For many the Scared Valley is experienced in a one day, whirlwind bus trip from Cusco. However, after doing my research, I decided I really wanted to spend more time in the countryside. Luckily for me, my friends agreed that this sounded like a great plan! The day after my last volunteering class I headed into the valley and did an afternoon hike to the food stores of Pinkkuylluna. Later, we settled in for a night in Ollantaytambo. Here I enjoyed my first Pisco sour (the local cocktail) and slept to the roar of the river at our cute hostel. Ollanta, as the locals refer to it, has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century. A large section of the residential area is pedestrianised due to the ancient narrow streets. Down their centre irrigation channels roar with river water, an ideal spot for any kind of washing!
With an early rise the next morning we hiked to the Cachicata quarry. From here rocks were taken to build the Inca temple near Ollanta. In the quarry we found small burial mounds and enjoyed stunning views across the valley. Back in the town, after a late breakfast, we explored the main ruins of Ollanta. This took us a few hours, especially when we decided to climb to every last corner to explore! How this site can be viewed in a brief bus stop off is beyond me. What we did forego, with our slower schedule, was the ability to hire a guide at each and every ruin, due to the cost. Luckily Wikipedia was at hand to give us a written account of the sites we explored. With so little known about the exact use of these ruins, this seemed as good an information source as any.
As the day came to a close we headed back to the little town centre to organise a car to Urabamba, just 20km along the valley. Here I was surprised to find a very busy market town. I had read there was very little in Urabamba but what the guide book really meant was there is little in the way of tourist sites. It did however serve well as a base to visit Moray, the Saliners and Chinchero and after the tourist bustle of Ollanta it was great to see a real, genuinely local town.
We started the following day at the Saliners where highly salinated water is fed down through a series of flat terraces. The water evaporates, leaving the salt behind to be collected. I read that each terrace in owned by a family in the valley, what a great way to share the resource! Next we dove through the small town of Maras and onto the archaeological site there, Moray, situated at 3,500m. There is something very beautiful about Moray and its symmetry when viewed from above. The temperature difference between top and bottom terraces is said to be as much as 15 degrees. This fact, combined with the site orientation with respect to wind and sun, has lead some to speculate on the use of the terraces. It is possible they may have been used as a farming experiment, to see which crops favoured certain conditions. Whatever the true purpose of the terraces Moray is certainly a pleasant spot on a sunny day. After exploring the ruins our relaxed schedule meant we could sit down for a while, in a quiet corner, and enjoy the location before visiting our final site of the day.
Chinchero is believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow, but despite it raining when we arrived and then clearing to sunshine, we weren’t lucky enough to see one being born! The central square boasts a colonial adobe (mud-brick) church, which has been built on the foundations of an Inca temple or palace. Nearby ruins and terraces line the hillside with beautiful mountain views.
As we walked back down the hill to the car park we were encouraged into a local workshop where women were weaving. As with all the markets around Cusco the colours of the fabrics were stunning and these ladies were also involved in breeding the local delicacy, guinea pig!
The following day we went to the local bus station to take a collectivo (small bus) to Pisac. Once there were enough passengers (and we had established the drunk man on board wasn’t the driver) we were all set for the one hour drive along the sacred valley. Pisacs narrow streets were filled with market stalls, packed with colour and energy in abundance.
After a look around and some lunch we got a car to drive us high up the mountainside to spend some time enjoying the ruins perched there. Once again I was blown away by the scale of the ruins and what little time you must spend here on the usual day trip from Cusco. This extensive hilly site contains several sets of buildings which probably had religious, military and agricultural uses. Set in the mountainside a large number of grave sites can be seen. They appear as small holes due to the fact they were later raided by the Spanish. This was thanks to a habit the Incas had of burying the dead with valuable objects, to take with them to the next life.
From Pisca we traveled the final leg of the sacred valley back to Cusco. Here we enjoyed a walk drown through the ruins nearest to the city. Starting at the top of the hill Tambomachy has lots of running water, it is believed it may have been used as a sort of Inca spa. Close by is the castle-like site of Pukapukara, a military ruin. The largest and closest to Cusco, Saqsayhuaman, tends to induce a certain level of juvenile giggling, as when pronounced by the locals its sounds an awful lot like sexy woman! Hilarity over the name aside this site, sitting 300m above Cusco, is large and impressive with excellent views down on the city. It is said that the large circular stone structure here was some sort of solar calendar and the sets of large terraced walls represent the teeth of the Jaguar.
So, did we do the right things spending more time in the Sacred Valley, absolutely without a doubt!