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The Sacred River of the Incas
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Urubamba River of Machu Picchu

The name of the Urubamba River comes from Quechua Urupampa meaning “plateau of spiders” . It was known in Inca times as Willkamayu and was sacred to them. It is one of the main Peruvian rivers and is part of the Amazon Basin. By tradition the Rio Urubamba is divided in two by the pongo de Mainique, a small dangerous canyon to navigate and with a somewhat sinister reputation.

Urubamba River
The Willkamayu, the sacred river of the Incas

Characteristics of the Urubamba River

The river to the south side of the pongo is known as the “high Urubamba”, born in the knot of the Vilcanota, and was known as Wilcamayu (Sacred River) by the Incas; While the north side of Pongo de Mainique flows into the Ucayali river and is known as the “lower Urubamba” , to cross much of the department of Cusco with the name of the river Vilcanota, but to enter the city of Urubamba, receives the Name of Urubamba river. This river crosses the entire Sacred Valley of the Incas, on its way it passes to the foot of the mountain where Machu Picchu is , but before it passes through Ollantaytambo.

River High Urbamba

The south side of the river before Pongo de Mainique, receives the name of High Urubamba .

  • The Urubamba River in the South Valley of Cusco

    Its route through the northeast, of the department of Cusco takes you through the Archaeological Complex of Raqchi , where the famous Temple of the God Wiracocha (Creator of the universe according to the Incas); It crosses the South Valley by the town of Andahuaylillas, place where is called the Sistine Chapel of America to 36 km of the city of Cusco .

  • The Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

    After passing through this city the river continues its route through the Sacred Valley, where it passes through one of the most beautiful villages of the valley and where you can find amazing Inca ruins; It is about the ancient Inca city and the colonial town of Pisac, from where you could watch the entrance to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the passage to cities like Urubamba , which is named Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu .

  • The River Urubamba in Urubamba

    Urubamba is the province that produces the largest white corn in the world and where the Vilcanota River changes its name to Urubamba ; At the height of this city the river becomes more powerful and turbulent, allowing it to practice level III rafting, along 110 kilometers and with a flow of 600 m3 / s, after enriching this land for the production of corn, the River continues its descent to the town of Ollantaytambo, where you will have to board the train to Machu Picchu, or from the start of the incredible Inca Trail to Machu Picchu .

  • The River Urubamba in Machu Picchu

    The Urubamba River surrounds the mountains where the Inca city of Machu Picchu is built and runs through the valley from the city of Ollantaytambo to the town of Aguas Calientes; Trains to Machu Picchu travel along the banks of the Urubamba River to the Inca city. The river surrounds the mountain Huayna Picchu in a circular way, giving rise to an enigmatic and unique landscape, which has inspired thousands of people.

Rafting on the Urubamba River
The Urubamba River is ideal for Rafting

River Under Urubamba

After passing through Machu Picchu continues its tour through the province of La Convención, where it enters the pongo de Mainique and from where it is known as “under Urubamba” ; Enters the Amazon jungle, joins the Hoya del Amazonas, on the Ucayali and Marañón River, to flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

Rafting on the Urubamba river

The Urubamba River offers one of the best possibilities for rafting. The descent of rivers in the Urubamba is one of the best experiences that can be obtained in the Sacred Valley of the Incas . Usually the Urubamba River offers rafting Levels I, II and III , however make your visit to Cusco in rainy weather offers you the opportunity to practice rafting levels IV and V . River flow levels cause boats to slip at high speeds; Levels from III are considered risk. The Urubamba Valley has a temperate climate and the season is all year round. The navigable part of the Urubamba river embraces around 2 km descending from 2,700 meters above sea level

Findings Incas in the river Urubamba

Only a few years ago an Inca altar was found buried among rocks of the Urubamba river , was found at the height of the town of Ollantaytambo; Was found by conservatives while cleaning the banks of the river. This Inca piece is finely carved and only 35% of the entire lytic body can be seen. It is 2.50 meters long by 1 meter wide and weighs around 20 tons. It is one of the best examples of the Inca’s devotion to water, and this river, sacred to them. The Inca relic will be cleaned, stabilized and then transferred to one of these places: the Plaza de Armas de Ollantaytambo or inside its archaeological park.

Flora and fauna of the Urubamba River

Nowadays, the places where the Urubamba River passes have become one of the best places for birdwatching in the Cusco region and Machu Picchu . There are more than 400 species of birds that inhabit the National Park of Machu Picchu. As it enters the valley, the number of plants and animals will increase; Several of them are species that you will not see anywhere else in the world. The Historic and Natural Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is home to species in danger of extinction , such as spectacled bear and rooster of the rocks; And countless insects, butterflies, many unique plants, among which you will find about 500 varieties of orchids.

Urubamba River Machu Picchu
View from Machu Picchu of the Urubamba River

Advice from people who have been there

The Urubamba River

Cynthia DBy: Cynthia D

“Wild river“

“After Pisac, the river becomes more turbulent. I live in a coastal area and I've never really seen a river with such force; I recommend booking a hotel far from the river in Aguas Calientes.“



By Ticket Machu Picchu – Last updated, March 26, 2019