Sacred Valley of the Incas – Cusco
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is one of the most important destinations in South America. It is home to beautiful traditional villages that have been settled since colonial times, such as the community of Maras. There, the Incas built ancient citadels such as Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. They also cultivated a great diversity of agricultural products in terraces such as Moray. Today, all these places are very attractive tourist attractions for visitors, before or after the visit to Machu Picchu.
What is the Sacred Valley of the Incas like?
- This valley was a sacred area for the Incas since it included an extensive territory that was very productive for agriculture.
- The main products cultivated by the Incas were: corn, potato, olluco, quinoa and coca leaf, which is considered to be a very pleasant plant.. Today, agriculture continues to be one of the main activities of the inhabitants of this valley.
- Due to the vast agricultural activity in the valley, the Incas decided to build their main temples and cities there.
- The most important urban centers were Pisac, Yucay, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo. Even further into the jungle, the emperor Pachacutec had a beautiful citadel built to serve as his resting place and border with the jungle villages: Machu Picchu.
- The Vilcanota River flows through all the main towns in the valley. The Incas believed that this river was the earthly representation of the Milky Way.
- The Salkantay and Veronica mountains (considered gods by the Incas) crown the beautiful landscape. Today, the river, the mountains and the land are still considered sacred by the people of Cusco who inhabit these lands. Many tourists come to the Sacred Valley to learn about its history and beauty.
History of the Sacred Valley of the Incas
- The Sacred Valley was inhabited by small Andean communities until the Inca conquest (mainly under the rule of Emperor Pachacutec from 1438 to 1471).
- Then began a period of important constructions of terraces, temples and cities such as Ollantaytambo, Moray and even Machu Picchu.
- During the Inca civil war (1529 – 1532), the inhabitants of the valley remained loyal to Huáscar’s army.
- With the arrival of the Spaniards, the rebel Inca Manco Inca fled through the Sacred Valley burning Chinchero and settling in Ollantaytambo where he fought fiercely against the invaders. Faced with his imminent fall, he settled in the inaccessible jungle and established his reign in Vilcabamba.
- With the conquest, the fertile territories of the valley were divided by the Spaniards. The main temples were destroyed and Christian churches were built in their place.
- Today many parts of the Inca archaeological sites are deteriorated, either by time or damage caused by the Spanish.
- Even so, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is a very popular tourist destination. The villagers preserve many of their ancestral traditions, even from Inca times..
All the places you can visit in the Sacred Valley
The town of Pisac is located 33 kilometers from the city of Cusco (it is known as the gateway to the Sacred Valley). It is world famous for its handicraft market and its impressive archaeological remains, located in the upper part of the town. This town is important for its location and fertile land. Its Inca and colonial buildings are admirable. In addition, Pisac is famous for being an ideal place for spiritual retreats.
Urubamba is one of the most important cities in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It was born during colonial times and is considered the corn capital of the world. This is possible because it is watered by numerous rivers that originate in the glacial mountain peaks. All this territory was appreciated by the Incas due to the fertility of its lands. It is one of the best places to relax. There you will see many foreigners who decided to leave their countries and stay there.
Ollantaytambo is located 97 kilometers northeast of Cusco. During the Inca period it was a fortified city with temples, defense walls as well as urban and agricultural sectors. It is known to have served as an administrative checkpoint. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Peru and South America. Many people consider that, after Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is the most perfect Inca citadel.
The town of Chinchero is located 28 kilometers from the city of Cusco. It is one of the highest points in the valley: 3,772 meters above sea level (12,375 ft). There once stood the palace of Emperor Tupac Yupanqui, which was destroyed by the Spaniards. In its place they built the colonial church of Nuestra Señora de Monserrat. This church built in the seventeenth century includes canvases of the ‘Cusco School’. The town is also famous for its handicraft market where you can still barter.
