One of the world’s most romantic and dramatic ancient archaeological sites, Peru’s spectacular “lost city of the Incas” up in the Andes a three-hour train ride from Cuzco, Machu Picchu has become so popular that in effect it’s being loved to death. With an average of more than 3,300 visitors per day in recent years, its hundreds of terraces, pathways, plazas, and buildings spread over a soaring mountaintop are South America’s most visited attraction.
Even when I visited back in 1978 and then again 20 years later, there was certainly no shortage of people, but in the 20 more years since my last visit, their numbers have gotten out of control. As a result, there has been significant damage and wear and tear on these structures as well as their surrounding ecosystem, with for example rampant trash, significant erosion, and pressure on some local species of flora and fauna.
By far the most visitors to Machu Picchu do this UNESCO World Heritage Site as a day trip, and to avoid peak crowds (especially in season, May through September), until now the best advice has been to visit before and after the tour group and day-tripping hordes out of Cuzco descend upon the place, between around 11 am and 5:30 pm (this is why many experts recommend overnighting in or around Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of MP).
But as of July 1, the national government has reluctantly (because it makes millions on the explosion of tourism to this site) instituted a new set of rules designed to limit visitors and their impact on the site. Some of the most salient:
· Visitors must come in guided groups of no more than 20 people, sticking without deviation to one of three prescribed routes through the ruins, each 2½ to three hours long.
· Visits must be arranged for morning or afternoon entrance times, with no unlimited time allowed at the site and even time limits (just three to five minutes!) to linger at particularly popular spots within the site.
· Prohibitions on certain items brought in by visitors have been further tightened, such as no tripods, selfie sticks, umbrellas, or drones.
A more detailed look at the new restrictions can be found here.
Yes, it’s truly sad that it’s come to this, as it will detract from the feeling of spontaneity as well as “spirituality” that many visitors prize. Some critics may say the new restrictions are too heavy handed, and that more enlightened, modern preservation and crowd-control techniques could have been applied. But on the other hand, both spontaneity and spirituality have already been heavily eroded by massive overcrowding anyway (nothing kills the former, for example, like long lines such as the ones for the solar observatory, above). Clearly something had to be done, or these priceless ruins would be well and truly ruined for real.
So no, it sure won’t be the same, but you’ll still be overwhelmed by the majesty and surroundings of Machu Picchu, and that’s what counts.