The morning after visiting Machu Picchu, my guide, John Quispe, met me at the Palacio del Inka hotel for a day-long tour of the Sacred Valley.  Starting out I knew nothing of the Sacred Valley or the sites we would visit.  Based on the great tour of Machu Picchu, I was confident that the day would go well.

Cusco to Urubamba and the Sacred Valley

Instead of a train, transportation to the Sacred Valley would be by SUV.  We headed north out of town past Poroy and picked up a little road the would wind its way to Urubamba and the road that runs the length of the Sacred Valley.

Leaving Cusco

As the crow flies Urubamba, the largest city in the Sacred Valley, is only 12 miles from Cusco.  It seemed more like 50 miles because it took an hour to get there.

Agricultural terraces on the road to Urubamba


Some of the time was taken up by a stop at a roadside stand. img_1732


I didn’t want to stop because shopping is one of my least favorite activities, and I would feel bad for not buying anything.  Once back on the road we were soon overlooking the Sacred Valley and the town of Urubamba.

Urubamba lies at the foot of Mt. Ch’iqun.  The summit is over 18,000 feet above sea level.

The Sacred Valley is created by Rio Urubamba.  The valley is less than a mile wide on average.

Urubamba River (Rio)


We did not stop in Urubamba just took a left at the intersection with the valley road.  The road to Ollantaytambo follows the river.  It was only a 20-minute drive.  Vegetation reflects the valley’s warm, dry climate.

What appears to be prickly pear cactus.

In other places in the valley, corn and other crops are grown on the same terraces and fields the Inka used.2016-11-03-11-16-36


It is believed that Ollantaytambo was built purely for religious purposes as part of a royal estate. The structure has no residential or agricultural areas as at Machu Picchu.img_1754

Terraces lead to the Temple of the Sun on top


Stones with knobs used in moving and lifting still attached.
Typical Inka construction for important structures. No mortar, built in the 15th century, and still standing.
View of Ollantaytambo from atop the Inka structure
The Wall of the Six Monoliths is part of the temple.

From the top you can also see storehouses the Inka built on the hills around Ollantaytambo.  Building the storehouses at higher altitudes where it is cooler and windier slowed decay.

Inka storehouses

The fountain at the base of the Ollantaytambo terraces has been functioning for over 500 years.

The “Bath of the Princess” Fountain

Although the structures at Ollantaytambo may have had no military purpose when built, this was the site of one of the few Inka victories against the conquistadors.  Here in 1536, Manco Inka defeated a force of conquistadors sent from Cusco under the command of Hernando Pizarro.

Inka Beer

After touring the sights at Ollantaytambo, we hopped in the car for the drive to Pisaq at the eastern end of the Sacred Valley.

Driving to Pisaq

Along the way we stopped at a small roadside tavern to try Inka beer.  Taverns and restaurants announce that they serve Inka beer by displaying a red cloth on the end of a long stick.

The ball of red cloth on the end of the stick means Inka beer is available.
John recommended this tavern

The tavern’s interior resembled an American Indian adobe.2016-11-03-12-34-49img_1797

The Inka had a beer for men and a different beer for women.

Pink beer for women and yellow for men

I tried and liked both.  The beer was strong and a little bit sweet.  Although I had less than a half cup of each, I was a little tipsy when we left.  The altitude, about 9,500 feet above sea level, enhanced the effect.


We continued on the road along the Sacred River past Urubamba and toward Pisaq.

Rio Urubamba

In addition to being a site of Inka structures, Pisaq hosts a lively market.

Side street near Pisaq market

Here I had lunch and actually did a little shopping.

Lunch at a restaurant in Pisaq

After lunch we proceeded to the ruins, which are located on a hill high above the town.  The structures here include a Temple of the Sun, baths, altars, fountains, agricultural terraces and graves in an adjoining hillside.

Pisaq sits at the eastern end of the Sacred Valley.  It guards the valley entrance and the route to the rain forests to the east.




The highest structures at Pisaq sit at nearly 12,000 feet.  There were great views at the top where it was significantly cooler than in the valley.

Guide John Alexis Mendoza Quispe
Pisaq agricultural terraces


The cliffs behind Pisaq are dotted with burial niches

Even though the straight-line distance between Pisaq and Cusco is only 22 miles, the return trip took over one hour because the route is not direct.  Thanks to John, it had been a terrific day in the Sacred Valley.


Final Thought

When I booked the trip to Cusco, Peru, I had never heard of the Sacred Valley and was solely interested in visiting Machu Picchu.  While Machu Picchu is the most magnificent example of Inka architecture, more is known about the functions and history of the Inka structures in the Sacred Valley.  Furthermore, getting to the Sacred Valley is much easier than venturing to Machu Picchu.  Any trip to Peru should also include a trip to the Sacred Valley.

Other posts about the South American trip:

LATAM Airlines 767-300 Business Class, Miami, FL (MIA) to Lima, Peru (LIM)

Palacio del Inka, Cusco, Peru – A Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel

LATAM Airlines 787-8 Business Class Lima, Peru (LIM) to Santiago, Chile (SCL)

Machu Picchu – Trip Report

First Look – American Airlines Renovated D-15 Admirals Club, Miami International (MIA)

City Tour in 14 Pictures – Cusco, Peru

Hotel Review – La Yegua Loca, Punta Arenas, Chile