1. Support porters plus go crowd-free in Machu Picchu, Peru
The impact of COVID-19 in Peru has been monumental. In the absence of incoming travellers, many guides, porters, hotel staff and vendors have had to return to their family homes, reliant on subsistence farming and occasional work. Peru has been hard-hit with over half a million cases and over 26,000 deaths (at time of writing). As a result, lockdowns continue and international flights are temporarily suspended.
While there’s no firm date for Machu Picchu opening, the one-day Inca Trail will open before longer treks, with 120 people a day instead of 250. Visitors to Machu Picchu citadel may be limited to 75 people an hour (750 a day) – given the usual number is around 2,500 a day, sometimes higher, this is a sea change. As Paul Cripps, managing director of Amazonas Explorer, says, “It will be spectacularly deserted, if you get to go. Groups will be limited to eight people with one guide, with groups kept apart, and there’ll be two set routes inside.”
“So if you’re fairly fit, you can do the trip in a day,” he adds, “exploring the ruins in the even-quieter late afternoon and then catch the train back to the Sacred Valley, pretty much avoiding both Machu Picchu town (Aguas Calientes) as well as the bus and entrance queues. You could be in for a real treat.”
Cripps predicts the way visitors experience Peru will change. “The ‘Airports of Peru’ tour, where people shuffle from one hotspot to the next will hold little appeal,” he says. “Moving daily, queuing for photos, buses, buffet lunches and tourist markets is not ‘COVID- friendly’. We envision more in-depth travel using a single base.”
If travellers want to have a positive impact, it’s important to go beyond the price as companies try to recoup costs. But, says Paul, many travel-related businesses in Peru are classed as ‘informal’ which means no operating licenses, staff protection policies, insurance etc.
“It’s also about how that company has protected its people during the pandemic and after,” says Paul. “We set up a GoFundMe project to send food boxes to porters, cooks and muleteers who have lost work. We’re also helping guides access funds to re-invent themselves as there will perhaps be zero work till 2021.
Ask tour operators how they’ll run sustainable and environmentally friendly trips such as joining Travelers Against Plastic and actively reducing plastic use.”
You can contribute to Paul’s GoFundMe project here.