The Sacred Valley of the Incas

AKS_4833-Edit-EditAt the end of our excursion to the Amazon, we flew 45 minutes to Cusco from Puerto Maldonado.  After being in Cusco for a few hours, Dianne and I learned about a phenomena called altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness but thanks to the extra medication carried by some of our fellow travelers and their generosity, none of our travel plans were affected and disaster averted!

I received an email from one of my friends who has been reading my posts about our Peru trip and she suggested a map may be helpful in following along with our trip.  That was such a good idea, I created a guide with Google Maps that should be helpful to show our different stops over the 3 days in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  This map covers the next 3 posts beginning with our visit to a variety of locations in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Mara Salt Ponds and ending in Machu Picchu.

Click on this link to view the map and be sure check the icons and use the map features to zoom in and out of the different areas.

For the next 3 days, we explored the Sacred Vally of the Incas which was formed by the Urubamba River and was valued by the Incas for to its special geographical and climatic qualities.  It was also a very important valley for the Incan empire’s economy and survival since it included one of the most important areas for maize (corn) production. The Incan or Inka Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America with the political, military and administrative headquarters in Cusco with many other villages and towns throughout the valley.  The Sacred Valley was also where Paul Simon first heard El Cóndor Pasa which appears on Simon & Garfunkel’s best selling album, “Bridge over Troubled Water.”  We heard that tune many times over the next three days.

Our first stop in the Valley was the village of Chinchero which is higher in elevation than Cusco, located at 12,500 feet and we certainly felt short of breath while exploring here.  Chinchero was our first exposure to the fascinating and unbelievable Incan ruins.  Inca architecture is widely known for its fine masonry, which features cut and shaped stones that are closely and precisely fitted without the use of mortar.  Earthquakes were a reality during the Incan times and the architecture was designed to be earthquake-proof by having the stone walls and foundations lean slightly inwards.  Chinchero has a massive stone wall near the main plaza as well as excellent examples of agricultural terracing.  We would be amazed over the next few days to see the extent of agricultural terracing that was used by the Incan Empire to exploit every opportunity to grow crops.  Today’s main tourist attraction is the colourful local market, reportedly one of the most traditional markets in all of South America with the local residents in their traditional dress.  Chinchero also has the “Sistine Chapel of America”, the Church of San Pedro which is known for it’s treasure trove of Baroque art and the walls and ceiling that are covered in gold.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take photos inside the church so you will have to believe me when I tell you that it was truly a marvelous sight to behold.  We also attended a demonstration from two of the Chinchero weavers, one who showed us how they made woolen threads with a simple wooden device and the other who showed us how dyes were created for their brightly coloured fabrics.  There are many markets throughout the Sacred Valley and we also journeyed to the more famous one which is in a town called Písac.  The locals employ a variety of ways to earn money from the tourists and one of those methods is to pose for pictures in traditional clothing and holding a cute little lamb and I felt obligated to help out the local economy.

View of the valleyValley and terracingStone Wall and plazaAgricultural terracingAgricultural terracing2Incan masonryIncan masonryIncan architectureOutside Church of San Pedro1Outside Church of San Pedro2Outside Church of San Pedro3Chinchero vendorChinchero localChinchero childMaking wool threadChinchero weaver showing dyeAlpacha woolSouvenirsLadies of Pisac - paid to posePisac local1Pisac local2


Our last stop of the day was the quaint village of Ollantaytambo which is the best surviving example of Inca city planning.  Ollantaytambo has narrow cobblestone streets and has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century.  During the Inca times, Ollantaytambo was a royal estate and later became the stronghold for the Inca resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru.  Much of the magnificent construction, extensive works of terracing and irrigation remains to this day attracting thousands of tourists each year including those who embark on the three-day, four-night hike known as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Ollantaytambo is also where we would be boarding the Peru Rail train for our trip to Machu Picchu.

A large ceremonial centre was built by the Incas on top of a steep hill.  The side of the hill that faces the main town area is covered in very impressive agricultural terraces and is enclosed by rock faces to the south and north to form a striking amphitheatre.  The Temple side of the ceremonial centre is built out of cut and fitted stones which denotes the importance of the structure.


Keeping the relatives closeFirst viewsTerracesTerraces from belowIncan doorwayIncan masonrySolid stone for templeHill structures 1Hill structures 2Terraces from abovegoing back down


The Incas built several storehouses out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay.


Storehouses from temple 1Storehouses from temple 2Storehouses from below 1Storehouses from below 2Storehouse 1Storehouse 2 cropped


“The bath of the princess”, a fountain at the base of the ruins.


Bath of the Princess


Thanks for stopping by, next stop will be the Salt Ponds of Maras!

This entry was posted in Landscape, Peru, Travel and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Scott Martin February 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    Another superb instalment Arni. The photography is terrific and the commentary provided a better education than anything we ever learned in history class! The Incan masonry was amazing to see; those rocks seemed to mold into each other and they’ve stayed in place for centuries without any mortar which is incredible.

    • Arni February 21, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      As you know, it takes a fair bit of effort to gather the data for a meaningful post without plagiarizing so your comments are very much appreciated. We were in awe of the Incan masonry and it never failed to impress and the rented 5DMKIII was the perfect camera to have on this trip.

  2. Martin February 24, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    The terraces are an amazing example of architecture. Every room has a view 🙂 All this without backhoes or cranes. Amazing.

    • Arni February 25, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks Martin. The Inca empire was quite something and is really hard to imagine how they did that over 500 years ago.

  3. Rob Smith February 25, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    Arni this is a fantastic post my friend. I am indeed jealous of you being able to visit. The way they built the structures is simply amazing. Kind of reminds me of the pyramids and temples in Egypt we visited a few years back. Thank you for the commentary, it was very informative. You must have enjoyed the trip immensely

    • Arni February 25, 2014 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks Rob. The ancient civilizations certainly had some talented engineers and architects. I never put it in my blog but the quarry that was used to mine the temple stones was located about 5 km away across a ravine on the opposite side of the Urubamba river which is an amazing feat in of itself.