Rubbish on the rise on popular Santa Cruz Trek

T he Santa Cruz Trek is slowly edging its way into the realms of Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon as one of Peru’s main attractions, having even been included amongst the National Geographic’s list of the ‘World’s best hikes.’ The 4 to 5 day trek takes you through luscious green terrains, to the snowy heights of 4,500m, glacial lakes, and across desert valleys. The astounding natural beauty has drawn an increasing number of tourists to Huaraz, but with the increased footfall, the trek has become littered with…litter.

On the Santa Cruz Trek, nature is your only bathroom, and one is forced to find a secluded bush or alcove to do their business. Unfortunately, travellers tend not to keep their inorganic matter to themselves, and subsequently hundreds of used tissues blow in the wind, spread throughout the valley. This is unpleasant to say the least. The general rule for trekking is to leave nothing behind, but travellers, through laziness and perhaps revulsion, don’t fancy keeping a bag full of their own rubbish. Unfortunately, if you’re taking advantage of Peru’s beautiful landscape, this is part of the deal

The worst places for garbage are near the campsites. Efforts are often made to stash ones toilet paper underneath rocks, but these do not hold against the often strong winds inside the valley. Others may bury their waste, but underneath the earth toilet paper can take over two years to decompose. Above ground, it may only take two to five months, but this is still two to five months too long.

As tourists more frequently attempt the trek without guides, this problem has gotten worse. In my experience, guides make an effort to gather waste, and never leave their own. Doing the trek without such supervision seems to have led to greater complacency. Furthermore, those trekking without a mule may be tempted to ease the load on their backs by saving weight and space, but carrying a bag of waste is negligible compared to the damage leaving it behind can cause.

There is just one shop on the route, eight kms from the more popular Cashapampa start, and so for the most part the waste is coming from the materials tourists bring with them from outside. Try and pack intelligently, bring bags, and make space for your waste. If you reduce the materials you’re bringing into the park, this will make it easier to carry those same materials out with you. Shedding weight is no excuse, and to travel responsibly is to leave nothing behind, so that others can continue enjoy the astounding beauty of the Santa Cruz Trek, without being hit in the face by used toilet paper. If you fancy being a real supporter of the cause, make extra space for any litter you may find along the way.

Unfortunately, it is impractical to have bins placed along the trail. It is easy to imagine the rush to cram ones waste into a trash can, resulting in overflow and becoming garbage site. Additionally, rubbish collection in such an isolated place without roads is not logistically possible. The onus is on the traveller to keep it clean.

Without action, this waste will not disappear. The Santa Cruz Trek is inside a valley, flanked by mountains on either side of your path, it cannot escape and so it will continue to build and build.


Author: Frederick Clayton

Photo: Frederick Clayton

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