April 22, 2012

The Sacred Valley

For its altitude, hikes and ruins, The Sacred Valley just outside of Cuzco was the perfect warm-up to Machu Picchu. The Incas considered this place so sacred because in the South American winter month of June, the Milky Way lines up perfectly with the valley. We spent several days exploring the area.

Pisaq is only a 30-minute drive from Cuzco, and the door to the Sacred Valley. The town has a famous market on Sunday. We visited on a Thursday and the vendors were still out in full force.

We hiked for an hour up a steep hillside, winding our way through old terraces and around beautiful cliffs until we reached the Inca ruins of Pisaq.

With the help of our guide Miguel Angelo, we spent two hours wandering around.

Ancient Pisaq was a town spread around the circumference of a mountain with several neighborhoods, temples, watchtowers, military complex and agricultural terraces.

On the backside of the town there’s an entire mountainside where approximately 4,000 Incan tombs were located. Unfortunately Peruvian grave robbers stole the mummies to sell them on the black market, but you can still see the holes were each of the graves existed.

Moray is a complex of concentric farming terraces. Since each terrace has a different micro-climate, it’s believed that in Inca times they used these terraces as an experimental nursery.

The best part about Moray is getting to climb up and down the terraces via the stone steps. We felt like Super Mario.

Ollantaytambo is a city best known as “the last living pueblo” because many of the town’s buildings and irrigation systems are Inca originals. This was also one of the last strongholds when the Spanish conquered the Incas. Apart from the functioning city, the ruins are a sprawling complex of terraces, baths, hotel rooms, mummy shrines, and temples – one of which only consists of large boulders…remnants of the Sun Temple that the Spanish pushed over.

The Sacred Valley was a good reminder of the vastness of the Inca Empire, and what a sophisticated network they built.

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