Today, the Sacred Valley provides a beautiful setting to visit the towns and archaeological sites that run along its length. The most popular sites are the citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, but there are numerous smaller sites that are also fascinating to explore. The backdrop of snow-capped mountains alongside the flowering meadows, azul lakes and unique flora and fauna, is simply beautiful, and provides a great base for adventure tourism. The valley is also still an important agricultural site for the local communities, and you will see a variety of crops growing, as well as the day to day life of the local people.
From hiking through the numerous, winding trails and exploring the ruins, to whitewater rafting, mountain biking and paragliding, the Sacred Valley has something for everyone!
Pisac Market and Inca Citadel
The town of Pisac is just a half hour drive from Cusco, and is home to the best market in the area, if you visit on a Sunday. The market has some of the best produce from the Sacred Valley, as well as a huge range of hand-made artisan products – perfect for your souvenir shopping!
Up on the mountain, overlooking the town, is the citadel of Pisac. A challenging hike, or relaxing taxi ride, up the mountain will take you to the ruins. Pisac is thought to have had a defensive purpose, due to its elevation and strategic point along the valley, on the way to the jungle. It was also an important agricultural sector and the terraces constructed on the steep hillside are still used today. You will see military, agricultural and religious buildings, as well as the ‘Royal Sector’, and also be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Ollantaytambo Town and Citadel
Ollantaytambo is one of the gems of the Sacred Valley, with its quaint cobbled streets, mild climate and variety of delicious cafes and restaurants. This town is the last stop before the train to Macchu Picchu, and is also the oldest inhabited Inca town in Peru, because people have been living there continuously for over 700 years.
Like Pisac, Ollantaytambo also has a citadel up on the mountain. Visitors need to climb more than 200 steps to reach it, but will be rewarded with the best preserved Inca citadel, and some of the finest stonework you will see in Peru. The reason for the high quality is that the citadel of Ollantaytambo was used as a royal residence, however it was never completely finished.
The Romeo & Juliet of the Inca Civilization: There is also a love story in the Ollantaytambo citadel’s history. According to legend, Ollanta was a warrior, and Inca Pachacutec’s most trusted general. Ollanta fell in love with Pachacutec’s daughter, Kusi Quyllur, however because he was not of royal blood, their love was forbidden. When Ollanta asked to marry the princess, Pachacutec was angered and dismissed Ollanta. Ollanta plotted his revenge and went to war with the emperor that lasted for 10 years. When Pachacutec passed away, he was proceeded by his son, said to be more forgiving than his father, and eventually Ollanta and Kusi Quyllur were reunited, along with their 10 year old daughter. Ollantaytambo is therefore named after the great Ollanta.
Chinchero is a small town on the plains above the Sacred Valley and sits at an elevation higher than Cusco. From the town, there are beautiful views overlooking the valley, the Vilcabamba mountain range, and the snow-capped peak of Salkantay. Chinchero is home to an indigenous Quechua community that use ancient weaving methods to create beautiful textiles, which can be bought at the town’s Sunday market. There is also a colonial church that was built upon the foundations of an Inca temple or palace, and provides an interesting display of the two civilisations.
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