The South Valley & Paucartambo
Peru’s Urubamba Valley
Southeast of Cusco, the southern section of the Urubamba Valley holds some of Peru’s most impressive cultural treasures.
Surprisingly, this portion of the valley is relatively unknown to most foreign travelers.
It is not uncommon for our travelers to report that they had these sites completely to themselves.
The gardens of Tipon are located 15 miles south of Cusco.
The site is believed to have been a palace of the exiled Sapa Inca, Yahuar Huaca.
Pikillacta, a pre-Inca town constructed by the Wari people around 900 AD, lies four miles east of Tipon. This vast complex contains the walls and foundations of an estimated 900 buildings.
Remarkably, the site also shows signs of stacked roadways—structures on which two directions of foot traffic could pass simultaneously.
Here, the grassy hillside is divided into twelve neat terraces.
Ancient Inca Conquerors
Each is lined with stepped walls and fed by an ingenious system of aqueducts, still operating flawlessly after centuries of use.
After defeating the Wari around 1200 AD, the Inca conquerors heaped on the insults: they beheaded the Wari leaders, salted the surrounding agricultural lands, and buried the city.
Nearby is Rumicolqa, another imposing complex consisting of three towering pyramidal wall segments.
The walls are set on gigantic stone blocks, with the top level serving as an aqueduct that carried water to Pikillacta.
The Inca expanded the structure, fortifying it and adapting the walls into a gate for regulating traffic for the imperial capital.
Raqchi Ancient Temple Complex
The largest temple complex in the Andes is found another 38 miles southeast of Urcos. Known as Raqchi, this site extends for one square mile, anchored by the monumental Temple of Wiracocha.
The temple walls stand 39 feet high, mounted on perfectly joined stone blocks.
A series of 21 circular columns once supported an enormous roof.
Inca Tupac Yupanqui
Legend says that the temple was constructed by Inca Tupac Yupanqui, as a peace offering to the nearby Quimsa Volcano.
Visitors to the site can also explore storehouses and circular lodges used by Inca pilgrims.
North of the Valley del Sur is a region known for its boisterous cultural traditions.
The heart of this area is Paucartambo, a charming colonial town situated at the convergence of the Mapacho and Qengo Mayo rivers, 68 miles (3.5 hours) from Cusco.
Every year on July 15th, this sleepy village erupts in a three-day festival, drawing thousands of pilgrims and revelers from across southern Peru.
Fiesta de la Virgen
While the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen commemorates the city’s patron saint, the observances liberally blend Catholic themes with indigenous symbolism and ritual.
Over the course of the festival, a dozen troupes of masked dancers portray the struggle between good and evil.
The action is continuous, as fireworks, an outdoor mass, mock battles, bullfights, and bonfire leapers add to the celebration.
“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”