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Located in the highest section of the Sacred Valley, Pisac offers the traveler the opportunity to live in two different time periods of the Andean past: an Inca period, with stone walls and impressive agricultural terraces, and a colonial one, with elegant plazas, solemn temples and stone-paved streets. The Inca village was built by Pachacutec to protect Cusco from possible raids by the Antis or mountain people, who had resisted the Inca Conquest. This site offers extensive agricultural terraces, around two dozen towers, buildings, deposits, temples and plazas.

The colonial town of Pisac owns a beautiful main square, crowned with a luxuriant Basul tree (Erythrina edulis), where every Sunday the most popular fair in the valley takes place. Its church still celebrates traditional mass in Quechua and is a required stop for the local authorities or varayocs, who carry scepters that are fabricated from palm wood and wrought silver. The town also has an interesting Folklore Museum in its main square and many of its houses still preserve their beauty and splendor.


This picturesque town, located on the skirts of the Pitusiray and Sawasiray Snow Peaks, is the commercial center of the valley, as its strategic location connects it to the neighboring Valley of Lares and to Cusco’s Rainforest. Calca was Manco Inca’s military headquarter when the 1536 rebellion broke out, before his army passed into exile in Vilcabamba. To the south of the town, on the foothills of Yanaccaca, you’ll find the remains of Huchuy Cusco (Small Cusco), a construction that was supposedly raised by Inca Huiracocha on top of a rebellious population that had been conquered by the people of Cusco. Calca is also the starting point of the scenic route through the valley of Lares, gateway to the tropical rainforest.


Yucay is a joyful and orderly town. Although it’s of Inca origin, many say that it was initially populated by natives from the Amazonian Andes, until they were expelled by Manco Capac. The following governors used this place as a resting area and a large part of Cusco’s nobility came to live here. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega refers to Yucay as “a privileged population that the Incas had as a garden and as a place for their delight”. Sayri Tupac, one of the rebel Incas from Vilcabamba, established his palace in Yucay when he returned to Cusco in 1558. The main temple, dedicated to the apostle Santiago, has many notable altars, an interesting art gallery and a site museum. As in Calca, in Yucay you’ll find two main plazas, both governed by ancient Basul trees.


This town is located in the center of the Sacred Valley, in the midst of majestic scenery dominated by the snow peaks of Mount Chicon. The avenue or alameda, lined by ancient Basuls, leads towards the main square where you can visit a beautiful colonial church. In the times of the Incas, Urubamba was one of the main agricultural centers of Cusco, as it’s surrounded by an extensive countryside. Today, the town is known for its picanterias (traditional restaurants) and eco-lodges, which allow the tourists to work in the agricultural fields and elaborate local handicrafts.


This town of Inca origin was a powerful military, religious and agricultural center that served as the frontier between Cusco City and the rainforest; a territory hardly accessed by the Incas due to the belligerence of the so-called Antis. From all of the towns in the valley, Ollantaytambo is the only one that preserves its original urban plan: it’s estimated that its construction was ordered by Inca Pachacutec to cover a rebellious town that denied to pay their taxes, so he annexed it to the Empire and colonized it with people from the Collao culture (from the Titicaca Region). In 1539 Manco Inca used the fortress in Ollantaytambo to lead the resistance against the Spanish, defeating Hernando Pizarro before he fled to Vilcabamba.

