If you are heading to Cusco or Machu Picchu, be sure to carve out a day to head out to the Sacred Valley. It is the agricultural bread basket for Cusco and filled with Inca ruins. We took a day trip from Cusco and made three stops in the valley.
Chinchero , known locally as the birthplace of the rainbow, seemed like a good first stop. We checked out some ruins and a local farm where we learned about the local customs (a bit touristy, but it was quick). At the farm, the local women showed us how llama wool is made into yarn, how it is dyed using local plants as well as the beautiful textiles that these women make. Chinchero also has a gorgeous Spanish church that dates back hundreds of years. Roughly 75-80% of Peruvians practice the Catholic religion now, and it only took about a hundred years of torture, massacres and other persuasive techniques by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries to make everyone see “the light”.
Next stop was the town of Ollanaytambo . This is the gateway town for those taking the train to and from Machu Picchu, but it also has an impressive set of ruins. It is definitely worth a few hours to explore the town and ruins. Ollanaytambo has storage houses built by the Incas for the produce from the Sacred Valley strategically located where the temperatures are lower. The Incas also built an irrigation system that is still used today by the town of Ollanaytambo and folks that live in the town do not pay for water to the local government thanks to the Incas’ amazing engineering. Manco Inca, the emperor that fought the Spanish conquistadors in the 1530’s ,also stayed here for a period of time after fleeing Cusco when the Incas lost hold of Cusco to the Spanish.
Pisac was our final stop. It is another small market town with some ruins. The views from above were quite dramatic. The ruins include the largest known Inca cemetery, a residential settlement and ceremonial baths. The ruins are surrounded by agricultural terraces which were actually used by the local farmers until about the 1980’s. Most of the porters working on the Inca Trail also live in a small village near Pisac.