Saturday, May 7, 2016



As many of you know I have a special place in my heart for MACHU PICCHU in the Andean highlands of Peru.  I can say without hesitation that visiting the incredibly special and magical Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is one of my most memorable travel experiences. But I would be remiss in not sharing more of the wonderful towns and ruins found in this amazing area.  There is so much more to see and do so please join me now in exploring CUSCO, SACSAYHUAMAN, PISAQ, and OLLANTAYTAMBO in the Sacred Urubamba Valley of Peru.  I look forward to your company!  

                 Map from the following website with thanks!   SACRED VALLEY MAP    

The Sacred Valley, formerly known as the Urubamba Valley, is a region in Peru's Andean highlands. Along with the nearby city of Cusco/Cuzco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley formed the heart of the Inca Empire.  Encompassing what was the homeland of the Inca Empire, the valley is a quiet expanse of country that is steeped in Andean history and culture. The Urubamba Valley stretches roughly thirty seven miles and includes fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages such as Pisac/Pisaq and Ollantaytambo with their nearby Inca ruins.

The "Valle Sagrado" (sacred valley) is known for its wonderful climate, fertile lands, and the waters of the the Urubamba River, the sacred river of the Inca. In this beautiful valley many of its inhabitants, native of the Quechua ethnic group, conserve many of their customs, traditions and ancestral rites. If you are ready, let's visit Cusco and the Sacred Urubamba Valley.


Cusco, spelled Cuzco in Spanish, is the capital of the Cusco Region of Peru and is located at an elevation of approximately 11,200 feet and has a current day population of approximately 435,000.
Cusco was the religious and administrative capital of the Inca Empire which flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1534 CE. The Incas controlled a territory from Quito to Santiago making theirs the largest empire ever seen in the Americas. Cusco was dominated by fine buildings and palaces constructed by the Spanish after the conquest.

The main plaza of Cusco is known as the Plaza de Armas and is surrounded by a beautiful arcade with stone arches which were constructed after the conquest. Located on the main square of Cusco are also the Cathedral and the The Church of the Society of Jesus.  

"The city proper had a population of around 40,000 with another 200,000 in the surrounding area at the time of the Spanish conquest. Cuzco was also an important component in the propaganda of Inca rule. It was encouraged to be venerated by Inca subjects as a sacred site. This policy also entailed tributes both in real value objects, such as gold and artworks, but also in people, either rulers and/or their family members kept as hostages, forcibly relocated artists and skilled craftsmen and women, and the provision of sacrificial victims. In addition, radiating out from Cuzco were 41 sacred sight lines (ceques) and well-paved roads which divided both space and time and reminded that Cuzco was the center of the world. Finally, small models of Cuzco have been discovered across the empire which must have spread the news of the capital's great size and wealth."credit:

Cradle of legendary feats, the main square of Cusco was called "HuacaYpata" or "Square of the Warrior" during the time of the Incas. The plaza was a significant ceremonial place where every year the Inca carried out spectacular celebrations during Inti Raymi, the "Sun Festival." It was also the place where the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, together with his Spanish entourage, proclaimed the conquest of Cusco.

The main square of Cusco, Plaza de Armas, was built on the site of an Inca palace and was transformed with the arrival of the Spaniards along much, but not all, of the Inca culture.

Further recommended reading:

In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.



The fortress of Sacsayhuaman, was built under the rule of Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca of the Kingdom of Cusco, which he transformed into the Inca Empire. It was probably first constructed using mud and clay which was then later replaced by magnificent stone work. This spectacular fortress was built with huge carved rocks which were joined with absolute accuracy. This astounding sample of the Inca military architecture has been called the greatest architectural work of the Inca Empire.

Sacsayhuaman is one of the most amazing Inca sites found in Peru. Its name means "satisfied falcon." It was the falcon that guarded the capital of the empire since it was possible to overlook Cusco from the hill where it was erected.

The construction of Sacsayhuaman took over seven decades and required the work of approximately 20,000 men for the construction of the foundations, the carving of the stones, the transportation of materials, and the setting of the giant carved stones. The fortress was said to have had a capacity for 1,000 warriors.  Simply astounding!  

If Cusco was designed in the shape of a lying puma, then Sacsayhuaman would be its head and the Coricancha (the most important temple in the Inca Empire and dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God) would correspond to its genitals (!)

