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24 August 2013 / leggypeggy

A corny start to Peru’s Sacred Valley

Pisac terraces

The terraces at Pisac, with the Sacred Valley beyond

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.

corn kernels

Herbert points out some of the different corn kernel sizes from Peru

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.

I’ve already blogged about the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary and the sensational bakery at Pisac, and now it’s time to start on the actual valley and its ruins.

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.

Pisac terraces

Repair work on the terraces stops on a Sunday


Party-goers 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).


Leave a Comment
  1. Joanne T Ferguson (@mickeydownunder) / Aug 24 2013 8:54 pm

    G’day and OUCH re the price and too bad more people did not take advantage of exploring like you and Poor John did, true!
    Really enjoy your travels through your unique view too!
    Cheers! Joanne


    • leggypeggy / Aug 24 2013 8:56 pm

      Actually we thought the price was great value—a van, driver and guide for a whole day, plus visits to five sites. It would have been wonderful to split the cost between six instead of three, but I have no regrets and really feel I got my money’s worth.


  2. Lesley Snow / Aug 25 2013 11:12 am

    A great read. Really the next best thing to being there.


    • leggypeggy / Aug 25 2013 12:56 pm

      Thanks Lesley. So glad you enjoyed ‘going’ with us. 🙂


  3. Brian Lageose / Aug 17 2016 2:04 pm

    This concept of growing corn on terraces fascinates me. I guess I’ve never seen such before. If there’s a will there’s a way…

    Liked by 1 person


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