Stone & Air - Ancient Peru

Urubamba Valley

Urubamba, the lush"sacred valley" of the Incas, lies about 15 km from Cuzco. The valley was formed by the Urubamba River, which, by the way, offers great rafting and kayaking. The valley was, and continues to be, an important agricultural center. Both the valley floor and the terraced hillsides are farmed. Many of the terraced hillsides were built by the Incans, and the archeological sites incorporate farming terraces as part of the whole complex. The blessing of farming was a major part of the Incan religion. Crops had their own spirit, and just as gold representations of the deities were installed, gold representations of the major crops were made and installed at Incan temples.

Pisac is probably the most spectacular site in the valley. You can either drive up to the site, or you can take a steep footpath that starts at the main plaza of the modern town of Pisac. When you reach the top, you'll find the ruins incorporate overlooks to deep gorges on either side. The very top is a fortress; right below that stand well-preserved temple rooms; agricultural terraces sweep down from the buildings. You may camp up here (in a tent, not in the rooms) as long as you don't light wood fires.

Ollantaytambo lies at the other end of the valley. Although the Incans may have thought of it primarily as a temple, Ollantaytambo was also a mighty fortress. It was the site of the only successful Incan battle against the Spanish. The site is protected by high stone terraces built from boulders hauled from 6 km away. Amazingly, rather than try to float the boulders across the river, after they hauled the boulders to the river's edge, the Incan builders diverted the river channel around them.

The unusual site of Moray, an agricultural research station, is proof that other cultures practiced science besides our own. The site includes three steeply terraced bowls. The Incans took advantage of the varied microclimates within the bowls to determine under which conditions their crops would grow best.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »