Sacred Valley of the Incas - 6 Must see Sites.
More than Machu Picchu the Sacred Valley of the Inca captivates lovers of nature and appreciators of historical wonder. Read on to appreciate what the sacred Valley has to offer you.
If you are here in Cusco on your last day and have not visited this incredible site then we urge you to visit. From the main plaza of Cusco a taxi can get you there in under ten minutes and it is truly spectacular.
The fortress site was designed to perform both ceremonial and defensive functions and has the largest individual hand carved stones within the Incan empire. The sheer size of the base stones leaves everybody who sees them in awe. The site reached its maximum prominence under the inspirational Inca leader Pachacutec who oversaw the sites main construction phase. The largest stones at the site are estimated to be over 120 tons - the weight of 17 large African elephants.
As you walk around the main plaza of Saqsayhuaman you can see many of these gigantic stones as they form the base level of the main complex of the site.The complex even managed to cause wonder with the conquistadors, with Pedro Cortes commentating.
“And in the lower part of this wall there were stones so large and thick that it seemed impossible that human hands could have set them in place...they were so close together, and so well fitted, that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints.”
Regretfully despite this high praise from the conquistadors it did not prevent their decision to dismantle the upper levels of the walls and use the stones to construct Cusco’s cathedral. Fortunately for us the main lower levels survived intact and can still be appreciated today. Thankfully the stones that the Incas themselves managed to quarry transport and carve proved too large for the invaders to move.
The site becomes the focal point of huge festivals and celebrations on the Incan winter solstice celebrations in June (June is the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere). The Inti Raymi celebration remains the largest festival celebrated to this day in Cusco.
We fully believe no visit to Peru is complete without visiting what was in our opinion the most impressive site in the entire of the Southern Hemisphere. The entrance fee is under 25 dollars or is included in the tourism ticket that can be purchased for under 50 dollars.
Like so many sites within the Inca empire Pisac served a a variety of functions. It’s location high above the valley made it an ideal look out point and strategic stronghold for the Incas. It also leant itself to functions of a ceremonial nature .
Pisac is one of the finest examples of well preserved Incan architecture in the sacred valley. A superb stop off on any sacred valley tour. Pisac functioned as a lookout point and strategic stronghold for the Incas. For modern day visitors more concerned with appreciating the views this means it is an incredible lookout point to admire the town below hugging the shore of the gushing Urubamaba river as it flows towards the Amazon jungle.
Located just an hours drive from Cusco the site is ideal for admiring the imperial style of building construction with its rectangular stones. Unlike european or Egyptian construction techniques the rocks were not made to a standard length. Instead the individual stones were put in place in a technique designed to withstand the effects of earthquakes common within the region. By using the irregular lengths and a gradual inward slope, shock waves sent out by earthquakes have failed to topple the buildings over the centuries.
One function that Pisac has maintained is that of rest and relaxation. The sites idealic setting was appreciated by the Incan royalty as much as it is today by international tourists. The great crafts market and tourist friendly town center is well worth a visit.
Regardless of any other facts that can be stated about Ollantaytambo it is without doubt the favorite place to visit in the sacred valley according to our 3 main people here at king of maps.
Ollantaytambo’s amazing setting and magnificent ruins makes this far more than just a place to get on and off the train to Machu Picchu. We have lost count of the amount of people who have told us that they had a prearranged connection to and from Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo and wished they had stayed there. This ‘living Inca village’ still amazes us and is our favorite place to spend time outside of Cusco.
Even if you are on holiday and don’t care about history and just want to look at amazing settings then come here. The old town is a mystical walkway of stone paths and flowing water with Incan ruins on either side. The main historical site of Ollantaytambo is a beautiful testament to Incan construction techniques and provides a beautiful backdrop to snow capped mountains.
However my recommendation is to take in the view from the little known ‘granary’ on the opposite side. This is a steep 30 or so minute trek from the old town entrance and contains steep uneven path ( my 65 year old mum managed it but was glad of my help). From here you can see the main village and ruins on the opposite side. This side is far less crowded and a pm excellent way of seeing the entire of Ollantaytambo.
The main fortress of Ollantaytambo was also the site of one of the last stands of the Incas against the Spanish. In 1537 the recently appointed and much mistreated Incan ruler, Manco Inca Yupanqui had escaped Cusco and had amassed his troops in Ollantaytambo. In attempt to recapture Manco, Francisco Pizzaro sent his army to capture him. His brother Hernando Pizzaro lead the expedition that faced off against the Incan leader. After flooding the lower grounds in a surprise maneuver the Inca avoided capture and defeated the troops of Hernando Pizzaro, forcing them to flee back to Cusco.
Seen from the lower valley, the salt pans of Maras produce a spectacular view of interconnected salt pans hugging the mountainside. Up close the salt pans look like snow filled baths in the middle of the mountains. The site of maras produced salt for both local use and trade for centuries before the Incan empire was even conceived.
The salt is captured by channeling flows of salt water into artificially created salt pans is an ancient technique reminiscent of the way Andean terraces were used in food production. Around 5 centimeters of water is allowed to fill the salt pan and then over a three day process the water evaporates producing a thin layer of salt.
The salt pans were the source of great trade around the wider spread region and the salt is famous for its pink hue that gives it a unique aspect. Today the salt is often sold abroad at prices far above the price it can be bought here in Cusco. Pink salt makes a great and unusual gift for that culinary lover at home that you are struggling to get a gift for.
The concentric circle of terraces of Moray have been the source of much speculation and debate over the decades. From ancient agricultural experiments to sound amphitheater and even alien construction the sites purpose has attracted much speculation. What is for sure is that at some point Moray was used to produce local vegetables.
The largest of these sunken circles goes to 100 feet in depth (just over 30 meters). As each terrace goes lower the temperature drops with the lowest terrace being 5 degrees cooler than the upper circle. The exact use of this site is not known for certain. However it can be said with certainty that Moray could act as a experimental food production setting, whether or not it was used for this purpose is up for debate.
Regardless of function the visual effect of Moray is highly impressive to all visitors to the region. Moray is a beautiful site and this beauty is enhanced by the majestic surrounding countryside of the region. The plateau on which Moray was built affords Mountain View’s in every direction you look.
Last but certainly not least we present Machu Picchu. Probably the best preserved site in all of the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu managed to escape destruction at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors. The remote setting and relative seclusion of the site meant that although its gold was plundered no cohesive efforts to destroy the sites religious aspects was enacted.
What we have here is Peru’s contribution to the seven modern wonders of the world. Over 90% of international visitors to Peru find their way here to Machu Picchu for good reasons. With great railway links and trekking routes culminating at Machu Picchu it is far more accessible to modern day visitors than it was at the time of the Spanish invasion.
The site has the iconic backdrop of Huayna Picchu mountain (the mountain that most people mistakenly identify as Machu Picchu) - More about this in our worlds most mistaken mountain article. The valley below and mountain ranges in the distance make the setting almost as special as the historical site itself. The most photogenic setting in all of your travels is probably going to be that picture of you with Machu Picchu in the background.
Check out our Machu Picchu articles for more information on this wonder of the world.