Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo

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.

Group member Jon Chase photo

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.

Corn fields at left. Circle of dancers in the lower right.

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


15 thoughts on “Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo

  1. The Belmont Rooster

    GREAT POST! The videos are AWESOME. I watch a lot of documentaries onYouTube about ancient civilizations. It’s amazing how the ruins have a lot in common with the structures in other parts of the world (Egypt). In some areas, the lower blocks were HUGE and from one civilization and the walls were added to by another civilization that moved in later using smaller blockc. Well, I better stop or I will be writing a post in your comments. Thanks for sharing! I am glad you had such a great experience in person.

    1. Jim R Post author

      Thanks for those comments. I agree with you about the commonality of the structures. Also, there were many instances in Peru where Inca foundations were later built upon by the Spanish. They couldn’t improve on them. They used a lot of the smaller stones to build their churches, etc.

    1. Melanie McNeil

      I think being able to see or understand things in context almost always makes them more interesting. Mapping is one way to provide some context — it links one things or place with another. I’m sure it could make a difference. Thanks for taking a look, Jim.

  2. Pingback: Noon @ Ollantaytambo – How I See It

  3. underswansea

    Incredible! It must have been awe inspiring to walk among the remains of such an ancient civilization. Growing corn at such an altitude is amazing.

  4. shoreacres

    I’d be noticing a lack of oxygen at 11,000 ft, too. There’s so much to take in here, just from your photos. I can only imagine what it was like when you were there. I like the juxtaposition of the terraced fields with the stonework, and the decorative bits here and there are wonderful. Carving any of them out of the mountains would have been breath-taking for them, too — or so I think. I wonder if there were physiological changes among the people who lived there that would have made it easier to cope with the thinner atmosphere: changes in lung capacity, for example.

    Guinea pig, huh? I can imagine it might be fairly tasty. Did you get a chance to try it?

    1. Melanie McNeil

      Yes, there are physiological changes. I just read an article about this a few days ago and unfortunately don’t know where I found it. But evolution has favored the Indians with relatively short stature and large barrel chests, with good lung capacity. Also their darker skin is helpful for the latitude, and doubly so for those who live at higher altitudes. I got quite burned on my neck and shoulders the second day we were at Machu Picchu, even with a good layer of sun screen on.

      Guinea pig is fine, somewhat in flavor like the “darker” parts of pork. Think pork shoulder/butt, that can sometimes taste dusky.

  5. Pingback: Sun | Overhead @ Noon – How I See It

We love comments! Tell us what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s