A DAY EXPLORING THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
One of the best things I ever did in Peru was visiting the Sacred Valley. It’s full of everything that I think of when I think about Peru. Super friendly people, beautiful coloured shawls, tall Andean headwear, llamas, old Incan sites all set against the majestic Andes range. We had toyed with the idea of staying a night in one of the hotels in the Sacred Valley but we simply just didn’t have the time in our itenary so we decided on a long day trip to get a taste of Andean rural life coupled with Incan ruins.
We had an early start at our hotel, where we were met by our guide in Cusco, Fabricio and our driver. Our first stop was a half an hour drive to the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary (CAS).
CAS is a family run sanctuary involved in looking after animals who have been mistreated by owners or illegally poached to commercialise protected species. It was my first time seeing the Andean Condor here as these have become endangered in the region now. The feathers are valuable to craftsmen as they can sell then as souvenirs.
As well as these magnificent birds there are, rescued Pumas, llamas and guinea pigs. The volunteers at the sanctuary are very passionate and knowledgeable about the animals and it really was a fascinating experience for me with my unfamiliarity of Andean wildlife.
Next, we headed to the Incan ruins and town of PISAC, which is an hours drive from Cusco. This town has an elevation of 2970m and most people visit to see the Sunday markets however there are more quitter quainter markets on Tuesday and Thursdays. We visited on a Tuesday and managed to mooch around the pretty colours of the handicrafts markets.
One of my main reasons for wanting to come here was to see the Pisac Incan ruins. You may have seen photos of an ancient road that used to snake up the canyon at the mouth of the Urubamba Valley at Pisac. There used to be a citadel here which is now only seen as ruins and controlled a route which connected the Incan empire with Paucartambo. The stonework and panoramas at Pisac’s Incan Citadel are absolutely breathtaking with the view of a valley patch-worked by patterned fields and terracing. The intricate craftsmenship of the Inca’s can be seen here where they have cut terraces, water ducts and steps out of solid stone, where they have cleverly hidden buriel sites.
If you are not visiting with a pre-organised tour guide and driver, it is possible to take a bus from Cusco to Pisac town every 15 minutes for a US$2 each way and it takes about an hour or you can hire a taxi which could cost US$15 each way. You will then have to take a local taxi from Pisac town or hike the long winding road up to the Pisac ruins.
Back on our Sacred Valley journey, our penultimate stop was going to be the town of Ollantaytambo. With a slightly higher elevation than Pisca, it is located at the western end of the Sacred Valley and is about two and a half hours drive from Cusco. Ollantaytambo was built on original Inca foundations and is divided into blocks and each block or Cancha has its own stone entrance leading into a courtyard. Houses then surround this stoneworked courtyard.
The town is located at the foot of spectacular Incan ruins with a temple area at the top of a steep terrace, which helped to provide a good defence mechanism during attack by the Spanish. Hence the site was never really completed.
Ollantaytambo is a great place to stop off for lunch and Fabricio recommended Heart’s Café. It’s located at the start of the road leading to the train station, or alternatively just ask one of the locals! It’s a small and friendly café serving healthly options but also a big choice of vegetarian dishes. Great breakfasts, fruits salads, granola and yogurt, huevos rancheros, fruit juices and smoothies, organic salads, pizzas, pastas, everything you need including a tables and chairs outside to relax and watch the world go by.
Travelling through the Sacred valley, you see some interesting sights and just outside of Pisac we passed a grill, which served guinea pigs or Cuy in Spanish. Just in case you weren’t aware skewered roasted guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru and guinea pigs are bred for the purpose of consumption. I’m afraid I just couldn’t get the images of locals devouring cute little fluffy pets out of my head! Although this is probably a pretty squeamish sight to us, guinea pigs carry a historical and regional importance. The dish appears in the last Supper copy, which hangs in Cusco Cathedral. Originally Cuy provided cheap livestock alternatives but in the areas around Cusco, the Cuy is roasted in a wood-fired clay oven which makes guinea pig taste a little like duck.
Our final stop on this journey was at Chinchero, where we watched a family of traditional Peruvian ladies show us how alpaca wool is washed and dyed in most vibrant colours, which to this day evoke memories of Peru for me.
A little talk on the beautifully warm and fluffy alpaca wool…
Natural ingredients are used in the dying process to produce beautifully bright colours such as:
Cochinel for red
Qolle flowers for yellow
Ch’illea for green
Tara (bean pod) for Blue
Yanali (Bark) for orange
Purple maize for purple
Look at the beautiful shades of alpaca wool in the background, all from natural dyes.
The ladies of the family intricately hand weave the beautifully coloured yarns by hand
The finished products are modelled by this mother and baby
The fine weaves represent animals, birds, water and sun. It takes about a month to weave a table runner, so all the tourists looking for bargains in the markets need to be aware that the cheap weaves may not be authentic and in fact could be made of acrylic and not alpaca wool.
Our time in the Scared Valley came to an end and before we knew it we were on our way back to Cusco thinking about the cultural immersion we’d had spending a day in the Peruvian countryside. I didn’t realise at the time but the memories of this day are something that come to the forefront whenever I think of Peru. The real Peru is made up of the unbelievably friendly nature of the people and the history of their ancient civilisation.
I custom designed our trip to Peru but booked through Laura Olds at Peru for less. Our guide in Cusco was Fabricio Ochoa Serrano.
Have you experienced the Sacred Valley of the Inca’s? If you have please let me know in the comments what you thought of the post and as always if you need anymore info, just let me know.
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