Yungay is located in the Callejón de Huaylas on Río Santa at an elevation of 2,500 m, 450 km north of Lima, the country's capital. East of the small town are the mountain ridges of snow-covered Cordillera Blanca, with Huascarán, Peru's highest mountain, no more than 15 km east of Yungay.
Yungay is the capital of Yungay Province, as well as the main town in the Yungay District. While the town counts approximately 10,000 inhabitants (2010 projection based on 2007 census data) Yungay Province has a population of 60,000 (2000 estimate). The Province of Yungay occupies part of the Callejón de Huaylas, the Conchucos Valley (Yanama), the coast of Ancash (Quillo) and the Huascarán National Park.
The "Restoration" army, a Chilean-Peruvian army during the War of the Confederation, defeated the army of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation during the Battle of Yungay on January 20, 1839, marking the dissolution of the short-lived confederacy.
A remarkable event of the history of Peru happened in Yungay, where in the Guitarrero Cave US archeologist Thomas F. Lynch (Cornell University, USA, 1969) discovered very old cultural vestiges from c. 10,000 BC, making this place "one of the great testimonies of the origin of agriculture in América".
On May 31, 1970 the Ancash earthquake caused a substantial part of the north side of a mountain, Nevado Huascarán, to collapse and an unstable mass of glacial ice about 800 meters across at the top of Nevado Huascarán to fall. This caused a debris avalanche, burying the whole town of Yungay and killing 20,000 people. More than 50 million cubic meters of debris slid approximately 15 kilometers downhill at an angle of about 14 degrees. Speeds between 200 km/h to 400 km/h were achieved. Only 92 people survived, most of whom were in the cemetery and stadium at the time of the earthquake, as these zones were the highest in town.
The Peruvian government has forbidden excavation in the area where the old town of Yungay is buried, declaring it a national cemetery. The current town was rebuilt 1500 meters north of the destroyed city.
In 1962 two American scientists, David Bernays and Charles Sawyer, had reported seeing a massive vertical slab of rock being undermined by a glacier, which threatened to fall and cause the obliteration of Yungay. According to Sawyer, when this was reported in the Espreso newspaper (27 Sept., 1962), the government ordered them to retract or face prison, and they fled the country. Citizens were forcibly prevented from speaking of an impending disaster. Eight years later the prediction came true.
- Haller, Andreas (2010): Yungay: recent tendencies and spatial perceptions in an Andean risk zone. In Espacio y Desarrollo 22, pp. 65–75 ISSN 1016-9148
- H. Carlson, Diane; McGeary, David; C. Plummer, Charles (2007). Physical Geology, 11th ed. The McGraw Hill Company, Inc.
- "Political landslide", letter to New Scientist by Charles Sawyer, 17 Nov. 2012, p. 33.
- "Tracing tropical Andean glaciers over space and time: Some lessons and transdisciplinary implications" by Bryan Mark, Global and Planetary Change 60 (2008) pp. 101-14.
- Oliver-Smith, Anthony (1986): The Martyred City: Death and Rebirth in the Andes. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press ISBN 0-8263-0864-3
- Murphy, Alan (1999): Peru Handbook. Bath: Footprint ISBN 0-8442-2187-2
- Guitarrero caves near Yungay (Peru). First agriculture evidence of Peru 10,000 years ago (maps and photographs)
Earthquake of 31 May 1970
- (Spanish) Earthquake 31 May 1970 (chimboteonline)
- (Spanish) Earthquake 31 May 1970 (yungayperu.com, with details and photos of the catastrophe)