It’s official. The Machu Picchu is reopening today to the public after over two months of being closed due to the heavy rains, mudslides and the ravaging and destructive river Vilcanota. How safe is it for tourists to go and visit the Inca City?
I’ve spent the past 6 weeks in Santa Maria, Valle de la Convención, where the Inca Jungle Trail begins. Every night the rain was falling intensively and every day a road had been cut because of mudslides, at time leaving people stocked in a bus or a combi for hours. Has the situation improved? Not really. A week ago, as reported by the News, a tractor fell into the river from the new road between Santa Maria and Santa Teresa that had opened just 8 to 9 days earlier. The operator jumped on time and the tractor disappeared instantly into the roaring river. The thought that this could happened to a passagers’ van, packed as usual, is terrorizing.
I returned from Santa Maria on the 26th of March. The road to Cusco was cut by a mudslide and a team with bulldozer were clearing the road when we arrived. We only had to wait for 10 minutes. But it could have been hours. On the way back to Cusco I saw 4 or 5 other mudslides that had been cleared a few hours earlier.
On the 1st of April, it still rains. All the areas between Cusco and the Machu Picchu are over saturated by rainwater. I met three pairs of tourists in Santa Maria who wanted to reach the Inca City about three weeks ago. Two couples could not reach Santa Teresa because a hill had fallen on the road. They returned to Cusco. The third couple was traveling with an experienced guide. They were walking on a trail toward the Hidrolica when a mudslide separated the two walking in front with the rest of the team, including 3 horses carrying the equipment. The two in front had to cross the mudslide still moving in order to rejoin their party. Luckily, nobody got hurt. They were strongly advised to leave the area immediately and return to Cusco.
I met an Engineer a week ago in Santa Maria who was working on the reconstruction of the new Inca Jungle Trail between Santa Maria and Aguas Calientes. He told me that some sections of the railroad are unsafe and could collapse if the rain does not stop.
The destruction that I’ve seen during these past six weeks are hard to describe. A roaring river taking away an entire village, bridges and roads gone with the brown waters. Half hillsides gone with houses and sections of roads. Lands flooded with Adobe houses melting like sugar cubes in hot water.
Right now tourist are offered the following package:
Go from Cusco by bus to Ollantaytambo. From there, take the train to Aguas Calientes. Next day go to the Inca City by bus. Return by train to Ollantaytambo and then to Cusco by bus. The cost, without the food, is about $230 US dollars. You can also take the Inca Jungle Trail with your backpack and your best walking shoes. From Ollantaytambo, go to Santa Maria and from there start the trail through Santa Teresa, Hidrolica and Aguas Calientes. All the Hot Water Spring stops are gone, swollen by the river.
How safe is it? The bus ride between Cusco and Ollantaytambo should not be any trouble. You might prefer to travel by night and sleep in Ollantaytambo before taking the train the following morning. But the problems could start in Ollantaytambo.
Railroad: a mudslide could cut the line. Tourists would have to take buses or combis to reach Aguas Calientes or Ollantaytambo or Santa Maria. Delays and changes of plans. The train could also be overbooked and tourists would have to get another train.
Roads: Mudslide could cut roads for hours or days depending on the intensity. Tourists would then have to return to Cusco not reaching their destination or wait until the road reopens to continue their journey forward. If they are returning from the Machu Picchu, they could get trapped for a few days in order to clear the road to Cusco.
Such scenarios could happen any day until the end of the raining season. Anyone trying to reach the Machu Picchu now must be aware that last minute changes of plans could occur and that they might get stocked a few hours or days. So, if you get on this journey, go with the spirit of enjoying every minute of it, no matters what happens.
Is it safe? You will be the judge of that. I only invite families with children to wait until the hills dry well. Life is precious.
It’s raining in Cusco as I publish this report. For more information, please contact me. A follow up report should become available in a few days: “Returning from the Machu Picchu”.
PS. If you go to Santa Maria, you must go and meet a family that received me with lots of love and kindness. They will treat you with the same respect and hospitality. Alvaro is an excellent cook. He serves Peruvian meals (soup and segundo) at Peruvian daily costs. He can prepare extras and makes delicious vegetarian and vegan meals. Go to the Auqui Restaurant and tell Alvaro that I sent you. You will get from him honest reports of the road and railroad situations. Or ask one of the policemen who eats there every day. Alvaro’s sister runs a great guesthouse. I also recommend her.