Peru on Saturday closed the famous ancient ruins of Machu Picchu indefinitely in the latest sign that anti-government protests that began last month are increasingly engulfing the South American country.
The culture ministry said it had closed the country’s most famous tourist attraction, as well as the Inca Trail that leads to the site “to protect the safety of tourists and the general public.”
417 visitors were stuck in Machu Picchu, more than 300 of them foreigners, Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Helguero said at a press conference. They were evacuated on Saturday afternoon and taken to the town of Piscacucho, where buses would later take them to Cusco, the agency’s website said in a statement.
The closure of the 15th-century Inca citadel, often cited as one of the new seven wonders of the world, comes as protesters descended on Lima, many of whom traveled to the capital from remote Andean regions to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.
Also on Saturday, police raided Peru’s main public university in Lima to evict protesters who were staying on campus while taking part in large demonstrations. Interior Minister Vicente Romero said more than 100 people had been arrested.
Until recently, the protests were concentrated in the south of the country. They began last month after then-President Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, was charged and jailed for trying to dissolve Congress.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of Boluarte, the former vice president who took office on December 7 to replace Castillo. They also want Congress to be dissolved and new elections held. Castillo is currently being jailed for rebellion.
More than 55 people have died in the riots that have followed, most recently on Friday night when one protester was killed and at least nine others injured in clashes with police in Puno. A total of 21 protesters and one police officer have died in the southern region.
On Saturday morning, police used a small tank to enter the National University of San Marcos in the morning.
Javier Cutipa, 39, who had traveled by bus from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor there since Thursday but left for breakfast just before police arrived. He described the police action as “virtually an attack” using helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.
“That upsets us. The only thing the government is doing with these arrests is increasing tensions,” Cutipa said. He added: “When the population finds out about this, they will react more radically.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the law enforcement offices where those detained were being held on Saturday night, shouting “freedom” and “we are students, not terrorists”. More are gathering elsewhere in downtown Lima.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed “concern at the police intervention, evictions and mass arrests” at the university and called on the state to “guarantee the integrity and due process of all people.”
The university issued a press release saying the police raid came after protesters “attacked” security personnel.
Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has been the scene of some of the most intense clashes, resulting in significant losses in tourism revenue. Cusco’s airport was briefly closed this week after protesters tired of storming it.
The U.S. State Department issued a Level 3 Reconsider Visit travel advisory for Peru, noting that “demonstrations can result in the closure of local roads, trains and major highways, often without prior notice or estimated reopening times,” leaving travelers stranded.
The train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to damage to the tracks.
Some stranded tourists chose to walk to Piscacucho, the nearest village, Helguero said, “but that requires a six, seven hour or more walk,” and few people have been able to do so.
Tourists who already bought tickets to Machu Picchu from Saturday up to a month after the protests ended can get a full refund, the culture ministry said.