sites – the remains of an Inca citadel in Peru’s Sacred Valley – but as visitor numbers have boomed a visit to Machu Picchu has become associated with tourist crowds and selfie-sticks, rather than as a place of mystical beauty.
This summer, under pressure from Unesco, which has repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to its list of world heritage sites in danger, the Peruvian government has brought in measures to control the flow of tourists.
From 1 July, visitors will only be able to enter the site with an official tour guide, and tickets will grant entry for a specific time period, either a morning (6am-noon) or afternoon (noon-5.30pm). Guides must be licenced and group size will be limited to16 people. Visitors must also follow the defined routes around the site, a change from the present setup where it is possible to explore relatively independently and stay the entire day.
Ticket prices to the citadel will remain the same (£36 for adults, £16.50 concessions) but visitors who wish to stay for the day will have to buy two tickets. The Peruvian ministry of culture increased prices to historical sites across Peru, including Machu Picchu, in January this year.
It is hoped that the new rules will improve the flow of visitors around the site and reduce congestion, particularly during peak season. Visitor numbers have grown rapidly at Machu Picchu in recent years, hitting a new record 1.4 million in 2016 – an average of 5,000 people a day during the summer months, double the 2,500 visitors recommended by Unesco.
Although the new system of two entry times will create a more even distribution of people, it will also see the overall number of visitors increase, allowing 3,267 in the morning and 2,673 in the afternoon. The new rules will be in place for two years, after which further adjustments will be made if necessary.
Peru travel specialist Journey Latin America welcomed the changes, which it hopes will help preserve the archaeological site.
“The majority of visitors heading to the site aim to take the first bus from the village of Aguas Calientes just below Machu Picchu so they can be one of the first to arrive,” said Laura Rendell-Dunn, destination specialist for the tour operator.
“During high season (July-August), queues for the bus are usually two hours and it is not uncommon to then queue for a further hour at the site entrance. The new regulations should help the flow of visitors giving them a better experience.”
As the morning is generally the most popular time to visit the site, due to better average weather conditions, Rendell-Dunn recommends visitors book ahead in order to guarantee a ticket for an early entry slot.
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