It is difficult to compete with the magic of Machu Picchu, but the Sacred Valley, Peru for sure has a lot to offer. There are so many alluring places and beautiful sights, it is worth taking a couple of days to explore the area. If you do not need to rush through you can get immersed into the captivating world of the Incas, amazing lush green landscapes and fairytale little villages.
These were our favorite places from the Sacred Valley (at the end of the post you find a big photo gallery):
Ollantaytambo – more than a base camp to Machu Picchu
Beside being the perfect base camp for a trip to the Machu Picchu Ollantaytambo offers some beautiful Inca sights, an old town with cozy narrrow streets to get lost in and some really good restaurants.
The temple hill ruins are a great warm up for Machu Picchu (find our post on Machu Picchu here). We learned a lot about the life of the Incas before and during the Spanish invasion. The settlement had religious, agricultural and defensive functions on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
From the hill we also had a perfect view of the village and the neighboring hill of Pinkullyuna where the ruins of the old Inca storehouses stand. The other remarkable view is a face carved into the rock: this is Wiracocha, the Inca deity, the creator of all.
And Ollantaytambo also has a lot to offer from a gastronomical point of view. Many restaurants, bars and cafes are around in the small village, some of them more, some less touristy. Our favorite restaurant was the Uchucuta, not a fast one, but delicious alpaca steaks and lamb dishes… :)
Moray – mystic Inca ruins
The Inca archeological site of Moray consists of unusual circular terraces with irrigation systems. The largest of them is approximately 30 meters deep. The purpose of these depressions is not really clear. But as the temperature difference between the top and bottom terrace is about 15 °C it is possible that it was a site for agricultural experiments in times of the Incas. They most probably grew different crops on different levels of the construction. Anyway, it is very spectacular with the bright blue sky as background.
Maras – salt terraces from pre-inca times
The salt terraces in Maras exist since pre-Inca times. The salty water originates from a local subterranean stream and is running through a system of channels into hundreds of “pools”. These are filled with water, and as the water slowly evaporates the salt remains and gets “harvested”. ⠀
What fascinated us most about this place – beside the view to the site from high above -, is that it is run by the community where all families of this community can own a pond – the size depending on the size of the family… Sounds like a just system :)
Chinchero – a must see on the way to Ollantaytambo
In Chinchero you get the feeling of time standing still. Inhabitants speak Quechua, wear traditional attire and sell their artisanal goods on the quaint market in front of the lovely colonial Church. This church – like many others in Peru – was built on the remainders of an Inca palace by the Spanish. Its interior has stunning decoration, but it is unfortunately not allowed to take pictures inside.
Chinchero is also a center of weavers in Peru. Women sell their goods in cooperatives and make demonstrations of spinning and dyeing the alpaca wool threads and weaving the fine textiles. We spent a romantic late afternoon here with the Sun painting the little town in pure gold – just beautiful!
Pisac – another Eagle’s nest with a beautiful artisan market beneath
Pisac is situated about 35 km (a 1 hour drive!!!) from Cusco. It is a traditional Andean village at the foot of the original Inca settlement. The picturesque old town hosts a lively market and a beautiful little church. It is worthwhile getting lost in its narrow streets and buy some colorful souvenirs for a very good price.
The archeological site is situated in the highest mountain area above the village. The remains of agricultural terraces, military buildings, temples, plazas, pools and one of the largest Inca cemeteries can be explored in the big area which was built between the 10th and 11th centuries
There are some really remarkable architectural accomplishments in this place. Similar to Machu Picchu (find our post on Machu Picchu here), you can observe the technique used to build the most prominent buildings: huge stone blocks fitted together perfectly, stacked upon each other without any type of cement or other adhesive. The other engineering masterpiece of the Incas was the irrigational system of the broad terraces.
And as many times before we were very happy we chose to take a guide: without her we would have seen the beautiful view, but would not have understood much of what this place was about. …and she even played some music for us…
More Impressions from the Sacred Valley, Peru