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Exploring the Sacred Valley

After getting to know the rich history of Cusco, my journey through the Sacred Valley began, exploring the ancient ruins of the Inca civilization. Nestled in the Andes Mountains, this beautiful region stretches from Pisac to Ollantaytambo, covering roughly 60 kilometers. Connected by the Urubamba River, the Sacred Valley was once the heartland of the Incas, providing a spiritual hub, food, and housing to one of history’s most remarkable civilizations. The Sacred Valley is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, which includes the historic city of Cusco and its surrounding areas.


Each ruin within the Sacred Valley, now archaeological sites, holds its own unique story, offering a glimpse from the past where the Incas demonstrated great engineering skills and strength. From the terraced hillsides of Pisac to the fortress of Ollantaytambo, the valley is a living museum of Inca achievements. Each location of these sites was spiritually selected, often following a sign, and chosen for the area's natural elements. As I travelled through this enchanting landscape, I felt as if I were stepping back in time, discovering the remains of a culture that continues to awe and inspire with its legacy.



My first stop was Tambomachay, also known as El Baño del Inca or the Bath of the Inca, located at approximately 3,765 meters. This serene archaeological site showcases distinctive Incan architecture, featuring finely carved walls, water channels and waterfalls that demonstrate the Incas' advanced skills in building. The water channels and waterfalls are still operational today, proving the sophisticated Incan hydraulic engineering skills. Additionally, to these water features, Tambomachay boasts impressive bath complex likely used for purification rituals. Surrounded by mountains, the site offers breathtaking panoramic views of its surroundings.


Next, a short drive took me to Sacsayhuamán, a massive Inca fortress constructed from enormous stone blocks. The precision with which these stones were cut and fitted together remains a marvel of ancient engineering, with each stone fitting perfectly, and the tallest reaching almost 9 meters high. This fortress is an outstanding example of the unique Inca architecture. The name Sacsayhuamán in Quechua has several meanings, including “satisfied eagle,” “spotted eagle,” “spotted head,” and “place where the hawk is satiated”, probably be the Andean condors which used to be in the area. The site offers panoramic views of Cusco and the surrounding valley, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in Inca history and architecture.


In 1438, facing a relatively calm situation, Pachacutec confronted a battle against northern people who had closed Cusco and achieved a great victory, clearing the way for the expansion of the Inca empire to the north. Years later, the victorious Inca Pachacutec, appointed as the Inca ruler by his father, decided to reshape the city in the form of a Puma, a symbol of power in Andean culture. This is why Sacsayhuamán was built as the head of the Puma, a sacred animal in Inca spirituality.


Here are a few historical insights: The fortress was built during Pachacutec’s reign between 1438 and 1471 AD, with subsequent Inca rulers constructing its massive walls. In 1533, the Spanish entered Cusco’s surroundings. It is believed that the fortress was used as a military base by Inca Manco Capac during the fight with the Spanish conquerors. Francisco Pizarro sent his brother, Juan, to recover this fortress in a final battle in 1536. The Spanish used cavalry and ladders to climb the gigantic walls and towers of the fortress, breaking the defences of the Incan, against all odds. Eventually, the Spanish abandoned the site, covering it with dust and hiding it until its rediscovery by Peruvian archaeologists in 1934.


Not far from Sacsayhuamán is Qenko, known for its zig-zag tunnels and ceremonial altars carved into natural rock formations. Qenko is the Quechua name for the site, meaning labyrinth, twisted, or zig-zag, and it has been in use since the 1800s. It is estimated that this site was used for religious rituals and astronomical observations, making it an important Inca religious site. The giant rock features artistic sculptures, including steps, seats, geometric reliefs, and even a puma design. Exploring the complex pathways felt like stepping back in time, and viewing some of the best examples of Inca carving found around Cusco was an amazing experience.

The Forest of Qenko

Next to the archaeological site of Qenko is the Forest of Qenko, a neighbouring eucalyptus tree forest. Eucalyptus trees are not native to Peru, they originally came from Australia and were planted to be used for firewood. This enchanting forest, offers a unique and incredible setting, making it a must-see for photography enthusiasts.

