As valleys go, Peru’s Sacred Valley is surely one of the most magical on the planet.
We have spent a lot of time in Peru over the last ten years and have visited the Sacred Valley on many occasions. Our first time was in 2008 when we fell in love with the small town of Ollantaytambo after trekking the 40km there from Lares.
We spent a month in the town whilst volunteering with the Living Heart Foundation. We lived in a small cottage in the hills above Urumbamba and commuted daily to Ollantaytambo.
Exploring the valley
There are numerous options for getting out and about in the Sacred Valley:
- Getting around by bus and collectivo is entirely possible but needs some planning. It does take more time and some Spanish language skills are a definite advantage. Travelling this way is fun but not the most convenient or comfortable. It is cheap and, if you have the time, why not?
- Hiring a taxi or a car and driver is the most covenient and can be cost effective for two or more people. Depending upon your negotiating skill it usually costs somewhere between 120 and 240 New Soles. Easily arranged through most hotels or by negotiating with a friendly taxi driver. We found that http://www.taxidatum.com also provides good and reasonably priced services. As most people will travel between Cusco and Ollantaytambo to get the train to Machu Picchu, it may make sense to incorporate a tour into the journey there or back.
- Guided group or private tours are arranged easily at any agency in Cusco. Some people love them and they do have the advantage of having a professional guide to explain everything. The downside is that tour groups tend to arrive at the same time making some sites very crowded and they can be quite expensive
The town is rightly famous for its plaza, market, weaving and colonial church. There is a lot to see, all set against the beautiful backdrop of the Andes. it is a bit of a walk uphill from the car park. Maybe 10 mins or so. Longer if not acclimatised!
We have visited at different times of the day and would say that late afternoon has the edge. Although the market has started to wind down by then, at sunset the light is amazing and and the scene is impressive with the church tower and market set against snow capped mountains.
The interior of the church itself is beautiful. The murals and frescos are really something to behold (photography is not allowed – hence no photos!)
The Quecha ladies are out in force in the plaza with their ornate weavings and wares for sale set out on blankets on the ground making for a very colourful scene. Some great quality stuff which I am informed is cheaper than elsewhere in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Moray is series of concentric circular terraces cut into the mountains. Used as crop laboratories by the Incas, each level has its own micro-climate and faces in a different direction enabling the Incas to determine where best to plant different crops and varieties.
The Incas farmed over 1000 different varieties of potatoes and over 600 of corn, many of which are still grown today. Quite a few varieties are on offer in the market in Urumbamba.
At the widest, I would guess the diameter of the main set of terraces at Moray would be about 300metres and perhaps 150 metres at its deepest. Each terrace wall has stones jutting out to provide steps to the next level.
From the top the whole thing looks like a Roman/Greek amphitheatre. The terraces are still sometimes used by the Peruvian authorities to test the performance of different crops in differing positions etc.
The drive to the Salineras (salt mines) of Maras took us across some the plains through mostly agricultural land and one or two small settlements.
The only town of any size was Maras itself and as we drove into the main square it was like being on the set of a spaghetti western, no people just none very large pig wandering across the main street.! all it needed was some tumbleweed and Clint Eastwood in his poncho chewing a cigar to pop out of the saloon doorway as we passed though.
As we drove down to the Salinas was like nothing we had seen before. A vast series of terraces, some more than 500 years old are fed by a small hot spring which flows through massive underground salt deposits and into the evaporation pans on the terraces.
A complex arrangement of canals and sluice gates enable the workers to fill the pans with salt water which is then left to evaporate for about three days. The salt is then dug up placed in sacks and shipped off for sale in the markets.
The photos and narrative in this entry are a compilation of our visits from 2008 until our last visit with friends Leigh and Alan in 2016. Over that time, not a lot has changed except that the Sacred Valley has got a little busier. It is still as wonderful as ever though.