Sacred Valley Travel

The Sacred Valley is west of the sloping edg- es of the mountain town of Cusco. This area is rich, not only in fields, farms and views, but also in ancient Inca ruins. The famous ruins at Machu Picchu neighbor other Inca ruins at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Vilcabamba and Choquequirao. Compared to the chilly city of Cusco, the Sacred Valley is a sunny paradise where travelers can explore the re- mains of numerous Inca palaces, fortresses and temples, and wander through charming Andean villages that continue to produce some of the country's finest handicrafts. Carefully sculpted by the Incas, the valley and its major attractions constantly echo the importance of lunar and solar movements in Inca culture. The temple fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo both exemplify the Incas ability to integrate nature with magnificent feats of human engineering.

Due to its lower elevation, the Sacred Val- ley area is also an ideal place for travelers to acclimatize to altitude, before tackling any of the major mountains around Cusco. So- roche, or mountain sickness is a real threat in the area, and should be taken seriously by anyone arriving by plane from sea level. Ad- venture travelers will especially love this sec- tion of Peru. Some of the most spectacular hikes in the world are found here. The Inca Trail, leading to Machu Picchu, is the most popular, but there are many other, lesser known trekking opportunities in the Sacred Valley that are equally breathtaking. With spectacular Inca ruins and countless colo- nial churches and modern markets, this area has plenty to see and do while you prepare to surmount the area's higher-altitude attrac- tions. The best time to visit is from April to May or October to November, when you can avoid the flocks of tourist that arrive during the high season from June to September. Even if you don't plan to see all the attrac- tions in the Sacred Valley area, it is recom- mended that you purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which covers many of the main ruins' entrance fees. If you make your arrange- ments through a tour operator, the entrance fees are usually included


History of the Sacred Valley

In Quechua it is known as Vilcamayo, and in Spanish El Valle Sagrado de los Incas. This fertile valley, irrigated by the Urubamba River that stretches from Pisac to Ollant- aytambo, has a settlement history going at least as far back as 800 B.C. to the Chanap- ata civilization. The valley provided some of the best agrarian opportunities in the region, and as the early tribes of Peru shifted from nomadic hunters to a settled society of farm- ers it became a popular place to live. The Sacred Valley was central to pre-Columbian Peru's development.Other pre-Incan civili- zations that lived in the valley included the Qotacalla, who were there lived from 500 to 900 A.D., and the Killke, who continued to reside in the valley until Incan domination of the region in 1420. The Incas, regarded in turn lasted until the arrival of the Spaniards one hundred years later. The valley itself was regarded as sacred by the Incas as the terri- torial correlation to the Milky Way.

Their mythology had the founding fathers of the region, the Ayar Brothers, emerging from the Ollantaytambo pyramid. Ollantaytambo also served as the battleground for one of the last successful defeats of the Spanish army, when the Manco Inca withdrew from Cusco and his forces redirected the Río Patacancha to keep Pizarro's soldiers at bay, while at the same time enlisting the support of jungle tribes. Pizarro retreated, but eventually re- turned with reinforcements. Ironically, de- spite the subsequent attempt to remake the region and its people under Spain, much of the culture has remained unchanged throughout the centuries. People still speak Quechua, and farming methods are still very basic.


When to Go

The best time to visit the Sacred Valley is during the dry season, which lasts from mid- April until November. The Sacred Valley is no different from the rest of Peru, and the dry season coincides with high tourist season. June through September is especially busy; if you plan on hiking the Inca Trail, be sure to book well in advance as last-minute spots are very hard, if not impossible, to come by. During the wet season, from November to April, there are significantly less tourists but, hiking can be tougher. The Inca Trail is closed during February for maintenance, but other treks in the region remain open.


Sacred Valley Safety

The main safety consideration for most trek- kers in the Sacred Valley is proper acclimati- zation and physical fitness. Pushing yourself into a trek without being fit enough or giving you enough time to get used to the altitude can be dangerous. Many of the guides speak several languages, and it is important to get a guide that can speak the language your most comfortable with in case there is an emergency. With regard to safety, the guides have the final say on all treks if they feel that something is unsafe or if the group should take a break. Respect your guide's decision and understand that they have superior ex- perience and knowledge of the area, and con- sidering the safety of the group as a whole.


Acclimatization

While neighboring Cusco sits at approxi- mately 3,300 meters above sea level, the Sacred Valley's elevation is approximately 2,500 meters, making acclimatization easi- er. If you are arriving by air from sea level it is generally recommended to give yourself at least two days to get used to the altitude.

The best advice to beat potential altitude sickness, or soroche, is to drink lots of water and lay off the alcohol. You0r appetite may be affected, and eating smaller meals may also help your body adjust. If you plan on doing any trekking or climbing while you are in the area, you will want to give your body at least a few days to adjust. Strenuous physical activity may exacerbate symptoms of alti- tude sickness.


