Peru 3 – The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

16th June – The beautiful Rio Urubamba valley, also known as The Sacred Valley of the Incas, winds its way northwest of Cusco.  There are many Inca ruins to visit along this route with the ancient Inca citadels of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo at either end of the Sacred Valley road.  After Ollantaytambo, the route continues to Santa Maria followed by a dirt road high in the mountains to Santa Teresa, with the Rio Urubamba winding its way through the valley far below.  From Santa Teresa, the valley closes in and then both continue their journey right below Machu Picchu itself.

From Cusco, we take the road for the small Andean town of Chinchero with its lovely Colonial church built on Inca foundations and reached by a long climb up many stone steps.  There are views of the Cordillera Vilcanota with its range of snow-capped mountains, including Chicon at just over 5500m.

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We stop at a mirador with spectacular views, shortly after Chinchero……….

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…..and then follow a sign for 2km along a dirt road, directing us to Laguna Huaypo.  Amazingly, by this beautiful laguna with mountain views, we discover a public camping and picnic area, right by the edge of the water – what an idyllic place to camp!

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There is a notice for a charge of 20 soles for camping and our luxury toilets, but nobody around to pay at present.

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Tomorrow we will visit the Inca site at Moray and the terraced salinas at Maras.

17th – 18th June – A peaceful night, the only disturbance being two fishermen arriving early with a boat and a guy tapping on our door just before 7a.m. for his 20 soles.  The weather is a shock however, thick mist everywhere and very cold…8 degrees!  What a change in the weather and we had so been looking forward to sun warming us in the morning.  Not a mountain to be seen, the laguna is a steel grey, but still a lot of bird life on the water.  By the time we leave for Maras, the sun is out and the scenery spectacular.  Our dirt track descends steeply, giving us an amazing view of the salinas at Maras, built in terraces up the hillside.

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What an amazing secret hidden amongst the dark walls of the mountains!

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From here we drive into the little town of Maras and visit its San Francisco church, situated once again on top of a hill with mountain views.

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Into Moray through a landscape of golden cornfields and more snow-capped mountains.

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This unique and interesting archeological complex, features a number of circular farming terraces, believed in Inca times to have been an experimental farming centre.

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I thought this whole area around Maras and Moray to be very beautiful and scenic.

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A local guide at the Moray Inca site, suggests we take the short cut to Ollantaytambo by taking a dirt road that winds its way down through the mountains, crossing the Urumbamba river in the valley, before arriving at this attractive Inca town.

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People have lived here since the 13th century.  Water gushes down from the surrounding mountains through the cobbled streets and along a series of open channels, preserved from Inca times.

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We find Ollantaytambo to be a very relaxing, interesting and easy town to explore.  Its main plaza plus many side streets, are full of traditional shops, cafes (including a favourite organic one) and restaurants, serving excellent and cheap food.  Downhill from the plaza and over a bridge across the Rio Patacancha, you are in the old Inca Plaza Manya Raquy with its colourful market full of craft stalls and dominated by the Inca ruins at the top of steep, stone terraces.

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This Inca fortress that once dominated the whole valley with its temples, farming terraces and protective walls, safeguarded the town.

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There are fantastic views of the valleys from the top.

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Thanks to advice from Lisbeth and Erik from Denmark that we met at Moray, we are now staying at Ollantaytambo Lodge, tucked away down a side street, where we can camp in their lovely garden and use a bathroom in one of the rooms. The very helpful and friendly owner here, makes sure we have everything to have a comfortable stay.

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19th June – It’s a cloudy and wet day when we leave Ollantaytambo, with ribbons of thick, white cloud draping the mountains.  We take the mountain road and climb over the pass at Abra Malaga at jut over 4300m, snow covered mountains peeping through the mist and cloud…..and it is snowing.  Dogs have lined this cold, mountainous road and ponies with long, shaggy coats graze on what they can find in this freezing landscape.  Don’t quite know how these people, with their cheeks burnt a deep red/blue from the extremes of temperature,  manage to survive up here in their stone houses with thatched or metal roofs.

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Sleet and rain continue but as we descend to just over 3000m the hills and mountainsides are covered  in thick, tropical vegetation, huge banana leaves glistening from the rain, papaya, oranges and vibrant colours from exotic, flowering trees and plants.  At Santa Maria we almost miss the small dirt road to our left, that will cross a bridge over the fast flowing river and then continue along a very narrow track high in the mountains, where we often have to back up to allow vehicles to pass.  Water gushes down from the hillsides, across the track, before continuing its journey far below.

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We finally arrive at Santa Teresa as light is fading and stay at Cola de Mono for camping, surrounded by banana trees and steep hills.  We will be leaving Moby here when we make our visit to Machu Picchu and the very helpful guy here (with Negro, his big, black Alsation dog), helps us to arrange our plans for tomorrow and orders a taxi to take us to Hydro Electrica, where we can either catch a train for Aguas Calientes (the stopping off town for Mach Picchu), or do the 3hr. walk following the railway line and river to the same town.

20th June – We have an outdoor shower this morning looking up to banana leaves and people taking off from the hills and zip-lining across the tree tops!  Still plenty of cloud with some light rain – the sun is struggling.  Our taxi delivers us to Hydro Electrica and we decide to walk from here to Aguas Calientes.  There are many other people walking in both directions, the railway line is easy to follow alongside the Rio Urubamba and the mountains covered in cloud forest, become steeper and more precipitous as the valley closes in.

