Fifty-eight kilometres up the Callejón de Huaylas from Huaraz, and just past Mancos, YUNGAY was an attractive, traditional small town until it was obliterated in seconds on May 31, 1970, during a massive earthquake. This was not the first catastrophe to assault the so-called “Pearl of the Huaylas Corridor”; in 1872 it was almost completely wiped out by an avalanche, and on a fiesta day in 1962 another avalanche buried some five thousand people in the neighbouring village of Ranrahirca. The 1970 quake arrived in the midst of a festival and also caused a landslide, and although casualties proved impossible to calculate with any real accuracy, it’s thought that over 70,000 people died. Almost the entire population of Yungay, around 26,000, disappeared almost instantaneously, though a few of the town’s children survived because they were at a circus located just above the town, which fortunately escaped the landslide. Almost eighty percent of the buildings in neighbouring Huaraz and much of Carhuaz were also razed to the ground by the earthquake.
The new town, an uninviting conglomeration of modern buildings – including some ninety prefabricated cabins sent as relief aid from the former Soviet Union – has been built around a concrete Plaza de Armas a few kilometres from the original site. Yungay still cowers beneath the peak of Huascarán, but it is hoped that its new location is more sheltered from further dangers than its predecessor. The best reason for staying here is to make the trip up to Parque Nacional Huascarán and Las Lagunas de Llanganuco .
Las Lagunas de Llanganuco
Las Lagunas de Llanganuco
At 3850m above sea level, the Lagunas de Llanganuco are only 26km northeast of Yungay (83km from Huaraz), but take a good ninety minutes to reach by bus or truck, on a road that crawls up beside a canyon that is the result of thousands of years of Huascarán’s meltwater.
The first lake you come to after the park entrance is Chinan Cocha, named after a legendary princess. You can rent rowing boats by the car park here to venture onto the blue waters (80¢ for 15min), and, if you’re hungry, take a picnic from the food stalls at the lakeside nearby. The road continues around Chinan Cocha’s left bank and for a couple of kilometres on to the second lake, Orcon Cocha, named after a prince who fell in love with Chinan. The road ends here and a loop trail begins. A third, much smaller, lake was created between the two big ones, as a result of an avalanche caused by the 1970 earthquake, which also killed a group of hikers who were camped between the two lakes.
Immediately to the south of Las Lagunas de Llanganuco is the unmistakeable sight of Huascarán, whose imposing ice-cap tempts many people to make the difficult climb of 3km to the top. Surrounding Huascarán are scores of lesser, glaciated mountains that stretch for almost 200km and divide the Amazon Basin from the Pacific watershed.