SACRED VALLEY

SACRED VALLEY

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The Sacred Valley is a fertile corridor that follows a winding course just northwest of Cusco all the way to Machu Picchu. Often considered the spiritual and commercial heart of the Inca Empire, it progresses into a slender alluvial plain where all kinds of crops and fruit trees flourish in the temperate valley floor climate. North of Ollantaytambo and onward to Machu Picchu, the valley becomes subtropical and the Urubamba River transforms into a swirling torrent, making further road access impossible. You can, however, continue to Machu Picchu on foot or by train.

The valley is tightly hemmed in by great folds of the Andes, some stark and bald and some crowned by snow or glaciers. Weaving communities cling to the creases of the foothills, while ruined Inca citadels sit high on the mountainsides, as if keeping watch.

Many visitors think of the Sacred Valley as a transit point between Cusco and Machu Picchu. But, if you can spare the time, there’s a welter of activities and points of interest here. You’ll find a glut of archaeological sites, one of Peru’s trend-setting restaurants, a range of treks beyond the Inca Trail and numerous adventure activities.

Písac, a town at the eastern mouth of the Sacred Valley, is popular with visitors, who flock to its artisan craft market. Among its handmade wares are silky-soft baby alpaca shawls and scarves. Písac then transmutes into a food and produce market on Sundays, where locals from surrounding villages join the throngs of out-of-towners.

Above all the business, Písac’s citadel and a sun temple stand on a mountain spur. These ruins display the precise stonework that’s become something of a patent for the Incas. You’ll also see astronomical observation posts and ceremonial baths fed by aqueducts.

Buried deeper into the mountains north of Cuzco, Chinchero is a Spanish colonial settlement that’s also celebrated for its Sunday-morning market. Quechua-speaking women wearing traditional manta shawls and patterned skirts seem to run the place, selling produce and craftwork. Quieter than Písac, Chinchero also bears some Inca remnants, such as a stone throne and terracing.

The town of Ollantaytambo has the valley’s gold-star fortress. It rears up like a granite titan at the end of the paved road between Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, dominating the town, which was once an important administrative hub for the Incas. Today its layout and remaining Inca walls give you the closest approximation of what an Inca town must have looked like five centuries ago.

Moray is made up of three swirls of seven terraces burrowing into the earth like vortexes. They’re thought to have been a latter-day laboratory for growing crops in different microclimates. Our Tour Leaders will explain you more about Moray’s allure and the lesser-known Inca sites of the Sacred Valley.

Nearby, you’ll find the still-in-use salt pans of Maras, and, overlooking Moray, one of the best restaurants in Peru ― Mil. The brainchild of chef Virgilio Martinez, owner of Central in Lima, it relies on purely local ingredients. For a more rustic yet authentic Peruvian dining experience, you can dine on a traditional pachamanca (earth-oven) meal in the Sacred Valley.

With its terrain varying from steep mountain slopes to flat fields of maize, the Sacred Valley is a good spot for mountain biking and horseback riding, no matter your ability. You can, alternatively, go white-water rafting along the surging Urubamba just past Ollantaytambo, or stand-up paddle boarding in calmer stretches of the river.