Sacred Valley – Pisac

23 01 2009
Sacred Valley and Urubamba River

Sacred Valley and Urubamba River

We took a collectivo taxi (a mini van filled with locals and us) over the mountains from Cuzco to Pisac, which is in the ¨Sacred Valley¨, along the Urubamba River. The Sacred Valley has massive mountains on either side of the river, with flat farmland in the bottom of the valley. There are amazing terraces way up on the steep hillsides, we can´t imagine hiking all the way up there to make stone terraces and then farm these remote and high fields, but evidently someone did it. They even included both normal stairs and stones inserted into the walls to allow them to move up through the terraces (see photo of Alexa below). The Urubamba River started way back when we crossed from the altiplano around Puno over into the Cuzco area, and eventually flows into the Amazon River.

Urubamba River in Pisac

Urubamba River in Pisac

As we go further along the river, things have gone from arid and dry to more wet and lush. The town of Pisac (elevation about 9,500 ft) has a central market that is frequently visited by tourist buses on their way to the ruins on the hills above Pisac. Most tours stop at the craft market and then head up to the ruins for the morning, and then move on down the Sacred Valley to other archaeological sites.

From Pisac looking up to the hilltop ruins

From Pisac looking up to the hilltop ruins

We came to Pisac to stay for a few days and hike all the way up to the ruins, our own (cheaper) version of the “Inca trail.” The perched towers of the ruins are visible from town, way, way above the town on the top of the towering mountains.

The next morning after arriving in town, finding a place to stay and getting some food for the hike, we set out up the stairs leading from town to the first set of terraces. We climbed slowly up the stairs and terraces, gaining elevation and rewarding views of the valley below. Fortunately, we´ve been at high elevations for over a week, so the climb didn´t cause any bad elevation sickness. As we steadily climbed the hill, we came to the first set of ruins, a small settlement on the steep slopes that has a site plan in the shape of a bird. Then we climbed up to the ceremonial center of the ruins at Pisac, Intihuatana. Intihuatana (hitching post of the sun) was an important ceremonial site and solar observatory that has very fine rectangular stone work. There is a central stone that was very important, with a complex drainage system that captured the runoff from the stone and stored it in a basin that discharged to a series of channels and fountains below the hilltop site.  We eventually learned (from the excellent museum below Machu Picchu that is all too often missed by visitors) how the Intihuatana stone was used to determine when the winter and summer solstices occurred, important for the timing of agricultural work for their society.

The trail up

The trail up

From there, we moved up through an Inca tunnel, along a defensive wall beneath military barracks (where they guarded the main entrance) and into a saddle that had some sacred baths and views of cliff sides with burial caves in them. Since the caves have been hit by grave robbers, tourists aren´t allowed into that area. We finished by going to the tour bus drop off area to get a coke and some fresh squeezed orange juice before heading back down into town. In addition to the sense of accomplishment from having climbed all the way up (11,200 feet above see level) from town (over 1,700 feet of elevation gain) we got to visit the site in the opposite direction as the flow of the tour groups, and we couldn´t help but feel a little smug as tourists huffed and puffed their way back to the bus parking area after their short tour, loudly complaining about their short hike.

Intihuatana, hitching post of the sun

Intihuatana, hitching post of the sun

When we made it back down to town, we feasted on lomo saltodo (beef cooked with onions, tomatoes, seasoning and served with fries and/or rice). Jason helped Alexa finish hers, then we went and had some alpaca skewers and chocolate cheesecake, just to be sure we were full. Next stop Ollaytaytambo and then Macchu Picchu.

Views of the valley from the first set of ruins

Views of the valley from the first set of ruins

Alexa on Inca terrace steps

Alexa on Inca terrace steps

The tour buses arrive

The tour buses arrive

Halfway up

Halfway up

The way up from the start in Pisac

The way up from the start in Pisac

Rectangular stone work for ceremonial site

Rectangular stone work for ceremonial site

Ceremonial Center, Intihuatana

Ceremonial Center, Intihuatana

Inca stairs upwards to lookout ruins

Inca stairs upwards to lookout ruins

Mt. top views

Mt. top views

Sacred Valley, looking south from Pisac

Sacred Valley, looking south from Pisac


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7 responses

23 01 2009
Mike Burke

Beautiful! Your writings would make a good tour guide book, since we feel like tourists ourselves just by reading it.

23 01 2009
Karen

I have never had any desire to visit Peru. But after your pictures and comments I may have to move it up on my list of travel sites. We will see if that is true of all your travel locations. Love the pictures and the commentary.

24 01 2009
alfredo

your pictures and your descriptions are making me home sick, i’ve started thinking in going back for a visit.

24 01 2009
alicia

sounds like you deserve every bite of that cheesecake! 🙂 Very cool, glad you didn’t get sick up there!

24 01 2009
Grandad

It amazes us that our ancestors were able to build such sophisticated structures out of stone, without material from which they could make hard tools. The building structures were of accurately cut stone. Even the walls which retained the terraced growing areas were well fit to withstand destructive forces.

Arable land was so limited that they had to build farm fields in terraces, and then carry up the dirt. I presume thaty there was a water source at the top, for supplying the terraced fields. So much work to survive in difficult locations.

Love, Grammy and Grandad

24 01 2009
Jenny

Hello!!! yay, my first comment! I have been catching up on your travels…i am visiting Grams and Grandad and finally had a chance to see everything!!! It sounds like you are having a wonderful time…the things you are seeing sound amazing and I am learning so much through your blogs! The pictures are beautiful….I want to go to all these places one day!!! Love you guys and miss you lots!

7 02 2009
Grandad

It may surprise you to know that Grammy’s Father, William C. Carlson, did some of the exploratory drilling for copper in those Chilean deserts back in the 1930s.
Love, Grandad

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