The pandemic is spurring changes to Machu Picchu, some of which may last long after the global outbreak ends.
The 15th century Incan archeological site has been a poster child for over-tourism for years, with visitors reporting trips to the site’s Citadel being ruined by crowds.
The pandemic may have helped that. New rules now govern how many people are allowed in and what they can do once inside, said Jose Miguel Bastante, director of Peru’s National Archaeological Park of Machupicchu, in an interview with CNBC.
It reopened in November, but with new safety protocols, such as mandatory mask-wearing, restrictions on group sizes — no more than nine people, including a guide — and a requirement that groups stay at least 20 meters (66 feet) apart.
Basically, anyone who arrived at Machu Picchu was allowed to enter, according to a 2017 report by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.
Machu Picchu’s ticketing website sold 3,700 tickets a day, but that didn’t include the 500 daily visitors who hiked to the site, according to the report. Furthermore, the report said additional tickets were being sold by tour companies and at the site itself.
In July 2020, Peruvian authorities capped the number of site visitors to Machu Picchu at 2,244 a day. But even that change did not tackle the problem of people preferring to visit at the same time of day, especially at sunrise.
“Everybody wanted to be the first in Machu Picchu,” he said. “We open at six in the morning, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people wanting to enter, with queues that will go on for two hours.”
It was as if the visitors believed that “the sun will rise super early and illuminate Machu Picchu like in a movie,” he said, adding that the best time to visit is actually in the afternoon after the morning mist has cleared.
Before the site reopened, it changed how it issues tickets. Formerly, it issued tickets for half-day blocks — either morning or afternoon. Now, visitors buy tickets for specific hours.
“If you have a ticket for 10 a.m., you have to enter between 10 and 11 a.m.,” said Bastante, who added that if travelers show up outside of their timeframe, they “cannot enter.”