A Short Hike in the Sacred Valley

Things have been pretty stressful the last couple of months so yesterday I decided to hop on a colectivo – a shared passenger van which takes people in almost any imaginable direction for an indescribably cheap cost — for the hour and a half ride to the small town of Yucay where I disappeared into the ancient farmlands at the base of the mountains. Here I can quickly find myself all alone except for an occasional passing farmer on paths that have been used for centuries.

I would have been gone longer except the sound of approaching thunder coming from behind the mountains sent me hurrying back to the road where I caught a ride home.

This is easily the most scenic and relaxing place in the Sacred Valley. It is also one of the very few places in the Valley which is not overtaken by foreigners hyping New Age lifestyles who generally have created their own little space that has nothing to do with Peru. Seeing an old woman carrying two buckets stop to pull up her mask along a remote path as I approached was such a refreshing change from hordes of foreigners oblivious to things like the law — or even common decency and respect — that get in the way of their lifestyle. (Apparently the “lifestyle” of respecting everyone only applies to respecting them and not to respecting the Peruvians who allow them to live here.)

There’s no real plan to these photos. I simply went walking looking for interesting scenes to photograph. As always, be sure to click on each photo to see larger version.

No matter where you walk in the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco, you are always surrounded by the towering Andes mountains all around you. While corn is the major crop grown in the Valley, hundreds of small field provide all kinds of other farm fruits and vegetables.

This building was once an chapel for a hacienda located outside of town. Haciendas were the dominating agricultural system throughout much of Peru’s colonial and republican history, but they were primarily plantations where wealthy landowners exploited the poor campesinos for centuries until land reform began in the 1969. Many people still remember the horrible system that existed and one must be careful about how the word “hacienda” is used to avoid unintentional hard feelings.

The only remaining bell in the chapel caught my eye because of it’s small size and the barely recognizable decorations. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like when this ancient bell called people to mass perhaps several centuries ago.

I spotted this hat hanging on a tree branch next to a tiny farm field. I didn’t see anyone nearby making me wonder if someone had left it on purpose or forgotten it or possible had lain down against the tree to take a Sunday afternoon nap where I couldn’t see them. No matter what, this hat was obviously lovingly chosen and worn by someone recently while out in the fields and likely had a story all its own.

The river flowing down from the glaciers high on Chicón – the 18,140′ (5530m) mountain a short distance away — was long ago channeled in a way to bring water to the fields which have been cultivated long before the Incas took over. People cross by walking across precarious log bridges laid across the water. (The water now is very low, but is a raging torrent in a few months making crossings quite a bit more hair-raising.)

This stretch of the river lies above most of the fields and is rarely used except by people who come and go from the tiny community of San Juan Bautista. This tiny pueblo high in the mountains can only be reached by walking about 3 hours along the narrow mountain trail along the riverside.

Most tourists have no idea what the region is like during the rainy, off-season. They come during the dry season centered around June, July, and August when things are brown. When spring arrives, flowers bloom everywhere and what was once plain becomes lush and green.

I’m always amazed at the variety of roses that grow all over the upper trails. Some of are grown to be sold in the markets, but many grow naturally and provide explosions of unexpected color.

One of the most interesting sights are the ancient tombs — likely pre-Inca — which sit very high on the mountainside surrounded by both ancient rock paintings and some inappropriate modern graffiti. (On this trip I even spotted the remains of two other tombs that had been seriously damaged and were barely recognizable!) There’s another spot farther up the canyon with more ancient rock art, but I didn’t make it that far on this trip.

Okay, this might not be so interesting to you, but I found this moss-covered rock along the riverside compelling to photograph.

Many visitors are surprised at the number of cacti that grow in Sacred Valley. Often they are planted on the top of small walls to make an impenetrable fence. Some produce a popular fruit known here as “tuna” and many flower brilliantly in the spring.

Another thing that most visitors don’t notice are the many small chapels that line the valley on both sides. They tend to sit well up the mountains high above the fields and are accessed only by steep trails, but they command majestic views up and down the valley.

The ancient Inca terraces in the Yucay area are by far the highest I’ve ever seen or heard of. Some of them approach 20′ (6m) in height and provide the flat lands where crops can easily be grown. They are called “andenes” which is where the name of the Andes Mountains originated.

This is one of the few surviving wall channels which funnel water from one terrace to the next one below. While normal water channels are used now, these once allowed water to move down through the andenes through a sophisticated irrigation design.

This big bull can be found on one route back into Yucay. If you go that way, there’s really no other way to go around him unless you turn back and find another path into town. He is, needless to say, very intimidating, but so far he’s never paid any attention to me when I pass a few steps away.

This path has intrigued me for a long time. I know that it leads to one of the chapels sitting above the valley, but I’ve also been told it also leads to one of the very few Incan astronomical structures that still exist (though reconstructed). Anyone want to join me to see where it goes?

Please take a moment and let me now if this style of a photo gallery works. Sometimes a narrative really isn’t appropriate in a post, but I still like to talk about each photo so you ca have better understanding of what it is and it’s significance. As always, if you like this, please subscribe and share the post with others using the links below.

I’m always thrilled to show people this (and every other) place that I visit. There’s a lot more here than in these photos and the the experience of feeling like you’ve gone “back in time” is strong here. sadly, it seems that almost everyone just wants to walk quickly through a place rather than take their time and experience the place. That means going slow while looking, listening, smelling, and feeling.

Also, as always, these photos are all my own taken yesterday. (I don’t steal the work of others or copy Wikipedia articles.)

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2 thoughts on “A Short Hike in the Sacred Valley”

  1. Having lived on the side of Urubamba closer to Yucay, these trails along stonewalls are reminiscent of my own sojourns along the peaceful quiet sequias.
    Thank you for sharing what are, essentially, timeless images of a part of Peru that is so precious for those seeking uninterrupted places.

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