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An introduction to the Sacred Valley, Peru

The Sacred Valley makes up the region surrounding Cuzco and Machu Picchu, a magical spread of agricultural terraces, scattered stone ruins, and dominating mountain ranges. It’s possible to see the highlights in a day, but it’s a shame to rush it. Because although Cuzco was the capital of the Incan Empire and Machu Picchu its hidden gem, it is in the Sacred Valley—where locals live and work largely unchanged by modernity—where you really step back in time.

Stroll among market stalls in Pisaq, an indigenous market that draws hundreds of local artisans and vendors. Traditional tapestries, colorful cloaks, and an endless array of jewelry, carvings, and wooly hats are sold with vigor. Cross the town and head up the hill to visit the one of the valley’s most overlooked ruin sites. The Pisaq ruins once comprised one of the Inca’s most valuable fortresses, and remains today as a mighty complex of terraces, temples, and cliff-side tombs.

Pisaq - Eduardo Zarate

Carry on to Ollantaytambo, one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Peru. Here you can stroll down narrow stone streets built in the 13th century and utilized ever since. The tiny town fills up with tourists during the day, but they’re mainly contained to the massive ruins on the northern side of town, across the river. At night, if you choose to stay here, it’s likely to be only you, the locals, and the stunning scenery.

Ollantaytambo sits in a valley between two hills that roll into mountains. Both hillsides house Inca ruins. The main ruins (the ones that draw the most visitors) were a site of a major Spanish defeat and feature some striking terraces. Ollantaytambo is connected to Cuzco and Machu Picchu Pueblo by its train station.

The Sacred Valley - McKay Savage

If you have the time, a highly recommended excursion is to the Moray agricultural site and its neighboring Salinas salt pans. The former is an intriguing Inca agricultural experimental center, where the savvy Incan agronomists tested seeds in different soil types and environments to see what grew where the best. The latter is another igneous form of natural land manipulation. Here thousands of small pools have been carved into the hillside. They’re filled by natural warm salty water and used for salt extraction.

Keen to see the Sacred Valley for yourself? Check out our Peru itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

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