Sacred Valley: Peru's Andean Highlands
Sacred Valley, Peru
Together, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and nearby city of Cusco formed the heart of the Inca Empire until it was conquered by Spanish in the late 1500's. Today, the region is filled with gorgeous Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo and covered in fertile farmland.
Day 1: Morning | Explore Pisac Ruins
My good friend, Esau, and I booked our Sacred Valley tour through an agency in downtown Cusco. We woke early for breakfast at our hostel, Kokopelli, and met our contact at 8:30 a.m. The walk across town to the bus took quite some time but finally, we were on our way.
Pisac was our first destination and an hour away from Cusco. We drove through town and on to the ruins. The Pisac Ruins were scattered over a mountain valley with burial sites built steep in the hillsides.
Terraces covered every surface. These terraces were built by the Incas for many reasons: create micro-climates (agriculture), preserve land (prevent landslides) and impress other villages. The views were absolutely beautiful as the clouds rolled in through the valley.
Every inch of the ruins was packed with tourists roaming in and out of the passages. Our time was limited so we weren't able to trek down the longer paths but Esau and I hiked to the top of the main ruins for a few photos then made our way back down to meet our group.
On our way out of the valley, we stopped in the town of Pisa to learn about stones and minerals of the area. We learned the differences between real and fake silver and I picked up a little egg-sized stone of Azurite said to enhance creativity and inner wisdom. On the way out, we picked up a snack of potatoes and fish. Really delicious.
Day 1: Afternoon | Lunch & Discover Ollantaytambo
Our group packed the bus once again and hit the road. After some time, we stopped in a tiny town for lunch. There were the sweetest little kittens sitting outside one of the shops.
Next, we drove to Archaeological Park Ollantaytambo. The ruins at Ollantaytambo were much larger and in better shape than Pisac. The surrounding town was super cute, too. The ruins were built by the Incas on a steep hill called Temple Hill and is commonly known as the Fortress. The site is divided into three main areas including the Temple Sector which is built out of enormous cut and fitted stones which signify importance.
The main structure is the Sun Temple with an uncompleted Wall of the Six Monoliths. It's unknown why some of the structures were unfinished but invasion was likely.
Our guide spoke a lot about the faces carved in the opposite side of the mountain. We followed him up the hill and could clearly see the faces he was speaking about. One was formed naturally and the other, carved by the Incas. On June first he sun shines directly through the profile forming a triangle on the "sun" rock (look below on the upper left side of the mountain for the profile).
"Fridges" were formed high in the mountainside by carving caves and a ventilation system to create a cool breeze. This meant Incas had to climb up into the mountainside to retrieve food for each meal but items wouldn't spoil as quickly.
Although we didn't have much free time to explore we took a path around the side of the mountain to see what we'd find. It led us to some fountains on the lower level and out to the exit where our group was waiting.
Day 1: Early Evening | Visit a Textile House
After loading the bus, we made our way to Chinchero to visit a textile house called Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco. The textile house is a non-profit organization using the sustainable practice of weaving Peruvian textiles to promote and empower local weavers. We gathered around to watch a demonstration on the process.
One of the young girls explained how to clean and weave alpaca wool to produce "yarn" and then showed the dying process. Each color is made with natural ingredients combined with lime juice and cactus mold to set the color. Each color was so rich and saturated - pretty incredible for a natural process.
The market was super cute and full of textiles for sale. There were some amazing pieces, too. Esau found a gorgeous rug and I picked up a black wool hat for 95 soles ($32 US).
Just as it was getting dark our group walked up a little hill in Chinchero to a local church - one of the very few that withstood the Spanish invasions.
Afterward our bus dropped the two of us off in town so we could catch a collectivo (shared ride) to our hostel in Ollantaytambo. In the morning, we'd head to Aguas Calientes by train and then up to Machu Picchu. Can't wait!