Peru is closing Machu Picchu to visitors indefinitely – Here’s why

People have traveled to Machu Picchu – the famous Inca ruins in Peru – for centuries. However, these visits have now been suspended by the government due to ongoing civil unrest.

“In view of the current social situation in which our region and country are immersed, the closure of the Inca Trail network and Machu Picchu has been ordered from January 21 until further notice,” Peru’s Ministry of Culture said in a statement. The closure is necessary “to protect the safety of tourists and the general public.”

The events that led to the decision to close the ruins, which normally attract about 1 million visitors each year, are ongoing violent demonstrations by protesters demanding the resignation of President Dina Bolwarte. The protests began last month after then-President Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader who is from the rural Andean region, was impeached and jailed for trying to dissolve the country’s Congress, according to the Associated Press.

So far, more than 55 people have died in the unrest. Then, on Saturday, police arrested more than 200 protesters who were illegally on the campus of a university in Lima, according to Reuters.

At the same time, 417 visitors, 300 of them foreigners, were stranded at Machu Picchu, Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Helgero explained, according to the Associated Press. However, the Ministry of Culture has since said it has safely evacuated those visitors.

Why is Machu Picchu famous?

The ruins known as Machu Picchu, which date back to the 15th century, are located in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba region of the Andes. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

“It was perhaps the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire in its heyday; its giant walls, terraces and ramps appear as if they were cut naturally into the continuous rock cliffs,” according to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

“The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land-use achievements anywhere and the most significant material heritage of the Inca civilization,” continues the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. “Recognized for its outstanding cultural and natural values, the mixed World Heritage Site covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys surrounding its heart, the spectacular archaeological monument ‘La Ciudadela’ (The Citadel) at more than 2,400 meters above sea level.”

Machu Picchu is believed to have been abandoned when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century.

Today, visitors can see approximately 200 structures “composing this extraordinary religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural center,” explains the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

what you should Know

While the Peruvian government shut down Machu Picchu, train service to the area has been shut down since last week as protesters damaged the tracks. Cusco’s airport was also closed briefly last week due to demonstrations.

In response, the US State Department issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel Advisory for Peru. American travelers should “exercise caution due to civil unrest” in the area, according to the State Department.

“Demonstrations are taking place regularly across the country,” the State Department explains. “Demonstrations can lead to the closure of local roads, trains and major highways, often with no advance notice or expected timelines for reopening.”

Meanwhile, Peru’s Ministry of Culture explains that tourists who have already purchased tickets to Machu Picchu for dates from last Saturday, January 21, up to 1 month after the end of the protests, will be able to receive a full refund.

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