Things To See and Do in The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley offers much to see and do, and a few days spent checking out the sights is recommended. Base yourself in one of the little towns, such as Pisac, Uru- bamba or Ollantaytambo, and explore the surrounding area from there. Pisac, in par- ticular, makes a great kick-off point. The town features the famous and not-to-be missed Pisac Market. Aside from the mar- ket, the ruins of the Pisac fortress should be visited. The Sacred Valley also boasts a few interesting museums, such as El Mu- seo Catcco in Ollantaytambo, which pro- vides information about the fascinating lo- cal history. But the main reason for visiting this region is the seemingly limitless num- ber of scenic hikes and treks through the Sacred Valley.. Many of the hikes combine walking through beautiful countryside on your way to or via various ruins sites.

SACRED VALLEY TREKKING

The Sacred Valley and Cusco area is prime ter- ritory for anyone keen to get out and stretch their legs in spectacular mountain scenery. In addition to the famous Inca Trail, the area offers a variety of other treks and trails that cater to a range of fitness abilities. Whether you're a natural mountain goat or someone who prefers leisurely afternoon strolls, you're sure to find something to suit your tastes. Ol- lantaytambo and Yucay, in particular, make excellent bases for exploring the hills of the Urubamba Valley. The Cusco office of the South American Explorers is an excellent source for trip and trail reports. For most of the longer treks, permission from the Insti- tuto Nacional de Cultura (Calle San Bernardo s/n, tel. 246-074 / 232-971) is required, and it is strongly suggested that guides accompany you on longer, more arduous trips.

The best time of year to hike is from May to November, and possibly December, when the trails are dry. Also, before embarking on any trip it is imperative that you acclimatize to the higher altitudes, as mountain sickness is a serious threat in this region. A few of the highly recommended hiking opportunities in the Sacred Valley are listed below:

  • Pumamarca Ruins Enjoy spectacular views of Andean mountains and remote Andean vil- lages on your way to the Pumamarca Ruins.
  • Pinculluna Spend a great day hike through ancient Inca agricultural terracing.
  • Huayoccari Check out ancient Inca rock hangings and magnificent mountain views on this remote trek winding its way towards Huayoccari village.
  • Salcantay Summit the challenging slopes of Nevado Salkantay and descend towards the ruins of Patallacta, near the entrance to Machu Picchu.
  • Ausangate and Cordillera Vilcanota Visit one of the more remote and pris- tine areas in Peru. This tourist-free trek meanders past Andean llama herders and up to Nevado Ausangate.
  • Vilcabamba Challenge yourself with a trek that takes you to Espirítu Pampa and the famous Vitcos ruins.
  • Choquequirao Avoid the tourist trails and make the climb up to the Machu Picchu sibling ruins of Choquequirao.

WHAT TO BRING TREKKING

Most of the treks in the Sacred Valley are done with a guide and an outfitting company that provide all the necessary camping gear (tents, sleeping bags, stoves and cooking equipment).

You will be responsible for your own cloth- ing, and the most important items are broken-in hiking boots, comfortable pants (many people use quick-dry pants although they are by no means a necessity), a mix- ture of short and long-sleeve shirts suitable for layering, an insulating layer (preferably fleece or wool as both keep you warm even when wet), and an outer shell to block the wind and gain protection from precipita- tion. A warm hat to wear at night is a good idea, as well as one to protect your face from the sun during the day. A second pair of shoes to wear around camp at night will be appreciated after a long day in hiking boots. Two common items that are prohibited on the Inca Trail are plastic water bottles and trekking poles with exposed metal tips. To avoid the water bottle issue, bring along re- fillable containers or hydration systems. If you are bringing trekking poles, plastic tips are preferable but metal tips with duct tape on them are allowed Blas.

Other Items To Bring Along:

  • Camera
  • Film
  • Flashlight (and spare batteries)
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Pocket knife
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Personal toiletries
  • Some large garbage bags to keep your things dry in the rain

TREKKING FEES

The cost of trekking in the Sacred Valley has risen sharply in recent years (especially on the Inca Trail), mostly due to the enforce- ment of minimum pay standards for guides and porters. However, there is still quite a bit of variation for the prices of similar tours. The higher-priced options generally offer better tents, sleeping bags and meals.

By far the most popular trek in the Sacred Valley (and in all of Peru) is the Inca Trail. The 2007 fee for four days on the Trail is
$73, over four times what it was in 2000. For the shorter, two-day version, the fees are $25 for adults and $15 for students. Por- ters also now have to pay to enter as well, but this fee will be included in your overall tour price. More information is available in our Inca Trail section.

The fee to enter Machu Picchu is $40 for foreign adults and $20 for foreign students with a valid International Student Identifica- tion Card (ISIC) card. The ISIC card is the only accepted form of student identification.

The Lares Valley Trek is a popular alterna- tive to the Inca Trail because it also finishes at Machu Picchu. Depending on your group size, the four-day trek costs between $260 and $420. There is no trail fee for the Lares Valley Trek, but your entrance to Machu Pic- chu at the end is included.

There is also a six-day Salcantay trek lead- ing into the Inca Trail that costs about $450-650 depending on group size. In- cluded in this are the fees for both the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.

In order to save money, book a tour with a local operator. Although booking through an agency in your home country may seem easier, many of the local operators have ex- tensive websites and booking through an agency in Cusco can sometimes cost half the price of foreign agencies.

