Photo Tour: The Sacred Valley: Around Urubamba

When you hear "Inca", do you think "Cusco, Peru"? According to my guidebook, a lot of people do. But the Inca were in a lot of other places, of course -- and one of them is the Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley. Much lower than Cusco (under 3000 meters elevation), it's surrounded by the high Andes on both sides.

It's called the Sacred Valley because of its famous sacred sites. There's another reason, though: the weather lets people here plant and harvest three crops a year -- thanks in part to the great soil and all of the water that comes down from the mountains on either side. And I'd add a third, unofficial reason: It's so beautiful that you'll think you're in heaven.

I spent a week in and around Urubamba, one of the bigger cities in the valley. It's a friendly place, much less crowded than Cusco, and also a lot closer to Machu Picchu than Cusco. Here's some of Urubamba and the area. (There's more on the next pages.)

To get a larger version of any picture (except the wide one of the potato-sellers), click on it; a new window should open. When you close that window, this window should still be here.

Here are some scenes along the main road from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo:
South side of the valley near Urubamba
North side of the valley near Urubamba
North side of the valley near Urubamba
North side of the valley near Urubamba

Urubamba is a transportation center, too. A lot of buses, trucks, and cars come through here. And so does the railroad between Cusco and Machu Picchu:
Main road through the valley
Train tracks

There's lots to buy at markets in Urubamba, though most of it isn't for turistas like me. These first two photos are at a market close to the river where they were selling lots of live animals. The last is closer to the main plaza:
Guinea pigs and more...
Sellers and buyers
Selling potatoes

The city streets are fun places to wander. I felt welcome, people didn't stare or treat me like a tourist (as they do in Cusco, where every third person seems to be trying to sell you something):
Urubamba street scene
Urubamba street scene

The little things you see help to make the streets interesting:
Urubamba street scene
Urubamba street scene

And two more scenes of businesses. The first may not look like much of a business, but it's actually big business around here: The red "flower" on a pole means that you can buy chicha, a beer made from corn, here today. (Not all of the chicha-sellers make batches every day.) For a lot of workers in the area, drinking chicha is a part of their routine... as I heard from the family I stayed with (who have workers doing construction on their land), chicha helps workers be relaxed and have energy too.

The second photo was a bicycle repair shop, I think. People use lots of two and three-wheeled transportation around here, and a lot of it is muscle-powered:
Urubamba street scene
Urubamba street scene

Not far from Urubamba, a few kilometers along the road toward Ollantaytambo, is a road that crosses the river and then stops at a trail up the side of the mountain. Walk up a ways and you'll get to Salinas (or Salineras), a big set of salt-evaporation ponds on the side of a valley. It's quite a sight from far away... and from nearby, too. The salt comes from a free-running brine spring. Workers, who you'll see all over the complex of ponds, tend them to help water evaporate and to scrape up the salt that's left. A huge bag of salt is cheap: about three U.S. dollars, I think. I passed mules, loaded with bags of salt, on their way down to the river. What a surreal and amazing place (don't forget to click for a bigger view):
Salinas from above
Salinas from above (closer)
North side of the valley near Urubamba
North side of the valley near Urubamba

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(These photographs are Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Peek. Much higher-resolution versions of most images, and many other images too, are available at Jerry Peek Photography. Photos are available at reduced prices, or free, for non-commercial use.)

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