Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sacred Valley: Chincero, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Sacsayhuaman

Peru Day 3: Using Viator, we booked a day-long guided tour around Sacred Valley, the Inca sites in the valley around Cusco. The trip included Sacsayhuaman ( 12136 ft ) in addition to Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Chinchero. Our guide Elvis picked us up at 7am from our hotel. As we were the only ones the tour, we had some flexibility to decide which order we went in, so we decided to start at the farthest point Ollantaytambo.

The city of Cusco is at an elevation of 11152 feet surrounded by mountains on all sides. On our way, we enjoyed beautiful sunrise in the mountains. We passed by Poroy, the train station from which will take a train to Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu the next day. We saw Cusco city waking up and as we moved away from city roads became less crowded.

Our first stop was Chincero, a site about 12000 feet above sea level, higher than Cusco. After passing the newer town below, we parked and walked up steps for about 10 minutes to the site of the old Incan palace or summer resort. The old Incan walls still remain, but the main structure is a church, built by the conquistadores around 1607. The walls were a good example of the ‘dry’ technique, in which each stone was fitted together without the use of mortar. Terraces still surround the area, with farming actively practiced. Elvis led us to an open plain, where many batches of potatoes were undergoing a drying / desiccation process in the open air prior to storage. In the main square, there were local people selling handicrafts, many woven. After about twenty minutes, we returned to the car.
The plains outside Chincero

Ollantaytambo was our next stop. The site is an impressive fortress / palace built by Pachacuti just before the time of the Conquistadores. A series of canals brought water to the area from the Urubamba river. We toured the ground level temples first, before I climbed the steps to the top. Along the twenty minute climb, one could see terrace farmers working on the steep cliffs running alongside the site.


The top featured the Templo del Sol, or Sun Temple. Unfortunately due to time constraints, I had to turn back and head down after reaching the top. The valley and trail to the Military Site were visible, but would likely have taken at least 30 more minutes. Elvis had us on a tight schedule though!

Templo del Sol at Ollantaytambo

Next, we headed to the town of Pisac, where we grabbed a light lunch of empanadas and coffee at a local shop. The freshly made bread was excellent and quite filling! From the town of Pisac, it was about another 30 minutes to the archaeological site of Pisac overlooking the city. The site, high up in the mountains, gave an impressive vista of the full scope of the terraces in the valley. As we walked around the site, I hiked up to the Intihuatana, or Sun Post. This was listed as an elevation of 11,528 feet, which you certainly felt hiking up! The steps were not challenging themselves. Looking down, you could see how the citadel was laid out, and how water sources were channeled into the site.

Terraces at Pisac

We moved on to Tambomachay, which looked like a rest stop along the old Inca trail. Walking to the main spot, we walked along the original stones of the Inca trail. The site consisted of several aqueducts that may have been used for both water transport as well as hydration and bathing. While interesting, the site was small and self-contained, so we left after 15 minutes. 

By this point, it was the late afternoon and the sun was slowly starting to set. We had two sites left: Q’enqo and Saqsaywaman. Q’enqo was the old royal funerary of the Inca. At the center, a cave-like area acted as a mortuary, where the deceased corpse was embalmed and prepared for passage into the after-life. As we prepared to depart to our last site, we could see the city of Cusco reappearing in the distance.

Saqsaywaman was quite a way to end a packed day. Large stone walls had been erected, again with the dry technique, along multiple terraces. The site overlooked the valley in which Cusco sits, providing impressive views of the city including Plaza de Armas. When the Conquistadores came, they used the site as a quarry, taking much of the stone away to build the cathedral and other buildings around the city. Even in its post-Conquistador state, it was quite impressive. One can only imagine what the site looked like in its original state.

Ruins at Sacsayhuaman

Elvis dropped us off at the hotel, leaving us to prepare for our trip to Machu Picchu the next day.


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