What happens to Machu Picchu when the tourists disappear?

Over half a million tourists visit Machu Picchu in Peru each year, so what happens when COVID-19 locks them out? Dateline meets the locals adapting to isolation and a tourist drought.

Watch 'Machu Picchu: When the Tourists Leave,' on SBS OnDemand

Machu Picchu is Peru’s most iconic tourist destination. With an average of 2,500 visitors per day, the site generates tens of millions of dollars a year, with thousands of locals dependent on this income.

Ollantaytambo is a pitstop for tourists travelling from Cusco to Macchu Picchu. Nestled in the foothill of the Andes, Ollantaytambo, like the rest of Peru, is in lockdown. A town once heaving with tourists is now quiet.

Hugo Cornejo Nordt owns a tourist bar in the small town. It is normally full each night but restrictions have forced him close his doors.

“I don't have any income because my business is shut… the quarantine doesn't allows me to sell or to open to the public,” he said.

Peru has been in locked down since mid March and has seen some of the toughest restrictions in the world. President Martin Vizcarra suspended all flights and closed land borders. Tourists were given 24 hours to leave the country and 10,000 reservist troops were deployed on the streets to enforce restrictions.

Dateline
Hugo Cornejo Nordt owns a bar in the tourist town Ollantaytambo. His business is in ruins because of COVID-19.
Dateline

Only one person from each household is allowed out at one time. Just the simple visit to the food market for Hugo and his wife Jessica has become an ordeal. Armed military enforce social distancing and hand-washing stations line the streets.

Jessica tries to protect herself and her family as she shops by exchanging money with stall owners in plastic bags.

Though concerned about her family’s health, Jessica is even more concerned her town won’t survive. Their local economy depends on tourists.

“They all live off the tourism, stores, hotels, restaurants. Country people who used to bring their products to the restaurants or hotels. Now, they will not be able to do it,” she said.

DatelinePeru's military is enforcing their restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Peru's military is enforcing their restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dateline

This extreme and rapid lockdown happened early on in Peru when there were just 71 confirmed COVID-19 cases. This hard-line approach was taken because Peru’s healthcare system is not equipped to deal with a pandemic. The local doctor and director of Ollantaytambo Health Centre, Dr Luis Acurio Luna is grateful for the President’s swift action.

“If, like in the US, people had been left free to run around... if the president hadn’t taken a firm and hard stance, we would now be collapsing. Lots of dead, lots of fatalities. We would now be living a tragedy,” he said.

Dateline
Going shopping is an ordeal in Peru.
Dateline

With only seven beds, no ventilators and only a handful of Eucalyptus leaves to assist breathing, local hospitals like the Ollantaytambo Health Centre, simply could not cope with an outbreak.

Peru has increased testing and continues to enforce a strict lock down. Numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise and President Vizcarra has extended the ban of movement across the country. Containing the virus and keeping infected people out Ollantaytambo will be key to the locals survival.