The Sacred Valley
Peru's Inca heartland is a photogenic fertile valley of towns, villages and stunning archaeological sites, ripe for exploring.
The mountain bike ride in the Sacred Valley was a highlight; being in the open countryside high in the Andes was hard work but brilliant. Hardly a tourist in sight, just us and the occasional group of farmers.
The Incas chose this lush, steep-sided valley for its fertility and defensibility. Walking the ruins of temples and fortresses as you stand above rows of terraces you can’t help but admire their choice. Andean culture is still evident in the lively markets and traditional skills such as weaving and pottery. Hiking, biking, horse riding and white-water rafting are among the many activities you can try here, and there are some gems of hotels and lodges.
- Inca ruins & sites in the Sacred Valley: The Sacred Valley of the Incas is filled with archaeological sites. Machu Picchu is the best known but others also offer fascinating insights into Inca culture and daily life. Here are a handful of the dozens of sites to be explored in the valley.
Pisac and Ollantaytambo are two fortress towns both perched high above the valley, where you can see the remains of temples, royal bathing complexes and terraces.
The terraces at Moray demonstrate the Incas’ agricultural prowess, as they experimented with different locations and conditions to optimise crop productivity.
At Maras you can see large salt pans fed by an underground stream still in use today as they were in Inca times.
- Andean culture & villages: It’s not all history. There are many towns and villages in the valley where you can witness present day life.
Urubamba, named after the valley’s river, has some lovely places to stay, an attractive main square and a market where you mingle with locals as they shop for everyday items.
Pisac’s busy market offers locally made gifts and souvenirs and on Sunday local Quechua communities sell their handwoven textiles.
The weaving centre at Chinchero is reviving this traditional practice among local women. Weaving has for centuries been a demonstration of cultural identity and it is heartening to witness the skills continuing into the 21st century. You can walk around the village with its adobe houses and small baroque church, an example of the blending of Andean and colonial influences.
- Outdoor activities: The Sacred Valley is ideal hiking country. Apart from the Inca Trail there are shorter routes that take you to viewpoints, lesser-known sites and local communities, best explored in the company of a guide. Mountain biking can be exhilarating as you pass through spectacular scenery, travelling along dirt roads and donkey paths. Cusco to Chinchero, Moray, Maras and Urubamba, largely downhill, is one of the most popular rides. White water rafting on the Urubamba River near Ollantaytambo requires no prior experience and includes some rapids for thrill-seekers. Horse riding and kayaking are among the activities that can be arranged.
- Relaxing: When you want some time out from sports and sightseeing you can relax at your hotel. Many of these, such as Sol y Luna near Urubamba, have well-maintained gardens and sun terraces where you can rest and take in the views plus maybe a pool and a spa for some pampering.