Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 19, 2010

Bambas, Tambos, Markets and Rocks: Sacred Valley tour, part 2

This is Part 2 of our adventures in the Sacred Valley. Did you miss Part 1?

The road to Urubamba: Cows and Corn!

From Pisac we decided (based on advice from Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost) to walk along the Urubamba River for a time, rather than just catching the bus. There are roads on both sides of the river: the main paved road on the north side of the river, and a little-used dirt road on the south side. They’re connected by bridges every so often, and we had read that from Pisac it was a 9 kilometer walk to the next bridge. We geared up and set off.

Cow on the road from Pisac to Urubamba

The afternoon threatened rain, but we only caught a few stray misty drops as we walked through the miles and miles of farmland. Nearly every inch of land is covered with corn fields, and of the remainder of what’s not used for houses is pasture for cattle and sheep. It was a peaceful walk, picking our way along the sometimes-muddy road, avoiding the occasional mototaxi and the animal droppings.

The road passes through a few small settlements before finally arriving at the bridge at Coya. Coya itself is a town full of donkeys and a strange breed of mototaxi that looks more like a mini troop transport vehicle, with two benches facing each other in a covered cart behind the body of the motorcycle. We haven’t seen these before, or since.

Once in Coya we caught a bus to Urubamba, the main transport hub of the Sacred Valley. Nearly every bus, combi and collectivo starts or ends in Urubamba, where you must transfer to another vehicle. Although the system is a bit annoying it doesn’t slow your trip down much, as there’s always another vehicle just about to leave.

Despite the general lack of things to do around Urubamba, we decided to make it our base for the next few days of exploring, given how easy and cheap it was to get anywhere from the Terminal Terrestre (bus station). Most of the tourist hotels and restaurants are spread along the highway, but we found a nice hostel near the Plaza de Armas and set up base camp.

Chinchero: Show me the Rocks

In our quest to get a punch for every site on our Tourist Ticket, we caught an early bus to Chinchero. This little town is famed for its grand Inca wall and terracing, its colonial church, and its Sunday handicrafts market. As far as we could tell, there’s not much else there.

Most other towns we’ve been to have been bustling with day-to-day activity, the tourist attractions incidental to the actual working of the town. In Chinchero, however, the only people we saw were punching our tickets, offering to be our guide, or trying to sell us handicrafts. The rest of the town was an eerie tangle of deserted streets and padlocked doors.

Carved Inca rock outcroppings at Chinchero

The ruins themselves were nifty, as far as Inca ruins go. By far the most interesting part were the carved rock outcroppings in the valley below the terracing, where the Incas had shaped benches, stairways and niches into the solid rock (thanks again for the tip, Peter Frost and Exploring Cusco). We explored the outcroppings, watching people herd their cattle and sheep down the valley to pasture, the mist rising out of the potato fields. It really couldn’t have looked much different to the Incas who carved the stones, except for the groves of eucalyptus trees—beautiful and serene.

Salineras: the famed Pink Salt of the Incas

Salineras was out of our way, and not on the Tourist Ticket, but we went anyway to see the salt flats. Even before the times of the Incas, people have gleaned salt from the spring in the valley below Maras, and over the centuries, the salt farmers have built an impressive site of terraced pools and channels to direct the water from the spring. They open and close the channels to fill their pools, then let evaporation do its work.

Salt flats of Salineras

In the dry season the terraces are encrusted with a dazzling white layer, but now the rain washes earth into the pools, tinging them a rusty brown. Only one woman was working her salt pool when we arrived, scraping a gigantic pile of salt crystals out of the muddy water.

Salineras was by far one of the strangest and most fascinating things we’ve seen in Peru. We bought a rather pricy jar of this famed “Pink Salt” (the salt is pink from the reddish local soil), which we’ve been using to spice up all our meals lately. The trendy little store at the entrance to the salt flats also sold bath salts and salt scrubs at US prices. I didn’t buy any, but it’s got me missing girly bath products a lot….

A woman works her salt pool at Salineras

Getting to Chinchero: From Cusco, take a bus headed to Urubamba, or vice versa. Ask the driver to let you off at Chinchero—you won’t miss the large blue INC sign pointing the way to the ruins. Fare should be S/.2 ($.60) either direction.

Getting to Salineras: Take the bus from Cusco or Urubamba (S/.2 [$.60]) and ask to be let off at the Maras cutoff. Taxis wait there to take people to Maras for S/.1; ask them to let you off at the path to Salineras, where you can walk about an hour down to the flats. It’s about another 45 minutes walk from Salineras to the Ollantaytambo-Urubamba highway down in the valley. Alternately, you can hire one of the taxis to drive you to Salineras for S/.15 ($5.25).



  1. Hello! I have read both parts and I loved the way how you tell your stories from Peru. I visited those lands 2 months ago, I hosted at the “Hotel Tambo Del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa” a 5 stars hotel that is located in the sacred valley, form there I took tours to various archeological zones and, furthermore I tried novoandina food at their restaurant and… what a delight! It was a pretty experience that I’ll always keep in my heart. I recommend their web:

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