Majestic mountain landscape, Machu Picchu, Peru
Photo: Bérenger Zyla/Getty Images
He arrived in Aguas Calientes with the plan to stay just three days, hike up to Machu Picchu and carry on with the rest of his trip around Peru. But for Japanese boxing instructor Jesse Katayama, the wait stretched just a bit longer—seven months to be precise. At the end of it though, he was rewarded with an experience few can boast of: having the Inca ruins all to himself.
Machu Picchu all to himself
Katayama arrived in town from where tourists head up to Machu Picchu. Having bought a ticket to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Katayama was about to make the journey when on 16 March, Peru went into lockdown—one of the first countries in the world to do so, weeks before the UK, most European countries and India. Flights were cancelled, movement restricted. He could go nowhere, the Japanese man told Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.
Katayama made the most of his stay by befriending locals, teaching boxing to local children as well as excursing nearby attractions such as Putucusi Mountain and the Calientes Waterfalls. He reluctantly accepted the fact that he might have to return home with his unused admission ticked to the World Heritage Site.
However, the Japanese tourist’s seven-month wait was rewarded by the local tourism authority which agreed to give him special permission to enter the site and reopened it for him on Saturday, October 10, making him the first person to visit since its closure. The tourist was given a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have the site usually crowded by hordes of tourists, all to himself and his journey was captured by two photographers and the head of the park.
“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 on his Instagram account.
The Inca citadel marks the dominance of the Inca empire that ruled over Machu Picchu for a 100-years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. This site attracts thousands of tourists every year from all over the world and remains one of South America’s greatest treasures especially after being inducted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
Peru’s lockdown was finally relaxed in late June, making it one of the longest in the world. Machu Picchu was scheduled to reopen in July But the date has now been pushed to November, with a cap of 675 visitors a day—only 30% of its capacity before the pandemic with strict social distancing measures levied.