I didn’t mind having to make my way through layers of tourists, crowding tiered ledges almost 8,000 feet above sea level. It only made the eventual reveal that much more effective.
Whether it was bigger or smaller than I had imagined, or just like the photos in the countless history books, National Geographic programs and postcards I had seen over the years, didn’t matter.
It was Machu Picchu, the cradle of Incan spirituality and crown jewel of Peru, and I was there — with a lot of other people.
By the time I made my visit to Peru in late September, tourism was booming. The daily visitor allowance for the site had returned to 4,044, its usual amount. Workers, security guards and groundskeepers were out in full force making their rounds to protect and preserve the site.
Tourists from all over the world were buzzing throughout the Incan citadel, with cameras poised, selfie sticks drawn and smiles at the ready on what was a gorgeous sunny day.
It was hard to imagine no one here. But months earlier, from late January through February, that was the case: Nobody was at Machu Picchu because the site was closed as a result the civil unrest that followed political turmoil in late 2022. By March, Machu Picchu had reopened, and while it took several months for tourism numbers to bounce back, they eventually did in the fall.
“The rebound really started as guests traveled in September and October and is continuing into 2024,” said Scott Avera, president of Alexander + Roberts. “It’s a steady climb, though, not the rush as we saw with Japan,” he said, referring to when the latter reopened in 2022.
Bookings for 2024 travel to Peru are up 41% year-overyear for Alexander + Roberts, putting the company well ahead of where it was in 2022, when it was bouncing back from Covid.
Intrepid’s bookings to Peru in the spring of 2023 were also slow to rebound following Machu Picchu’s reopening. Booked trips hovered just under 300 by May and shot up to 365 by the end of June before tapering off again in July and August. It wasn’t until the holiday season that demand picked up again, with about 667 trips to Peru booked in November.
“Most bookings into Peru that were made in November were driven by Cyber Monday sales,” said Fernando Rodriguez, general manager for Peru at Intrepid.
The political turmoil has taken a toll. Peru is historically the top-selling destination in South America for Intrepid’s North American market, but Ecuador led the company’s South America bookings for 2023 and leads for 2024, so far.
And while Peru bookings made in 2022 for 2023 were up 24% compared with those made in 2021 for 2022, bookings made in 2023 for 2024 were down 36% compared with 2019.
“Peru was hit hard with the unrest and political landscape this year,” said Steve Lima, vice president of growth for the U.S. and Latin America at G Adventures. “We definitely saw some pullback and softening on the destination, but the interesting thing is that we feel we have a resilient type of traveler. Our passengers tend to not cancel as much as they do with other providers, and when something happens, they tend to wait. Some just delay their bookings or even shift to Peru from other canceled trips.”
This resiliency is why Lima said he believes Peru’s rebound for G Adventures has been robust.
For travelers who had credits with G Adventures, whether from the company canceling trips to Peru in January and February because of the protests, or unused credits from Covid or other company-driven cancellations, Lima said Peru was the No. 1 destination that its customers picked to rebook their trips.
“The travel credit could have come from Israel or it could have come from another destination,” Lima said. “Peru has really bounced back hard, and it’s an amazing comeback story.”