A corny start to Peru’s Sacred Valley
Last year in Cusco, we spent most of our days hiking the Lares Trek, on our way to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
This year we decided to take the train to Machu Picchu instead, so we would have time to explore some of the other important ruins in the area.
Poor John, who’s especially good at figuring out the best sights to see, said Sacred Valley was the top pick. Local tour organiser, Pachamama, came up with a one-off, day-long option that would get us to some ruins, as well as a few other interesting stops.
Carved out by the Urubamba River, the Sacred Valley lies in the heartland of what was the Inca Empire. The valley runs for about 60 kilometres—from Pisac to Ollantaytambo.
The Incans thought the valley had special geographical and climatic qualities, which meant it became one of the empire’s most important areas for maize/corn production.
When we arrived at the Pisac ruins, Herbert, our Peruvian guide for the day, explained that the Incans really did understand their valley—world’s largest corn kernels are grown on the terraces at Pisac.
According to Herbert (guides have to do official study to become qualified), the local seed has been planted in other parts of Peru and the world, but it never grows as large as it does near Pisac.
While many of the ancient terraces are still being cultivated, we saw others that were getting some much needed repair work. But Herbert showed us that the old irrigation channels are still in good working order.
It’s a different story with the cemetery that overlooks the terraces. It’s a rocky hillside pocked with empty holes—where the bodies and possessions of common folks once lay. As is often the case with ancient cemeteries, looters stripped the graves bare hundreds of years ago.
Luckily, we encountered some living local colour in Pisac. A local woman bustled by with a bundle on her back, then the souvenir sellers urged us to buy a chess set. Their chess pieces aren’t simple black and white. They have the Incas versus the Spaniards, with the Europeans on horseback and the Incans on llamas.
As we drove on to our next stop at Ollantaytambo, we saw a group of party-goers heading to a Sunday village festival. If hand signals are anything to go by, I’m sure they invited us to join them.
P.S. The day-long tour cost US$260 (plus the admission tickets) and could have included up to six people for the same price, but only one other person joined us. It really was a great day and I hope others will consider it in future. (Oh, and you can click on any photo to see a larger version).