From the cobbled streets of the capital of the Inca Empire at Cusco to the majestic and magical heights of the Machu Picchu citadel; the Sacred Valley in Peru is a must-visit destination this summer! The fertile lands that nourished the Inca Empire flow through this historical and cultural Andean valley.
Also known as the Urubamba Valley, many travelers do not stop to take their time to immerse themselves in the beauty of this region as they pass by to visit the main highlight of Machu Picchu.
However, spending time to explore the small towns and impressive archaeological sites of the Sacred Valley will give you a unique insight into both the modern day and historical life in Peru. Filled with century old and bright colored festivals, celebrations and indigenous practices, the Sacred Valley is a highlight of Peru waiting to be explored even further.
♦ Turn back time in Ollantaytambo
This charming and traditional Andean village situated in the Sacred Valley is a fantastic historical site to explore whilst making your way from Cusco to Machu Picchu or the town at the foot of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes. With one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Peru, outside of Machu Picchu of course, the village was where many of the last Inca battles against the Spanish took place. With staggered agricultural terraces and intact fortresses the history of the Incas can be found in its rawest form in Ollantaytambo. The vast Inca ceremonial site that offers panoramic and uninterrupted views over the tapestry of the Sacred Valley and the Patakancha & Urubamba Rivers below is simply breath-taking! The town of Ollantaytambo is a beautiful example of an Inca town.
As Cher belted out, “If I could turn back time, if I could find a way” it was obvious that she had never visited Ollantaytambo before!
Featuring cobbled streets, waterways and a still fully-functioning irrigation system designed by the Incas, you will have to pinch yourself to believe you haven’t stepped back in time to the 1200s! If you’re lucky enough to be in the region of the Sacred Valley on the 6th January for the ‘Three Kings’ festival or during the 4-day patron saint celebrations of ‘Santisima Cruz de Señor Choquekillca’ in April; you’ll be treated to brightly colored processions, shows of traditional dances and firework displays!
♦ The Patchwork Landscape of Salinas & Moray
The archaeological sites of Salinas and Moray near to the town of Urubamba are not only mind-boggling beautiful but being at lower altitudes to both Machu Picchu and Cusco, they allow you to get acclimatized to the altitude easier. While there stunning surrounding countryside of the Sacred Valley is impressive, the salt flats of Salinas and the terracing of Moray will leave you speechless!
Painting a picture perfect landscape, the Salinas is made up of simply thousands of salt pans, casting pinks, browns and oranges over the landscape depending on the position of the hot Andean sun.
Constructed by the Incas, the salt flats are still mined today by Peruvians wearing their traditional wide-brimmed hats and woven Andean clothes. You only need to travel a few miles to reach the Moray agricultural site which although no longer in use, it has an interesting history. It’s difficult to find a more blatant example of the innovative nature of the Incas than at Moray. The concentric terraces that resemble a Roman amphitheatre, was created by the Incas for agricultural experimentation. With each level creating a different microclimate, the Incas could test crops to see which climate suited which crop the best before implementing the full agricultural process. Off the traditional travel path, Salinas and Moray add a unique experience in Peru and the Sacred Valley broadening your understanding of the Inca Empire.
♦ Color & Tradition at Pisac’s Market
Another quaint and authentic Sacred Valley town, the ever present Inca influence stares at you as you walk through the central plaza with hilltop Inca fortresses and surrounding agricultural terraces looking down at you as if constantly reminding you of their presence.
If you are traveling to Peru during the biannual solstices as well as heading to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu you can also enjoy the framing of the sunset at Pisac’s very own Sun Gate.
Many people visit Pisac due to its vibrant and exploding with color marketplace which as one of the biggest in the Sacred Valley, it has basket-loads of atmosphere. The Pisac marketplace is one of the best places to get your Peruvian souvenirs from with handmade crafts, hand-woven knitted goods and local Peruvian delicacies such as mouth-watering corn coated with cheese! Keep an eye out for ponchos, alpaca sweaters and ‘chullos’ (Andean knitted hat with ear flaps) which you will come to appreciate during the cold winter months when you get back home!