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.
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.
Some of the time was taken up by a stop at a roadside stand.
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.
The Sacred Valley is created by Rio Urubamba. The valley is less than a mile wide on average.
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.
In other places in the valley, corn and other crops are grown on the same terraces and fields the Inka used.
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.
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.
The fountain at the base of the Ollantaytambo terraces has been functioning for over 500 years.
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.
After touring the sights at Ollantaytambo, we hopped in the car for the drive to Pisaq at the eastern end of the Sacred Valley.
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 tavern’s interior resembled an American Indian adobe.
The Inka had a beer for men and a different beer for women.
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.
In addition to being a site of Inka structures, Pisaq hosts a lively market.
Here I had lunch and actually did a little shopping.
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.
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.
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: