Trouble at Machu Picchu

South America has had its share of torrential rains in the past few months, with the latest stranding thousands of people in Aguas Calientes, near the Machu Picchu site. The main method of accessing the ruins of the historic Inca city is by train (if you don’t want to hike, anyway). Due to heavy rains causing mudslides and washing out portions of the train tracks, many visitors found themselves stuck on the mountain. Considering most people visit Machu Picchu as a day trip, getting “stuck” there would be no picnic. I am especially intrigued by this story since Machu Picchu is very high on my list of places to see.

Here is a youtube video showing the floodwaters and evacuation effort.

Peru came to the aid of the nearly 4000 stranded people by flying them out in helicopters. I can only imagine what it would be like waiting for space in a helicopter to come get you, with thousands of other people. Imagine all the vacation plans ruined as I’m sure people missed flights and tours and couldn’t partake in scheduled plans. According to the news, Aguas Calientes was very short on food and hotel rooms for the unexpected customers. Many people were forced to sleep in the train station and depend on generous locals for food. Although I haven’t been, I have heard many reviews stating that Aguas Calientes is NOT the kind of town you want to spend more time than absolutely necessary.

Almost reminiscent of the Titanic evacuation, elderly and very young tourists were evacuated first, probably leaving a crowd of 20-30 something backpackers stuck. There have been rumors of price-gouging, as hotels and restaurants raised prices due to the sudden high demand. It also sounds like many of the residents were generous with what food and space they had. I found it interesting the Fox news reported the most of the Americans paid for hotels, and left the sleeping in the park to the South Americans.

The Inca Trail has also closed after a mudslide along the trail reportedly killed two people. The reports are indicating a total of 7 deaths in the region due to the rain. The area has been declared a state of emergency. Machu Picchu is going to be closed for several weeks, if not months, while the train tracks are repaired. This is very unfortunate for the region, and also travelers who have booked trips during this time period.

I’m sure some people may be more hesitant to visit MP after this news. Some may wonder if people would have been stranded for so long if this had happened in a “first world” country. What would the US have done in this disaster? I did read that the US actually did send 2 helicopters. Unfortunately, this is a consideration when traveling to a country whose infrastructure is not as advanced as the US, who may not be as prepared to pull off a large scale evacuation effort. From what it sounds like, Peru has pulled off a very successful evacuation. But, I am sure there are people hearing this story and saying, “This is why I don’t leave the US.” Their loss, I guess.