Photograph of the Machu Picchu
ruins and terraces overlooking the Urubamba River which is located about 2000
feet (600 meters) below the citadel. The river below actually curves
around the mountain on which the Machu Picchu Sanctuary is situated. From
the Urubamba River below, one can actually see the Machu Picchu ruins and some
of agricultural terraces associated with Machu Picchu actually extend close to
the river. Near Machu Picchu, the river is unnavigable; however, further down
the river it becomes possible to use boats and one can actually travel to the
Amazon River and clear to the Atlantic Ocean because the Urubamba River is one
of the headwaters of the Amazon River. In the Sacred Valley before
reaching Machu Picchu, the river is called the Wilcamayu River (sacred river).
The Urubamba River merges with the Apurimac River to form the Ucayali River near
the town of Atalaya, Peru. The Urubamba River is divided into the Upper
Urubamba, Middle Urubamba and Lower Urubamba Rivers with the Pongo de Mainique
(a whitewater canyon) defining the border of the Upper Urubamba River. The Upper
Urubamba River Valley has a high population and extensive irrigation and
agricultural fields. In contrast, the Lower Urubamba is comparatively
undeveloped with little irrigation or agriculture. While the Upper
Urubamba is primarily inhabited by Quechua people, the Middle and Lower Urubamba
River Basins are primarily inhabited by indigenous Amazonian people like the
Campas tribes, such as the Machiguenga (Matsigenka) and Ashaninka people.
Curiously the British geologist and explorer, John Walter Gregory, drowned in
the Urubamba River not far from Machu Picchu while on a geological expedition to
the Andes in the 1930s.