Nearly all tours include the train ride back to Cusco from Aguas Calientes. There are two prices: one is about $46 while the cheaper option costs $15. Most companies include the train ride back and if your company has you booked for the $46 ticket you can save a few bucks by asking them to remove it from your package. The catch is that the cheaper ticket can only be bought in person, in Aguas Calientes, one day in advance. The train will take you to Ollantaytambo where you can catch a bus (about $3) to Cusco. Be warned, however, that this option is a bit risky in the high season, as tickets are sold on a first- come, first-serve basis.

The 'fees' associated with Sacred Valley treks are mostly in relation to the Inca Trail. Aside from outfitter costs, there are no trail fees for the other Sacred Valley treks. Guided hikes of the other major trails in the Sacred Valley cost approximately the same per day as the Inca Trail. The majority of tours offer dis- counts to those carrying valid ISIC cards and some give discounts to members of South American Explorers, so ask around.

The following are approximate prices for some of the more popular hikes in the Sacred Valley. The price variations are due to chang- es in price between low and high season:

  • Vilcabamba--$700 for 7 days
  • Choquequirao--$545 for 3 days, 4 nights
  • Salkantay--$450-650 for 6 days
  • Lares Valley--$260-450 for 4 days.

Salkantay

In terms of trekking opportunities in the Sacred Valley, this one requires a bit more physical and logistical preparation. The crowning jewel of the Salkantay trek is Ne- vado Salkantay (6,271 meters), the massive mountain that looms above the Inca Trail and plunges into the magnificent mountain city of Machu Picchu. Most Cusco tours offer a four-day trek from Mollepata, located in the Limatambo Valley about three and a half hours from Cusco. You can reach Mollepata by hopping on a bus heading from Cusco to Abancay. From Mollepata it's a three- kilometer walk to Parobambo, where you can hire mules and guides. The route itself stretches across Cordillera Vilcabamba and includes a steep ascent up to the Incachil- lasca Pass (5,000 meters a.s.l.) followed by a sharp descent along the glaciers of Sal- kantay. Though physically demanding, the trail offers rewarding views of snow-covered peaks and glacial valleys. On the last day you'll depart your campsite at Acobamba and head towards the Inca ruins of Patal- lacta, near the popular tourist gateway to the Inca Trail, Km. 88. From here you can catch a train to Machu Picchu or Cusco. Alterna- tives to the Salkantay Trek are also possible for those who would like something more off-the-beaten-path.

Lares Valley Trek

If you're looking to get off the beaten path but don't want to miss out on stellar scen- ery, then the Lares Valley Trek is an excel- lent option. In contrast to the popular Inca Trail Trek, the Lares Valley Trek has yet to fully appear on the tourist radar. Trekkers traverse high mountain passes, plunge into sub-tropical valleys rich in intriguing flora and fauna, and weave past tranquil lagoons, natural hot springs and Inca remains.

This less-traveled trek passes through the remarkable pastoral regions of the Cordil- lera Urubamba, and presents travelers with a unique opportunity to experience the en- chanting Andean landscape and its Quechua culture. Due to the area's relative remote- ness, its inhabitants have maintained their traditional ways of life, holding steadfastly to age-old practices of llama and alpaca herd- ing, potato cultivation and colorful weaving. The area has changed very little over the last 500 years, and provides travelers remarkable insight into the lives of Andean farmers. Trek- king through the Lares Valley, past thatched stone houses, herds of llamas and farmers dressed in their traditional brightly colored ponchos, is like traveling back in time.

On this trek, tradition and scenic splendor collide, leaving those lucky enough to expe- rience the combination wondering why the Lares Valley is still just a whisper among the traveling community. Or perhaps those who do complete the Lares Valley Trek leave with pursed lips, in an attempt to preserve the pristine culture and landscape that make this area so inspiring. Although the trek is rated as moderate, it does include high passes over 4,000 meters so pre-trail acclimatization is essential. If arriving from sea level, it is rec- ommended that you spend at least 3 days in Cusco before attempting the trek.

Peru Treks and Adventure has put together a series of special non-profit trek packages aimed at spreading the financial benefits of tourism to the local people. Trekkers on these tours have the opportunity to distribute warm clothes and school equipment to the mountain communities located along the trail—a great way to meet and interact with the people of this remarkably beautiful region.

Vilcabamba

For a true adventure, make the knee-buckling climb up to Espirítu Pampa, believed by some to be the true "Lost City of the Incas." Here you'll discover the captivating ruins of Vitcos, where the Incas launched their 35-year rebel- lion against the Spanish. The trail offers some of the most diverse and intriguing scenery you'll encounter while trekking in the Sacred Valley. The journey through time and up mountains begins in Huancacalle, which can be reached by taking a bus or truck from Cusco over the Abra Málaga to Quillabamba and getting off at the Huancacalle turnoff. From Huancacalle a path will bring you to where the Inca emperor was originally exiled to the resting place of the sacred rock of Chuquipalta. From here the trail heads to New Vilcabamba, a colonial-era min- ing town, and ascends towards a 3,800-meter pass before dropping into the jungle below. The ascent to the ruins involves a steep climb up ancient Inca staircases and offers magnifi- cent views of the valley below. Instead of walk- ing back to Huancacalle, you can trek another one to two days along the river to a small town called Kiteni and take a bus back to Quillabam- ba. The whole trip takes between seven to 10 days, depending on your fitness level.

