Amid moves by other world-famous mountain destinations to limit the negative impacts of overtourism, Peru appears to be taking steps in the opposite direction in a bid to bring millions of lost tourists back.
The South American nation’s Culture Ministry has announced that from next year it will be increasing the number of daily visits permitted at one of its most iconic sites: Machu Picchu and its Inca citadel.
Up to 5,600 visitors per day
Currently set at between 3,600 and 3,800 visitors per day, the new daily visitor cap at Machu Picchu will increase on 1 January 2024 to 4,500 per day, with flexibility built in to allow up to 5,600 visitors at certain times.
The increased quota will be controversial for some. The 15th-century site, “rediscovered” to the outside world by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, has long been on many people’s bucket lists, but it’s arguable that post-COVID “revenge tourists” have perhaps been kept away by recent closures due to the effects of overtourism, as well as due to mass political unrest in Peru over the last year that caused road blocks and transportation issues. Tourist numbers pre-pandemic were reaching up to 4.5 million visitors annually, but have dropped to 2.2 million in 2023.
Welcome, we’re open for business
Now, the revised, more generous Machu Picchu daily visitor cap is being interpreted as a clear signal from government that the country is safe, open for business and welcomes tourists. With tourism and hospitality one of the country’s main economic drivers, usually generating around 4% of GDP and providing around 1.4 million jobs according to OECD figures, officials are keen to bring the sightseers back.
However, with “slow tourism” around less well-known and less visited places gaining traction, do tourists have the appetite to head for such a remote destination only to be surrounded by over 5000 other visitors?
Machu Picchu perches at an altitude of around 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) in southeastern Peru, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from regional capital Cusco. Built under orders from Inca ruler Pachacutec, it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.
According to @UNESCO, #Peru is the second country in the region with the most sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, and one of the top five on the continent. Peru’s heritage value to the world is impressively mesmerizing!— Visit Peru (@VisitPeru) November 16, 2023
What are you waiting to #VisitPeru? 🇵🇪🙌 pic.twitter.com/rNLebFa59K
For most people, visiting the site and the Sacred Valley involves a flight to Lima, then Cusco, some altitude acclimatisation, plus a train or an up to five-day hike to the citadel. The region offers a wealth of riches, such as a rich blend of local and colonial culture, salt mines and other Inca treasures.