Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most iconic archeological sites and Peru’s most popular tourist attraction. Since its (re)discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911, the site has been a key feature in popular culture, garnering the interest of academics, history buffs, rugged travellers, backpackers and worldly explorers.
In 1981, the Peruvian Government declared Machu Picchu a Historical Sanctuary, and this was quickly followed by UNESCO who declared the area a World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The combination of its prominence among leading conservation programmes, relatively cheap travel, and the information wave has led to an explosion of interest in Machu Picchu.
Many of our readers often ask me 'How many tourists visit Machu Picchu annually?'
In this article, I will talk about the sheer number of annual visitors who make the pilgrimage to this historically significant site and give tour booking tips and suggestions on alternative treks for hikers who want to avoid the crowds.
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How Many Tourists visit Machu Picchu Annually?
The number of visitors to Machu Picchu each year has grown from the low 10,000s in the 1980s, to a peak of nearly 1.2 million tourists in 2013 – a 700% increase!
The chart below shows how many tourists visited Machu Picchu annually from 1980-2013. The yellow bar represents foreigners and the green bar represents Peruvians.
Curbing Tourism to Machu Picchu
Concern over the impact of tourism on the preservation of Machu Picchu is significant. UNESCO has threatened to place the site on their endangered list and archeologists and academics have openly expressed their concerns.
In response, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture reluctantly implemented new measures to curb tourism in 2011. The conflict between promoting tourism, which is a major contributor to the Peruvian economy, and conserving the famous site, continues to lead to mix priorities.
Entrance to the site has been set at a limit of 2,500 tourists a day. Access onto the popular 4-Day Inca Trail leading hikers into Machu Picchu, is limited to 500 permits a day (300 of which go to porters and guides alone).
In particular, the Peruvian government has continued passing new rules that restricts the flow of tourists through three pre-determined routes in the ancient Incan city.
All tourists also need to join guided tours that are limited to 20 people, and are only allowed to stop for short periods along demarcated places on the routes.
The Future of Machu Picchu
It is unlikely that Bingham ever imagined that the city he (re)discovered in 1911 would become as popular as it is today. He would likely turn in his grave if he knew how many tourists visit Machu Picchu annually.
Gone are the days where one could arrive in Cusco and decide to trek the Inca trail or explore Machu Picchu on the spur of the moment. Now, one needs to book their visit months in advance, and will undoubtedly share the experience with hundreds of tourists.
This means smart planning is key. Here are some of my best tips when planning a visit to Machu Picchu to enjoy the site minus the crowds:
- Visit during the wet non-peak season (October-April), especially if you are not trekking. Learn about hiking the Inca trail in December.
- Visit during the shoulder months (March / April and October / November), which is the best balance between lower tourist activity and potentially good weather. Learn about when is the best time to hike Machu Picchu and when is the best time to hike the Inca trail.
- Spend a night in Aguas Calientes before visiting Machu Picchu so you can get up early and catch one of the first buses to the ruins.
Machu Picchu is relatively quiet between 06:30 and 08:30, and gets particularly busy after 11:00. Hanging around until the late afternoon before the site closes at 17:00 will also usually guarantee you some respite from the tourists hordes.
If you're still wondering how many tourists visit Machu Picchu annually and how to avoid the crowds, there are some alternative Inca trail treks.
For instance, why not consider a trek to one of many other Inca sites in the Cusco region? The Choquequirao trek is a particularly impressive site that only gets 3,000-4,000 visitors a year, and can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu.
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Start planning your Machu Picchu hiking holiday.
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Tags: How many tourists visit Machu Picchu annually, How many people visit Machu Picchu
References: (1) Peruvian Times, (2) Peruvian Ministry of Culture
Do you know if Machu Picchu limits the number or visitors on a daily basis? Just wondering what kinds of crowds to expect. We’re going in October.
Hi Peggy, Permits to Machu Picchu are limited to 2,500 a day. We recommend booking as early as possible, but you should be able to get permits a few weeks before you travel in October as this is not the busiest time of year.
Where do you find the information about the limits with 2500 permits a day? Thank you for your help.
Hi Magdalena, 2500 visitors a day is the official visitor limit set by the Peruvian government. Cheers!
Hi, just wondering if you could point me to any official sources on the number of annual visitors. Thank you and best regards.
I am also concerned with this. Thank you!
Hey Mark! I am researching tourism in Machu Picchu. If you can, can you give me the link to where exactly you found the data on tourism per year in Machu Picchu! Thank you so much!
Hi Tai, the data is from PromPress. Peru Telegraph recently updated the numbers, see here: perutelegraph.com/news/peru-travel/how-many-tourists-visited-machu-picchu-in-2018
when was the data from the number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu graph collected. Thanks
Hi Kalan, the data is up to 2013. There is more recent data here: perutelegraph.com/news/peru-travel/how-many-tourists-visited-machu-picchu-in-2018
I Was in Lima about 1976 twice, Should have taken the trip back then. I was only 31 Physically very strong and no problem breathing at 9000' Oh well
I just wish to comment that taking the 4-day hike to Machu Picchu back in May of 2019, while quite strenuous, was the most incredible physical accomplishment of my life. I was 68 at the time, and had been turned down by one hiking company for age, and the 2nd had a limit of 69, so I am so glad I booked when I did, as I turned 69 just one month later! I have hiked many mountains in my life, but the combination of ancient history, Inca culture, and having a wonderful group (including the guide and porters) was a cultural experience not to be missed! I might have been the oldest guy on the trail those 4 days, but the younger people in my group, and my guide, Franco, gave me encouragement on the steep climbs, and made the overall trip so much more enjoyable. Franco also told us much along the trail, about the birds, the landscape, and history. While anyone can take the bus up the winding road to Machu Picchu, to real experience is to take the 4-day hike, camping along the route. Outstanding experience! Terry Mindham
hi mark, I am husain , i got an essay to write on machu pichu. The main point to prove is to talk with someone who is living in machu pichu
Hi Husain, unfortunately I don’t live in Peru and haven’t done so since 2013. I suggest contacting a local tour operator like Peru Treks, Wayki Treks or Inkayni Peru Treks. All the best!
Looking for adventure in Jan of 23 to celebrate birthday. Any suggestions? We were thinking Machu Picchu, maybe not the best time.
January is not the greatest month for visiting Machu Picchu as it’s in the middle of the rainy season. The citadel is open though so you can go in January.