Although having booked a day trip to the Sacred Valley through AB Expeditions, because it was a group trip it was actually done by another company. We began our journey heading towards Pisac, stopping briefly for a photo opportunity at a lookout with the Andes mountains in the background, before continuing on to Pisac.
The village of Pisac is located 28 km from Cusco, along the Rio Vilcanoto or the Urubamba River. The Pisac Ruins are situated on the hill at the entrance to the valley.
The village of Pisac was once a strategic controlling point of the road which wound through the Sacred Valley to the Eastern Jungle and connected the Inca Empire and the city of Paucartambo. Due to Pisac’s elevated position it is believed to have provided a defensive purpose protecting the southern end of the valley.
Our guide led us up a hill past Peruvian vendors selling crafts, corn and various juices to the entrance of the ruins.
Our first stop was Qantus Raccay, one of Pisac’s residential areas. The area is made up of homes and Inca baths, however the most impressive part was the sweeping views over the terraces with the Andes mountains in the background.
The furthest buildings from where we were standing and situated amongst the terraces is the Temple of the Sun. We did not have time to visit and few tourist actually go there. But it looked pretty impressive.
Or a closer view…
We then had some free time to explore the site and we headed across the terraces for a better look. The view from the site is amazing.
We continued on to the gorge. Our guide told us to look at the rock face for the honeycomb holes in the cliffs, which once housed more than 3500 tombs. Unfortunately treasure hunters raided the Inca cemetery looking for valuables, but as the people weren’t wealthy they didn’t find any, but damaged the tombs.
We did not have time to visit Q’alla Q’asa, the highest point of Pisac. It’s believed to have been the military area and housed the living quarters of the guards.
We stopped briefly at the Pisac markets where I did buy a few gifts for the kids. Our guide took us to a silver shop and as we entered he explained that the clay house usually held guinea pigs, but there was a festival on the other week and family ate them. Poor guinea pigs.
Ollantaytambo, otherwise known as ‘Ollanta’ by the locals is a small town filled with narrow, cobble-stoned streets and old buildings and is located at an altitude of 9160 feet in the province of Urubamba. No matter where you are in Ollantaytambo, you will be able to see the spectacular Inca ruins which rise above the town, the main draw card for a visit here. Among the Inca ruins are the ceremonial temple and a fortress that guarded the entrance to the valley to stop any invasions. To reach the temple and fortress, visitors scale the steep stairs set amongst the tiered and very steep terraces.
A Brief History of Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who built both the town and ceremonial center during Inca times. Ollantaytambo was constructed during the middle of the 15th century and considered the second best preserved ruins after Machu Picchu.
Ollantaytambo is one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a battle. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, Ollantaytambo was the temporary stronghold of the leader Manco Inca Yupangui, who had retreated here after his defeat at Sacsaywaman. Francisco’s younger half brother, Hernando Pizarro led a force including a cavalry of 70 to Ollantaytambo to capture Manco Inca. Manco Inca showered Pizarro’s men with arrows, spears and boulders rolled from the terracing, but what really won the battle was when he flooded the plain where the conquistadors were situated, bogging down the horses and resulting in the hasty retreat by the conquistadors.
The Inca victory was short lived as the conquistadors returned the following year with quadruple the cavalry and led to Manco fleeing to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba.
To reach the religious site requires strenuous stair climbing, which is made even harder by the altitude. Even though its day 3 in Cusco, Andrew is really struggling to breathe and I will admit I can’t shake this headache, altitude sickness! Anyway, while it was a struggle to climb up our guide did stop regularly to tell us about the site and I will admit the landscape is jaw droppingly beautiful and somewhat reminiscent of Colorado’s scenery.
The Sun Temple
The Sun Temple, although uncompleted is the main structure in the temple section and was a temple to worship the sun. The temple features a Wall of the Six Monoliths, each said to weigh approximately 50 tons. How these stones were transported from the quarry remains a mystery. Surrounding the temple are Inca walls with their perfectly cut stones fit snugly together like puzzle pieces and held perfectly in place without mortar. The temple walls are smoother, more angular and fit more perfectly than walls elsewhere in the site which are made from field stones.
The terraces at Ollantaytambo are similar to others found in the Urubamba Valley which start at the bottom of the valley and climb up the surrounding hills. By terracing the land it allowed the farmers to not only use otherwise unusable terrain but also aided in irrigation and increased the space available for crops. The use of terraces also allowed them to create different ecological zones through temperature variations between the top and bottom layers.
On the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo are several store houses constructed from field stones. Due to their location at a high altitude, where it is significantly windier it reduces the temperature in the store houses, allowing grain to be stored without the risk of decay.
Our guide asked us if we could see a face to the left of the storehouses. After some looking, some people spotted it. Can you? It is supposed to be the face of Viracocha also called Huiracocha and Wiraqoca and is considered the supreme Inca god. Viracocha formed not only the earth, heavens, sun and moon but also living things.
The rose rhyolite blocks used in the elaborate buildings on Temple Hill at Ollantaytambo came from quarries located at Kachiqhata, across the Urubamba River about 5 km from the town. Its believed an elaborate system of roads, ramps and slides allowed for the blocks to be transported to build the temple.
After making it back down we were greeted with a beautiful view looking back at the ruins and some very cute alpacas.
Train to Machu Picchu
While the rest of our group made their way back to Cusco, we stayed to catch the train to the base of Machu Picchu ready to visit the famous site in the morning. We caught the late Inca Rail train up. During the train trip we were served tea/coffee and some snacks while watching the scenery pass us by. We unfortunately were in the seats facing backwards, so a little harder to see what was passing us by.
Information on the Tour and Train
I booked our tour through AB Expeditions which is run by a local Peruvian couple. However if you book a private tour they run it, if you book a group tour, it is outsources to a larger company who runs big group tours. I’m not sure who the company was that ran our bus tour, but it was significantly cheaper than a private tour. The tour guide we had was excellent, probably the best we had in Peru. The only suggestion I have is don’t book the lunch, the tour guide can take you somewhere local. We opted for the lunch thinking that was the only option and it was at a buffet at a restaurant with virtually no guests and the food was nothing to rave about. For more information on the tour follow use the link: https://abexpeditions.com/tour/sacred-valley-tour-day-trip/#1518213131619-4a1d49bc-3dec
We went with Inca Rail up to Machu Picchu, the price of the seats vary according to what class you want and the time of day you are going up there. More information can be found at the following website: https://incarail.com/