The Sacred Valley was the heart of the Incan empire – it is a stunningly lush and beautiful stretch of the best agr noicultural land in the region. The valley was not actually a part of the empire, but was owned personally by the emperor himself. We spent 8 days exploring the valley, including a visit to it’s most famous site, Machu Picchu. We find a ridiculous number of awe-inspiring places.
*Author’s note: Cuzco, described in the last post, is also technically in the Sacred Valley.
Martha, Charlie, J and I start with a quick visit to the town of Pisaq, where we stop in at the Sunday market. Above, a market stall selling traditional skirts. The traditional clothing here is similar to what we saw in Bolivia, but with a much heavier emphasis on handmade fabrics and embroidery, beautiful weaving patterns, and bright colors.
Further exemplifying the love of color, in Ollantaytambo, we happen upon a festival conclusion and the four of us line a second-story balcony and squee over all the dance troops lined up in the main square in their full finery for an awards ceremony. There were some fantastic hats and masks in attendance, as well as a lot of sequins and color.
Visiting the ruins above Ollantaytambo. This beautiful town is famously the site where the Incans fled after the Spanish took Cuzco. Much of the town is laid out with it’s original Incan stone streets and buildings.
The main attraction: Machu Picchu! J and I decide to skip the tourist bus and hike up to the ruins, then continue right on up to Machu Picchu Montaña. At the summit, we are almost 2,000 ft above the Machu Picchu ruins. The valley spreads out below us like folding green velvet and the views are spectacular.
After descending back down to Machu Picchu itself, we spend all day exploring the ruins with our excellent tour guides, Martha and Charlie, before bussing down and taking the evening train back to Ollantaytambo.
We feel a bit contradictory about our visit to Machu Picchu. On the one hand, it is ridiculously touristed. And as a result, the site and nearby village have both evolved into strict, inhospitable places with inflated prices and lots of rules. For example, the one-way pathways on the site are rigidly enforced, and sitting is discouraged. In order to use the bathroom or eat, one has to descend all the way to the bottom of the hill to exit the site, then wait in line to re-enter again, which can only be done three times. Usually, we would avoid a place like this like the plague.
On the other hand, this place is magical. Looking down at the ruins from above, it makes sense to me that the Incans chose this site for an important temple – the mountains circle Machu Picchu in a way that feels religious. Once exploring the ruins up close, they are fantastically built and fantastically well-preserved. While I may not recommend a visit to every traveller, I’m glad we had the opportunity to experience this place (and even got away with a clandestine picnic, complete with surprise wine Martha pulled out of her backpack after a full day of walking around!).
Incan agricultural lab at Moray. This particularly steep series of descending terraces allowed for experimentation with planting crop varieties at different elevations and climates. The findings here informed planting across the region.
Maras Salineras. A salty spring here has been harvested for thousands of years, and the terraced pools date to pre-Incan civilizations. The stream is funneled into carefully worked pools, where the water evaporates, allowing for harvest of the salt crystals. The pools and the entire operation is completely owned by Maras residents. If someone is unable or unwilling to continue the (highly labor-intensive) upkeep on their pool, it is taken back by the community and reallocated. In a country like Peru with a lot of internationally owned or financed operations, it is refreshing to see an example of a local operation continuing in it’s traditional methods while adapting to tourism opportunities and thriving.
We return to Cuzco to bid farewell to Martha and Charlie – we had a great time travelling with them and living it up for a couple of weeks! They head off to the Amazon and we head back to Pisaq for a little rest and relaxation. . . Where we meet up with Cantor-side Aunt and Uncle Susan and Jim!
We home base in Pisaq for four days and do a number of great hikes. After travelling around the valley so much by bus and car, it’s wonderful to be able to get a little closer and see it on foot.
Hiking to the Pisaq ruins, high above the town.
Susan and J, hiking champs. Our theme for these few days seemed to be that we consistently picked a place on the map and decided to get there – how hard could it be? And then quickly discovered that it was in fact, very hard. Despite the high elevation, steep, difficult terrain, and lack of good maps and information, we had a whale of a time.
J, hiking to the Marway Lakes. This hike took us to the high 4,000-low 5,000 meter elevation range (to our infinite surprise).
On our fourth day, tired of all the hiking, we rented bikes and took off along the river for what we hoped would be a relaxing, flat jaunt to a nearby town. A wrong turn, several cornfields, and a stubborn bull later, we yet again realized our foolishness.
Jim and Susan, under J’s power-posing tutelage. A fantastic few days of adventuring – just the way we like it!
Next up: Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca!
Lots of love!!
C and J