Manos de la Comunidad

At Manos de la Comunidad, I discovered the magic of Alpaca textiles. This handicraft center showcases the different varieties of llama and alpaca, and visitors can learn about wool production, the raw materials used for dyes, and watch villagers at their looms create stunning textiles. This visit provides fascinating insights into the culture and heritage of the region, the structure of society, and the ecosystem that shaped and sustained the Incan Empire. It was a great educational experience, offering valuable lessons on how natural materials shaped the culture and supported ancient civilizations.

Manos de la Comunidad is not only a repository of culture and history but also a sanctuary that rescues and provides shelter to wild animal species. While the ultimate aim is to return the animals to the wild, many species, including Andean condors, are currently sheltered here.

Pisac Archaeological Site

Another highlight was visiting the ruins of Pisac. The terraced hillsides offer a glimpse into the advanced agricultural techniques of the Incas, and the views of the valley below are stunning. The name Pisac comes from the Quechua word "Pisaca," meaning partridge, which reflects the Inca practice of designing cities in the shape of animals. This famous archaeological site resembles the Puna Partridge, a characteristic bird of the Andean highlands. Pisac's archaeological site is considered one of the finest in Peru, known not as a ceremonial fortress but as a 'royal hacienda' owned by Pachacutec. It features platforms, domestic and ceremonial structures, and water channels that provided for agricultural purposes.

Town of Pisac

Pisac, situated at an altitude of 3350 meters, is known for its strategic location and how well its buildings blend with the stunning natural surroundings. The town combines ancient marvels with the lively atmosphere of daily Andean life. Pisac welcomes visitors to a world where history and modern life blend harmoniously. The town's bustling market is a vibrant center with stalls offering weavings, jewellery, ponchos, hats, Andean instruments, ceramics, alpaca products, and many other souvenirs to take home. Exploring Pisac is an enriching experience that offers a glimpse into both its historical significance and vibrant cultural heritage.


The word Ollantaytambo derives from the Quechua word ‘Ulla-nta-wi,’ meaning "place to see down." It also references 'Ollanta,' the protagonist of the Quechua drama ‘Ollantay,’ an Inca captain. For me, this was one of the most beautiful Inca structures I’ve visited. The terraces leading up to the temples likely served both agricultural and stabilization purposes, despite lacking the fertile topsoil typical of agricultural terraces in the Sacred Valley. Modern archaeologists believe they were designed to prevent earthquakes from compromising access to the temples. One of the Sun Temple's most intriguing features is the narrow stones set between larger ones, intended to act as shock absorbers; during major earthquakes, these thinner stones would break, protecting the larger ones.

Here are a few historical insights: During the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, Ollantaytambo served as a fortress for Manco Inca's army, confronting Hernando Pizarro's forces. The battle in January 1537 at Ollantaytambo marked one of the few significant defeats suffered by the Spanish. Manco Inca exploited the Sacred Valley’s topography, captured Spanish horses, launched a surprise dawn attack, and utilized his own tactical brilliance to decisively defeat the Spanish forces. At the time of the Spanish arrival, Ollantaytambo was a construction site, with the Sun Temple partly finished atop the site and construction of the Moon Temple just beginning before the invasion halted progress. Manco Inca’s victory at Ollantaytambo may have contributed to the Spanish overlooking Machu Picchu.

Exploring the Sacred Valley and its surroundings was a deeply enriching experience. Each site offered a unique perspective on the ingenuity, spirituality, and culture of the Inca civilization. From the serene waters of Tambomachay to the bustling market of Pisac, every moment was a step back in time, revealing the beauty and spiritual significance of each location.


Leaving behind this enchanting region, I carried with me a profound admiration for the rich history and spirit of the Inca people, anticipating the start of my hike to Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is not just a collection of ruins; it is a living, breathing testament to a civilization that continues to inspire and awe.


Sacred Valley

Next stop: The Inca Trail begins! Stay tuned for the trail of a lifetime!

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