For the past two months, many of the world’s most popular destinations have been shuttered to visitors, leaving monuments, museums, shops, restaurants, bars and streets almost empty.
As the world reopens and residents step out, they are faced with the reality that life today is different from what it was before COVID-19, and will likely remain this way for some time. One of the most significant differences — a bittersweet realization for most — is that there are currently no tourists to attend to or crowds to shuffle through.
We asked people in the most overtouristed places around the world what it’s like. Although tourism is the lifeblood of the economies of these destinations, and the need for travel to resume may be dire, this moment of pause has allowed locals to experience something that only recently seemed impossible: having their homes to themselves. — Tariro Mzezewa
The following interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Gianluca Boscolo, 30, is a web developer from the northern Italian town of Chioggia. He has lived in Rome for three years.
AFTER TWO months of quarantine, my friend and I ventured back to the center of the city from our home in the Montersacro neighborhood. We walked to the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum and it was a strange sight: No one else was there.
You have to understand that I work in an office in the Monti neighborhood by the Colosseum and every day, I used to wade through the crowds entering and exiting the Coloseo Metro station to get to the ancient amphitheater and the Roman Forum. At first it was bizarre to be there without all those people, but as it sank in, it became a beautiful, new experience.
I am from Chioggia, a town just south of Venice, and I always dreamed of living in Rome. Being here during this time has been difficult, but for the past week, the city has been romantic, like a dream. We walked to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and there were so few people there, we were practically alone.
Exploring our city these days is like discovering a new city. Even the mundane things that we once took for granted like getting gelato or having a coffee outside now feel special. Yesterday, we got some pizza and suppli in Trastevere. Imagine walking through Trastevere, across Ponte Sisto, along the Lungotevere without it being lined with people.
Right now, Rome is visited only by Romans and it’s a strange feeling. It’s sad that we don’t have tourism because we rely on it and it will soon be an emergency if we don’t get tourists back, but we have been enjoying this brief respite.
— As told to Tariro Mzezewa
Darko Perojevic, 41, is the chef and owner of the restaurant Azur. He has lived in Dubrovnik most of his life.
THE SITUATION here is bittersweet, really. Bitter because I’m the chef and owner of a restaurant in Old Town — called Azur — that relies on a lot of tourists for business. But it’s sweet because walking the empty streets on a sunny day feels great. No need to elbow your way through the cruise ship crowds. The terrace of my apartment looks out over the Old Port and instead of restaurant tables taking up the space on the port, there are now freshly used fishing nets drying on the cobblestones.
Kids are playing on the streets just like I did when I was a kid. Back then there were not many restaurants occupying public spaces and squares, so the whole city was our playground. For a moment it feels like we got the city back for ourselves. We played football yesterday in front of my house in the Old Port. As soon as we go back to normal this will not be possible. I think we all know this can’t last forever and that’s why we want to use Old Town as our playground as much as possible while it lasts.
We all know here that the notion of quarantine began in Dubrovnik — as a 14th-century act to prevent outsiders from bringing the black plague into the city — so my friends and I are often joking about how quarantine has returned to the place where it started. It gives us more confidence these days. We’ve dealt with this before — it’s in our DNA — and on some level, we know we’ll overcome this plague just like our ancestors did over 600 years ago.
So, in the end, we’re not making money but we’ve got our town back to ourselves. We usually get kind of annoyed with all the tourists in Dubrovnik but people here are even back to loving cruise ships again.
— As told to David Farley
Sandra Clot, 46, is a pianist and piano professor who has lived in the historic Marais district for 20 years.
THE MARAIS is one of the main places that tourists visit in Paris. Normally getting to my home on a Saturday afternoon is a trial because there are so many visitors swarming around. Tourists come to the Marais for “leche-vitrine” (window-licking in French) because of all the boutiques.
I knew the Marais belonged to locals again on the first night of France’s national lockdown, when I opened my window to clap for caregivers. The light had faded and I said to myself, “Paris is no longer the City of Light.”
Sadly, there were few people at their windows, because so many apartments in the neighborhood have been converted to Airbnbs for tourists. But instead of the noise of crowds and suitcases on the pavement, the streets were deserted, and there was an air of enchantment. You could hear the birds singing and the wind blowing the leaves on the trees.
I have taken a real secret pleasure rediscovering the beautiful buildings and having the streets to myself. I have the impression of having found a quality-of-life closer to what I desire, meaning more local interaction and less pure consumption.
Confinement has proved to be a charming pause from the chaos, and I’m actually kind of dreading the reopening, because I don’t miss the crowds.
— As told to Liz Alderman
Ayu Rasmini, 43, was born and raised in Sidemen, a village that’s popular with travelers. She is the owner of Pondok Masa Depan cottages and wellness retreat.
EACH DAY in March more and more tourists left our village. It was so sad to see. Now, there are no tourists here except for one American from Seattle who has been in our village since February and doesn’t want to leave because he loves the energy here.
Normally at this time, I would be doing yoga, massage, healing ceremonies and trekking with our guests from around the world. Instead we are making beautiful gardens and planting banana, papaya, eggplant, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and cassava. We worry about what we will eat if this lasts too long, so we want to make sure we have enough food. This is a very difficult time. There is so much work to be done. Still, we have some routine that we do not change. We still do yoga twice per day. And we still watch the sunset and then say our prayers. I appreciate life and I accept everything.
It is so quiet here now. I would say it is like hibernation. Bali is almost in a coma. Now we spend so much time with our families and we realize how important family is. Now we can see inside ourselves and realize what is really important in life. For my sons especially, it’s boring. I get stressed out because my youngest one, who is 14, he would like to play video games all day if I let him.
This is good for the air and for Mother Nature. Our planet has time to recover from all the suffering. It is a time for healing. But this cannot continue too long. People are nervous here. The question everyone wants to know is until when? Until when? Until when?
Without our travelers from other countries it is very difficult for us now. It’s like we have lost our energy. After this is over, we will go back to being who we are.
— As told to Dave Seminara
Stefan Gudmundsson, 52, is a captain of a whale-watching ship in Husavik, Iceland.
I SAW a tall spout the other day, about half a mile north, and have been wondering if it was a fin whale or maybe the blue whale. I didn’t check. The ship’s deck was loaded with lumpfish and the fish do not ask to see whales.
My whale-watching boat, The Apena, was originally built for fishing and her purpose is back to basics for the time being. The vast Skjalfandi Bay, nudging the Arctic Circle, has provided a livelihood for my family of fishermen the past 150 years.
Given the bleak prospect for tourists, it seems like I am about to add another year to the legacy.
The town of Husavik is the whale-watching capital of Iceland — some say Europe — and my fleet is one of three tour operators. I was first in my family to sail out with binoculars instead of fishing gear, about 20 years and 350,000 passengers ago.
The season starts when the whales finish their migration from winter waters. That was early March this year, around the time Iceland closed its borders.
In my fourth week of fishing, I counted six or eight humpbacks and minke whales feeding on a school of capelin. All that is missing are audiences.
I don’t miss it just yet but I do wonder when the time will come again. Fishing takes my mind off the problems ahead and there isn’t much I can do about them anyway.
Meanwhile, the whales will be out there, performing for their friends and fishermen.
— As told to Egill Bjarnason