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Coronavirus: reopens Machu Picchu, symbol of tourism in Peru
The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu reopens this Sunday as part of a gradual reduction in the number of cases of the coronavirus in Peru, after being closed for almost eight months, a hard blow for thousands of people who make their living from tourism.
Under the fog, those responsible for the citadel, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1983, were making the final adjustments to the reopening ceremony on Sunday, November 1.
The first train with tourists arrived around 7 a.m. at Machu Picchu Pueblo, the closest village to the mythical citadel, after an hour and a half journey along the Urubamba River from the ancient Inca village of Ollantaytambo.
Hidden among the mountains of the Andes, the majestic stone citadel will receive its first visitors on Monday, some of whom are already in the nearby town, after it was closed since 16 March due to the pandemic.
“To be able to open up Machu Picchu to the world, to be able to open up our wonder, implies that we Peruvians are resilient,” said Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister Rocío Barrios.
Hope in machu Picchu
With the reopening, hopes are rekindled in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire, and in the towns of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which are an obligatory passage to Machu Picchu and face an acute economic crisis as a result of the pandemic, since 70% of its people lived off tourism.
After an obligatory confinement of more than 100 days, lifted on July 1st, many hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the area went bankrupt and thousands of workers were left unemployed.
“Before the pandemic came there were 80 hotels and small hotels in Ollantaytambo, but at least half of them have gone bankrupt,” said Joaquin Randall, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of this town, located 32 km from the citadel.
“The formal hotels, which pay taxes and are up to date with the state, have been able to access credit” from the government, but not the many informal lodgings, added Randall, owner of the El Albergue hotel (three stars) and the El Chuncho restaurant.
In Ollantaytambo, all travellers have to board a train to continue to Machu Picchu, because later the road ends.
Machu Picchu (Old Mountain in Quechua) is the jewel of Peruvian tourism and was chosen in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in a worldwide internet survey.
In Cusco and the Sacred Valley there was a varied tourist offer, from five star hotels to simple backpacker rooms, but now most of them remain closed.
The first luxury hotel chain to resume operations was Belmond, a day after Peru reopened its borders on October 5, but tourists have yet to arrive.
The company operates four hotels in the area, including the only one opposite the entrance to the citadel, whose rooms used to be reserved one or two years in advance, according to those in charge.
“We made the decision to restart operations because we wanted to send a message of security to the country and the international community,” said Arturo Schwarz, manager of the two Belmond hotels in Cusco.
Other international and Peruvian hotel chains reopened this weekend in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and in Machu Picchu Pueblo, formerly known as Aguas Calientes.
The reopening raises the hopes of thousands of people who sold handicrafts, transported tourists or made a living in other tourism-related occupations.
Taxi driver Eberth Hancco, who was able to pick up passengers again at Cuzco airport a few weeks ago, said that in April he had to go to his parents’ farm in Paucartambo with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. “The situation has been very bad, because Cusco lives off tourists,” he said.
This Sunday the company PeruRail resumed its tourist trains between Cusco and Aguas Calientes. Its competitor IncaRail will do so on Monday.
The mythical citadel built in the 15th century, which received one and a half million visitors in 2019, put Peru on the world tourism map in the middle of last century.
The Spanish conquistadors who subdued the Inca empire in the 16th century never knew that Machu Picchu existed, built on top of a mountain covered with vegetation that is not visible from the plain. That is why it is called the “lost city of the Incas”.
The citadel was “discovered” by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in July 1911, although some locals knew of its existence.
Since it opened to tourism in 1948, it had only closed down two months earlier in 2010, when a flood destroyed the railway line from Cusco.
According to the new protocols, only 675 tourists will be allowed to enter per day, a third more than before the pandemic.