Ausangate and Cordillera Vilcanota

The trail that winds its way through the Cor- dillera Vilcanota and up to the sacred Nevado Ausangate (6,384 meters) goes through one of the more pristine, untouched-by-tourists areas in Peru. For those seeking to avoid the tourist trails this is a good choice among trek- king opportunities in the Sacred Valley. You can choose from a number of trekking routes through this range, but the classic seven-day trek offered by most Cusco tour agencies be- gins in Tinki, a small town situated high in the puna grasslands, and gradually loops around Ausangate. The trail traverses up and across four very high mountain passes (two over
5000 meters), and offers magnificent views of the glacial faces of all the mountains in the range, including Colquecruz and Jampa. Pass- ing through some of the more remote areas in Peru, the trail also affords trekkers glimpses of Andean llama herders and weavers.

Choquequirao

Among trekking opportunities in the Sa- cred Valley this trail entices trekkers with the chance to view magnificent, albeit less well-known, Inca ruins. This huge complex of Choquequirao sits precariously on a ridge- top in the Vilcabamba area and consists of magnificent Inca walls and double recessed doorways. Most likely, it was built as a winter palace for Inca Túpac Yupanqui, in the same fashion that his father, Pachacútec, built Ma- chu Picchu. Since Hiram Bingham discovered the ruin in 1911 it has remained the relatively less-traveled sibling of Machu Picchu. The trek to Choquequirao starts at Cachora, which you can reach by taking a bus to Abancay and getting off at a dirt road past Saywite Stone. If you're keen, you can hitchhike the final stretch to Cachora, where you can rent guides and mules. The first day involves a hike down to Río Apurímac, and on the second day you'll embark on an arduous six-hour climb straight up the other side to the cloud forest ridge where the city sits. Some Cusco tour agencies offer a combined ten-day trek from Choque- quirao to Machu Picchu. Another approach to Choquequirao is to start at Huancacalle and make the eight-day trek across the Cordillera Vilcabamba via the Vitcos ruins.

Huayoccari

For the adventurous solitude-seeker, this hike is a sure win. In contrast to other trekking op- portunities in the Sacred Valley, this one offers slightly less tourist-trodden trails. Along this two-day hike one way from Yucay to the small Andean village of Huayoccari, you'll en- counter some of the most enchanting moun- tain scenery, from Inca terraces overlooking the San Juan River ravine to Sakrachayac and ancient rock paintings. After one night of camping you'll make the arduous ascent to Tuqsana Pass (4,000 meters) and then descend to Yanacocha Lake. From here you'll follow the trail to Huayoccari.

Pinculluna

If you're not up for a full-day's journey, Mt. Pinculluna, rising up behind Ollantaytambo, is an excellent choice among short trekking opportunities in the Sacred Valley. The trail offers a pretty couple-hour walk up past agri- cultural terracing. Because the trail isn't well marked in some spots, you may be better off hiring a guide in town to avoid getting lost.

Pumamarca Ruins

Among trekking opportunities in the Sacred Valley, this one rewards trekkers with spec- tacular views of Andean mountains and re- mote villages. The trail follows the banks of the Río Patacancha, where you will eventu- ally encounter the small but well-preserved Inca ruins of Pumamarca. To complete the loop from Ollantaytambo requires about five hours. To begin, take the road north of Ollanta along the Patacancha. When the road crosses the river it becomes a footpath and you'll fol- low this past Munaypata village. Take a left and follow the path towards the valley and terracing and then make a sharp left towards the agricultural terraces in front of you.


Sacred Valley Tours

Making arrangements to see the Sacred Val- ley through a tour operator, either in Peru or your home country, can be an excellent way to get to know this spectacular valley rich in Inca ruins, agriculture and magnifi- cent views. In particular, there are several tour agencies in Cusco that will gladly help you plan an itinerary. Hiking tours are espe- cially popular in this area. The Sacred Val- ley offers literally some of South America's most beautiful and historic hikes. Another extremely popular option are archaeological tours in the Sacred Valley. These are best for travelers who want to see as many of the in- credibly preserved Inca ruins throughout the valley as possible. Aside from purchasing Sa- cred Valley tours in Cusco, for those who are a little more adventurous and perhaps have a decent smattering of Spanish, it is possible to base yourself in any of the smaller towns, such as Pisac, Urubamba or Ollantaytambo and get local advice and information about the best trips on offer. Biking tours can also be arranged. This mountainous region offers some excellent rides and gives travelers a chance to experience the exhilaration of cliff- side roads up close.


