Think that archaeologists have uncovered everything that lies beneath the ground in Peru’s Sacred Valley? Think again!
When explorer Hugh Thomson “rediscovered” the lost Inca site of Llatapata in the late 1980’s, one thing that struck him most was how incredibly close it was to Machu Picchu itself. Indeed, the two Inca mountain top sites were separated by just one river valley, and Thomson could clearly see and hear the tourist buses chugging up to the 7th Wonder of the World from the small town of Aguas Calientes below it.
He loved the irony of thousands of ‘gringos’ trying desperately to avoid the crowds and not be a tourist while, literally within eyesight, there were Inca ruins lost in the jungle for over seventy years.
The half-buried ruins of Llactapata
Few places on earth can offer the archaeological richness of Peru – from Chan Chan on the northern coast, to Machu Picchu in the interior Andes mountain range – but recent discoveries have only gone to show just how much still remains to be uncovered.
Focusing only on the relatively small (200 square kilometers) area of the Sacred Valley centered around Ollantaytambo reveals an astounding number of recent ‘uncoverings’. We say uncoverings rather than discoveries because in most cases, these Inca sites were known to the local farmers but simply had not been cleaned up yet. In most cases, the structures are still intact and standing, but they are covered by several hundred years of dirt and vegetation. There are over twenty recently uncovered Inca sites near Ollantaytambo alone. Here are a few:
The area known as “Choquechaca” is part of the Pumamarca complex, which lies about 8 kilometers northeast of Ollantaytambo, up a valley. Situated at a spot that looked out over two routes from the Amazon jungle and two routes into Cusco, the site is believed to pre-date the Incas. As was their custom, the Incas merely improved upon what they found and they laid in several of their typical ‘tambos’ (outlook posts) and some impressive terraces and staircases. One such staircase is still very much covered up with vegetation.
A staircase at Choquechaca
For travelers wishing to see Incan sites in their ‘before’ state (i.e. before whistle-blowing guards and entrance fees), this is a great opportunity. Also recently restored are the symmetrically beautiful and harmonious terraces of Media Luna (‘half moon’), which were used to grow corn and now are back in use.
Biking at Media Luna
A second area seeing a lot of new sites uncovered is the massive complex just south of Ollantaytambo near the village of Soccma that is known as “Inca Raccay / Pernillyoq” and also “Naupa Iglesia’. Naupa Iglesia is a natural cave that was likely a tomb of some sort for someone important, as it contains some of the finest quality Incan stone work that this author has ever seen. Recently uncovered is the typical, but always impressive, staircase leading up to the site that also functioned as a place to grown corn.
A throne from Naupa Iglesa
Above the cave, higher up the mountain, lies the waterfall of Perniylloq and the Incan tambo of Inca Raccay. This site, with its magnificent views of the Huarocondo canyon that descends from near Cusco, is still being uncovered and the scope of its size is not yet known. What just a few years ago appeared to be a few isolated sites is now clearly a large complex of Incan buildings that served as part of the Inca empire’s satellite and transit system.
Perhaps the biggest area that is seeing a lot of uncovering is around Choquequirau, which is known as a sister site to Machu Picchu. Some estimate that less than 30% of the site has been uncovered, leading some to speculate that it may end up being even larger than Machu Picchu itself. The incredible site of the Llamitas (‘little llamas’) has been uncovered for fewer than 10 years, and there is clearly much more remaining underneath the thick vegetation.
Just over the ridge line from Choquequirau lies the satellite settlement where the food was produced and the workers stayed, known as Pinchu Nuylloq. Looking at the photo of these massive corn producing terraces, it is easy to see how these terraces have just been unearthed and what a huge project it was just to uncover them – one can only imagine the labor it would have taken to build them in the first place.
a hotel and adventure tour business in Ollantaytambo, Peru near Machu Picchu. He is an avid mountain biker and trekker and spends his spare time looking for and visiting Incan sites. You can read more about the Sacred Valley in his upcoming book.