Machu Picchu train line reopens after protests leave tourists stranded

Access to Incan site in Peru was blocked due to dispute over new electronic rail ticketing system

Machu Picchu has been a site of controversy in recent years due to protests and overtourism. Reuters
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Tourists were left stranded this week in Peru as protests erupted following the introduction of an electronic rail ticketing system on the train line that leads to Machu Picchu.

Tensions ran high as protesters said they believe the new ticket sales platform will hurt the local economy and small businesses, as it gives one government-approved private company authorisation to administrate all sales.

However, after more than a week of disruption to rail services, authorities and protesters were able to come to an agreement that allows for a transition period to the new platform.

PeruRail said on Wednesday that a partial train service had restarted and regular service would recommence on Thursday. The train goes from the city of Cusco to Aguas Calientes, a town near the Unesco-protected ancient Incan ruins.

Those responsible for the site's preservation have warned about overcrowding due to tickets being oversold. The centralised platform is designed to control visitor numbers as tourism rebounds post-pandemic.

“We have to move forward to reactivate our economy,” Leslie Urteaga, Peru’s Minister of Culture, told a local radio station.

Yet over the past week, the hotels and restaurants that surround Peru's most notable tourist attraction were almost deserted as no one could reach the site.

The ancient Incan site is Peru’s top tourist destination, with about 3,800 people visiting per day.

Over the past few years, Machu Picchu has been a source of controversy due to overtourism, political protests and erosion.

In January last year, the Incan site closed “indefinitely” due to continuing violent protests against the country's new president, only to reopen in February. At the time, local tour operator Manuel Sanchez-Palacios told The National that the effects of such closures are felt for months within the industry.

“This includes everyone from the local artisan who depends on selling handmade goods to tourists, to the tour guides, and then larger agencies like us,” he said.

In September, authorities also shut parts of the ancient site due to erosion of certain stone structures that make up the Incan citadel.

The country's culture ministry suspended visits to the Temple of the Condor and the Temple of the Sun, as well as the “Intihuatana” – a carved stone structure that was sacred to the Incas.

“The damage is irreversible. We have to protect our heritage,” said Maritza Rosa Candia, the ministry's delegate in the town of Cusco.

The citadel, 130km from Cusco, was built in the 15th century as a religious sanctuary for the Incas at an altitude of 2,490 metres.

Machu Picchu was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 1983 and is described by the awarding body as “probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height”.

However, Unesco has also highlighted the challenges faced by the site, which it says requires more stringent management. It states: “The strongly increasing number of visitors to the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu must be matched by an adequate management regulating access, diversifying the offer and efforts to fully understand and minimise impacts. A larger appropriate and increasing share of the significant tourism revenue could be reinvested in planning and management.”

Updated: February 01, 2024, 5:29 AM