Sacred Valley Lodging

Hotels in the Sacred Valley are by and large good value, with friendly hospitable staff and low ceilings. Take care if you're tall! It is worth checking what the hotel rates include, as most don't include breakfast, but you can usually get it for a reasonable fee. Many ho- tels in the Sacred Valley can arrange local tours, often at a good rate. There are a range of hotels in Pisac to suit all budgets. Some have a great view of either the surround- ing spectacular countryside or of the ruins. There are places conveniently close to the Pisac Market and local transportation. Just a bit further up the valley, accommodation in Urubamba is limited to just a few lodgings. This is a great place for budget travelers to pick up cheap accommodation. Ollantaytam- bo hotels are, on the whole, a good bet with cheap bed and breakfast options, through to more expensive places set around pretty courtyards or in well-kept gardens. Several places here offer a scenic vista over the ru- ins or a backdrop of the mountains. Shop around for a good deal.


Pisac

Pisac (32 km northeast of Cusco) is popular because of both ancient and modern attractions. The ancient ruins at the top of the mountainside featuring a small Inca vil- lage with temples, palaces, solstice markers, baths and water channels draw archaeolo- gists from around the world. Its modern at- traction is the weekly market on Sundays, which attracts travelers from around the world looking for bargains on indigenous weavings, souvenirs and knit clothing.

Getting To and Away From Pisac

In terms of making it to Pisac from Cusco, most travelers take either combis or colecti- vos, vans or mini-buses that depart from the corners of Puputi and La Cultura in Cusco, or Tullumayo and Garcelazo, when they have enough passengers, which is usually every fifteen minutes. The cost is about two soles, or $0.70. The trip itself takes about 45 min- utes. To return to Cusco or head on to Uru- bamba and other cities, the colectivos and combis arrive and depart continuously from near the town market. Cabs can take you back and forth for about $5. There are also chartered bus tours which can be arranged through any travel agency..

Things To See and Do in Pisac

Pisac Market

The Pisac market is a must-see for those visiting the Cusco region. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, the streets fill to over- flowing with artisans selling their goods and tourists of every stripe buying them. Even if you must go to Pisac on another, non-mar- ket day, you'll find a lot of the same stuff for sale in little shops around town. Sunday is the best day to visit by far, as there is also a smaller market for locals. Villagers from miles around pack up their llamas and don- keys in the wee hours of the morning in order to arrive and set up stalls where they sell vegetables and other produce. Often, the preferred method of commerce is to barter, as opposed to buying and selling, a tradition that goes back to before the Inca. Even if you're not a shopper, the market is worth a visit. It's a great place to take photos and people-watch. Many of the cafés around the market have second-story balconies with good views of visitors from around the world haggling and bargaining with locals. The quality of the goods is a little sketchy. If you're looking to spend a lot of money on any one item, you're better off in a fine gal- lery in Cusco or Lima. But prices are low and the market is a great place to buy memorable souvenirs for friends back home.

Most of the goods sold at the Pisac market are textiles, jewelry, carved gourds, ceram- ics, felt hats, antiques (buyer beware) and sweaters, to name a few. Bargaining is stan- dard practice in the Pisac market. There are no price tags; pay the price agreed to with the seller. Some tips: Never make the first offer. Wait until the seller starts with a price. Don't be afraid to walk away from a price you don't like; chances are you'll see the same thing from another seller. Another good tip is to buy a lot of things at the same stall, even if they're not of the same type (for example, gourds, sweaters, tapestries, etc.). Vendors will often discount prices for those buying in bulk. Be aware of your loca- tion; stalls tucked into back regions of the market far away from where the tour buses from Cusco disgorge their passengers will often have better prices than stalls nearer the bus stops and on strategic corners.

The Pisac market ends around five o'clock when the last of the tour buses goes back to Cusco. If you're staying in town, the end of the day is also a good time to look for bar- gains, since some of the sellers may be a little more willing to make a deal rather than pack their goods for next time. Shopping at mar- kets like the one in Pisac can be a lot of fun if you lighten up and allow yourself to wheel and deal in a friendly way.

Pisac Ruins

(ENTRANCE: $15) The ruins of the fortress at Pisac are among the most interesting in Peru. Today, historians and archaeologists believe that Pisac was a compound that mainly served as a line of defense against the Anti Indians, who held lands to the east of Cusco and were the implacable enemies of the Inca. The Pisac complex is made up of several different areas. Outside of the walled complex is Qanchisra- cay, a small compound of rough stone build- ings. This area probably served as a military garrison and may have housed local villagers in case of attack. There are also some ruins of aqueducts. The area might have been home to farmers who worked the lower terraces. From Qanchisracay, the Inca Trail heads up the hill to a crossroads of sorts, known as Antachaka. There are four baths at the crossroads, with water brought in by duct. To the west, you'll see the cemetery known as Tankanamarka, an important pre-conquest site that has been largely looted by grave robbers. According to Inca belief, the dead could carry their posses- sions with them into the next life. For that reason, there were often treasures left in grave sites, a fact that the conquering Spanish soon realized and exploited. By some estimates, there may have been as many as 10,000 graves at the site at one time. The looters took everything and left only holes.

