The Inca citadel Machu Picchu, the crown jewel of Peru’s tourist destinations, reopened on Sunday with an ancient ritual following a nearly eight-month shutdown due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
For security reasons, however, only 675 tourists can access the site per day, only 30 percent of the number of visitors who are pre-pandemic.
Under a fine drizzle and multicolored candles, an Inca ritual was held Sunday night to thank the gods for the reopening of the citadel.
“Today, Machu Picchu opens. It opens with (health and safety) protocols, it opens to say that we reactivate ourselves, but with responsibility and great caution, because we see everything happening in the world” with the pandemic, foreign trade and tourism Minister Rocio Barrios said in a speech.
The first train with an AFP team had arrived on Sunday morning in Machu Picchu Pueblo, the village closest to the citadel, after a 90-minute journey along the Urubamba River from the ancient Inca village of Ollantaytambo.
Opening Machu Picchu to the world shows “that we Peruvians are resilient,” Barrios told AFP.
The number of cases of coronavirus has been steadily declining in Peru and tourists are expected to maintain social distance.
Coronavirus locking has been a body blow to tens of thousands of people living off the country’s tourism industry, especially those in the mountainous Cusco region where the stone citadel is located.
Scores of hotels, restaurants and tourism-related businesses across the region went bankrupt when a strict mandatory virus lockout lasting more than 100 days was lifted in July.
Taxi driver Eberth Hancco, who works at the airport in the city of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, was among those affected.
“The situation has been very bad because Cusco is dependent on tourism,” he told AFP.
Before the pandemic, there were 80 hotels of various types in Ollantaytambo, a town with an impressive Inca stone fortress located at the end of the road from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
“At least half of them have gone bankrupt,” said Joaquin Randall, head of the local hotel and restaurant association.
“The formal hotels that pay taxes have been able to access state aid,” he told AFP – but not the case for countless informal hotels in the area, many of which are aimed at backpackers.
Machu Picchu, meaning ancient mountain in Quechua, is the most enduring legacy of the Inca Empire, which ruled much of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
The ruins of the Inca settlement, abandoned and overgrown with vegetation, were rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. In 1983, UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site.