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by Orient-Express

The Urubamba Valley

From Cuzco, a paved road climbs to the pass and continues over the pampa before descending into the Urubamba valley. It crosses the river by bridge at Pisac and follows the north bank of the river to the end of the paved road at Ollantaytambo.

It passes through Calca, Yucay and Urubamba (also reached from Cuzco via Chinchero. Since the valley (altitude 2,800 metres) is 600 metres lower than Cuzco, it is a good area to acclimatise, physically and culturally, before going up to the former Inca capital.

Like many places along the valley, Urubamba (altitude 2,863 metres) is in a beautiful setting with snowcapped peaks in view. The main plaza, with a fountain capped by a maize cob, is surrounded by blue painted buildings. Calle Berriozabal, on the west side of the town, is lined with pisonay trees. The large market square is one block west of the main plaza. The main road skirts the town and the bridge for the road to Chinchero is just to the east of the town. Visit the ceramic workshop of Pablo Seminario, whose artisans use pre-Columbian techniques and designs.


Tarabamba, six kilometres west of Urubamba, is where a bridge crosses the Rio Urubamba. Turn right after the bridge to Pichingoto, a tumble-down village built under an overhanging cliff. Also, just over the bridge and before the town to the left of a small walled cemetery, is a salt stream. Follow the footpath beside the stream to Salinas, a small village below which are a mass of terraced Inca salt pans, which are still in operation (there are over 5,000). The walk to the salt pans takes about 30 minutes. Take water, as this side of the valley can be very hot and dry. May and June are the harvest months, with local festivals and many processions following ancient schedules. Urubamba's main festival, El Señor de Torrechayoc, occupies the first week of June.

Ollantaytambo. The Inca town of Llacta on which the present-day town is based (altitude 2,800 metres), is clearly seen as a fine example of Inca canchas (blocks), which are almost entirely intact and behind the main plaza are still occupied. Entering Ollantaytambo from Pisac, the road is built along the long wall of 100 niches. Note the inclination of the wall, it leans towards the road. Since it was the Incas' practice to build with the walls leaning towards the interiors of the buildings, it has been deduced that the road, much narrower then, was built inside a succession of buildings. The road out of the plaza leads across a bridge, down to the colonial church with its enclosed recinto. 

The flights of terraces leading up above the town are superb and so are the curving terraces, following the contours of the rocks, overlooking the Urubamb.

The temple construction was started by Pachacuti, using Colla Indians from Lake Titicaca, hence the similarities of the monoliths facing the central platform with the Tíahuanaco remains. The Colla are said to have deserted half-way through the work, which explains the many unfinished blocks lying about the site.

Recently, a pyramid has been identified on the west side of Ollantaytambo main ruins, discovered by Fernando and Edgar Elorietta. The two explorers claim it as the real Pacaritambo, from where the four original Inca brothers emerged to found their empire (an alternative creation legend). Whether this is the case or not, it is still a first-class piece of engineering with great terraced fields and a nice 750 meter wall which aligns with the rays of the winter solstice, on the 21st of June each year. The mysterious pyramid can be seen properly from the other side of the river.

This is a pleasant and easy one-hour walk west from the Puente Inca, just inside the town. There are great views of the Sacred Valley, the river and the snowy peaks of the Verónica massif as a backdrop.


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