The Sacred Valley cuts through the Andean mountains and is part of the ancient Incan Empire. It was formed by the Urubamba River and contains large areas of very fertile land.
We had a private one day tour which we organised with Papi’s Treks. We were collected from our Cusco hotel where we met by our guide, Mr Martine and our driver for the day.
We drove out of Cusco and after about 20 minutes stopped at an animal rescue sanctuary. Like the Asis Rescue centre we visited in Costa Rica which looked after abandoned and rescued Costa Rican wildlife, this sanctuary had a range of rescued Andean animals and birds.
We saw a cute little spectacle bear which was rescued at 2 months old. Spectacle bears live in the cloud forests of the Andes but unfortunately this one will have to stay in the sanctuary as he would be unable to look after himself in the wild.
We also saw a number of wild cats including pumas which had been rescued.
We had an interesting and informative tour through the rescue centre where our sanctuary guide explained some of the species and habitats of the Andean animals. Above is ‘Bob Marley’ one of two varieties of the alpacas currently in the centre. The other is smaller, has shorter wool and looks a little more like a sheep.
We were allowed into the condor enclosure and watched as one flew towards us… they are huge birds with a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in). Condor’s are a type of vulture and are primarily scavengers. When resting they somewhat resemble enormous turkeys!
The animal sanctuary has a great shop selling high quality woollen garments and gifts. There is also a demonstration area which shows how llama and alpaca wool is dyed using natural ingredients.
Fabrics are created by hand using traditional methods. We watched as this amazing lady weaved intricate patterns into the fabric using just her imagination and with no guides or instructions.
From the rescue centre we drove high above the valley where we took in the fabulous views of the Andes. The picture above was taken when the driver stopped the car at a viewing place!
Our next stop was at the Pisaq archeological site of Inca ruins. Mr Martine led us to the site where we had to climb past the Inca terraces and up to the ruins. He explained how the terraces were used to grow a huge range of crops including around 1000 varieties of potato. The different heights of these terraces allowed other crops such as Maize, quinoa, coca, beans, avocado etc to be grown within the varied micro climates.
The top of the site had an elevation of 3514 meters which gave us amazing views of the ruins and terraces. Mr Martine showed us ‘holes’ in the side of the mountain which were Inca graves. We also walked past some Inca houses, the roofs of which had been reconstructed to show what the original thatched roofs would have looked like.
Pisaq is well known for its silver and has a number of silver shops. The silver produced in the workshop we visited contains 950% of silver. This is mixed with copper to strengthen it. We saw a wonderful array of carefully crafted silver jewellery some of which contained delicately cut shell and stone pieces.
After a fantastic buffet lunch in a Peruvian restaurant (where we had traditional dishes including tiny purple locally grown potatoes) we continued our drive through the Sacred Valley until we arrived at Ollantaytambo. All of the buildings in Ollantaytambo were built on original Inca foundations.
The above photo shows a neatly cultivated crop of potatoes and helps give an insight into how vibrant and colourful these terraces must have looked . As mentioned a wide range of crops grow well in the fertile Sacred Valley. Recent examinations of Inca skeletons suggest the Inca people had a well balanced diet of potatoes, grains, vegetables and llama meat.
Mr Martine gave us a guided tour of the ruins of Ollantaytambo. As we climbed the steep steps he took us to the ‘Temple of the Sun’ where he explained how the Inca’s used the shadows of the sun as their farming calendar. This is particularly significant on 21st June, the winter solstice and shortest day of the year for the southern hemisphere.
He also explained how the Inca’s built their walls and structures using interlocking stones and without using any cement or mortar. This was fascinating as they have remained intact throughout the centuries and have withstood earthquakes without crumbling.
At the end of the tour Mr Martine and our driver dropped us off at our Ollantaytambo hotel which we had previously requested, rather than going back to Cusco. We were beginning our Machu Picchu journey by train from Ollantaytambo early the following morning.
During the late afternoon we had a walk around the town and, still feeling rather full from the delicious lunch, we had a chocolatey snack in Ollantaytambo’s Choco Museum!
We had an amazing tour of the Sacred Valley. It was great to begin with a visit to the rescue centre where we gained an understanding of local wildlife. The following visits to Pisaq and Ollanaytambo gave us a good introduction to the Inca civilisation.
Mr Martine was an excellent guide who had extensive knowledge of the Sacred Valley and the Incas. We felt well prepared and informed in advance of our trek to Machu Picchu!