Peru’s Machu Picchu reopens… for one Japanese tourist

Lima: Peru’s best-known tourist site Machu Picchu has opened after months of coronavirus closure, but for just a single visitor – a Japanese man stranded in the country by the pandemic.

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“The first person on Earth who went to Machu Picchu since the lockdown is meeeeeee,” Jesse Katayama posted on his Instagram account alongside pictures of himself at the deserted site.

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“This is truly amazing! Thank you,” he added in a video posted on the Facebook pages of the local tourism authority in Cusco, where the famed site is located.

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Katayama spoke against the backdrop of the majestic mountaintop dotted with ancient ruins that once attracted thousands of tourists a day but has been closed since March because of the coronavirus.

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The Japanese boxing instructor, identified by local media as a 26-year-old from Nara, has been stuck in Peru since March, when he bought a ticket for the tourist site just days before the country declared a health emergency.

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He told a Peruvian newspaper he had only planned to spend three days in the area, but with flights cancelled and movement limited by the virus, he found himself stuck there for months.

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Eventually, his plight reached the local tourism authority, which agreed to give him special permission to visit the Inca city, reopening the site just for him.

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“I thought that I wouldn’t be able to go, but thanks to all of you who pleaded with the mayor and the government, I was given this super special opportunity,” he wrote in Japanese on his Instagram account.

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Machu Picchu is the most enduring legacy of the Inca empire that ruled a large swathe of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

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The ruins of the Inca settlement were rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, and in 1983, UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site.

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It was originally scheduled to reopen to visitors in July, but that has now been pushed back to November.

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Just 675 tourists a day will be allowed in, 30 percent of the number allowed before the pandemic, with visitors expected to maintain social distancing.

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Since it first opened to tourists in 1948, it has been closed just once before, for two months in 2010 when a flood destroyed the railway tracks connecting it to Cusco.

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