Following the collapse of the empire, most of the stones were re-used elsewhere and the ruins were covered in earth to prevent their use by rebel forces. Sacsayhuaman is usually described as a fortress because it is practically enclosed by three slopes. Current investigations, however, suggest that it might have been a temple devoted to the worship of Inti, the Inca Sun God. With the arrival of the Spaniards much of the carved stones were moved to build the colonial city of Cusco. Located less than one and one-half miles from Cusco, Sacsayhuaman is definitely worth a visit.

Without the wheel and beasts of burden, how did the Inca move these amazing cut stones!


Pisac is the most convenient starting point for visiting the Sacred Valley. Located some 20 miles from Cusco by paved road Pisac sits at approximately 9,750 feet above sea level.  Similarly to Ollantaytambo which is located further down the Urubamba Valley, Pisac encompasses both a historic town and a striking Inca archaeological site with a series of steep agricultural terraces and hilltop fortresses visible from the town’s plaza.

Visitors to Pisac can make the steep but scenic two and one-half mile hike to the terraces main entry point or hire a taxi. Trails lead over and through the terraces, tunnels, temples, tombs and ceremonial center all of which were engineered by the Incas for farming, worshiping, and bathing. The Sun Gate at the Pisac ruins perfectly frames the setting sun during bi-annual solstices. The splendid views down and across the Urubamba Valley rival those of Machu Picchu, and unlike the more well known site, visitors often have hushed ruins of Pisac almost entirely to themselves.

Modern day Quechua are descendants of their forebearers, the Inca, and in appearance and lifestyle much remains the same.

"It’s not hard to succumb to the charms of sunny Pisac, a bustling and fast-growing colonial village at the base of a spectacular Inca fortress perched on a mountain spur. Its pull is universal and recent years have seen an influx of expats and new age followers in search of an Andean Shangri-la. Indeed, it's a magnet for spiritual seekers. The local tourism industry has responded by offering everything from yoga retreats and cleanses to guided hallucinogenic trips. Yet it's also worthwhile for mainstream travelers, with ruins, a fabulous market and weaving villages that should not be missed."  

In downtown Pisac one of the Sacred Valley’s largest fairs takes place daily with Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays being the busiest. Vendors peddle handmade goods such as colorful, woven knits and traditional Peruvian treats including grilled corn coated with cheese.

Visiting the traditional market in Pisac is colorful, fascinating, and a step back in time!

The local indigenous women still barter their goods as they did hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

In Pisac on Sundays which is their feast day, traditional activities are carried out by the caciques, or leaders of Ayllus, who are dressed in typical costumes and who engage in folkloric dance. People attend a Quechua mass and engage in "catu," the indigenous practise of agricultural exchange without money passing hands.

Traditional wear is colorful and also practical for the cool climate of the Peruvian highlands.

Baking bread by fire in large ovens is still practiced in many parts of Peru including Pisac and for me there's nothing like fresh bread right out of the oven.

Guinea pigs which are the most common source of protein in the region scurry around small pens or under foot in kitchens unaware that they likely will make their way onto the menu. Cuy, alternately called Cobayo or conejillo de indias is a guinea pig or cavy. The taste is compared to rabbit, thought delicious, and difficult to accept for people in other countries who regard guinea pigs as pets. Look out for the word CUY if you want to avoid this delicacy!   


The Pisac ruins, located next to the modern town of the same name, are the remains of an impressive ancient Inca settlement. Though little is known as to the history of the site before the Spanish conquest, Pisac was probably used as a ceremonial and military center. The site was abandoned and fell to ruin after the conquest in the 1530's.   


Today the ruins of Pisac sit above a looming hilltop above the modern town and contain some of the best examples of Inca ruins in existence. Alongside the vast and impressive agricultural terraces surrounding the hillside, the platform built at the top contains the remains of a fortress and temple complex. Among the structures which can be seen here are the ruins of the Temple of the Sun,ceremonial baths, altars and fortified walls.

The ruins of Pisac also has the greatest "andenerĂ­a" (terracing or platform) system achieved by the Inca in all of the Andes and the largest Inca cemetery found in South America.

The Inca built huge terraces for agriculture purposes on the steep slopes of the Andes in the Urubamba Valley which still exist.

As evidenced by this photograph the Inca were master builders in the difficult terrain of the Andes.

The constructed terraced slopes allowed the Inca to plant their crops high in the Urubamba Valley.


Ollantaytambo is a town with a nearby Inca archaeological site in southern Peru about 37 miles northwest of the city of Cusco. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of King Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town, and a ceremonial center. Today Ollantaytambo is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca buildings and as one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail. Local trains stop in Ollantaytambo, a tranquil and less visited Andean town en route to Machu Picchu which is 26 miles away.

