Heavy rains and mudslides in Peru blocked the train route to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, keeping nearly 2,000 tourists stranded.

The government declared an emergency in the region and evacuated 20 elderly and ill tourists by helicopter from the village of Machu Picchu near the ruins, Lima's CPN radio said.

Government officials said 1,954 tourists in all had been stranded in the village.

The train is the only means of transportation on the last leg of the trip to the ruins from the city of Cuzco and service was suspended after mudslides on Sunday.

"Many people have run out of dollars or Peruvian soles and are begging for food or water for their children or for accommodation. Others are strewn about the floor of the train station waiting," Mexican tourist Alva Ramirez, 40, said by telephone from a hostel.

Ms Ramirez said hotels were full and turning people away in the village, a tangle of restaurants and traveller's hostels that has sprung up in recent years on either side of the railway. Tourists must pass through the village on their way to the ruins.

Perurail spokeswoman Soledad Caparo said train company crews were working nonstop to clear rock and mud covering the tracks, but she said flooding of the adjacent Urubamba River had slowed the cleanup.

Rains stopped last night and Perurail said in a statement that service could resume today, "weather permitting".

It added that military helicopters delivered food and water to the village and would return today to continue evacuations.

The company said it was providing stranded passengers with meals, with support from the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.

Chilean tourist Martin Squella, 19, said many travellers slept on the street and that restaurants raised prices to take advantage of the high demand.

Heavy rains battered the Cuzco region over the past three days. Floods and slides killed a woman and a baby and damaged stone walls at archaeological sites near Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital.

"This year is absolutely atypical. This situation hasn't occurred in the last 15 years. ... the river has never been so high," Tourism and Foreign Commerce Minister Martin Perez said at a news conference.