Machu Picchu Overtourism Update - It's Better Than You Think
Finally some good news. If you follow my blog you know I'm a straight shooter. I say it like I see it. And I double check my facts with my local contacts. I've been reporting on the travel trends and changes at Machu Picchu even before 2016, when the Peru government initiated the first big change to visitor access. They began the first of several steps to presumably shrink and restrict access for visitors. The news has been negative for a couple of years. Worried travelers wonder what will happen next? What could the Peruvians possibly do next? Finally, I have positive news about the visitor experience in Machu Picchu. Here's what I have to say about recent trends at Machu Picchu.
Over the last 2 years, the Peru government made the following changes in Machu Picchu:
- set up three 1-way circuits in the ruins. No more wandering around willy nilly exploring on your own.
- limited tickets to half day (morning or afternoon in 2018) Then changed it to hourly entry in 2019.
- most recently they implemented a "one ticket - one entry" rule.
- they scared everyone to death when they announced that every visitor would have to be accompanied by a licensed guide, which has never been enforced. (my guides tell me there are simply not enough guides available. And. Logistically it doesn't make sense because most guides live in Cusco which is 5H away from Machu Picchu)
- in 2019, they launched a new website offering entry tickets on the hour. Once you are inside the average tour takes about 2 hours.
(Of course, during this time, and right under the noses of UNESCO watchdogs, they more than doubled the number of tickets available per day from 2500 to more than a whopping 6600 in 2017 and 2018 and "down" to 5600 in 2019)
Well guess what? It seems that the effort is paying off. In late 2018 our guides are reporting that the crowds and congestion at Machu Picchu are sometimes barely noticeable. (There are exceptions to this trend, but I'll explain that later.)
I visited Machu Picchu in June and July 2018. Mid-June is good time to go apparently. It was busy but not as crowded as July, which was pretty busy. Based on ticket sales, July ranks as 2nd busiest month in 2018, right behind August, which was the most busy so far this year. And the slowest month in 2018? December.
On the last weekend in Sept 2018, (which ranks as the 3rd busiest month this year) Vidal was in the ruins guiding a group, and noticed that it was quite pleasant. Even the waiting line to board the shuttle bus was quick and easy. It was simple to enter the ruins and there was very little congestion. Vidal has been to Machu Picchu hundreds of times, and said he actually enjoyed walking around.
When is the best time to travel?
Let's say you want least amount of rain combined with fewest number of visitors. I think early November and early December are the best time. The rainy season is just beginning and these dates fall outside the window for holiday travelers at US Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years.
When is Machu Picchu the most crowded?
Based on tickets sales, the most congested times are during the months of July and August. This is when US students, teachers and families take their annual big vacations. Early August is when Peruvians take their "winter" break and schools go on vacation, so it makes sense that August is the most busy time to visit. We noticed that most days in August sold out of single ticket for every possible entry option! That included all the hikes inside the park and the permits for the 1-day Inca Trail hike, all of which include entry to Machu Picchu.