As legend goes, this is where the drama of Ollantay actually took place took place, theatrical piece that narrates the story of a soldier who fell in love of a noble coya, named Cusi Coyllor. The current town is divided in two by Patacancha River and each block or field is made up by houses that share the same exit towards the main square. The ceremonial sector, dedicated to the gods of water-Unu and Yaku-is composed by shrines that withhold water fountains, such as the one called the Bath of the Ñusta (Baño de la Ñusta), carved from only one piece of granite. Its eleven terraces, located to the west of the main square, were used for agricultural production and to retain soil, thus avoiding the erosion of the surrounding temples. On the highest level of terraces the traveler will find the Temple of the Ten Windows (Templo de las Diez Ventanas) and an aqueduct-the Inca Misana-that has been carved into the mountain. Finally, at the top, the fortress or Royal House of the Sun (Casa Real del Sol) proudly rises over Ollantaytambo. The fortress is composed by twenty-seven terraces of red granite, each measuring up to four meters in height, and walls made from carved stone, which flaunt stunning finishes. Getting to know Ollantaytambo is a fascinating experience that we highly recommend.


Chinchero is strategically located in the crossroad that connects Cusco with the Sacred Valley, and it’s a mandatory stop on the route towards Machu Picchu. The social organization of the Tahuantinsuyo is still kept alive in Chinchero as it existed five hundred years ago, where practices such as the trueque (trade) or the minka (communal work) form part of daily life. In the times of the Incas, Chinchero was the capital’s pantry and in 1480, Inca Tupac Yupanqui ordered the construction of a resting place in this location, building shrines, temples, agricultural terraces and baths to satisfy his court. The town’s church was erected on top of Tupac Yupanqui’s palace. Its construction was finished in 1607 and it shelters Baroque altarpieces and profuse mural paintings where the scene of a puma devouring a serpent stands out. In the center of the town, next to an old bell tower, you’ll locate Urquillos, the hacienda or farmhouse of Mateo Pumacahua: the most important caudillo of the XVII century and leader of an important rebellion against colonial power.

Chinchero is integrated by twelve ayllus or farming communities, organized in a social system much like the ancient Incas, and they have the power to elect their own authorities, whom they call varayocs-a figure similar to a mayor. The inhabitants dress with traditional attire every day: ponchos made from alpaca or vicugna wool, colorful chullos, rubber or leather sandals and sashes called chumpis tied tightly around the body. The women still braid their hair and wear llicllas, dark shrouds decorated with red and green filigree.

Huaypo Lagoon is located close to the town, surrounded by potato and ulluco fields that belong to the farmers of Munaypata. The Piuray Lagoon that once supplied water to the Empire’s capital through underground aqueducts is also located nearby.


This impressive circular system of agricultural terraces was discovered in 1932 by the Shippe-Johnson expedition that overflew Peru in an airplane. Later studies revealed the existence of two circular terrace systems with an average depth of one hundred fifty meters each. Investigator John Earls, who carried out studies in the area, states that the site was used to conduct agricultural experiments like the domestication of crops, the hybridization of species and the acclimatization of foreign products, between them the coca leaf. Other studies have determined that at least three thousand varieties of crops such as potatoes, corn and ornamental spices were cultivated in Moray. Up until today, the main enigma in Moray is how it avoids getting flooded during heavy rains. Some believe that the terraces are situated above porous material that allows the water to escape through the earth, while others argue that there are underground canals that drain the excess water towards the outside. Every September residents of the nearby villages celebrate the Moray Raymi, when they dress up as Incas and carry out dances and ritual battles in honor of Mother Earth and the fertility of their fields.


According to chronicler Huaman Poma de Ayala, the town of Maras was once owned by a very powerful Inca chieftain or cacique. As the story goes, the natives who lived in his property refused to pay their taxes and harassed the emissaries sent by the chieftain to collect the corresponding dues. In revenge, the cacique prayed to the Sun God, who punished the natives by making it rain over their fields until they became sterile. This story is intimately related to the main attraction of Maras: the salt mine located in the community of Pichingoto, which back in the Colony was one of the most important salt producers in the southern Andes. This economic boom resulted in a variety of elegant, colonial houses and the beautiful Baroque temple found within the town. Since recent years, Maras offers experiential tourism experiences that allow the traveler to participate in the production of salt and work in the fields. The rural roads that cross the towns of Tarabamba and Pichingoto are ideal to practice trekking and mountain biking.


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