by Jim and Melanie
After two days in Lima, we were on our way by air to the central city of Cusco which lies in a valley between mountain ranges. The elevation is over 11,000 ft. There we boarded our tour bus and drove up the northern hillside. Hills that rim the city are covered with housing and buildings perched precariously on the steep slopes.
Sacred Valley of the Inca
The next week of our exploration of Peru was going to focus on visits to many archeological sites along the Sacred Valley of the Inca. The Urubamba River runs through this valley. The map below gives a broad view of the region. Visited sites are marked. This post highlights our visits to Pisac (lower right) and Ollantaytambo (upper left). Machu Picchu is near Aguas Calientes (upper left corner) and will be covered in another post.
Click the image for a larger view. For an interactive Google Map, click this link.
Our bus headed east for Pisac once we left Cusco and got to higher ground. As we neared Pisac, we stopped for our first views of the Sacred Valley. Guarded at each end by Pisac and Ollantaytambo, the valley was an important food resource for the Inca. It is narrow but fertile. We would soon see some of the terraces constructed to grow maize (corn) and other crops. Click any of the following images for more detailed views.
Pisac Archeological Parque
Click the image for a larger view of Pisac. An interactive Google map is at this link.
Our bus passed through the village of Pisac and ascended the mountainside. We parked in the lower right of the image above and walked the short distance to the entrance. This was our first time walking uphill at 11,000 ft and we noticed the shortage of oxygen. We rounded some ruins and came upon the terraces. Our leader, Walter, let us sit while he explained their significance. The video shows the site from the entrance and then from the opposite direction.
On a hillside beyond the terraces were small holes. They were burial sites numbering in the thousands around the area.
The views were amazing. We walked among the buildings above the terraces. A few were assumed to be homes or guard quarters. Some were used for storage of the foods grown.
We marveled at the skill of the builders who fashioned the granite blocks of this gateway so they fit perfectly with no mortar. The trapezoid shape of the doorway is repeated throughout the ancient architecture, in doors, windows, and niches.
We left the site and boarded our bus to go to Ollantaytambo. All of us were out of breath and excited by the taste of what was to come. As we drove along the Urubamba River, we passed a Cuyeria eatery. Walter asked the driver to stop so a woman could come onboard to show us what they served. We already had eaten lunch. Our opportunity to sample guinea pig would come later.
Ollantaytambo Archeological Parque
After a short river raft ride, we proceeded to Ollantaytambo. Located at the opposite end of the Sacred Valley from Pisac, Ollantaytambo was an Inca fortress guarding the valley. Below is a Google Maps view of Ollantaytambo. Click for detail. An interactive map is at this link.
Walter told the group several times we would need to climb 245 steps to reach the top of the site. Our elevation was over 9000 ft. It would be a slow ascent with several stops to listen to his descriptions and catch our breath. This image from the base at the town edge shows where we were headed up the long stairway in the center. Temple del Sol was at the top.
Some of the views on our way up the 245 steps. Click images for more detail.
It was about noon when we reached Temple del Sol. Massive stonework told of the importance of this place. The highlight is the Wall of Six Monoliths of the Sun Temple. The Wall is approximately 36 ft wide and 14 ft tall. The small strips between the massive stones seem to be decorative rather than structural. The subtle stair-step carving repeats a common motif in Incan art. The effect of the Wall is hard to describe, but “breath-taking” is not an exaggeration.
The view through the guard house window on the mountainside trail on the opposite side of the site. Melanie is seen wearing a blue shirt crossing a terrace in the video.
We left Ollantaytambo feeling richer, and also greedy. With ruins visible on the hillsides, along the river bank, across the terraces, there was more to see than the eye could take in. More to see than time would allow. So far we’d tasted the appetizers. Next up, the main course: Machu Picchu.
Here are links for all our posts on Peru. Thanks for joining us!
Peru | Lima | First Impressions
Peru | Textiles and Ceramics
Peru | Arts & Crafts
Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu
Peru | Tipon and Sacsayhuaman
Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings
Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes
Peru | Everyday Life
Inca Pot | c 1500
Noon @ Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More