Sacred Valley of the Incas

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Just an hour’s drive from Cuzco city, the Urubamba Valley, or Sacred Valley of the Incas, is a setting of picturesque communities, impressive terraces and many important archaeological sites and amazing landscapes. Dominated by the imposing peaks of the Vilcanota mountain range, the fertile valley has been the storehouse for agricultural products for the people of Cuzco since Inca times, and today is famous for being home to maize cobs with the largest kernels in the world.

The valley is embraced between the towns of Písac and Ollantaytambo, it has wonderful highland landscapes where its inhabitants, native of the Quechua ethnic, conserve many customs and ancestral rites. It is the area where you can appreciate and magnify the high technological development that the Inca, reached in the agriculture through "andenería" systems (platform systems that are a group of earth patches arranged in steps on the hills to be used in the sow). These systems are still today in full production, with sophisticated designs and hydraulic engineering works that they used for watering. Also outstanding adoration centers to the Pachamama (mother earth).

Its mild weather and particular geography make it ideal for outdoor sports enthusiasts to practice rafting, mountain biking, paragliding, trekking and bird-watching.

In the Sacred Valley area there are alternatives of accommodation, from luxury hotels in the countryside and budget hotels in the towns, have the advantage to have a smaller height of 1000 meters respect to Cuzco city and are within beautiful landscapes of the countryside. In Ollantaytambo is the train station to Machu Picchu.

Hotels in Sacred Valley of the Incas

Trains from Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu

SIGHTS & ATTRACTIONS IN SACRED VALLEY

Písac

Písac lies 33 kilometers from the city of Cuzco by a paved road, and has an old quarter, an archaeological site considered one of the most important in Cuzco, and a modern quarter, dating from the colonial period. It also has a Sunday market which attracts thousands of visitors and people from remote communities, dressed in colorful, traditional attire. Every Sunday there is the procession of the varayocs, or mayors, who, at around 9:30 am, go to church to attend the traditional Mass held in Quechua. Písac is located at 33 Km. (20 miles) from Cuzco, 2,900 meters above sea level (9,751 feet).

The religious hub of Písac, this Inca site, located at 2.900 m.a.s.l. in the middle valley, sits on a small mountain on whose slopes and summit its occupants built beautiful buildings and terraces. Písac is an exquisite example of engineering for land and water management and the transformation of a natural landscape into a cultural one. The Intiwatana and Písac sectors are among the main constructions. The sacred Intiwatana (sun clock) sector comprises carefully built buildings, terraces and ceremonial ponds. A small semicircular chamber stands out in this sector for its elegant wall enclosing a small rock outcrop, carved on its sides and with a bulk in the center, to which tradition ascribes the function of a sundial. The Písac compound is remarkable for the disposition, shape and standardized sizes of the buildings, which are grouped around small courtyards of restricted access through double-threshold gates. These buildings form the Acqllawasi, or dwelling of the virgins.

Photo Gallery Andean Natives Photo Gallery

Calca

Town located between beautiful landscapes, in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility that has as a beautiful background, the snowy mountains of Pitusira and Sahuasiray. Near the town are the hot springs of Machacancha (thermal sulfurous springs) and Minasmoqo (cold gassy springs). Near Calca is located the archaeological Inca complex Huchuy Cuzco. Calca is located at 50 Km. (31 miles) from Cuzco, 2,928 meters above sea level (9,606 feet).

The villagers from Chahuaytire who form the so-called Park of the Potato have built a beautiful restaurant where they welcome travelers at noon. All the dishes in the lunch buffet have been prepared on the base of native local potatoes, which are served in soups, picantes, cold entrees or stews; potatoes of colors and forms never seen before, combined with other Andean ingredients such as cuy (guinea pig), tarwi, quinoa, kiwicha, ocas, ullucus and legumes. The dining room is designed in such a way that it armonizes with the landscape. Next to it there is a small demonstrative parcel where the visitor can learn about more than 180 varieties of potatoes from the 400 that have been rescued by the Park of the Potato; it is good to ask about the natural techniques they use to deal with plagues as the local guide will have the answer with a demonstration in situ. A short outing to discover cave paintings can be the perfect occasion to digest the succulent lunch. The villagers from Chahuaytire have rescued their traditional attires as a way of differentiating themselves in the tourist and handicraft markets where they operate. The women wear ample embroidered skirts, while the men can be distinguished by their colorful ponchos, as well as for they knitted chullos decorated with beads and buttons. These details that catch the attention of the traveler, tells us that Chahuaytire is a great place where to become acquainted with cusqueño traditional textiles and also, where to spend time with local villagers, very cordial and enterprising people, who seek to consolidate the art of traditional textile making in the new generations and for it to be considered as intangible heritage of the nation.

