By Briana Seftel
Tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas (Valle Sagrado de los Incas) is a stretch of virtually untouched villages, rolling green hills, and Inca ruins. Back in the early days of Peru's tourism, most travelers passed through the valley on their way to Machu Picchu, but nowadays it's considered one of the highlights of Peru.
Explore the peaceful Sacred Valley on your Peru adventure!
Marking the beginning of the Inca Trail trek, the village of Ollantaytambo is often overlooked in favor of Machu Picchu. However, it is one of the Sacred Valley’s most important Inca sites with a cute and charming village to match. Explore the ruins made of steep terraces and a fortress where the Spanish conquistadors experienced defeat in a battle against the Inca. Then stroll the village made up of cafes, a local market, and small hotels.
Pisac's famous market is open every day but is even larger on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Vendors sell everything from ceramics to jewelry to produce, and this is your best bet at finding a unique souvenir or gift to take home. On Sundays at 11 am, you can see the Quechua Mass at the Iglesia San Pedro Apostolo and then the costumed procession led by the mayor.
The famed salt terraces of Salineras (Maras) surprise almost every visitor, considering there isn't an ocean in sight. Upon discovering salty water, the Incas dug shallow pools into a sloped hillside and waited as the salt evaporated from the pools. Navigating the terraces can be tricky, but it's guaranteed you've never seen anything like this before. Salt is still harvested and can be purchased in bags from tiny to large.
The three enormous circular terraces of Moray are highlights of the Sacred Valley. An ancestor to the modern experimental agricultural station, the terraces were expertly used by the Incas to cultivate food. Each terrace has its own micro-climate, allowing farmers to test different crops and determine optimal growing conditions.
Believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow, Chinchero is most well-known for its colorful Sunday market. The village comprises adobe houses and a large colonial church built on the foundation of an Inca temple. Take the steep walk up to the church, then see the agricultural Inca ruins left behind. Chinchero is the center of weaving in Peru, making it a great place to pick up an authentic souvenir.
The colorful colonial town of Pisac is best known for its market and Inca fortress ruins and is often the first stop on most Sacred Valley tours. A masterpiece of Inca engineering, the Pisac ruins are still in remarkable condition and often require a steep climb for the best views of surrounding Andean landscape. The ruins consist of a complex system of ancient baths and water fountains, altars and ceremonial platforms. The ruins are most crowded on Sundays when the market is open.