Machu Picchu closed to tourists

The fabled Inca site of Machu Picchu will be closed to tourists for at least three weeks – and shut off from all but the hardiest of visitors for almost two months – as Peruvian authorities assess the damage caused by the recent floods along the Urubamba river…

Over four thousand people, both foreign visitors and Peruvians, were evacuated by helicopter from Agua Calientes at the end of last week.

The small town, which sits at the foot of the Andean mountain where Machu Picchu hides 8,000ft up, became a gathering point for tourists stranded by the extreme weather as torrential rain caused the river to break its banks, setting off mudslides and stripping away sections of the railway line that connects the historic citadel to the city of Cuzco.

Train operator Perurail says that it will take eight weeks to complete repairs to the damaged track. With the rough mountainous terrain and remoteness of the location ensuring that there is no road access to Machu Picchu, the site is effectively cut off from the outside world until the train service can be restored. 

Juan Garcia, director of Peru's National Culture Institute, which administers the famous citadel, says the site will remain closed for business until trains resume – although he added that officials would consider opening the park to travellers who could hike part of the distance along the celebrated ‘Inca Trail' once the first section of track is restored. It is estimated that this will take three weeks.

Pitched high above the Urubamba river, the ruins themselves were not damaged by the floods. The river reached its highest registered rate last week, with 1100 cubic metres of water a second flowing through the narrow gorge on which Agua Calientes sits.

The interruption of the train service will come as a massive blow to the Peruvian tourist economy. Some 858,211 tourists visited Machu Picchu in 2008. Foreign visitors pay $43 just to enter the site.

Hotel reservations in Agua Calientes have already been cancelled, with Peru's National Chamber Of Tourism estimating the cost at $500,000 per day.

The last foreign visitors were evacuated from Agua Calientes on Friday, leaving behind a messy situation and an uncertain future.