Yúcay

It is located at 68 Km. (42 miles) from Cuzco, and 2,857 meters above sea level (9,373 feet) north of Cuzco city. According to legend, the site belonged to Inca Huayna Cápac. Since ancient times, it has been considered a very important centre of water technology and agricultural production. The site holds the Palace of Inca Manco Sayri Túpac. The beauty of its landscape, and the benign of the weather made of Yúcay the elected place for the Inca royalty resort, which is also attributed to be a place with mythological character and powers on the human spirit. The fertility of its lands transformed it into one of the main centers of agricultural production during the Inca time, big "andenerías" (platforms). Numerous Inca constructions exist, outstanding among those the Palace of the Inca Sayri Túpac, stone and adobe construction with decorations in its walls on high and low embossment. In the town a small place museum exists; comfortable and good hotels in the area.

Urubamba

Other old Inca town, located in fertile valley, formerly great agricultural producer center of the Inca, and today a beautiful countryside, with great production of fruit bearing. Urubamba is in the skirts of the majestic snowy mountain Chicón, to which you can arrive easily and achieve its ascent. Urubamba is also called the "Capital Arqueológica del Perú" (Archaeological Capital of Peru), for the rich Inca archaeological locations that exist in the area; also called "La Perla del Vilcanota", for the incomparable landscapes that surround it, natural scenarios of an indescribable beauty. Indigenous communities of marked ancestral customs exist. Urubamba is also ideal scenery for the practice of numerous adventure sports, as canoeing, hiking, mountain biking and horse-back rides. From Urubamba, good penetration routes exist to undertake adventures in the forest of Cuzco. In the town and periphery exist comfortable hotels, restaurants, banks, ATM, commercial area and the main bus station from / to Cuzco city and towns in Sacred Valley. It is located at 72 Km. (45 miles) from Cuzco, via Písac, and at 58 Km. (36 miles) via Chinchero; 2,871 meters above sea level (9,419 feet)

Ollantaytambo

A typical Inca community located 21 Km from Urubamba, 61 from Cuzco, at 2,800 m.a.s.l., named in honor of the chief Ollanta, who was famous for courting an Inca princess, daughter of Pachacútec. One of its best-preserved areas, known as Hanan Huacaypata lies north of the main square and contains 15 estates built with elegantly crafted stone walls. Ollantaytambo also features an extensive archaeological site located on the imposing hillside overlooking the town, containing structures such as the Temple of the Sun, and the Mañacaray or Royal Hall, the Incahuatana and the Baños de la Princesa.

The peasants who live there today have not modified the original quite closely a small urban center of Inca times. The best preserved area, to the point of being a living museum, spans the four streets parallel to the stream, with their respective crossing roads, making up a total of 15 blocks of houses built over old carved-stone walls, located north of the main square. Careful attention should be paid not only to the area’s design, but also to the Inca-epoch walls and even the interior of houses. After a while, visitors will fell transported in time.

Ollantaytambo boasts restaurants, hotels and horse and mountain bicycle rental services, train station to Machu Picchu. A dirt road climbs up to the Málaga opening (4,200 m.a.s.l.) and dives into the high Amazon forest, crossing villages like picturesque Willoc, the some of renowned wayruros or porters.

The fortress of Ollantaytambo was named after the legendary Ollanta, a chieftain famous for his romance with a princess, the daughter of Pachacútec. Ollantaytambo is divided in two sectors, according to the dual Hanan and Hurin scheme, separated by a rivulet (Patacancha) that flows north to south along an old Inca canal. The upper sector occupies a hill and part of the rivulet’s banks, where there is a large square and a series of adobe brick and stone rooms. A beautiful stone known as the “Ñusta Bath” can be seen to one side of the square. The top of the hill can be reached by stairways built between terraces. At the summit, we find plastered-wall rooms, the Temple of the Sun and other fine buildings of cyclopean size. Finally, a half-finished wall of finely polished and carefully fitted stone blocks featuring high relief motifs found between the Kachijata quarry and Ollantaytambo reveals that the building process was suddenly interrupted. The site is completed with ponds, carved rocks and several hectares of agricultural terraces with their respective canals and stairways. Large courts with four rooms and a courtyard separated by stone streets and squares of orthogonal design like a chessboard form the lower sector.

