Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas
Cuzco - from Pisac to Ollantaytambo...
At some 2,800 meters above sea level the beautiful valley known as 'Vilcamayo' to the Incas, stretches out from the Inca citadels of Pisac to Ollantaytambo along the Urubamba / Vilcanota River or "Sacred River". Yucay was the name the Incas used to call this valley, one of the most fertile of Peru.
The Sacred Valley is located about 27 km (1 hour) to the Northeast of Cuzco. It is possible to get there by two asphalted roads. The first one is the most used leaving from Cuzco by Chinchero (28 km) to Urubamba (57 km). The second important road leaves from Cuzco to the northeast towards Pisac (33 km) going next to the Vilcanota River up to the village of Calca (50 km) exactly in the heart of the valley. The first route is the most used due to better road conditions.
Although the tourist infrastructure has grown meaningfully in the last years and today we offer a variety of accommodation and restaurant facilities, the valley has managed to preserve its natural enchanting peace. Its character of "sacred" has survived the pass of the time and that magic continues to seduce the visitors.
The Sacred Valley also holds two of the most important handicraft markets of Cuzco: Pisac and Chinchero.
...Andean Communities and Archaeological Sites
Just an hour’s drive from Cuzco, the Urubamba Valley, or Sacred Valley of the Incas, is a setting of picturesque communities, impressive terraces and many important archaeological sites.
Dominated by the imposing peaks of the Vilcanota mountain range, the valley has been the storehouse for agricultural products for the city of Cuzco since Inca times, and today is famous for being home to maize cobs with the largest kernels in the world. The valley includes the area between the Inca communities of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Its mild weather and particular geography make it ideal for outdoor sports enthusiasts to practice rafting, mountain bike-riding, hang-gliding and trekking.
At 2800 m.a.s.l. the climate is not so severe. As in any other place in our regions stretching along the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, climate has two seasons: rainy season and dry season. Rainy season is between November and April. The sky is often obscured by clouds and heavy rain may fall suddenly. But rainy season has its advantages as the hills are covered with thick grass and it is warm. During dry season the colors of the sky are brilliant but air is dry. Generally nights are cold and it can be freezing at dawn. The sky full of stars becomes a real show at this time of year.
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After visiting Cuzco and its nearby ruins...
After visiting Cuzco and its nearby attractions/archaeological sites such as of Sacsayhuaman, Kenko, Puca Pucara and the Inca baths at Tambomachay (see part 1 - The City of Cuzco), you may want to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
This valley was the ancient settlement of numerous pre-Inca tribes. Among them was the Huari culture (8th and 9th centuries). Around the year of 1200 AC, Manco Cápac, direct descendant of Wiracocha, the Sun God, resettled local tribes and founded a city at a nearby site, calling it Qosqo – “navel of the world” in the Quechua language.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas - the Main Sites
The following is intended to give you a handful of ideas about what to visit while in the Sacred Valley and around Cuzco, and depending on the tour chosen it may not reflect your actual itinerary.
At only 30 km to the south of Cuzco over a paved highway is Piquillacta, a pre-Inca citadel built by the Huaris in the eleventh century in a mysterious architectural style.
Pisaq is a just 33 km from Cuzco by a paved road. This small, pretty town has an old quarter, an archaeological site considered one of the most important in Cuzco (most people are not aware that Pisaq is bigger than Machu Picchu), and a modern quarter, dating from the colonial period. Here an ancestral indigenous market takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The ancient village of Urubamba (2871 masl, 76 km away from Cuzco via Pisac, or at 57 km via Chinchero), a former agricultural centre of the Incas, is a beautiful area with great fruit production. The village, with its bustling market, still retains its traditional Andean charm and sits in the outskirts of the majestic snowy mountain Chicón. Urubamba and the surrounding Sacred Valley area is famous for its incomparable landscape and breathtaking beauty that surrounds it.
The picturesque village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and its ruins are said to contain the most impressive Inca stonework anywhere in Peru. It is a typical Inca community located 21 km from Urubamba at 2,800 masl, named in honor of the chief Ollanta, who was famous for courting an Inca princess, daughter of Pachacutec. The village is overwhelmed by the great temple-fortress clinging to the sheer cliffs beside it. Ollantaytambo is located where the valley becomes narrow and the road can no longer climb. It was used as a fortress to defend Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas from the jungle tribes of the North.
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. A magnificent spectacle, this network of salt mines has been worked since pre-Inca times and is still in use today.
Moray (3,500 masl) 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.
An alternative way to see the Sacred Valley is to visit the ancient Andean town of Chinchero, with Sunday as the ideal time since it is marketplace day. If this option is chosen, a visit to the Maras salt mines can fit within the itinerary. Chinchero is only 28 km from Cuzco towards Yucay & Urubamba. Here lie the remains of what was the royal hacienda of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, as well as a beautiful colonial temple built on Inca foundations. Civil and religious structures as well as raised agricultural platforms make this a unique town.
More about these sites
From Cuzco to Machu Picchu
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The Inca Dynasty
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