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Exploring the Sacred Valley, Heart of the Inca Empire
Located between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley follows the course of the Urubamba river and its surrounded by towering hills. Back in the day, the Incas chose to settle in the area because of the mild climate and the rich agricultural potential of its lands. All through the valley, there are numerous villages and archeological sites to explore. The Sacred Valley is an ideal destination for those traveling to Peru and who wish to explore the Inca culture beyond Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Here are some of the highlights of the area.
The perfect place to begin exploring the valley, Pisac is a charming small colonial town with plenty to offer. There’s an impressive complex of Incan ruins at the top of one of the hills, guarding the entrance to the valley. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays there’s a colorful local market which draws many visitors from nearby Cuzco. More recently, Pisac’s charms are attracting a wave of expat settlers, who are bringing some international flavor and giving the place an even more interesting mix.
Besides being one of the most popular starting points for the Inca Trail, Ollantaytambo also has its own set of impressive Inca ruins. During the times of the Spanish conquest, the Incas fought and won some of their final battles in this area. The complex of ruins at Ollantaytambo is one of the biggest sites in the valley and it had different areas and purposes: a fortress, a ceremonial center, agricultural terraces, storehouses and the quarries.
The archeological site of Moray has a very distinct appearance. It is made by several enormous circular terraces; it looks like a sort of amphitheater. The purpose of this particular construction is not entirely clear; but the most widely accepted theory argues that the terraces were used by the Incas as an agricultural laboratory. Because of their depth and how they are built, there’s a difference of a few degrees in temperature from the top terrace to the lower ones. Apparently, the Incas used these to determine the optimal growing conditions for different crops.
The nearby salt mines of Maras are a rare sight in the valley, with their peculiar patchwork-like appearance. There are thousands of salt ponds than have been used since pre-Inca times to extract salt from the area. To this day, they are still owned and operated by local families. Visitors can get a close look into their work while trekking around the ponds.
The Incas used to call Chinchero the birthplace of the rainbow. Situated at almost 3800 meters above sea level, this pretty little village has some impressive views of the valley. It’s historic center has a very colonial feel, with a church built upon Inca structures. A market is held here three times a week and although it’s smaller than the one in Pisac; it is well worth a visit with its many colors and flavors.
As you can see, there’s much more to the Sacred Valley than Machu Picchu. If you have an interest for the Inca culture, it’s well worth spending a couple of days exploring these sites to gain a deeper understanding of their existence.
Have you visited any of these Inca sites? How was your experience? What are your thoughts about the Inca culture? We’d love to know!
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