Many Peruvian tourists were stranded in and around the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu after political protesters blocked trains from the site to the Andean city of Cusco.
Passengers, including some Americans, were stranded after the train tracks were blocked by rocks, according to eyewitnesses. “The Peruvian government is organizing four helicopter evacuations of the most vulnerable foreign tourists from the village of Aguascalientes/Machu Picchu,” the U.S. embassy in Lima said on Saturday.
The operation represented an escalation in the political conflict that has crippled the country’s capital, Lima, following the ouster and detention of the country’s president, Pedro Castillo.
All trains to and from Machu Picchu were suspended last Tuesday. Protests began a day later after the president’s efforts to dissolve Peru’s parliament and the government declared a 30-day state of emergency.
More than 20 people have been killed and more than 500 injured in unrest that broke out after the government suspended assembly rights and imposed curfews in major cities.
Peru’s caretaker President Dina Boluarte, who led the transitional government after Castillo’s ouster, announced cabinet changes over the weekend – a move she said was motivated by a need “to be able to appoint knowledgeable ministers”.
“This is a transitional government and we need to act quickly,” Boluarte added.
Most of the protesters blocking access to Machu Picchu are believed to be supporters of Castillo, who was a teacher and son of a farmer. Protests have escalated in recent days, with hundreds taking to the streets and disrupting road and air transport.
Miami Fire Rescue Chief Brian Vega told NBC News he found himself stranded at the UNESCO World Heritage site when train service to the famous Inca site of Machu Picchu was disrupted.
“We’re isolated here,” he said. “The only way to get in is by train or … by helicopter.”
Vega added that he was considering trekking to the nearest town to get to the airport.
Colorado resident Tom Gray told media he had reached Aguas Calientes, a small village at the entrance to the site, but dozens of people were still trapped inside the castle.
“Our tour guide had to bribe the protesters to remove the stone and let us go back to the hotel,” Gray said. He estimated that at least 18 roadblocks were manned by local villagers.
But Gray also said the unrest had cleared the normally crowded site of tourists. “That is [a] Being stuck here is a silver lining everywhere,” he said.
However, tourist police have evacuated some 400 tourists from the scene to the Ollantaytambo district, northwest of Cusco. The tourism ministry said on Saturday it planned to “facilitate humanitarian flights”.
The U.S. State Department is advising U.S. citizens planning to travel to Peru to “reconsider travel.” Similar announcements were made in the UK and Spain.