But the arrival of the novel coronavirus in March and travel restrictions turned Cuzco, which received more than 1.8 million international visits annually, into a near ghost town. Only Spanish and Quechua can be heard in Cuzco’s main square, something unimaginable before the pandemic when it resembled a small Babel with tourists speaking a multitude of languages.
Hotels, travel agencies, jewelry stores, restaurants, cafes, chocolate shops and dollar exchange houses are all closed by the square. Only a few souvenir shops remain open but they go for days without customers.
“I don’t sell anything,” said Lourdes Auca, 50, who reopened her shop selling alpaca wool hats in the plaza two weeks ago. She pays $2,100 a month in rent for the shop and before the pandemic, on a good day, she would earn up to $300. Her two sons have dropped out of college because the family ran out of money.
Ruth Rodríguez, owner of the tourism agency Ruthbela Travel Tours, said that thousands of tourists would normally come on June 24 for Inti Raymi, the Incan festival of the sun. But this year the streets were empty.
“The streets seemed to be crying because there was no one,” said Rodríguez, 37, who has accumulated $13,000 in debt.
Peru’s central government created a $143 million fund as a guarantee for banks to loan money to the tourism sector, but Rodríguez says she was recently denied $5,000 by a bank. She contends the fund only favors large business groups.