On one of our 3 days in Cuzco we did a day tour of the Sacred Valley. We were on a mid-size bus with perhaps 35 people. The tour costs 35 NS per person (1 USD = 2.8 NS). Another option would be to rent a car, but signage on the roads is not very clear, and it was just easier for us to book a tour than to find a car to rent. The tour consisted of a stop at a small set of tourist shops (of course) not too far from Pisac, then the ruins of Pisac, a drive to Urubamba for lunch, then on to Ollantaytambo town and ruins, followed by a drive over a high plateau to the little town of Chinchero, and finally back to Cuzco via Poroy, which is the same town where the trains leave for Machu Picchu. A tourist ticket to visit the ruins below, in addition to others (see my other posts on Cuzco sites) costs 130 NS (about $46), for non-locals. The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first stop. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.
The town of Pisac is quite small (about 4,000 inhabitants), and the ruins are set high in a valley behind the little town. It’s about a 2,000 foot drop in elevation from Cuzco to Pisac, and a very scenic drive. The ruins contain a variety of buildings and varying stone and adobe brick work. This Inca site was thought to contain a bit of everything—religious site, observatory, as well as residences. Due to our limited time with a tour group, we only were able to visit one portion of the site—it’s large, and still being excavated. The views of the valley from the ruins are quite spectacular, even with the heavy mist we had.
After lunch in Urubamba, our tour took us to Ollantaytambo, at the northwest end of the Sacred Valley, and the literal end of the road (at least in the direction of Machu Picchu). This is a nice small town, and is laid out on the original Inca city plan. The fortress ruins are very impressive, looking up from the town directly below. There are large terraces ascending straight up a narrow cleft in the mountain to the ruins at the top. This site was largely defensive in nature. The Inca fled here in 1537 after being defeated in Sacsayhuaman by the Spanish. They actually made a stand and won a battle against Pizzaro here, but eventually the Spanish conquered this city. In addition to the main ruins by the town, there are additional ruins on the other side of the small valley, to the southeast of the town. Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman were my favorite Inca sites in addition to Machu Picchu. The trains to Machu Picchu make a short stop here on their way to Aguas Calientes.
We drove back down the road to Urubamba, and then south up over a high plateau in the Sacred Valley to the town of Chinchero. On this road are incredible views of the surrounding Andes mountains. This town is 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) in altitude, higher than Cuzco. The Incan past is very obvious in this little town, with the buildings along the streets built upon their original Inca foundations. The Inca, in fleeing to Ollantaytambo, laid waste to this town to slow the Spaniards. Too bad. Chinchero has a very interesting church, built in 1607, with the wood beam ceiling covered in intricate paintings. I could not take pictures inside, but it was very beautiful and worth the visit. We arrived very late in the afternoon, near sunset, so our visit to this interesting town was limited.