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Monday, August 2, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 4: Tour Of The Sacred Valley Of The Incas

Day 4 of our vacation, as explained here, was a morning to night tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Sacred Valley of the Incas is also known as the Urubamba valley, and stretches along the Urubamba or Vilcanota river all the way from Pisac to Ollantaytambo. The valley contains a large number of archaeological ruins and excavations, so it is very popular among tourists to the Cusco area of Peru. Moreover, there are a large number of markets in the valley that sell a dizzying variety of handicrafts. So, a tour of the Sacred Valley sometimes ends up becoming a pretty expensive shopping trip too!

Our tour on this day started around 8:00 AM. We were picked up from our hotel by a taxi and taken to a tour van in the Plaza de Armas for the tour. Once tourists from other hotels arrived, we started off around 8:30 AM.

During the first part of the tour, the guide explained various aspects of Inca life during their heyday, and the significance of the Sacred Valley to the Incas. The Incas were masters at agriculture and built terraces and irrigation systems skilfully. They domesticated and cultivated over 1,500 varieties of corn and more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Sacred Valley. Even today, Peru produces over 3,000 varieties of potatoes, including some that grow above the tree line, near the tops of permanently snow-covered mountains. There is a corn competition held in the Sacred Valley every year for the largest kernels of corn, and the record holder had kernels over an inch long!

In any case, you can read lots of things about the Sacred Valley of the Incas from various different sites, so I am going to just leave you with some photographs I took during the tour. Our stops along the way were C'corao (17 km from Cusco, 3,790 meters elevation), Pisac Archaeological Park (17 km from C'corao, at an elevation of about 3,300 meters), Pisac (about 9 km from Pisac Archeological Park, at an elevation of 2,900 meters), Urubamba (about 37 km from Pisac, at an elevation of 2,826 meters), Ollantaytambo (about 20 km from Urubamba, at an elevation of 2,792 meters), and Chinchero (about 48 km from Ollantaytambo, at an elevation of 3,790 meters). The distance from Chinchero back to Cusco was about 27 km.

The Pisac Archaeological park is on a side road out of the town of Pisac, about 9 km away. The tourist ticket of Cusco serves as admission to this Archaelogical park also, so were asked to keep our ticket safe after the previous day's tour for use today. Cusco, Pisac and Urubamba make a triangle, with Chinchero being on the way between Urubamba and Cusco. The only significant back-tracking we did during this tour was between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Hopefully, all this will be clear from the orientation map I have included below.

Sacred Valley orientation mapOrientation map of our tour of the Sacred Valley. F is Cuzco, B is Pisac, C is Urubamba, D is Ollantaytambo and E is Chinchero. The mouse pointer is placed approximately where the Pisac ruins are.

The road from Cusco to Pisac goes past Tambomachay (which we visited the previous day as part of our half-day tour of Cusco). The road quality was quite good everywhere except on the spur from Pisac to the Pisac Archeological Park (the road is poorly maintained and there are rockfalls and other problems on this road, including one short stretch that seemed to be unpaved), and inside Ollantaytambo (it is cobblestoned and very rough). It is quite scenic most of the way, but particularly so between Urubamba and Chinchero, where the road crosses the Urubamba river and climbs up to the top of the mountains on the other side of the valley.

Time management by our guide was quite poor during this tour also, and we ran late, resulting in us reaching Chinchero when it was quite late. The sun had already set by then, so we could only get photographs in twilight. If there was one thing I would fix about these tours, it would be to make sure that everyone stuck to timelines and we saw all the sights we were supposed to see during daylight hours.

C'corao marketC'corao market. In addition to the market (which has many stalls, and was supervised by sharply dressed "minders" walking around), there are clean restrooms in C'corao. There are no ruins in C'corao. We bought a nice rainstick in the market here.

Girl with baby llama at C'coraoGirl poses with baby llama in a pen for these animals at C'corao.

Mirador TarayWe stopped at a view point called Mirador Taray on the way to Pisac. The view point provides a wonderful view of the valley below with a backdrop of mountains, even some snow-covered ones in the distance.

Tourists at Mirador TarayTourists posing at Mirador Taray. The stop is quite popular among the many tour groups that visit the Sacred Valley from Cusco.

Terraces at Inca PisacAgricultural terraces at Pisac. These terraces are not used for agriculture anymore because of their archaeological significance. But terraces like this are used for agriculture throughout the Sacred Valley.