The cobble stoned town streets are set in a grid and are the product of Inca city planning dating back to the 1200's. Babbling waterways, branching from the nearby rivers, feed the still-flowing irrigation system that the Incas designed, their handiwork admired to this day. The town which is busy during the day with tourists catching trains to and from Aguas Calientes is quiet at night with locals peddling three-wheel motorcycle rickshaw taxis (aka tuks tuks) transporting tired visitors the few blocks to their destination.

The current town of Ollantaytambo has many houses built on the bases of the old Inca town where local people maintaining their ancestral customs.

Visiting the pueblos and ruins in the Urubamba Valley can be thirsty work, but definitely worth it!

Once a country retreat for Inca royalty and nobility, Ollantaytambo is also where the Incas fought some of their last battles resisting Spanish conquest from the still intact fortress and platform terraces rising up around the town. Climbing to the top of the village’s ceremonial center where Incas would worship their gods still yields panoramic views of the Sacred Urubamba Valley. Ollantaytambo is the only Inca town that remains almost intact and houses still serve as homes where their Inca descendants live.

The drainage system created by the Inca is still in use as seen in Ollantaytambo. Do you see the steep Andes mountains in the background of this photograph?

A bird's eye view of Ollantaytambo is very much the same as what the Inca saw, but without modern day cars.


Legend says that Ollantay (the titan of the Andes) who was of plebeian origin fell in love with princess Cusi Coyllur (Happy Star), the daughter of King Pachacutec, the Inca king. Needless to say King Pachacutec was not pleased with this love affair. Consequently, the King sent his princess daughter to live in the house of the virgins. Ollantay attempted to kidnap her from there, but failed. Ollantay continued to rebel against King Pachacutec and after many bloody battles Ollantay was defeated. However, King Pachacutec decided to spare Ollantay's life. This legend is said to be the basis on which the town of Ollantaytambo was founded. Isn't love just grand!

                                         Ollantay and Princes Cusi Collur, Inca lovers

Ollantaytambo was not only a town and ceremonial center, but most importantly a military fortress. It was strategically located between two mountains which gave it a commanding position from which to defend the area. The fortress was originally built to bring the local tribes under Inca control. Eventually the Inca were facing a new threat in the form of the Spanish Conquistadors who attacked the fortress in 1536, but were repulsed. Ollantaytambo was eventually abandoned in favor of the more defensible Vilcabamba.

The ruins of this ancient fortification are located at 9,200 feet above sea-level atop a high hill and still have the original stepped walls as well as the remains of a royal chamber, the Temple of the Sun, and a structure known as the “Princess' Baths."


The Incas built several storehouses out of field stones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, helped their contents resist decay. To enhance this effect the Ollantaytambo storehouses also had ventilation systems. It is believed that they were used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building and then emptied out through the downhill side window. How creative and practical!


The mountain slopes surrounding Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. The terraces permitted farming on otherwise unusable terrain; they also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. The terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces with higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough field stones.

The huge, steep terraces that shield Ollantaytambo’s spectacular Inca ruins mark one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors were defeated in battle. While the Incas abandoned the village and its fortress soon after this 1536 battle, tourists have revisited it and for good reason.

Memories were only a "click away" for our group leader on this amazing tour of the Urubamba Valley.  Gracias, amiga!  

Some closing photographs to say thank you, Peru, for the wonderful experience!



Masks from the wonderful Gold Museum of Peru in Lima

 For your next trip to Peru, the hardy trekker might want to check out the following:

Choquequirao Ruins, Peru

The Incan city of Choquequirao is similar to Machu Picchu in terms of style and size, but due to its remote location in the country’s south, it has far fewer tourists. And this is no bad thing. Its ‘off the beaten track’ vibe makes this a true hidden gem among Peru’s tourist attractions. Built in the late 15th century, Choquequirao supposedly served as an administrative hub for the region, as well as providing a local military centre. It was used as a refuge for Inca forces fleeing the siege of Cuzco and in various other battles. Today, the ruins of Choquequirao still contain a number of impressive sites. Be warned though, getting there involves a two day hike from the nearest village.

                                          ADIOS AND GRACIAS, PERU!

Until next time please enjoy my photograph album of more of the beauty of PERU at the following link:



                                              Memories are just a click away!


  1. Stunning! I love taking these trips with you. And you make me want to get on a plane right now!

    1. Don't you wish we could fly like birds and take off when ever the spirit moved us!