The town of Maras is famous for its proximity to hundreds of salt wells that form a spectacular landscape. There you will be able to see more than 5 thousand salt extraction ponds built in Inca times. A saline water spring and the slope of the Qaqawiñay mountain were used for its construction. The salt mines of Maras are one of the 4 places in the world where pink salt can be obtained. Villagers sell this salt in Cusco’s main markets.
The town of Moray is located 74 kilometers from the city of Cusco and is home to the famous Inca circular terraces. This set of concentric circular terraces give the impression of being an artificial crater. This place was one of the main ‘agricultural research centers’ of the Inca empire. He was dedicated to the experimentation and planting of crops from different places. The different climates and altitudinal floors were constructed with the intention of making it possible to plant coastal and jungle products in cold climates.
This quiet town is located 55 kilometers by road from the city of Cusco. In Inca times, the fertile lands of this place were mainly used for agricultural production. The emperor Huayna Capac had a series of terraces and palaces built here. During the colonial period, the lands of Yucay were distributed by the Spanish rulers who ordered the construction of churches and houses on top of the ancient Inca constructions. Today, it is a welcoming place for visitors interested in history, since it still preserves Inca walls and terraces.
All the sports you can do in the Sacred Valley
- ATV – One of the most popular adventure sports in the Sacred Valley is the route that links Chinchero, Maras and Moray by ATV. During the route, the tourist will be able to visit the terraces of Moray and the salt mines of Maras.
- Trekking – There are several hiking trails in the valley. Perhaps one of the most popular of all is the Inca Trail, a route that begins in a section of Ollantaytambo and ends in Machu Picchu, after 39 kilometers of Inca trails.
- Rock climbing – Via ferrata or rock climbing is practiced in the Pachar sector in Urubamba. It uses ropes, clamps, handrails and nails to provide safety to the visitor during the ascent to a high rock. It is one of the most extreme sports that can be practiced in the Sacred Valley.
- Zipline – Ziplining is practiced in the Maras area, near the famous salt mines. The circuit consists of 4 cables, the longest of which measures 1250 meters. The tourist can walk the 4 cables or the one that best suits him/her. At the top you can enjoy all the scenic beauty of the valley.
- Canoeing – Canoeing takes place on the famous Vilcanota River, considered sacred by the Incas. The beginning of the adventure is between the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. There are different levels, depending on the visitor’s experience. The river trip takes between 1 to 2 hours.
- Cycling – The starting point of the adventure is at the ‘Abra Malaga’, located at 4,316 meters above sea level (14,160 ft). From there, we descend for several kilometers until we reach Ollantaytambo, located at 2,792 meters above sea level (9,160 ft).
What do I need to go?
- In addition to airfare and lodging in Cusco, it is important to get a tour package to the Sacred Valley of the Incas or, if you come on your own, the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which includes the main attractions of the valley.The Cusco Tourist Ticket that includes the main attractions of the valley.
Go with a package tour
– There are two tour packages to the Sacred Valley: a) the Sacred Valley Full Day tour (includes Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero) and b) the Maras, Moray Half Day tour (includes the salt mines of Maras and the andene
s circular Moray).
Going on your own
– If you travel on your own it is important that you purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket Circuit 3 that includes the entrance to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero and Moray.. Transportation is available on Pavitos Street near the historic center of Cusco.
Tips for your visit
- Bring a rain poncho – The Sacred Valley of the Incas is known for its temperate climate. However, rains can occur at any time. Carry a rain poncho with you at all times. Especially from January to March, when rainfall is more frequent.
- If you are traveling without a tour, buy your Tourist Ticket – Tourists traveling on their own can buy the entrance ticket to the archaeological site of their choice at the door of the site. However, the most economical option is to purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which includes admission to all places in the valley: Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero and Moray.
- If you can, get lodging in the Sacred Valley – While most people choose to stay in the city of Cusco, the towns of the Sacred Valley offer quality options. And, above all, they offer a better climate (at a lower altitude) than the city of Cusco. For example, in the town of Urubamba there are hotels of all levels, including 5 stars.
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