Continuing the hike, you'll pass through the wall through Amarupunku, the Door of the Serpent, and into Upper Pisac. The Incas' amazing skills with stonework are on display here: note how they cut this path through the rock and remember that they did not have iron tools or explosives to help them tunnel. Upper Pisac is the most important and im- pressive section of the ruins, because most of the ceremonial and religious structures in the complex are located there, and the stonework is incredible. There are several temples in Upper Pisac. Unfortunately, it is not known today which temples corre- sponded to which deity. One exception is the impressive Temple of the Sun, an oval build- ing built directly into the rock. From the top of the building, Inca astronomers could track the movements of the sun, moon and stars. There is also an altar that may have been used to sacrifice animals for purposes of divination. Sadly, some of the decorative stonework on the temple of the Sun was re- cently chipped off by thieves. There are also a series of restored baths in Upper Pisac. The last area of the Pisac ruins is the residential area known as P'isaca, from which the ruin complex gets its name. It is a series of ter- races and stone buildings. Some archaeolo- gists believe that these were homes for the elite. From here, there is a trail you can take back to the town of Pisac.


Urubamba

Located smack-bang in the middle of the Sacred Valley, Urubamba is an attractive little town, making it a good base for travel- ing around the area, exploring the country- side and visiting the Inca ruins. Urubamba tends to be passed over more than other towns in the region, making it a quieter place to kick back for a few days. The pleas- ant palm-fringed Plaza de Armas has a small fountain at the center. The town boasts a decent array of services, hotels and restau- rants and is close to Cusco, within about an hour's drive. There are excellent hiking opportunities surrounding the town, espe- cially in the area of Moray, a town close-by with Inca terraces that have been sculpted into the hillsides. Alternatively, nearby Sali- nas makes for an interesting stop with its Inca salt pans, still in production, following an ancient tradition.

Around Urubamba

Moray

(ENTRANCE: $7) Located about 38 kilo- meters (23 mi) from Cusco, Moray is a very interesting archaeological site. Discovered in 1932, Moray is a series of three circular terraced depressions which at first glance appear to be some sort of amphitheatre or coliseum. The terraces are finely made and have stood up very well over time. It is be- lieved that the terraces are a sort of agricul- tural laboratory, as each terrace represents a different microclimate suitable for differ- ent sorts of crops and plants. The locals have started calling it the "Inca Laboratory." The site is very serene and located amidst much natural beauty. That, and the otherworldly appearance of the terraces and circles, have caused Moray to gain a bit of a reputation as a mystical hotspot. In any event, the site is well worth a visit for ruins buffs, history fa- natics and anyone interested in a low-key yet beautiful visit to a part of the Sacred Valley that not every tourist gets to see. The nearest town is tiny Maras, which is easily reachable by bus from Urubamba. Moray is about 9 ki- lometers (6 mi) away from Maras. There is a small entry fee to see Moray. It is close to Salinas and the two can easily be combined into a good day trip.

Salinas

For centuries, native Andeans living in the highlands made their own salt by diverting a salt water hot springs into thousands of small pools and pans, which are then dried out. Today, there are more than 5,000 such salineras still in use, creating a patchwork of white rectangles on the hillside. The pools are topped off every three days or so, and after a month a few inches of solid salt will have accumulated. It is then broken up and carted off in sacks. Each salinera can produce about 150 kilos of salt per month. Nearby, a small mill processes the salt. Iodine is added and the salt is graded and sold. The sight of many terraces of salt pools cascading down the side of the steep mountain is guaranteed to leave an impression. The only drawback to visiting Salinas is that modern-day tourism has definitely discovered this timeless, tra- ditional practice, and sometimes there are many buses of tour groups at the site. Nev- ertheless, it is well worth a visit. If you're up for a hike, you can get there in about 45 min- utes from Urubamba or sign on for a tour. Be sure to bring some water—it can get quite warm in the area around Salinas. The closest town to Salinas is tiny Pichingoto, a scenic little spot carved right into the mountain. It is close enough to Moray that the two can be combined into one day.


Yucay

Located a few kilometers east of Urubamba, Yucay is a peaceful town with a few interest- ing colonial homes and the restored colo- nial church of Santiago Apóstol. Inside the church, you'll find exquisite oil paintings and fine altars. The main square is divided by a large, grassy plaza where futból/soccer games are held. Facing the Plaza Manco II is the adobe palace of Sayri Túpac, who set- tled here after arriving from Vilcabamba in 1588. In the hillsides near the town there are extensive Inca terraces, perfect for an after- noon excursion. Aside from the hotels clus- tered around the main square, there are few services in Yucay.

One of Cusco's best kept secrets is also lo- cated near Yucay. Huayoccari Hacienda Restaurant is an elegant, converted country manor perched on a ridge overlooking the Sacred Valley, about two kilometers outside of Yucay. In addition to walls decorated with colonial paintings and ceramics, and a rustic courtyard, the hacienda has some of the best cuisine in all of Cusco.


Ollantaytambo

Poised in the northeastern end of the Sacred Valley, about 97 km from Cusco, this little town is a cultural haven well worth the visit. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks on both sides, Ollantaytambo boasts spectacular views of both Andean scenery and ancient Inca ruins. The town itself offers a number of hotels and restaurants, and it is recom- mended that you spend the night in town to ensure that you get to the ruins early, be- fore the crowds. For a truly unique experi- ence, rise early and watch the sun rise over the mountains. Because the scenery around Ollantaytambo is some of the most remark- able in the region, it's a great place to wan- der while you explore nearby ruins and other landmarks of the Inca Empire. Of the marks left by the Incas, some of the most intrigu- ing are the Inca andenes, or agricultural ter- races, that adorn either side of the massive gorge surrounding the town.

