Salkantay Trek dirt and mud slides
A large mudslide hit the village of Santa Teresa, at the end of the Salkantay walk on 23rd February 2020.
This occurred only a few days after a tourist posted videos of the mudslides on the Salkantay Trek on February 9th, 2020.
Although the two incidents are not related, both occurred during a year of heavy rains in the Cusco area. While the rains were heavier than normal, you can expect heavy rains on the Salkantay Trek every year during January and February, which is the peak of the rainy season here in Cusco, Peru. So we refused to sell it in those months.
After the video of the Salkantay Trek landslides was released on February 9th, DIRECTUR, Peru’s Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Trade, issued a statement asking tourism companies to “evaluate their operations for these routes and avoid unnecessarily exposing their customers or staff to danger”.
However, many felt that this advice was not strong enough. And that as the authority in charge of tourism in Peru, they should have closed the route until the weather improved, that is, after the rainy season.
Landslide on the Inca Trail
There was also a landslide on the Inca Trail on January 23rd, 2020 at Wiñay Wayna’s camp, which killed a porter. After this, the authorities decided to close the Inca Trail. Anyway, it was scheduled to be closed for the whole month of February, it always does, so it was only closed a week before. Originally, they said it would reopen on March 1st, 2020 and then changed it to March 16th, 2020. This was a good decision and the right one for the safety of customers and workers of the hiking company.
So why didn’t they make the same decision after the videos of the mudslides on the Salkantay Trek on February 9th?
If I had booked the Inca Trail between March 1st and 15th, what would happen?
SERNANP park authorities along with the Ministry of Culture – which together control the Inca Trail – issued a statement on Feb. 21st saying they were opening an alternative route. From Salkantay through a little-used mountain pass (different from the usual Salkantay Trek), then down the valley to KM82, where the Inca Trail begins, and along the valley to KM88 so that people can take the train to Machu Picchu at the end of their journey.
What they didn’t mention is that the pass that you cross is 5200 meters high. Combine this with the fact that you are still traveling in the Salkantay area and the rains are still falling and the decision seems totally stupid. After the mudslide on February 23rd on the Salkantay Trek, it is not known if this option is still offered. It certainly should not be.
What caused the mudslide on Salkantay Trek that occurred on 23rd February 2020?
The Ministry of Tourism has confirmed that the Salkantay Trek mudslide that hit the Santa Teresa area was caused by an avalanche on the Salkantay Mountain. A large section of ice on the Salkantay glacier broke off and fell into one of the lakes below. This caused a large amount of water to flow out of the lake and down the valley, creating the mudslide that hit the villages in the Santa Teresa area.
As mentioned by some sources, the climate crisis has certainly played a role in this. Peru’s glaciers are among those most affected by the increase in temperature in recent years. Global warming means that glaciers are less stable, and their size is slowly shrinking. Although sometimes they simply melt, on other occasions this means that large chunks of ice fall away, as in this case. The rains may have contributed to the avalanche, as the altitude at which the rain falls as snow is much higher than it was before. This is being seen in mountains all over the world.
Is this the first mudslide in the Salkantay Trek area?
It is not the first time that a mudslide has occurred in the Santa Teresa area where the Salkantay Trek passes. Twenty-two years ago a similar mudslide came down the Aobamba Valley and swept away much of the Santa Teresa area and the Hydroelectric area, including the train line that used to run from Santa Teresa to Quillabamba. This is an area that will always be prone to such events during the rainy season. And even more so with the warming of the climate.
Who was affected by the mudslide on the Salkantay hike?
The information is not clear. But current estimates say that 1,500 locals have lost their homes. Three schools are said to have been destroyed (there were no children inside at the time, as it was both a Sunday and a holiday). The most affected appear to be the Sahuayco and Chaullay areas, with 50% and 80% of their buildings believed to have been destroyed.
4 people have been killed and 13 are still missing according to reports from February 27th.
Ten tourists are said to have been evacuated by helicopter from the Salkantay Trek near Colpapampa after the mudslide. But one has to wonder why operators were still taking people on this route after the Feb. 9th mudslides.
The Santa Teresa hot springs seemed to have escaped by inches. The photos show that the river almost reached them. Some reports say they reopened as usual today.
Is the alternative route to Machu Picchu still open?
The alternative route to Machu Picchu via Santa Teresa and Hidrolectrica is currently closed to tourism. On February 26th, 2020, DIRCETUR, the Ministry of Tourism, announced that the Santa Teresa-Hydroelectric-Machu Picchu route is temporarily closed to tourism. The train between Hidrolectrica and Machu Picchu was not really affected. But the roads in the Santa Teresa area that tourists would use to get to Hidroeléctrica were. However, for the moment, they don’t want tourists in the Santa Teresa area, so they can concentrate on cleaning up and helping the affected locals.
The normal train route between Cusco and Machu Picchu is currently well and normally open.
This is all the information we have at the moment. Emergency services are working in the area to help those affected. It appears that most people managed to escape safely, but there has been at least one confirmed death, and perhaps 30 people missing. Fortunately, it happened during daylight hours, when people were awake and could react to the noise and escape.
As always, if you are thinking of visiting Peru in January or February, our advice is the same. Yes, you can travel to Peru. And you can do some great day hikes. But these months are not suitable for multi-day walks in Cusco. Nor in other parts of Peru like the Huaraz area. You can still have a lot of fun in Cusco in the rainy season, you just have to plan your itinerary accordingly.
How can you help those affected by the mudslide on the Salkantay trek?
The best way you can help is to keep coming back to hike in Cusco. Although at a more suitable time of year. This is the same advice that was given after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that affected the areas that lived off tourism. The trekking routes will soon be open again and the families who live along these routes, the guides and cooks and the muleteers who work along these routes, will still need income. In fact, those in the area will need it more than ever.
If you would like to donate clothes, books or other goods, please bring them with you when you come to Peru and we can help bring them to the people who need them. Or if you want to donate something but are not coming to Peru, contact us and we will try to connect you with the right people.