Machu Picchu reopens for tourists


MACHU PICCHU, Peru — Tourists returned to the Machu Picchu temples in Peru which was closed for two months after deadly storms destroyed the main access to the site.

Torrential rains in late January forced the evacuation of more than 4,000 people by air from the 15th century city in the Andes and claimed seven lives.

The storms also dealt a major blow to the South American nation’s tourism industry with an estimated loss of 185 million dollars in revenue, the tourism ministry said.

The World Heritage site perched about 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) in the Andes mountains formally reopened Thursday but remains plagued by concerns about its preservation with plans under way to build an alternative access to the ruins.

“It’s mysterious. There’s such energy here!,” said Eva Maria Frittgen, a 23-year-old German, who was one of the first of the returning visitors to the so-called “Lost City of the Incas” this week.

The heaviest rainfall in 15 years washed away large chunks of the 110-kilometre (70-mile) railway which brings nearly all of 2,200 daily tourists who visit Machu Picchu each day.

The brunt of the closure was felt in the province of Cuzco where 175,000 people depend on tourism. The city of Cuzco has been operating at 30 percent of capacity, and some hotels and restaurants closed, Roger Valencia, vice-president of the chamber of commerce, told AFP.

That is why the reopening of Machu Picchu on Thursday was cause for celebration with Hollywood star Susan Sarandon joining about 1,000 tourists in the festivities.

“What a relief,” exclaimed Justiniana, who sells alpaca sweaters in the village of Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. “I lost about 200 soles (70 dollars) a day, we all had nothing else to do.”

The ancient city will not be at full capacity for tourists for a while yet. It will take another two months to repair the full length of the railway.

But the closure of Machu Picchu has made Peru more aware of its dependence on visitors to the Inca site and some in the tourism industry and media have called on the government to diversity the country’s appeal.

Tourism Minister Martin Perez, who attended Thursday’s reopening, talked about building a new road to provide alternative access to Machu Picchu besides the railway line.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has raised concerns that the project could lead to uncontrolled access to the Inca citadel, which for five centuries, until it was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, was unknown to the rest of the world.

Peruvian heritage experts are working with UNESCO on a project that provides appropriate access to the archeological jewel.