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Just as our legs are giving up, there is an uphill stretch into Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu Pueblo), where every other building in this little town, seems to be either a hostel, restaurant or traditional craft shop.

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Aguas Calientes is connected to the Inca ruins by a very well-organised network of buses, that begin early in the morning, leaving every few minutes.  We buy our bus ticket as we also plan to be up early tomorrow, our entry tickets for Machu Picchu (128 soles each) and check out the trains for when we return to Hydro Electrica.  We discover however, that there are no trains running at present due to a landslide on to the track.  It has been a long day, so we follow the recommendations from our guide book and take a room in the Rupi Wasi, tucked away up some steep, stone steps amongst many trees – a comfy, friendly and eco-conscious run, small hotel.

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We have an excellent meal in their Tree House restaurant, (the passion fruit pie for dessert was simply amazing) and meet up with Melinda and Mike from London – a really great couple and we do hope you enjoy your day visiting Machu Picchu.

21st June – How lucky are we, after all the recent cloudy days, to wake up to a clear blue sky – a perfect day for Machu Picchu!  Although we didn’t realise it before, it is the Winter Solstice today, when the first rays of the sun will be shining directly into the window of the Temple of the Sun and illuminating the semi-circular, tower-like building.

The bus journey up to Machu Picchu follows an incredibly long, steep and winding road – certainly wouldn’t recommend walking this, although we have heard of some brave souls who attempted it but arrived at the ruins totally exhausted!

On arrival, we climb up to a large terrace with a wonderful view, just before the sun begins to creep up over the mountain.

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This rock-built Inca citadel, clinging to mountain slopes, is certainly in an amazing location with forested mountains that rise up from the deep valleys of the Urumbamba far below.

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Machu Picchu means ‘ancient mountain’ and there are many different legends and theories regarding its position and function.   The reason that it remains so intact, owes much to the fact that it was never discovered by the Spaniards and also probably to the skilled architecture and quality of the stonework.  What a fantastic discovery for the American explorer Hiram Bingham, when he came upon it in 1911 after being led to the site by a young, local boy.

Climbing up the long Intipunku trail however, the citadel appears almost insignificant in the midst of its mountainous surroundings.

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We explore the site for approx. 5hrs. many people staying to watch the sunset.  It certainly is an incredible place and was obviously of great importance to the Inca culture.

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Temple of the Sun                    We found this little fellow in the ‘Area of Meditation’


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Back in Aguas Calientes, there are still no trains running to Hydro Electrica, so after a short rest, we face the 3hr walk back, but this time in dry, sunny weather and there is beautiful scenery and many colourful and exotic flowers to appreciate.

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A taxi takes us back to Santa Teresa and camping Cola de Mono.  After 8hrs of walking and climbing, I think it’s an early night in our comfortable roof tent!

22nd June – Another cloudy morning with occasional light rain – how lucky we were yesterday, although people do say, that to have some cloud swirling around the mountains of Macchu Picchu, gives it an eerie and mystical feel!

Leaving Cola de Mono we return along the mountainous track to Santa Maria.  It reminds us of the Yungas in Bolivia (but now at only 1800m) – with vertical drops on one side and steep mountainsides on the other, with many ‘zona derrumble’ signs – (rock falls).  Our taxi driver told us yesterday, that in the wet season, many people still drive much too fast.  Crosses and plastic flowers mark the places where people have not been so fortunate on this track.  We are glad to get to the end, as today we are on the ‘drop’ side and many of the passing places do not look safe.

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From Santa Maria, we once again head for the high mountain pass over Abra Malaga that will take us back to Ollantaytambo for a couple of nights at the same Lodge.  Our last journey through these mountains was full of low mist, cloud, snow and sleet.  Today it is nmuch the same but without the fall of snow.

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23rd – 25th June – We park in the plaza at Ollantaytambo for a few provisions before we leave here and it doesn’t take long for Moby to attract attention.  Three guys are busy taking photos as we return and an English couple are studying him carefully.  We begin chatting and discover they lead what sounds to be an idyllic life in Grenada in the Caribbean, yachting and painting.  Having friends on the island who also have a Land Rover, they have the task of returning to Grenada after a visit to the UK , with Land Rover spares, as these are not available on the island. What interesting people we meet!

We take the road for Urumbamba, as we are returning to Cusco via a different route through Pisaq,which also has Inca riuins to explore.  It’s a busy road leaving the outskirts of Ollantaytambo.  There appears to be some kind of local bicycle outing with the cyclists weaving and wobbling all over the road.  Most of the bikes look in a pretty poor condition and many, far too big for the riders.  There must be at least 100 or more of all ages, strung out along the road, so our journey is very slow and we have to overtake carefully, as the younger children, particularly the girls, seem to be the least proficient and unaware of other traffic!  There are police escorts at intervals and finally, at the front along with the strongest cyclists, a police truck, which we stay behind until waved on to overtake.  As long as they all arrive back safely, they will have had a great day of exercise and fresh air!

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Pisaq is incredibly full of people and traffic.  Club Royal Inca only takes tents in their camping area, so we decide not to stop but to return to Quinta Lala for camping in Cusco.

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Motokars near Pisaq.                                                   View leaving Pisaq.

Bitterly cold nights once more – we will be glad to move on, although our next destination further south at Puno and Lake Titicaca, will not be any warmer at 3870m.

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One Response to Peru 3 – The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

  1. Great post guys – very jealous of your travels. I was looking into driving SA but sadly decided against it as I wasn’t sure on how ‘safe’ it would be. Now I will be travelling by bus and plane…

    How have you find your travels so far?


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