URUBAMBA, about 80km from Cusco via Pisac or around 60km via Chinchero, is only a short way down the main road from Yucay’s Plaza Manco II, and here the Río Vilcanota becomes the Río Urubamba (though many people still refer to this stretch as the Vilcanota). Although it has little apparent historical interest, the town is well endowed with facilities and situated in the shadow of the beautiful Chicon and Pumahuanca glaciers. Regular buses connect Cusco with Urubamba and the rest of the Sacred Valley. Buses also connect Urubamba with Cusco, Pisac, Calca, and Ollantaytambo. Buses for Ollantaytambo, Cusco, and Chinchero regularly leave from Terminal Terrestre, on the main road more or less opposite the Hotel Incaland.
The Plaza de Armas is laid-back and attractive, with palm trees and a couple of pines surrounded by exciting topiary. At the heart of the plaza is a small fountain topped by a maize plant sculpture, but everything defends the red sandstone Iglesia San Pedro, with its stacked columns below two small belfries.
The church’s cool interior has a vast, three-tier gold-leaf altar and light streams through the glass-topped cupola at midday. At weekends there’s a large market on Jirón Palacio, and at the large ceramic workshops set around a lovely garden at Av Berriozabal 11), new and ancient techniques are used to produce colorful, Amerindian-inspired items for sale.
Because of its convenient location and ample facilities, Urubamba makes an ideal base to explore the mountains and lower hills around the Sacred Valley, filled with jaw-dropping splendor sites.
The valley’s eastern side forms the Cordillera Urubamba, a range of snowcapped peaks dominated by the summits of Chicon and Veronica. Many of the ravines can be hiked alone or with local guides (found only through the central hotels and hospedajes), and on the trek up from the town, you’ll have sensational views of Chicon.
Moray, a stunning Inca site, a part agricultural center and part ceremonial, lies about 6km north of Maras village on the Chinchero side of the river, within a two- to three-hour walk from Urubamba.
The ruins are deep, bowl-like depressions in the earth. The largest comprises seven concentric circular stone terraces, facing inward and diminishing in a radius like a multi-layered roulette wheel.
Also, within walking distance, the salt pans of Salinas, still in use after more than four hundred years, are situated 4 km from the village of Maras and a similar distance from Moray.
Cross the river by the footbridge in the town, turn right, then after a little over 100m downstream along the riverbank, turn left past the cemetery and up the canyon along the salty creek. After this, you cross the stream and follow the path cut into the cliffside to reach the salt pans, soon visible if still a considerable uphill hike away.
The trail offers spectacular views of the valley and mountains, while the Inca salt pans are set gracefully against an imposing mountain backdrop. A scenic route (about 1hr walk) leads down the salt pans and onto the Urubamba River below. There’s a footbridge across the village of Tarabamba on the road for Urubamba (6km) or Ollantaytambo. Colectivos pass every twenty minutes or so in both directions.
Urubamba isn’t home to excellent cuisine, but it does offer a wide variety of cafés, bars, and Quinta (traditional Andean-Peruvian restaurant, usually with tables in a garden and fast service to a limited menu) catering.