Three Days’ Hiking in the Sacred Valley

In the past three days I’ve gotten out and taken advantage of the unusually beautiful weather that has filled the skies over Peru’s Sacred Valley with gorgeous sunshine to done a different hike each day.

Normally I wouldn’t push myself to do three days in a row of 8-10 miles (at very high altitude!), but I couldn’t pass up this break in what is normally the rainy season and losing 40 pounds has given me renewed vitality that has been missing for many years.

Day 1: Raqchi to Huayllabamba

This was another hike with Dorian from the greatest Spanish language school in the world, Mundo Antiguo, here in Cusco. We started on the road from Chinchero to Urubamba then made our way along old paths still used by the locals today to move lifestock to the village of Raqchi high above the Sacred Valley.

Passing through highland fields of potatoes was quite an experience as I had no idea what they looked like in the field. I certainly didn’t know that potato plants — at least those in the Andes — had flowers!

Did you know that potato plants were flowering and the color of the flowers depending on the kind of potato? (Potatoes originated in Peru and there are over 4000 varieties grown in the Andes!)

I really thought the hike was going to be pretty easy, despite the length, but I should have known better. The descent was towards the town of Huayllabamba provided stunning views of the Sacred Valley, but it also took its toll on our feet and thighs.

If you’ve ever hiked in the mountains you know that going up can actually be easier on your body than going down. Every time you step down, your thighs have to catch your weight and your toes are smashed into the front of your shoes. Imagine doing this for several hours’ straight!

Day 2: Along the Urubamba River from Taray

The next day I woke up wanting to do something, but really had no idea where to go until I walked out the door and had to make a choice.

I decided that it would be easy on my legs and feet if I took a colectivo to Pisac and tracked back to the little down of Taray in the canyon below the road to Pisac. (It helped that the colectivos depart just a few blocks from my home, too.)

I hopped out at the bridge over the Urubamba River that leads into the main part of Pisac, but took the road on the other side of the river going to Taray. To be honest, I’ll take a motocarro taxi next time as it was a really boring 1-mile walk until I got into Taray.

The first thing I saw was a pretty little pedestrian path leading down towards what looked like an old colonial church. I continued down the path which became a dirt road and eventually a back alley that eventually crossed a small bridge where the only road on that side of the valley send me north.

I wanted to fly my drone and was able to a little, but the wind picked up a lot as it frequently does this time of year and it became unsafe to fly. So I settled into a nice walk along a dirt road between the mountains on the left and corn field on the right.

Nebraskans would be might proud of what these Peruvian farmers have done in the valley because the corn field seem to go on and on forever. The difference was the massive Andean mountains rising up on either side into the heavens. It made for some spectacular scenery.

It wasn’t a particular exciting hike though the views were stunning as always except for a little bit of excitement when I decided to cross an old suspension bridge across the river on the way back.

The Urubamba this time of year is roaring pretty swiftly as it has swelled form the spring snow melt from the mountains high above. I honestly wasn’t even sure if the bridge was open for pedestrians. The wood looked worn and there was obviously many gaps in the planks. Some places had been covered and some hadn’t.

Crossing this swinging and swaying suspension bridge over the Rio Urubamba was one of the scarier things I’ve done while in Peru. It probably would have been condemned anywhere else.

The bridge literally swayed and bounced just from my own weight. Looking down in places and seeing the river raging underneath through holes big enough for an animal to fall through made me quite nervous and wondering I’d made the right decision, but obviously I survived and made it across though I doubt I’ll go that way again!

Day 3: East above Calca

My intention was to go to Calca and catch a colectivo to the mysterious ruins of Ancasmarca high in the mountains east of Calca, but I didn’t know where to catch a ride and decided I might as well walk knowing I’d never make it all the way to the ruins.

So once in Calca, I just set out walking east until I found the highway out of town. It was interesting as, in one stretch on the edge of town, the paved road became a lonely, dusty dirt road full of nasty potholes. Then suddenly the same road transformed into a nice 2-lane highway leading into the mountains towards the town of Lares.

Believe it or not, this is the main highway out of town. I could easily imagine Clint Eastwood making his way down this dusty road 150 years ago.

Fortunately, almost all of the hike was along the highway which had minimal traffic. A colectivo would pass every 5-10 minutes along with an occasional car or commercial truck. While I hiked 2 hour uphill, the pavement made it an very easy hike even though I climbed up over 10,700′ by the time I turned around.

While I won’t make take this route on foot again, I did see some really cool stuff and, of course, the mountain scenery was breathtaking.

I was surprised when I came around one corner and discovered the remains of the old Calca hydroelectric plant built in 1930. While some of the windows were broken out and it obviously was no longer in use, I wondered if someone had taken up residence as I noticed an old motorcycle out front and a dog lazily keeping watch.

Notice the chapel on the mountainside in the back for workers who probably lived on site.

Not far up I came across a set of ruins which the road would through on it’s way up the mountain. I’d never heard of Calispuquio before and that’s probably because it’s not a very impressive site, but it’s still cool to wander through ancient Incan ruins no matter where you find them.

A little farther up I came upon an old cemetery. I don’t know how old it is and didn’t explore much as I always want to show respect for places like that.

The views of the valley reminded me a lot of Colorado as I continued to climb. A roaring stream swollen into a small river thanks to the melting of the glaciers and snowfields above passed through great groves of eucalyptus trees. I saw lots of parrots which come up from the nearby jungle to eat highland fruits in the summer as well as many hummingbirds flitting amongst the flowers.

Probably the coolest sight was spotted on the way down. I didn’t even see it on the way up and I doubt anyone else traveling along the road in a car or colectivo would notice it anyway, but there, on the side of the mountain, was a very large Incan cemetery!

The small holes would once have held mummified bodies of certain higher ranking people, but I’m certain that these had long since been removed leaving nothing but the mountainside spaces where their bodies once rested.

This is the second cemetery I’ve discovered in the mountains on my own. Obviously, others have found them before me, but it’s still a good feeling to be able to see things that most others miss.

Once I returned down to Calca, I found out where to catch a ride to Lares and the ruins of Ancasmarca which should make for an interesting story later!

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