Many highways have been blocked and train services have been suspended, leaving a number of tourists stranded at Machu Picchu for days without transportation from the UNESCO World Heritage Site to an international airport, nearly 50 miles away in Cusco.
Colorado resident Tom Gray’s group had managed to catch the last bus back to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the citadel, he told NBC News in a video interview.
He said dozens more were trapped at the top.
“Our guide had to bribe the protesters to move the stones and let us go back to our hotel,” said Gray, who had first arrived at Machu Picchu on Monday night. Their group had to navigate at least 18 roadblocks built by trees and boulders, he added, which were guarded by local villagers.
“We were 200 instead of 5,000, which is the normal population,” Gray said, adding, “We had the whole place to ourselves.”
“That was a big silver lining all around to be stuck here,” Gray said.
All trains to and from Machu Picchu were halted on Tuesday, PeruRail said in a statement posted on Facebook.
“The government of Peru is organizing an evacuation via four helicopters of the most vulnerable foreign tourists from Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Village,” the U.S. embassy in Lima said in a statement Saturday.
“The Peruvian government has informed the US Embassy that plans are in place to assist all travelers in Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Village with their departure,” it added.
Nearly 400 tourists from Machu Picchu were escorted by tourism police to the Ollantaytambo district, northwest of Cusco, and then bussed to the airport, the ministry said in a tweet on Sunday.
On Saturday, the ministry said it planned to “enable humanitarian flights”, prioritizing the elderly and vulnerable people.
The violent unrest has led to advisories from the US State Department recommending citizens “reconsider travel to the country”, and similar directives from other countries, including the UK and Spain.
Following the advice, Daniels and McLaughlin booked their flights from Lima for Sunday evening and Gray reserved his for Tuesday. “We can go to Cusco airport, that airport is open and it would take us to Lima,” Daniels told NBC News, adding that she would make her way once the trains started running again.
“We miss our families, though; we’d like to go home. Our kids are all coming over to be with us for Christmas and they could cope without us,” McLaughlin said.
Matthew Bodner and Associated Press contributed.