While returning back in a chauffeur driven car when the Peruvian sun was setting for another good night sleep, I kept on thinking with an exhausted body but an enlivened mind that why Sacred Valley was called so, what was so special about it that it is felt differently by different people? The sights, the sounds, the structures, the smell in the air – all that left such a new flavour all over my senses that I’ve never felt before while travelling anywhere in the world ever. I scour through the plethora of results the Google search returns but I still can’t find a word articulate enough to describe how the feeling is. So I opt for action verbs over adjectives – just be there, just immerse yourself in the wide open Valleys of the Sacred Valley and it will unwrap the feeling it had in store for you and only you. Along the voyage we discovered a few jewels of the Sacred Valley which adorned the Inca crown in all its glory.
Top tips upfront:
- You could certainly hike the entire Sacred Valley over a week or two, for those pressed with time, it can still be explored by a private taxi over two to four days. Avoid tourist buses or groups.
- Best to explore the eastern part of the Sacred Valley in one day, places such as Tipon, Pisac could be visited on a single day whereas the western part including Ollantaytambo, Moray, Maras, Urubamba can be viewed on the 2nd day, or you can split between 4 days if you plan to shop for local arts and crafts in the famous Pisac market.
- What to discover: Inca plantations, Valleys, mountain peaks, people, their way of living.
- Early bird catches the worm. Arrive early at the sites to enjoy the silence and a unique welcome stored for you.
We struck a deal with the cabbie who took us from the airport to the hotel in Cusco. That he will be our local guide and take us to places which we must visit. I arrived in Peru well versed in my Spanish so I had the perfect company to bounce off my linguistic prowess while we embarked on the discovery. We headed first to Tipon, supposedly the first stop to discover near Cusco while driving to the east. Tipon was supposedly an Inca park for the affluent and for their agricultural experiments. Masters of architecture of their time, they beautifully integrated their structural skills with what nature had provided to them. The water irrigation system found at Tipon is a testimony of the fact that even after more than 500 years since the Spanish conquest of Peru, the streams at Tipon continue to flow as the Incas wanted to keep irrigating the agricultural lands in lower lands. We were the first to have arrived at Tipon that day, as mentioned in the tips above, arrive early at the sites to be welcomed in a fresh note with not too many tourists around.
Next in our stop was the much coveted township of Ollantaytambo, land of the Inca King Pachacuti. This is the town from where you can get trains to Agua Calientes, the host city to Machu Picchu. The town is also a popular tourist destination and the base station for the nights four days trek called the “Inca Trail” which also starts from here. Not surprisingly there were more tourists than any other places, school children etc. There were steep stairways to explore the architecture and the landscape around, so make sure you have your hiking boots on. From Ollantaytambo we headed towards the beautiful town of Pisac. Gorgeous cascades of agricultural slopes and leftovers of townships high up near the clouds, just a perfect setting of a flamboyant fairy-tale of a civilisation which once lived there. The Pisac market nearby is a popular stopover for those willing to buy some Peruvian carpets or decoration items. From Pisac we went to make a brief stopover at the beautiful church along the route called the Route of the Andean Baroque. As if the pages of history book flipping through in front of eyes in flashes, you see how Christianity paved its way in following the Spanish conquest. Nowhere in the world would you see such interior of Christian architecture and storytelling as in this. Must visit destination and to spend some time inside pondering at the difference in decor to see how religion slowly mingles with indigenous culture and how both try to coexist until may be one really wipes out the other.
The final destination in our whirlwind itinerary was the market of Chinchero where you could visit the household premises of the artisans and buy their produce first hand. Among all the markets visited along the route of Sacred Valley, this one was special as you were made welcome into the homes of the people who were actually making the beautifully colourful products. All adorned in traditional Peruvian attires, they welcome you in their midst. Curious children with shy looks and womenfolk asking questions where we were coming from – it was a different chemistry unlike a typical market place where you go to bargain and buy stuff. They show you where they cook, where they live and you can get to see the tiny guinea pigs too which often feature in their dinner menu. We made some amazing purchases and kept the bargaining chapter rather short. These people are as simple as their landscape – pure and beautiful, you really would not want to ruin that beauty with your haggling skills over a sol or two.
Back in our living rooms in London, we contemplate at the Peruvian rug we bought or when we feel the warmth when we wear the soft jumper made of Alpaca wool that there is some sort of a human touch and human story in every thread. Something that lingers with us all the time and we feel connected to the people and to the land we just visited. That day we finally realised why it is called Sacred Valley, because this was something we wanted to preserve in our memory for always, the feeling was pure and natural. All at its best only in Peru.