A Japanese tourist whose trip to Peru got unexpectedly extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic finally got to check a major item off his bucket list this weekend.
Jesse Katayama toured Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca citadel in the Andes Mountains, on Sunday. And aside from a number of guides, the 26-year-old was the site’s only visitor.
Katayama, a boxing instructor from Osaka, Japan, had planned to visit Machu Picchu on March 16. Although his ticket had been purchased in advance, the Peruvian government closed the site, as well as other attractions, that day to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Given the cost and uncertainty of travel during the pandemic, Katayama opted to extend his stay rather than return to Japan in hopes that Machu Picchu would reopen.
Alejandro Neyra, Peru’s culture minister, said Monday that Katayama had been granted special access to Machu Picchu even though the site remains off-limits to visitors.
“He had come to Peru with the dream of being able to enter,” Neyra told The New York Times. “The Japanese citizen has entered together with our head of the park so that he can do this before returning to his country.”
For the past seven months, Katayama has been living in an apartment in Aguas Calientes, the town from which many tourists begin Machu Picchu expeditions. Thanks to profiles in Peruvian news outlets, he’s also become a local celebrity and has passed the time by teaching boxing classes to children and studying for fitness certification exams.
“I thought I would never make it to Machu Picchu as I was expecting it won’t open within this year, but I was OK with it because I had a great time here,” Katayama told CNN. Noting that he’ll return to Japan on Friday, he added, “I will definitely cry. These seven months have been very special to me. I have discovered a new part of me.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, Peru has had more than 851,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 33,357 deaths. The pandemic has also decimated the country’s tourism industry, which expects to lose a reported $3.3 billion in revenue this year.
During a normal peak season, Machu Picchu welcomes around 5,000 daily visitors. At present, there are plans to reopen the site to visitors at 30% capacity, though no date has been set.
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