After a 7-Month Wait, This Vacationer Bought Machu Picchu All to Himself
Jesse Katayama had planned to end a trip around the world 8,000 feet above sea level in Machu Picchu, the sprawling 15th-century Inca citadel high in the Andes.
Then the coronavirus happened which left Mr Katayama, a 26-year-old Japanese national, stranded in Peru and tourism sites closed due to a lockdown across the country.
On Sunday, after a waiting period of seven months, Mr. Katayama was finally allowed to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. And apart from a few guides, he had everything to himself.
“After the lockdown, the first man to visit Machu Picchu is meeeeeee,” he wrote in a post on Instagram that included photos of him with a park official.
Alejandro Neyra, Peru’s Minister of Culture, said in a virtual press conference on Monday that Mr Katayama had been given special access to the website in recognition of his patience.
“He came to Peru with the dream of entering,” said Neyra. “The Japanese citizen entered with our park manager so he could do this before returning to his country.”
Before the pandemic, Machu Picchu welcomed thousands of visitors every day. Tourists usually need to apply months in advance for permission to enter an Inca trail that leads to the ancient fortress.
Mr. Katayama’s original pass was scheduled for March 16, and he arrived two days earlier in Aguas Calientes, a town at the foot of the mountain.
Two days became weeks and then months. He rented a small apartment in town and spent the time taking daily yoga classes, teaching local kids how to box, and studying for various fitness and sports nutrition certification exams.
He wrote on a crowdfunding website in 2019 that he dreamed of opening a boxing hall in Japan and wanted to travel the world to learn the best approaches from each country. Before reaching Peru, he taught boxing in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya.
Katayama told a Japanese news agency that he was considering joining the evacuation flights organized by the Japanese government this spring, but found them too expensive. He finally decided to stay and postponed his departure in the hope that Machu Picchu would reopen soon.
His patience paid off in the end, and he became a local celebrity last week when La República, a major Peruvian broadsheet, covered his vigil calling him “the last tourist to Machu Picchu”.
“I stayed with the sole aim of getting to know this miracle and I didn’t want to leave without doing it,” he told the newspaper in a separate interview.
The news of his persistence led hundreds of well-wishers to offer to petition the authorities on his behalf, he said on Instagram.
Mr. Neyra, the minister of culture, said the authorities had received a visitor application for Mr. Katayama and decided to give him special access before returning to Japan.
The pandemic has devastated Peru’s tourism industry, the third largest income generator in the country. The industry employs more than 1.3 million workers, or nearly 8 percent of the country’s workforce, the Lima Chamber of Commerce said in 2018. When the trip stopped, most of these jobs were lost.
Peru has also reported an increasing number of coronavirus cases and more than 33,000 deaths.
Mr Neyras said seven archaeological sites in Cusco, a city in the Andes, would reopen to small groups on Thursday with a capacity of 30 percent. A reopening date for Machu Picchu has yet to be announced.