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Cusco: Pre-columbian structures in sacred valley - Yucay

03 July 2013

Yucay has the beauty and the history to make it a necessary visit when in the Sacred Valley

I made it to Yucay, the “Capital of the Sacred Valley,” invited by a dear friend to visit her mother who resides there. Yucay is one of seven districts in the province of Urubamba – Chincheros, Ollantaytambo and Urubamba being the three most visited by tourists. I was set to go one Wednesday morning. I was staying at a hostel in Cusco close to the San Francisco church, and from there it’s a 10 minute walk to where the regional buses to Urubamba depart. Basically, you’re walking towards monotonous garages on the intersection of Pavitos and Belen streets. If you start seeing large blue charter buses with URUBAMBA across the windshield, you’re heading in the right direction!

I went up to the first garage I saw with people lining up to get on the next bus heading out. “Urubamba?” I asked the man standing at the door, who turned out to be our driver. “Si, si, Urubamba!” The ticket is S/. 4. The big charter buses stop at major points along the way, dropping people off and picking others up in Chincheros and other towns. If you’re in a hurry, and in hindsight I highly recommend this option when returning from Urubamba to Cusco, there are express mini-buses (comfortable combis) that cost around S/. 10.

My instructions were to get off on the first stop after the bus descends towards the Sacred Valley. I made my way towards the front of the bus as they called out “grifo!,” or what seemed to be an abandoned gas station, my stop. From there, it’s a 3-minute (not 4, not 5, unless there’s bus traffic!) mototaxi ride to Yucay. My dear friend Marina lives right in front of the town’s church [photo 1], so that’s where I was dropped off.

I felt like a spec under the magnificent mountains that surround the valley, amongst the lusciously fertile crop beds that decorate the landscape, and utterly lost as the mototaxi abandoned me on the one major street with no one in sight; a scrap piece of paper made its way across my feet. I heard crickets. I called my friend and made my way to her beautiful home, full of flowers, fruit trees and memories of her life in Yucay and her travels around the country as a nutritionist. We had lunch under the sun: pumpkin soup with cheese, bread and mote (boiled corn kernels), all cultivated and made in Yucay. She urged her grandson to show me some of the attractions. I obliged not knowing I had as my tour guide one of the most knowledgeable and passionate people when it comes to the rich history of Yucay.

Gabriel Martinez Aguayo is founder and guide of There, he shares invaluable information he has researched throughout the years on the pre-Columbian structures that you can visit (at no cost) when in Yucay, and the history of the town up until the present. He took me to two: the Palacio de Sayritupac and the Portada del Sol. The palacio [photos 2,3], right off the main street, is known as the palace of the last Inca, Sayri Tupac 1350-1558. It was a sacred structure for the ancient population of the valley, one that was used as an astronomic center and that Martinez has studied and discovered is aligned perfectly to function as a lunar calendar. I give no justice to the detailed explanations he gave of the crevices, windows and doors that are built in the structure and their function in studying the skies. It’s a beauty.

Martinez then took me to the second structure hidden amongst the Andean terraces in what is basically this lucky man’s backyard. Imagine being able to say you grew up running around and playing in a pre-Columbian waka, or temple, used as a portal to study the cosmos. It’s an out of this world (pun?) powerful sensation one feels when inside this stone structure [photos 6, 7, 8] that has two staircases leading to a middle-point flat surface. There’s a stone wall on one side, an opened entrance on the other. The four top points of the structure are aligned with the four cardinal points and Martinez’s studies show that the Orion constellation can be observed in the months of February/March and indeed aligns with the structure. He shares these and many other discoveries on his website, and works, I’d say altruistically, with the ministry of culture in order to document and conserve these structures that have been abandoned for years.

It’s an almost purifying mini-trek (20 minutes) back to the main street of Yucay, through terraces, hidden paths, along the stream that give life to the valley. There’s more to discover in Yucay, and I will definitely be going back for more!

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