The town itself, with its adobe brick walls draped in blooming bougainvillea and per- fectly carved canals that continue to carry water down from the mountains, is testa- ment to the Incas' engineering and archi- tectural genius. Take a stroll through the characteristic grid of streets and you'll be astounded by the site of locals lingering in the doorways of ancient Inca residential cachas, once inhabited by several families during the 15th century.

As you meander through town you may want to stop by El Museo Catcco, which has dis- plays of textiles and archeological objects recovered from the local ruins, in addition to a plethora of ethnographic and archaeo- logical information. If you get lost just follow the Ollantaytambo Heritage Trail, denoted by blue plaques, which highlights the most important historical sites around town. Onwards from the main plaza, towards the outskirts of town, are a number of enchant- ing Inca ruins. Perhaps the biggest attrac- tion is the massive fortress, perched among steep stone terraces carved into the hillside. Representing one of the Inca Empire's most impressive architectural examples, the for- tress successfully held the Spanish at bay during an attack in 1537. Despite its forbid- ding façade, however, the edifice was prob- ably originally intended as temple for wor- ship and astronomical observation rather than military purposes.

Between the temple fortress and town, ad- jacent to the Patacancha River, you will en- counter another interesting site: Baño de la Ñusta (Bath of the Princess). This ancient ruin composed of grey granite was once used for ceremonial bathing, and offers excellent views of ancient granaries built by the Incas. If you've got a keen eye you may also make out the face of an Inca carved into the cliffs rising high above the valley. Ollantaytambo can be reached from Cusco by train. You can also leave from here for Machu Picchu: the train has seven daily departures.

Ollantaytambo History

As the only standing fully preserved Inca Town in all of Perú, the town of Ollantay- tambo is an important national heritage site. The word Ollantay has its roots in the Aymara (ulla nta wi) for "place that looks downwards," while tambo comes from the Quechua tampu, meaning "lodging and rest-stop for weary travelers." In one popular myth, Ollantay- tambo is held to be the birthplace of the In- can people. However, most hold that Ollan- taytambo was named after Ollantay, the Inca General whose military prowess helped to ex- tend the borders of the Incan empire north- wards and southwards. He is famous for hav- ing asked Inca Pachacútec for his daughter's hand in marriage. Being summarily denied the honor of marrying his love, Cusi Coyllor, due to his lower social origins, the indignant Ollantay rebelled against his ruler and was thrown in prison. A play written in the 16th century dramatized their tragic tale of love.

Militarily, Ollantaytambo is celebrated as the outpost of the most victorious defeat of the Spanish conquista. Manco Inca retreated with his troops here from Sascsayhuamán in 1537.

The fortress of Ollantaytambo was impor- tant to the Inca defense against the con- quistadores. It was originally constructed as a fortification against the Amazonian Antis (generic term used for the indigenous Peruvians of the jungle). However, the dis- covery of remains of ritual baths and a Sun temple, archaeologists are questioning the defense theory. Historians also believe that Ollantaytambo may have held even more significance than Machu Picchu to the In- can Empire. Today, Ollantaytambo serves as a popular transportation hub for getting to and from Aguas Calientes (at the base of Machu Picchu) by train.

Getting To and Away from Ollantaytambo

The most popular way to visit Ollantaytambo is with a tour agency on a day trip from Cus- co. Usually tour operators combine a stop in Ollantaytambo with several other surround- ing villages like Chinchero or Piscac, and prices start at what is a called "bargain" $10. The most economic, and arguably the most enjoyable, way to explore Ollantaytambo is at your own leisure and on your own time by going it alone without a guided tour.

BUS

Though rumors abound of buses running di- rectly between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, the easiest thing to do is to catch a bus from Cusco to Urubamba from one of two Cusco stations that service Urubamba, and then to change buses. The terminal on Grau runs via Chinche- ro (1.5 hours) while the terminal on Avenida Tullumayo takes the Pisac route (2 hours). Fares to Urubamba are $1-$1.50. Once at the Urubamba bus terminal, there's no shortage of collectivos running to Ollantaytambo or any question about where to find them. Collectivo operators bound for Ollantaytambo greet pas- sengers from Cusco the moment they step off the bus and usher them into a waiting mini- van. From Urubamba, the ride into Ollantay- tambo takes about 30 minutes in a collectivo ($0.30) or, for those with deep pockets, taxis make the trip slightly quicker for about $3.

TRAIN

Ollantaytambo is the mid-point for trains running between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (the point of disembarkation for Machu Pic- chu and the last stop on the train). Though it's tempting to stop in Ollantaytambo en route or returning from Aguas Calientes, it can be an expensive endeavor if done solely by train, as fares to and from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes are the same as from Cusco. Keep in mind that while it's possible to get to Ollantaytambo by road, Aguas Calientes can only be reached by train, and therefore travel between Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo requires train travel. The rail station in Ol- lantaytambo is about 1200 meters from the town proper, and the road is currently under serious construction, so be prepared to walk most of the distance.

