This lucky traveler was the only tourist allowed in Machu Picchu since March

Oct 13, 2020

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When Japanese tourist Jesse Katayama traveled to Peru in mid-March, he’d hoped to see Machu Picchu, the nation’s famous Inca citadel. But as the novel coronavirus swept the globe, countries closed their borders and shuttered attractions.

Katayama was stranded in Peru, holding an entry ticket to the UNESCO World Heritage Site for March 16 — the day Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail closed to visitors, according to CNN Travel.

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For seven months, Katayama remained in Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), a small town at the foot of the Andes where most travelers begin their journey to the Lost City of the Incas. He’d hoped to at least explore more of South America, but border restrictions kept him in Peru.

“I thought I would never make it to Machu Picchu,” Katayama told CNN, saying he didn’t expect the famous attraction to reopen this year. And his money was running out. Soon, Katayama knew he’d be forced to return home to Osaka.

In a last-ditch effort, Katayama submitted a special request to the Ministry of Culture, Reuters reported. Minister of Culture Alejandro Neyra permitted him to enter the ruins on Saturday, Oct. 10, along with two photographers and José Bastante, head of the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park.

“He had come to Peru with the dream of being able to enter,” Neyra said during a virtual press conference two days later. “[He] entered … with our head of the park so that he can do this before returning to his country.”

In addition to being the first tourist to visit Machu Picchu since its closure in March, Katayama also got to experience the famous — and often over-crowded — attraction like few people ever do: without throngs of other tourists disrupting the view. He was even able to visit at the tail end of the dry season, the best time to visit Machu Picchu for cloud-free skies.

With his dream fulfilled, Katayama told CNN he plans to return to Japan on Oct, 16 — 216 days after arriving in Aguas Calientes.

Related: New, alternative routes to Machu Picchu 

Though most of us can only dream of having exclusive access to the 15th-century archaeological site, visiting Machu Picchu this year isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Minister Neyra said Machu Picchu could reopen to tourists in November, though it will operate at 30% capacity, according to Reuters. That means just over 200 people will be permitted to enter each day.

For U.S. travelers dreaming of seeing Machu Picchu without the crowds, a trip in the near future isn’t out of the question. Peru welcomed back international flights on Oct. 5, and flights from the U.S. are expected to restart soon. In an independent search, TPG found flights from Miami (MIA) to Lima, Peru (LIM) beginning Oct. 15.

When will international travel return? Read our country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery.

Still, Peru is expected to remain under a state of emergency — with national quarantine measures and curfews — through at least the end of October. All travelers arriving in Peru must sign a sworn statement agreeing to comply with the mandatory 14-day quarantine and saying they are symptom-free of COVID-19. At this time, travelers must also present a negative molecular COVID-19 test (taken within 72 hours of arrival) to be allowed entry.

Face masks are required in public places and social distancing measures must be respected, but the U.S. Embassy has not received any information from the Peruvian government suggesting U.S. travelers will be denied entry.

Featured photo by joseluiscamarena236/Twenty20.

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