Machu Picchu Is Opening November 1st-Should You Plan To Go?

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Recently, Jesse Katayama, a Japanese tourist made news as the only visitor to Peru’s UNESCO designated Wonder of the World, the Inca citadel Machu Picchu. The 15th century site high in the Andes Mountains had been closed since March, two days after Katayama’s arrival in the country specifically to visit it, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stranded in the country for seven months by travel restrictions, he was due to return home when the Peruvian government made a special exception for him to visit, giving him the opportunity no tourist has had and likely won’t again: having this icon all to himself. Starting November 1st visitors will begin to filter back as the site reopens to the world and flights to Lima resume from six U.S. cities (Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, and Miami ) and 19 others in Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Like many other countries, Peru requires a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure along with a 14 day self/honor system quarantine. And when it reopens Machu Picchu will also have a new set of restrictions which to many is a long time in coming.  One of the prime spots threatened by overtourism in the last few years pre-pandemic, the site routinely experienced visitor totals of 5000 per day eliciting threats from UNESCO that it would be placed on its endangered list. Dropping the number allowed in by half and staggering entrance by morning and afternoon sessions resulted. Now, the rules will be that only 30% capacity, a maximum of 675 visitors, will be allowed in each day (75 each hour) limited to groups of eight (7 travelers plus a guide) and they must stay 66 feet apart. Visitor temperatures will be taken before entry and anyone registering 38 degrees Centigrade (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) will not be allowed in. Tours are also restricted to 1 hour, 20 minutes duration in the four circuits of the site that the government has organized. (Some sites may open later but will not open yet: the Huayna Picchu hike, the Machu Picchu Mountain hike, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Condor and Inca Bridge.)

Getting up to the citadel’s central point 7,972 feet above sea level will also be different with trains and buses operating at 50% capacity and along with a mask requirement, no food served on board. Hikers will also not be able to hike the complete Inca trail but the last section, the Km 104 Trail, will open November 1st.

So, even though this iconic site is reopening, should travelers plan to go now? According to Emmanuel Burgio, founder of the luxury travel company Blue Parallel which has a special focus on bespoke trips in South America, it’s better to wait . “The 14-day self-quarantine currently in place does not pave the way for a return to international tourism,” he explains. “The good news is that we see a gradual re-opening of many countries in Latin America to international tourism, including Peru, where baby steps are being taken. There is a more cautious approach being taken in comparison to some European countries which opened up too fast and too early in late Spring. Hopefully this will lead to a sustainable “new normality” in the next months, when tourists will be able to return to universal sites such as Machu Picchu in a safe manner, following a protocol.”

Visitors need to plan well in advance, he says, so the necessary tickets and permits can be secured. And waiting a few months and then following the protocols will be rewarding. “It will be a privilege to be able to enjoy UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Machu Picchu as it was pre-pandemic but without the crowds,” he says. Exactly as UNESCO prefers.