It was valued by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities, and was one of the empire’s main points for the extraction of natural wealth.
Let’s learn more about some of the incredible towns, ruins and other exciting attractions that are nestled in this incredible Sacred Valley.
Sacsayhuman is one of the best known Inca ruins in the Cusco vicinity, on the fringe of the Sacred Valley. These ruins sit high atop a hill overlooking Cusco, and were once a fortress for the Incas. The name is actually derived from two Quechua words, and roughly translates as ‘Eat your fill, hawk’. It is thought that this is because these impressive birds were believed to be divine protectors of the Incas and their military.
This fortress was the largest structure completed by the Incas, covering an area of more than 30 square kilometres. Its walls are made up of huge rocks, many over 4 metres high, weighing over 100 tons and with more than a hundred angles to make sure they all fit perfectly together! The fortress is fascinating to explore and a testament to the Incan ingenuity.
The official entrance to the Sacred Valley, Pisac is a small village with some impressive ruins. In the time of the Incas, Pisac’s central location made it the place to come to barter for goods, and the lively market still thrives today. Make sure you stop in to check out the local handicrafts, and you may even want to pick up some souvenirs like textiles and ceramics.
What most people come for here is the ruins and they certainly don’t disappoint. Situated at the top of a hill, the ‘old town’ is made up of a cluster of archaeological sites with different purposes, from a fortress to protect the valley to terraces for growing crops, and from baths and altars to Intihuatana, a ritual stone associated with the astronomic clock.
Some of the ruins are yet to be excavated so there is much more to be learnt about this impressive site.
Perhaps the most iconic site in the Sacred Valley outside of Machu Picchu, the elliptical irrigation terraces of Moray were considered to be the agricultural experimental centre of the Incas. The different layers of the terraces created different micro-climates, which allowed them to trial how effectively different crops grew at the different levels. Testing of the soil has shown that they even brought in soil from other regions to test if this could improve their crops.
Maras is home to famous salt pools that pre-date Inca times. Originally built by the Chanapata culture, there are thousands of ponds which belong to the local families and have been passed down through the generations. It is thought that this area, despite its elevation of 3,000 metres, was once covered by the ocean, giving the spring water below a high salt concentration. When the pools were developed, a canal was created to feed this water into the ponds. Once full, it is left to dry in the arid climate until the water has evaporated completely. It is then that the family can begin the process of scraping the salt ready to use and sell. Rich in minerals, it is often recommended by experts as a healthy salt option.
Ollantaytambo is one of the best surviving examples of Inca city planning. Built between two mountains, it was a former administrative centre for the Incas.
The entrance to the town is made up of steep stone terraces, known as Temple Hill. It was the site of one major battle with the Spanish conquistadors, and one of the only successful ones at that. As you climb the steep stone staircases, you really get a sense of how impressive this fortress is. Arriving at the top, you can enter the unfinished Temple of the Sun, which serves a specific purpose for the Inca calendar. You’ll also be able to view Incamisana, an ancient water temple, the baths of the Ñustas (princesses) and the Cachiccata funerary towers.
The Peru Tourism website is a great resource for anyone considering a trip to this vibrant South American nation.