The first stamps in my passport came during our honeymoon to Belize and Peru. It was my first time experiencing foreign cultures, towns and food. I was admittedly overwhelmed at times, but smitten with the Peruvian countryside. Between a two night stay in busy Lima and two nights in magical, but crowded, Machu Picchu, there was Cusco. Cusco is a jumping off point for most visitors forging ahead to Machu Picchu, but there is so much to see and do in the valley surrounding the city.
The Vicanota River, also called Wilcamayu (Sacred River) runs through the valley, hence the name “Sacred Valley.” This valley was the heartbeat of the ancient Inca empire in times past. Visitors have a reason to love the Sacred Valley in the present day though. What is not to love? Beautiful views of snow-capped mountains are around every corner. Intricately designed ruins built thousands of years ago dot the region. Bustling markets offering goods and foods make it easy to find souvenirs and lunch. The Sacred Valley is a must-see when in Peru.
We did not have a car while in Peru and were at the mercy of a tour guide. While you know that this is not our first choice in ways to experience new places, our group was smallish (around 15 people) and there were two guides. There were four main stops on our Sacred Valley tour: Pisac ruins and Market, lunch, the ruins at Ollantaytambo and the Chichero ruins.
We drove out of Cusco in a large, but comfortable, passenger van with our guide talking about this and that. I actually was not paying attention (surprisingly) because I felt a bit nauseous from the curving roads. I was should have sat closer to the front of the van. I am confident the tidbits about the Sacred Valley would have fascinated me though. I love random facts that tour guides know.
The bus slowed and pulled to the side of a mountain road. I quickly exited, ready to feel the crisp air on my face and calm my stomach. I forgot about my motion sickness as soon as I looked up and noticed the views around me. Whoa.
There was also a family “working” the corner. You will find the Quechua Indians everywhere in the Sacred Valley. Some are a bit aggressive, but this family was nice. The Quechua family did ask for a small fee to have their picture taken. We were happy to oblige because their bright, traditional dress was beautiful. Maybe we were your typical tourist in the moment, but oh well. The pictures are worth it and this little girl oozed cuteness!
Photo op over, we loaded back into the van to continue our Sacred Valley tour. I sat closer to the front this time. Yes. I was that person who changed her seat mid-tour. I am sure that I made someone uncomfortable or angry, but no one said anything. We drove for a few more minutes and were back out of the van at Pisac. Our first ruins!
The guides stayed back and answered questions of those in our group, but encouraged us to walk around and explore on our own as well. We took their advice to heart. Layer after layer of rocks that formed walls of crumbling building and circular terraces chiseled from the earth surrounded us. Can you believe how ingenious the Inca people were?
We had a good 30 minutes at Pisac before everyone headed back to the van, on our own. Where to next? Lunch in the shadows of the mountains and a visit to the Pisac Market.
Full of great food and anticipation for the next stop, we continued on to the town and ruins of Ollantaytambo. These ruins were my favorite because of the interesting facts the guide gave us while there. Unlike the Pisac ruins, the guide was busy telling stories and pointing out interesting tidbits. For example, there is a person’s profile carved into the rocks of Ollantaytambo. Well, not exactly a person. It is the god Viracocha. It is believe that the Incas carved this deity’s profile into the mountain as a reminder that he is watching over his people and sees everything. Just as interesting, is the fact that the Incas liked to build trapezoid shaped doors and windows. I mean, standard squares and rectangles were not good enough?
These fun facts are only overshadowed by the burn in my thighs after climbing all the stairs. Who needs squats when you have hundreds of stairs to climb while on vacation?
Believe it or not, there was still one more stop on our tour. The drive to the ruins at Chinchero, the final stop of the day, was what really made me fall in the love with the region. The farmland, although brown from the dry season, is beautiful. The land looked like a patchwork quilt, sewn together with winding creeks, tree lines and desolate roads.
We were hastily met by more Quechua people selling goods at Chinchero. Everything from candy bars and bottles of water to alpaca scarves and woven blankets. I will admit that they did get a bit annoying. But, we just tried our best remain polite, but we basically ignored them. Not exactly the picture of the good manners my parents taught me, but we just kept our head down and walked past, ready to explore the ruins.
The Sacred Valley is the path to Machu Picchu, according to historians. Do not skip over it in your haste to see the crown jewel of the Incan Empire. Ruins are to Peru what vineyards are to Napa Valley. It would be easy to skip the smaller ruins and only see Machu Picchu, but why? There are so many different ruins to explore and so much to see and learn. The Sacred Valley is a beautiful must-see while in Peru.