Machu Picchu tourism expert offers insight into challenges faced by ancient Incan site

Unethical tour operators are contributing to overcrowding at the popular Peruvian attraction

Machu Picchu in Peru. Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos / Unsplash
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Queues, chaos and complaints have plagued Machu Picchu in Peru this week, as tourists found themselves unable to enter the attraction and local residents protested against the government’s handling of ticket allocation.

Last weekend, overcrowding led authorities to temporarily halt the sale of tickets granting access to Peru’s most popular tourist site. Local residents are already angry that tickets to enter Machu Picchu are only being sold in the nearby city of Cusco, rather than on site.

Scenes at the site have since calmed and normal operations have resumed, but challenges remain as Peru tries to balance burgeoning tourist demand with the need to protect the site.

Machu Picchu currently has a maximum capacity of 4,044 visitors per day. This was raised from 3,044 last month to cater to demand, which has been increasing steadily since the Unesco World Heritage attraction reopened in October 2020.

An important technicality lies at the root of many of the current issues, says Manuel Sanchez Palacios of Inca Expert, a reputable travel company founded in Lima that specialises in boutique tours of Peru, and sister companies Peru for Less and Latin America for Less.

“Over the past weekend, numerous visitors arrived in Aguas Calientes with ticket reservations but no tickets, and therefore they were unable to enter the ancient Incan citadel,” he says.

A reservation is not enough to guarantee entry to the site — visitors must show proof of an actual ticket. “A promised ticket is different from a purchased ticket in hand,” says Palacios. New, stringent rules around the issuing of tickets mean that some unethical tour operators are not delivering on what they promise.

“New restrictions on purchasing and changing ticket information make reserving tours at Machu Picchu more difficult. For example, previously there were penalties that ranged from 10 per cent to 30 per cent for changing the entry date, time or ticket holder information.

“Now, however, only the passport number on a ticket can be changed, in case a tourist needs to renew their passport before visiting Machu Picchu, but only when all the previous ticket holder information remains the same.

“So my advice for visitors is the following: if you buy tickets from a tour operator online or in Peru, make sure they enter your information accurately and send you a confirmation of the purchased ticket before you travel. It is always helpful to look at online reviews for travel agencies as well.”

There are currently tickets available for entry to Machu Picchu, but they are limited and dependant on date. Palacios recommends tourists who are travelling independently check and make their purchases through the the official Peruvian government site, https://reservas.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio.

Otherwise, visitors should make sure they are dealing with a reputable tour operator, or they may be setting themselves up for disappointment, he says. “Machu Picchu is an incredible destination that everyone deserves to visit. There is nothing like taking your first step into the archaeological site and seeing enormous, perfectly carved stones that fit like an ancient puzzle.

“It is a place that deserves to be shared and seen. I would like to see travel agencies and tour operators do a better job fulfilling their promise to acquire tickets quickly and accurately for their customers, ideally the day a customer books.

“Machu Picchu is what often makes the trip for tourists, and learning that the ticket promised was not purchased appropriately, or maybe not at all, can be heartbreaking, especially if you are turned away at the door.”

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Updated: August 19, 2022, 2:37 PM
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