The Sacred Valley of the Incas lies approximately 20 miles north of Cusco. The Urubamba—or Vilcanota—River passes through this valley, moderating the climate and supporting some of the most fertile farmlands in the region. The area also served as a trading route to the tropical lowlands and a buffer zone against raiding jungle tribes.
The north end of the valley is guarded by the town of Ollantaytambo. This hillside citadel was a key stronghold during Manco Inca's resistance against Hernando Pizarro in 1536. Here you can climb the massive steps of the fortress, view the hillside granaries of Pinkuyuna and admire the centuries-old Princess Spring. Sections of the town itself reveal Inca civil engineering, including roadside aqueducts and walls.
The central section of the valley is the location of the area's best lodges, haciendas and pottery workshops. Day trips—such as horseback riding, hiking, ballooning and whitewater rafting—can be arranged for overnight guests.
Pisac, near the southern end of the valley, is famous for its market—held on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Above the town, the ruins known as Inca Pisac contain ritual baths and temples, including a Temple of the Sun. The surrounding hillsides are lined with agricultural terraces arrayed like the wing of a partridge—or pisaca in Quechua.
Between Pisac and Cusco are the bath complex of Tambomachay, the cult center of Qenko and the fortress of Sacsayhuamán. Northwest of Cusco, the salt pans of Maras, town of Chinchero and the Inca gardens of Moray provide additional insight into past and present-day Andean life.
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