Peruvian authorities have held an emergency meeting to discuss strategies for managing visitor numbers at Machu Picchu.
Chaos erupted at the ancient Incan site over the weekend, as long lines and overcrowding left many tourists unable to enter. Meanwhile, local residents are on strike because they claim they are not being given enough tickets to sell by the government, despite obvious demand. Protestors are angry as tickets to enter Machu Picchu are only being sold in the nearby city of Cusco, rather than on 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.
As travel rebounds in the wake of the pandemic, Machu Picchu is emerging as a poster child of the challenges facing tourism authorities, which must balance burgeoning demand with the need to protect a site's cultural and archeological heritage.
Representatives from the country’s ministries of culture, trade, tourism and the environment, along with the regional Cusco government and the municipality of Machu Picchu, met in Lima on Monday to discuss potential solutions.
While no firm decisions were made, the entities did not rule out the possibility of revisiting the current cap on visitor numbers and agreed to organise a field trip to Machu Picchu on Wednesday to better familiarise themselves with the situation.
"It would be good to have the technical file to be able to develop the measures that allow us to maintain this capacity of 4,044 visitors," said the minister of culture, Betssy Chavez. "We are not opposed to an increase in tourists, but we must protect and care for our heritage."
Chavez also requested regular reports from all agencies responsible for the care and preservation of the site. “We would avoid many problems if we began to be honest with this information. As the ministry of culture, we are committed to collaborating on everything that has to do with the care and safeguarding of our heritage,” she added.
The authorities will also be working closely with Unesco to determine the best way forward. 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". It added its giant walls, terraces and ramps "seem as if they have been cut naturally" into the continuous rock escarpments.
The citadel was built in the 15th century as a religious sanctuary for the Incas at an altitude of 2,490 metres. In 2019, it attracted 1.5 million visitors.
However, Unesco also highlighted the challenges faced by the site, which it says requires more stringent management. “Tourism itself represents a double-edged sword by providing economic benefits but also by resulting in major cultural and ecological impacts,” said Unesco.
“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 revenues could be reinvested in planning and management.”
Chavez alluded to the dangers of Machu Picchu being blacklisted by Unesco if visitor numbers are not managed effectively. "Likewise, after listening to the recommendations from Unesco, it will provide all the necessary support to preserve and care for our World Heritage," she added.
"We are not opposed to reactive monitoring, it seems convenient to us. We think it is a space that allows us not to compromise our cultural heritage is at risk.”