Qalla Qasa, Inca PisacQalla Qasa, one of the 4 distinct sets of ruins at Pisac Archaelogical Park. It is thought to contain residential quarters for the guards posted at Pisac. Pisac was an important watchpost on the route to Cusco from the Sacred Valley. Even though there is only one famous "Inca Trail" today that takes you to Machu Picchu, at the height of the Inca empire, there were over 40,000 km of trails crisscrossing the empire, most of them leading to Cusco. There were fortresses and other defensive fortifications on many of these trails, such as this one at Pisac.

Mountainside cemetery, Inca PisacThis does not look much like a cemetery, but this is actually one of the largest Inca cemeteries. The holes in the mountain side contained mummified bodies of Incas when this place was in use. When the Spaniards discovered the mummified remains, they were all taken out and reburied elsewhere.

Sacred Valley from Inca PisacView of the Sacred Valley from the Pisac Archaeological Park. You can see parts of the winding road that brought us here.

Pisac MarketA view of the market in Pisac's main square. The market is very famous and is visited by many tourists from Cusco. It is open Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9AM to 5PM (tour companies organize tours of the Sacred Valley only on these days of the week, so that tourists do not miss the market). This market is supposed to be particularly famous for ceramics and potteries, but if you are visiting Raqchi, buy ceramics and pottery there rather than at Pisac.

Stall in Pisac MarketA view inside one of the stalls in the Pisac market.

Lunch buffet at UrubambaWe had lunch in Urubamba. As you can see from this and other photos of breakfast buffets I have posted, the Peruvians really know how to load up a buffet table!

Dessert in UrubambaThe dessert table in the buffet lunch. There were several varieties of fruits, cake, custard, jello, cookies, etc., to choose from. There was no ice cream though! In addition there were several varieties of herb teas. Bottled water is not included in the price of the buffet lunch (which was included as part of our tour). Only the hot water for the tea is included in the price of the buffet.


Terraces in OllantaytamboThe terraces at Ollantaytambo. At the top of these terraces is the famed temple to the Sun God. The broad terraces you see here were agricultural terraces. There are narrower terraces on the left hand side of the photo, which were primarily used for erosion control. Our guide said there were 200 steps to the top of the terraces, but it certainly seemed like a lot more!

Granary at OllantaytamboView of the granaries that the Incas used to store grain harvested from the terraces. The Incas did not pay any taxes, but they contributed 10 percent of their produce to the royal granaries, to be used in times of drought, and other natural disasters that resulted in poor agricultural production.

Temple of ten niches, OllantaytamboThe temple of the ten niches in Ollantaytambo. Notice the trapezoidal shape of the niches and the perfect fit of the massive rocks against each other. Tourists are checking out the echo-chamber property of the niches by putting their heads in them and making noises!

Sun temple, OllantaytamboThe sun temple at the top of Ollantaytambo. It was mostly destroyed by the Spaniards, with only this back wall left. The wall had carvings of a condor, puma and a snake (the Incan Gods responsible for the heavens, the earth and the nether world), but only a faint outline of them can be seen now. The person in the picture was our guide, who explained everything to us in both Spanish and English.

Inca profile on mountainNotice the red-circled part of the mountain as seen from the sun temple on top of Ollantaytambo. This looks like the profile of a man, with the nose pointed towards the left. This was actually used as an observatory to mark the winter solstice. Depending on where on the profile the sun seemed to rise, as seen from the throne-like seats below, the Incas calculated dates and marked off their calendars so that they could make sure they performed their agricultural activities in the correct seasons.

Observation throne, OllantaytamboThe double-throne shaped seat from which the sun rise was observed, as explained above.

Ollantaytambo marketA view of the market in Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo has a large market, like Pisac, with a variety of handicrafts on sale. Particularly famous are ceramic statues of bulls, which natives put on the roofs of their homes as protection against evil.

Chinchero church crossThe cross in front of the church in Chinchero, as seen in twilight. Chinchero is the site of a beautiful church famous for its ceiling paintings and murals. It is considered the most beautiful church in the Sacred Valley and the second most beautiful church in all of Peru (the most beautiful one being in Andahuaylillas). There were no photographs allowed inside the church.

Chinchero churchThe view of the church in Chinchero, lit up for the night. Chinchero also has a market, but most of the vendors had packed it up for the night and getting ready to leave by the time we reached the place.

We finally reached Cusco at about 7:30 PM, and were dropped off near our hotel. We made our way to Pizza Verona for dinner once again (and they gave us garlic bread and sodas for free once again), and then turned in for the night. The next day was our much-anticipated trip to Machu Picchu, and we wanted to be well-rested for it.

2 comments:

Salkantay Trek said...

Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

Paul Saints said...

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