The Sacred Valley
The first inhabitants of the Sacred Valley treasured this land not only for its dramatic landscapes and sweeping vistas—the Sacred Valley also offered ample opportunities for agriculture, and had plentiful water just beyond the reaches of the parched desert. Its fertility was the result of a sunny climate and the Río Urubamba coursing through the valley.
From Ollantaytambo in the north, the Río Urubamba flows to the southwest. It formed a rich artery of small Andean towns and sprawling Inca centers. The valley ends at the artisan mecca of Pisac. Framed by the snow-capped Urubamba mountain range, the slopes and river banks hum with the echoes of an Inca paradise.
At Ollantaytambo, on the end of the Sacred Valley closest to Machu Picchu, visit the most intact Inca village in the valley. See one of the many ruins of an Inca temple or visit the Princess Baths, a cluster of fountains and whirlpools that still gurgle.
Almost perfectly in the middle of the valley, at the foot of the mountains, Urubamba allows you to experience the splendor of the fauna that the river creates. Stop here to get to know the landscape a little better. You’ll have lots of opportunities for biking, horseback riding, mountain biking, paragliding, and rock climbing. No matter your adventure of choice, you’ll be spoiled with your choice of views – everywhere you look is an ancient mountainside, painted with the shifting shadows of passing clouds.
Before you proceed down the valley, consider taking detours to Moras and Moray, small towns that still hold the remains of thriving agricultural centers. The Maras salt mines, built by the Inca into the side of a mountain, still shimmer with layers of salt, the residue of recently evaporated water. Further to the west, in Moray, see concentric circles dug into the earth, forming gradual steps to the center. Most recently, scholars have suggested this was an Inca agricultural experiment, to see how crops grew at various elevations.
Further south you’ll find Calca, one of the smaller towns in the valley. Calca is home to a small Inca ruin, Hucuy Qosco. This is a destination for hikers who want a challenge, as it's located at the top of a steep incline. At the ruins of an Inca hall, you’ll be in a prime location to see the valley unfold far below.
Pisac is a notorious destination for souvenir hunters and collectors. It has one of the largest craft marketplaces in Peru, packed with local artisans. Admire textiles and garments made from fluffy alpaca wool, dyed and woven according to the richly symbolic Andean style.
Uphill from the commercial part of Pisac, explore one of the valley’s most complex Inca ruins. Agricultural terraces occupy huge swaths of land along the mountainside. Eventually the path will lead to the Temple of Sun, a still-formidable structure at the very top of the site. From here, you’ll have one of the most unforgettable and sprawling views of the Sacred Valley.
When you finish your treks through the valley, stop at a village to order chicha, a local beer made from corn. It is an acquired taste, but sample it at least once and toast the persistence of Andean traditions in the Sacred Valley, a world unto itself.