Machu Picchu – Open for business

Today is the 1 month anniversary of the re-opening of Machu Picchu and I’ve invited two very special guests to speak about the site, how tourism has rebounded and what it was really like during the flooding earlier this year. I’m pleased to introduce Roxana Gonzales, Sales Manager, and Catherine Lanseros, Director of Corporate Communications Peru. Both work for Orient-Express Hotels, the only hotel group with a property actually on the sacred site. Here’s what they had to say:

We all watched breathlessly when the train tracks flooded and 3,500 people were stranded up at Machu Picchu. Since then we haven’t heard much about the site other than it was closed for repairs. On April 1st Susan Sarandon helped to reopen the site to tourists. Can you tell me what has changed?

On 29th March, Ferrocarril Transandino S.A. (FTSA), the concessionaire of the railway tracks for the South ad South Eastern of Peru, ended the rehabilitation works of the tracks between Piscacucho town (km.82) and Aguas Calientes (km.110 Since then, Perurail is operating its train services Backpacker and Vistadome, in that route (see the map below)  In Piscacucho, Perurail has improvised a temporary train station. FTSA calculates that will be finishing all the rehabilitation of the railway tracks by 1st July. If that happens, since that date the train operators will be suitable to operate from the Poroy (km.18) and Ollantaytambo (km.68) stations. Since 1st April, Perurail is transporting about 2000 to 3000 passengers each day.

Are all of the PeruRail trains (the Backpacker, Vistadome & Hiram Bingham) running again?

By the moment, only the Backpackers and Vistadome are operating. The Hiram Bingham train will be able to operate since 1st July approx, because it´s wagons are ubicated in the Poroy station (km.18) and in order to move them, first its necessary that FTSA repairs km.79, were the mayor destruction occurred during the floods of January, so the Hiram Bigham train can pass towards Aguas Calientes.

After the flooding the Peru tourism bureau said they would be running specials. I have seen airfare deals from the United States. Any specials within Peru to encourage tourism?

The hotels of the Orient-Express collection in Peru had made special deals to incentive, during the period that Machu Picchu Citadel was closed,  Peruvians to visit Cusco. Also Perurail and the Orient-Express Hotels are supporting the programs of incentive launched by Promperu, and also inviting press to cover the different attractions in Cusco, in order to promote the destination.

I read there was some landslide damage at Machu Picchu. Has this been repaired or is work still on going to restore it?

All the damages in Machupicchu town are almost repaired. The tourist routes are working without problem again. But the Citadel was never damaged by the floods.

Orient-Express owns the only hotel on the actual site, The 31-room Sanctuary Lodge. How did your staff handle the crisis? Were Orient-Express guests allowed to stay over until help arrived? Were you able to take in any other stranded travelers?

On Tuesday 26th January, two days after Machu Picchu town was isolated due to heavy rains that struck the entire region of Cusco, Peru, 210 weary walkers emerged at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate having completed their three day hike along the Inca trail. Finding themselves unable to leave Machu Picchu due to the damage this natural disaster had caused to the railway tracks, these walkers were offered welcome food and shelter at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.

Of these 210 people, 50 were local guides and porters, who work carrying provisions and tents for the hikers, and the rest were tourists of different nationalities – Argentines, Brazilians, Colombians, Chileans, Australians, Danish, Americans and British. Gustavo de Leon, General Manager, welcomed everyone into the hotel with open arms and each was offered a warm lunch of chaufa rice, a traditional Peruvian dish of Chinese inspiration. Throughout the afternoon, the staff of Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge transformed the Tinkuy buffet restaurant into a dormitory, so that all 210 people could set out their sleeping bags for the night, after having a simple buffet dinner.

This group of Inca Trail adventurers remained at the Sanctuary Lodge for five days in total, before they were able to be evacuated by helicopter. In what was a tiring and uncertain time, these guests were offered access to the Internet so that they could communicate with their families, friends and embassies. The hotel also made available its phones so that they could receive calls from relatives.

At the time of the floods, the 31 room Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge also had a further 45 resident guests, who were also treated with the same hospitality that characterises Orient-Express around the world…even in hard times!

Any lessons learned from the flooding? Any changes to policy or advice you now give your travelers before they make the trip?

The floods occurred in Cusco last January, were not predictable in that intensity. It was a completely abnormal increase of volume of the Vilcanota river. The waters reached the historic highest of 1,100 cubic meters per second due to 3 days of heavy rains, while the record was at 820 cubic metres/sec for a few hours. According to the weather authorities, at the Cusco region it rained in 3 days the equivalent of a month. There are no registers in the almost 90 years of the railroad going to Machupicchu, of these volumes of the river. But FTSA is now building retaining walls and defenses along the railway tracks, in order to protect them better against similar events in the future.

Were people allowed to stay at the Sanctuary Lodge while Machu Picchu was shut down? If not, how did you keep your staff busy until the reopening of the site?

No. Our staff has the opportunity to make a full maintenance of the property which now looks better than ever!

Were any of your other properties affected by the floods?

No.

Is the Inca Trail reopened to foot traffic yet? Will it reopen?

The Inca Trail is managed by the National Institute of Culture, and yes; it´s reopened again since 1st April.

Thanks to both Roxana and Catherine for taking the time to talk with Instant Native Travel.  If you find yourself in Peru be sure to check out the  Orient-Express Hotels at Cusco and Machu Picchu.

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