Nine trains, offering a variety of classes and rates, stop in Ollantaytambo from Cusco ev- ery morning before continuing on to Aguas Calientes. It's possible to disembark in Ol- lantaytambo from a morning train, as well as embark on any of the trains en route to Aguas Calientes. Though a number of trains return to Cusco from Aguas Calientes every day, only three trains returning to Cusco stop in Ollantaytambo, so be sure to cor- rectly book your ticket if you plan to alight at Ollantaytambo from Aguas Calientes. Trains leave Ollantaytambo bound for Cusco every- day between 5 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Schedules and exact times are subject to change, so check with the train station directly or visit www.perurail.com for information.

Things To See and Do in Ollantaytambo

The Sacred Valley abounds with opportunities to get your adrenaline fix en route to ruins. Leave the tour bus behind, and moun- tain bike to the Moray Ruins or take a ride down the 14,400-foot Abra Málaga Pass. Trek to the Choquequirao ruins (a journey also known as "the other Inca Trail") or whitewater raft the Apurímac Canyon. Ol- lantaytambo is an ideal jump-off point for outdoor adventures throughout the valley, whether you're interested in half-day, full- day or multi-day trips. All organized trips require a minimum of two people; however, with a group of three or more, prices are low- er per person. Full-day mountain bike trips start about $35 (for do-it-yourself types, it's also possible to rent bikes, helmets and gear for about half the price), rafting starts at $20 and myriad multi-day combo trekking/ biking trips start as low as $150 per person, but do cost as much as $250 per person for longer, more involved excursions. For an outdoor adventure on a smaller scale, it's possible to book city walking tours and short horse riding trips at various locations around Ollantaytambo, including restaurants and tour agencies in the Plaza Mayor.

Ollantaytambo Heritage Trail

The Ollantaytambo Heritage Trail is a col- lection of about a dozen sites of importance throughout town. If you're visiting on a day trip, most guided tour groups from Cusco, as well as city walking tours booked in Ollantay- tambo, stroll through the small town, point- ing out various stops along the trail, including Manay Raqay, the CATCCO Museum and the Temple of Santiago Apóstol. If you're self-guiding, blue plaques mark some of the sites, but the most complete list of trails stops, as well as a map, can be found just inside the entrance to the fortress on the wall outside the INC (Insti- tuto Nacional de Cultura) office building. It's a giant mural map of the town and surrounding area, marked with the Rutas Ancestrales, the Heritage Trail and main parts of the fortress.

Shopping at Manay Raqay (Square of the Request)

Nearly all visitors to Ollantaytambo pass through Manay Raqay as it's the only en- trance to the fortress and in addition, it's a designated stop on the Heritage Trail. The In- can square's most unique feature (aside from the looming fortress obviously) is the water element, a forceful channel of water flowing openly through the square from the ruins just up the valley. With so many tourists tak- ing the walk through Manay Raqay to enter the fortress, tourism officials have, of course, taken full advantage of the wide open space to erect several rows of market stalls. From afar, it looks like there's more shopping to be had than you'll actually find, as the stalls are sparsely occupied and those that are open for business hawk the same collection of books, jewelry, bags and walking sticks. However, the square is the most shopping you'll find in one place, and it is a great place to buy a book on your way in to the fortress.

El Museo Catcco

Despite its relatively small size, El Museo Catc- co (Centro Andino de Tecnología Tradicional y Cultural de las Comunidades de Ollantay- tambo) is an excellent source for historical and cultural information on Ollantaytambo. The museum has interesting displays of tex- tiles from local ruins, and ethnographic and archaeological information. All exhibits are in English and Spanish. The museum also has a ceramic workshop where you can buy some quality pottery pieces. One block from plaza in Casa Horno, Tel: 51-8-420-4034.

The Fair Trade Association in Ollantaytambo

For cultural and conscientious collectors, the Fair Trade Association outlet in Ollant- aytambo on the Jirón de la Convención is a must-visit in their Peru journey. It is the re- tail outlet for the Patacancha Women's Co- operative, created with the intention of pre- serving and reviving the art of weaving done with traditional methods and natural dyes, a practice going back centuries. Lliqllas (a sort of very wide and long scarf), chullos (caps), handbags, ponchos, blankets and other hand- woven products are all produced with an authenticity that is priceless. As regards the Fair Trade Association's practice, the women employed earn a living wage for their work. In cooperation with the Casa Ecológica, this store also sells organic honey, soy, and sesa- me oil, among other products, not to mention pottery and ceramics. Please note that at the time of writing The Fair Trade Association in Ollantaytambo was looking to change their name and website. The E-mail and address will stay the same. Jirón de la Convención, E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Talleres Los Andenes

A veteran weaver Félix Calla, proprietor of Hospedaje Los Andenes, also sells a creative assortment of alpaca wool, hand-made pon- chos, handbags, shawls, vests, belts, wallets and hats, all at reasonable prices. In terms of stone and clay, his gift shop features goods, animals, deities, Incan symbols and other features central to Andean culture, which are also represented in Felix's colorful collection of expressive wooden masks. Old-fashioned irons--actually made from iron--should ap- peal to antique collectors. Calle Ventiderio, Tel: 51-8-420-4095