We just returned from a week visiting Peru—the sacred valley of the Incas and the cities of Cusco and Lima. It had always been a dream of mine to see Machu Picchu, but for some reason I never thought I would be able to see it. I never “saw” myself there. We went, and it was a successful trip even though a farmers strike almost prevented us from getting back to Cusco.
The above and below snow covered mountain is called Veronica.
The sacred valley is about an hour and a half from the city of Cusco. We took a flight from Santiago to Lima and then bounced to Cusco the same day. It was tiring, but E. and I didn’t want to waste any time.
On the way we stopped at a local home selling a drink called “chicha morada,” a corn based drink mixed with strawberry pulp. The family was also selling types of dried corn which were amazingly good. The kernels were dried, soft, and savory. I wish I knew the different names. Some kernels were purple, and some kernels were richer than others.
We started off in Ollantaytambo where the Inca ruins are particularly impressive. There is an Inca fortress on the town’s main hill. The town also has a very tall mountain in which the natives believed lived a special god, Pinkyluna. He plays his flute during celebrations and holidays of the townspeople. The rocks of the fortress are so strong and well preserved. The Incas used gray and rose granite. The rose granite was used for special buildings such as temples.
Supposedly, the ruins are created in the image of a llama which the Incas believed were spiritual figures. From what people know of the Incans, the serpent, puma, and condor were the three most important animals in the Incas’ spiritual lives. The serpent represented the netherworld, the puma presented the world around us, and the condor represented the afterlife. The sun temple at this site was not finished because of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
Ollantaytambo was a beautiful town, but it was a little overrun by tourists. If you visit, be sure to eat at the Hearts Cafe at the main square. Not only do they serve tea, coffee, vegetarian options like veg sausages, and scones, but they also support the neighboring communities by providing nutritional support and medicine to malnourished villagers. The main foods of the community are rice and potatoes, so many children don’t eat a balanced diet or receive pure water.
On Sundays and Thursdays, the nearby town of Pisac hosts a vegetable, fruits, and crafts fair. It’s possible to take a cheap bus from Ollantaytambo or a private taxi. There were a variety of craft offerings at Pisac, most notably a wide range of alpaca sweaters and blankets. I’d suggest bartering for gifts and souveniers in Pisac because the stands at Cusco don’t offer the options you can find in this town. It was difficult to get used to bartering with the salespeople and taxi drivers, but it is expected. The price that people give for their services or handiwork might be double what is expected.
It was disappointing not to be able to purchase the vegetables from the townpeople. All of the offerings looked beautiful, and they sell a lot of cilantro and peppers, some of my favorites. It is too risky to eat the local produce since our stomachs aren’t used to the bacteria.
Pisac also contains ruins on the side of the mountains. The link to these ruins appears to be cut-in stairs or terraces in the land, almost as though the mountains were the staircases of the gods. There were many guesses as to the usefulness of these stairs. Some people said that they were used to plant different foods and flowers as offerings to the gods. We also heard that the different stairs might have been used to test crops in different climate environments. Fortresses still remain on the hills at Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Some are pre-Inca.
As a warning, the tickets to see the ruins are expensive for tourists and foreigners. There are different prices for tourists and Peruvians. Cheaper tickets cover four area ruins in the valley and must be used in two days. There is no getting around the steep price as a foreigner unless the traveler has a student ID card. If you are a student, definitely bring a student ID with you.
After Pisac, we spent another day in Ollantaytambo because we were taking Perurail to Aguas Calientes at night. Aguas Calientes is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. We visited more of the smaller fortresses on the town’s mountain. The ruins are the main tourist sights in this area, though there are horsebacking options.
It appears that a lot of visitors come to the sacred valley to glean some of the Inca spiritual energy. While I felt a connection to the Incas while visiting through the stones and fortress, I didn’t feel a strong spiritual pull from the area. I was drawn to the humility and gentle smiles of the townspeople. Apart from the towering mountains and well preserved ruins, the people are the most beautiful part of the sacred valley.