Day 9 The wonders of Inca agriculture and a surprise in Urubamba

High Altitude farming looking up
Peru’s National flower Kantuta bush (Cantua buxifolia)

Our bus snakes up the steep Andean mountains and delivers us to a well preserved and extensive hillside of Inca terraces. We have glimpses of this amazing site on the way up and struggle to photograph it from below as the trees along the road hide the full splendour.

My first observation is how closely the terraces hug the contours of the mountain, reminding me of similar terraces in South East Asia and China.

Working with the rural landscape is common around the world and different cultures have discovered the same solutions in spite of having no contact. They started at the bottom of the mountain and worked their way up almost to the top. What is different about these Inca terraces is the construction of the walls which, like their buildings, slope inwards towards the mountain slope.

This part of the world is where two massive continental plates have crashed together to create The Andes Mountain range. They still shake today and yet the terraces have held.

Built on the rock

The retaining wall above is founded on the rock base below the current level of the terrace. It’s like a huge raised bed and as a gardener, I know the benefits of growing in raised beds. Each one has a base of porous rocks, then a layer of sand, carried from Amazonian rivers and finally topsoil. Irrigation from the top terraces trickles down feeding the ones below, unlike trickle down economics. The walls absorb heat during the warm sunny days allowing crops to be kept warm though the very cold nights.

The Valley below

We circle around the top of these impressive terraces looking down to the valley, where crops are still grown and animals grazed. During the Inca time there was not enough land in these narrow valleys to feed the empire, so a solution had to be found.

The settlement is on the hill-top

At regular intervals in the retaining walls, there are stone steps jutting out, exactly as you would find in an English Dry-stone-wall in Yorkshire. Here is another example of a solution arrived at by different cultures. The gaps between Inca steps are huge – astonishing, as they had short legs. By all accounts these people were very strong and this persists in the present population, who are also acclimatised to the high altitude. Babies here are born with larger lungs and people have much larger chests to accommodate. A great example of evolution and adaptation.

The Gate-way
Just another impressive wall

As we approach the gateway to the settlement on top of the hill, we can see the way high-class walls have been built to indicate importance and these walls always follow the contours of the rock below. About half of our group are going to do the tramp down to the valley below.

Small holes in the cliff are Inca graves – long since looted

It’s been a struggle getting the breath in the heat of the day to get to the top and I’m never comfortable going downhill, so several of us go back to our minibus and descend in comfort.

Hotel Wifala


Once reunited, we travel on to Urubamba. Instead of a town with a main square, we find ourselves travelling though dusty roads, hardly wide enough for our minibus. We seem to be in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly we are alongside a white wall with a door. It’s the Wifala Harmony Hotel, which opens up to a Gaudi-esque Aladin’s cave.


Newly opened, this has been designed and built by a local architect inspired by the work of Gaudi. We are delighted by the contrast from other traditional Haciendas we have stayed in and spend time looking at everyone’s rooms – they are all different. There is time to explore the outside, but it’s a shame that the swimming pool and jacuzzi is still under construction. Dinner is even more of a surprise and the chef has produced the most elegantly presented nouvelle cuisine with just the right portions for us. There was a rush with phones to capture the food. Breakfast is likewise a work of art.

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