Helicopters Evacuate Travelers Stranded at Machu Picchu

Hundreds of tourists found themselves trapped at the site as protests spread through Peru

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca structure in the Andes Mountains Pexels

The Peruvian government has evacuated tourists who were stranded at Machu Picchu for several days following recent political upheaval.

When former President Pedro Castillo was ousted and arrested earlier this month, protests sprung up across the country. Demonstrators blocked highways and railroad tracks, and airports—including the one in Cusco, about 50 miles from Machu Picchu, a Unesco World Heritage site—were forced to close. 

Per CNN’s Hira Humayun, Claudia Rebaza and Caroll Alvarado, the closures and blockages left an estimated 300 tourists from across the globe stuck in and around the historic site.

Government tourism officials said on Monday they had airlifted travelers via helicopter from the ancient Inca citadel, which is situated high in the Andes Mountains, to Cusco, where flights have now resumed, report the Guardian’s Dan Collyns and Edward Helmore.

Many travelers took matters into their own hands and hiked about 20 miles to the nearby town of Ollantaytambo, according to USA Today’s Kathleen Wong. One of those travelers was Tony Hepburn, a Canadian real estate agent, who recalls seeing “boulders, trees and debris strewn all over the roads.”

Some 60 tourists were also stranded in Checacupe, a remote town in the Cusco region, report Reuters’ Brendan O’Boyle and Mariana Sandoval.

The civil unrest began after Castillo attempted to dissolve the country’s Congress and rule by decree on December 7. Lawmakers stripped Castillo of power and arrested him on charges of conspiracy and rebellion. His former vice president, Dina Boluarte, became the nation’s new president. On December 14, Peru’s new government declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency.

Protesters are demanding Castillo’s freedom and Boluarte’s resignation; they also want the government to schedule general elections. Approximately 20 people have died and more than 600 have been injured as a result of the protests, reports BBC News’ Vanessa Buschschlüter.

In the United States, officials with the State Department say they are watching the situation closely. The department issued an advisory asking Americans to reconsider their trips to the South American country because of crime and civil unrest. The U.S. Embassy in Peru urged tourists already in the country to avoid crowds and comply with local authorities.

Historians think that the Inca built Machu Picchu during the 15th century, possibly as a religious site or royal estate, before the Spanish arrived. Today, it’s the country’s most popular tourist destination, with an estimated 1.5 million travelers visiting the site in 2019, per the New York Times’ Mitra Taj, Genevieve Glatsky and Julie Turkewitz.

The recent civil unrest is hurting the nation’s tourism industry, which employs tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile, Peru’s travel businesses are still trying to navigate the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With all of this,” Nancy Bautista, a tour guide in the Cusco region, tells the Times, “it’s [like] going back again to that time where everything was uncertain.”

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