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If you are planning on visiting Peru and you’re interested in the history of the Incas, then the Sacred Valley is almost definitely near the top of your to-do list in Cusco. And so it should be! Brimming with history and beauty, the Sacred Valley of Peru is an unmissable, and unforgettable, experience for you to take on. Read on to find out why.
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Just 15km north of Cusco, you will find the Sacred Valley. With towns such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is regularly hailed as one of the most important historical places of South America, and was extremely important for the Incas, located in the valley of the Urubamba River.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas specifically refers to the section of the valley that is divided by the Urubamba River. The towns that make up the valley are Pisac, Calca, Yucay, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo. Here, it is not just Machu Picchu that is an important site, there are ruins in both Pisac and in Ollantaytambo that prove, once again, the Inca prowess for stone-masonry and architecture. These towns were used as guards for the borders of the Sacred Valley and helped to prevent attacks from enemies.
The Sacred Valley flourished as it’s lands were rich enough to become the center of food production for the Inca people, even today you can see the incredible innovation that was taken on by the Inca, in Moray, agricultural laboratories were used to experiment with plantlife, and find the optimum conditions to grow each plant. The Inca’s grew everything from corn, fruits, and vegetables, to cocoa plants and avocados.
The valley wasn’t built just for its agricultural value, but also in the representation of the constellations. This highlights how important the sky was to the Inca’s, and the religious significance of the cosmology. You can find ceremonial temples, palaces and a fortress in this valley in this little nook hidden deep in the beautiful landscapes. Tradition and culture remain important for those living here so you won’t find it difficult to immerse yourself in the history and the beautiful landscapes of this area.
In the 15th century two Inca leaders, Pachacuti Yupanqui, and Tupac Yupanqui built an enormous empire in South America. This empire ran the unbelievable distance from the center of Chile, all the way to Southern Colombia. It occupied the entirety of Peru, most of Ecuador, and parts of Argentina and Bolivia. This incredible empire was known as the Tahuantinsuyo Empire. At a mind-blowing 4,000 kilometers from North to South and covered with a road network of 40,000 kilometers, this was one of the biggest empires of South American history. And the center of it all? Cusco. Cusco was a part of the Sacred Valley and had an extraordinary amount of financial and agricultural wealth. It was protected by Inca fortresses. The valley extended up to the Vilcanota and Urubamba Rivers. Vilcanota River, in particular, was sacred to the Incas, as it represented the Milky Way.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is located at 2,800 meters above sea level and has one of the best climates in the highland region, which is one of the reasons that plants flourished and allowed agricultural research and experimentation, and the rich and the religious of the Inca empire settled here. During the days, the temperatures range from 19° to 24°C. It is also slightly lower in altitude than Cusco, and so a great place for travelers to acclimatize before taking on Machu Picchu.
During the wet season, the minimum temperature in the Sacred Valley is around 15°C, with the maximum temperature being a high 27°C. The weather is mostly rainy, but every so often the clouds will part and a burst of bright sunshine will bless the day. The average humidity is 65%.
The minimum temperature through the dry season in the Sacred Valley is around 10°C, with maximum temperatures reaching roughly 22°C. The weather can be cloudy but is mostly sunny. Humidity is about 46%, making it comfortable, not sticky as is often found on the coast.
A beautiful little village just 33km from Cusco and simply full of history and marked by its traditional values, Pisac is the entrance hall to the Sacred Valley. Built over an Inca settlement, the village was founded by Viceroy Toledo, a Spanish conquistador. While you visit you can take part in a Quechua Mass alongside the indigenous people and mayors of the regions. You can also visit the Archeological Park of Pisac, which is full of history in bricks. You can explore a military fortress, observatories, and plenty of other polished stone constructions while you are there. Take the time to pay your respects to the biggest Inca cemetery in South America while you are here.
Calca is well known not just for its location in the Sacred Valley but also for the peace and the quiet that comes hand in hand with beautiful landscapes and the natural sulfurous water of Machacancha, and the cold gas water of the Minasmoqo Springs.
Typically, Yucay is not included on tours through the Sacred Valley but it is certainly worth a visit as it is home to the Inca palace of Inca Manco Sayri Túpac the Second. It was also the Inca center of agricultural production.
High up in the fertile valleys, Urubamba was also used for food production, even today being famous for its fruit. There are many indigenous communities to be found here still, and the town proudly boasts the name “La Perla del Vilcanota” or “The Pearl of Vilcanota”, all thanks to the jaw-dropping scenery that surrounds it.
One of the best places to visit in the whole of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo holds both the most original, and the best-preserved Inca, and pre-Inca ruins in all Peru. There’s not just one or two of these buildings, many of the buildings date back this far, meaning that the town has come to be known as “the Living Inca City”. You can also head up the hillside and visit the Inca fortress, it is truly a sight that will take your breath away.
If you are a real adventure lover then you won’t want to miss out on some white water rafting during your trip to the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is the perfect place for a great experience on the water, and you can even see some Inca ruins from your raft.
You can’t miss the mountain biking on your visit, it is a truly unforgettable experience in this region of Peru. You can choose to start from Qenqo, Pucapucara or Tambomachay and you will wind your way along lovely trails and dirt roads, with unforgettable sights accompanying you the whole way.
The town of Pisac is world-famous thanks to the craft market and its impressive archaeological remains. Take your time while visiting this historical place and do a little shopping for local arts and crafts, as Pisac offers the top market in the whole region. Nowadays, Pisac has also become the spiritual center of the Sacred Valley making possible to have all different kinds of experiences, like spiritual retreats. Just twenty minutes drive from the town Inca ruins can be found. You’ll see military, agricultural and religious buildings, all of which are spread over one large complex; it is an absolutely amazing sight to see.
This is one of the most interesting and beautiful destinations to visit during your trip to the Sacred Valley. The Inca ruins of Moray were designed similarly to a dug-out amphitheater but there is no a certain explanation of their creation and use. It is said that the Incas used them as a laboratory to experiment with different combinations of plant species, but the true reason is still unknown. Come and discover the mystery, and theorize for yourself what it was used for.
No list of things to do would be complete without trying one of the most famous peruvian dishes: cuy (guinea pig). Sample it fried or roasted, both are delicious. Delight your palate with this succulent traditional dish that has been loved in Peru since the Incas. Almost every restaurant serves it, so give it a try!
For all the mentioned above, the Sacred Valley is a must-see destination during your visit to Peru. Discover these ancient villages, beautiful towns full of culture and tradition. The Sacred Valley Peru will win your heart from the moment you step foot here. Start planning your trip now by finding the best way to get from Lima to Cusco and get ready to begin your adventure!