Willoc and Patacancha

These communities, close to Ollantaytambo, are privileged sites where to learn about the valuable process of traditional cuzquenian textile making. They open to the traveler, the doors of a world that is very similar to that of the local culture five hundred years ago, and that at the same time, boasts a dynamic modernity. Here, the villagers are becoming acquainted with the tourist as a way of integrating themselves to a larger society, that respects them as equals by acknowledging their diversity. As it usually happens with a series of communal ventures, in Willoc and Patacancha the stimulus to open to tourism came from having observed for a long time how the traveler came to a nearby destination – Ollantaytambo in this case – without having had the opportunity on one side, of meeting a true heritage treasure (that of textiles), and on the other, excluding the poorer communities of the benefits of good tourism. The villagers then began to discover, first, that their textiles – and their culture in general – is a valuable capital that has to be recovered in order to be valued and secondly, that as time goes by the world of tourism is giving more value to the expression of living ancient culture.

Maras

Maras is a small community 40 kilometers from the city of Cuzco, on a turnoff from the road to the town of Urubamba. Its main attraction, apart from its church, that dates from the colonial period, are the salt mines located near the town which captivate sightseers and, in particular, photographers. Salt is extracted from mines which have been in use since pre-Columbian times. The extraction method employed involves using an ancient drying process, whereby salt-water, flowing from an underground stream, is left in the sun in thousands of wells until it has evaporated, leaving behind only the salt, which is then ready to be sold or exchanged for provisions. During the summer months (April – October) the shimmering spectacle offered by the pools is incomparable.

Moray

Only 38 Km away from Cuzco, Moray lies just 7 Km away from Maras, although the road to it is not always in good condition. This community is famous for its embedded amphitheater, formed by four circular terraces which seem to disappear into the interior of the puna, like an artificial crater. Evidence seems to suggest that Moray was an important center of Inca agricultural research on crops, which was carried out on different sized plots located at various altitudes (some of which were at more than 100 m underground). The Andean terraces, built on retaining walls filled with fertile soil and watered via a complex irrigation system, offer up more than 250 different types of vegetables and cereals, such as corn, quinoa and kiwicha. The Moray agricultural laboratory, are the mysterious four circular terraces of Moray that resemble gigantic finger prints on a high plateau at 3.500 m.a.s.l. As recent research has shown, the terraces at Moray were used for adapting plants to new weathers and environments, and are additional proof of the highly sophisticated level of agricultural knowledge reached by the Incas. At the experiment station, the large conic depressions 47 to 84 meters deep cut in limestone made it possible to replicate on each terrace’s depth. Resembling a sunken amphitheater or an artificial crater, the terraces were built by erecting containment walls filled with fertile land and provided with complex irrigation systems. Temperature differences between the top and bottom of these depressions permitted using each terrace for adapting many different plant varieties (more than 250 plant species). The Incas are reported to have organized the agricultural production throughout the Tahuantisuyo from the experience gained at the Moray site.

Rural Tourism in Sacred Valley of the Incas

  • Sacred Valley of the Incas

    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Andean Natives

    Andean Natives - Varayocs in Pisac

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Andean Natives

    Andean Natives in Pisac

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Urubamba

    Urubamba - Archaeological Capital of Peru
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Ollantaytambo Town

    Ollantaytambo Town
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Young native in Willoc - Textil Art

    Young native in Willoc - Textile Art
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Plateau of Maras

    Plateau of Maras
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Maras Salines

    Salt pans in Maras

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Handcrafts of Sacred	Valley of the	Incas

    Handcrafts of Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Handcrafts of Sacred	Valley of the	Incas

    Handcrafts of Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Girls in  Písac

    Girls in Písac
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © J. Mazzotti

  • Quinua's Field

    Quinua's Field
    Sacred Valley of the Incas

    © PromPeru - F. Ruiz