Machu Picchu – Overtourism Report

Machu Picchu is truly one of the great wonders of the world. On average more than 5000 people a day walked the paths to Machu Picchu last year during the peak period of July and August. More tourists might mean more restrictions for this ancient Inca site. 

A UNESCO site in danger

Nearly every year since 2007, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has recommended that Machu Picchu be classified as ‘in danger’ due to fears growing visitor numbers were damaging the site.

UNESCO had originally recommended a daily limit of 2500 people, a number that would ensure the sustainability of the site and allow the site to be adequately policed for misbehaving tourists.

“Many tourists do things they shouldn’t do,”. “For example, some people climb the structures. Some take the stones. Some mark up the floor, do things they shouldn’t. … It’s chaos.” said Nelson Huaman Quispe, a Machu Picchu tour guide quoted by the Chicago Tribune.

Allowing more tourists than what is deemed sustainable not only has negative effects on the environment but also increases the costs and efforts of policing tourists for misbehaviour.

It raises an interesting topic about the management of tourist behaviour. Many tourists are selfish when it comes to their behaviour when travelling. Personally, I believe many destinations, especially destinations that have a high reliance on visitors, allow tourists to get away with behaviour that otherwise would not be acceptable in local society. Tourists should be held accountable for their actions, which would reduce the sense of entitlement visitors often have when travelling and also discourage future misbehaviour.

A new strategy

Instead of reducing visitor numbers to Machu Picchu, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture introduced a new system to better distribute tourists throughout the day, while increasing the daily visitor limit of 5940 people – over double the UNESCO recommendation.

Under the new laws, entrance will be split into two times, a morning (06.00 – 12.00) and afternoon (12.00 – 17.30) session. Visitors will have a maximum of 4 hours to visit the site. Afternoon tickets will be sold at a reduced rate to encourage more visitors in the afternoon and even out visitor numbers throughout the day. Morning visits will be capped at 3,267 people, while afternoon visits will be capped at 2673 people.

All visitors must be accompanied by an official or licensed guide with group sizes capped at 16 people. The Ministerial Resolution also stipulates the creation of 3 defined routes. The route will be defined when purchasing the ticket and visitors will not be allowed to leave these defined areas.

Thoughts: Although this is a good start at trying to combat the effects of overtourism in Machu Picchu, it remains to be seen how effective these measures will be. I believe the site will see the desired improvements of visitors being spread out more evenly throughout the day and being accompanied will hopefully see an improved compliance with the site rules.

I worry being accompanied by a guide on a specific route will be a point of annoyance for many travellers, especially those who prefer to roam and explore at their own pace such as backpackers. There is something magical about exploring history at your own pace, a sense of discovery for yourself.

It seems like the Peruvian Government is trying to do whatever it can to not reduce visitor numbers to 2500 a day as recommended by UNESCO. Reducing visitor numbers would allow for a better visitor experience without the added restrictions.

The Peruvian Ministry of Culture has hinted at future restrictions after 2 years.

Difficulty evening out demand

Machu Picchu has more difficulty than most in evening out seasonal demand. The rainy season makes hiking much more difficult and increases the risk of mudslides and flooding. In the past, tourists have been stranded in small villages due to road blockages from mudslides. This further increases the popularity of visiting during the summer to avoid these risks, as well as having more favourable weather. 



Tips for Travellers

To avoid the crowds avoid June and August. The best times to visit are April/May or September/October. Also, visit before 10.00 and avoid the hoards of tourists coming by train. Sundays are also known to be quieter.

Lima and Machu Picchu the most well known and highly visited destinations in Peru. As Machu Picchu becomes more popular, visitors looking to escape the crowds can look to the lesser-known Choquequirao about 50 km away from Machu Picchu. Peru is also trying to market the Northern Provinces such Chachapoyas, the gateway to Kuélap and Gocta Waterfall, one of the largest waterfalls in the world.