As wonderful as our few days in Lima were, we were so excited to continue our trip to the Sacred Valley! Nestled in the Andean highlands in between the city of Cusco, and the infamous Machu Picchu is a region of farmlands and ancient Incan villages. After flying to Cusco from Lima, we drove to the village of Urubamba where we were staying for two nights before making our way to Machu Picchu.
We had an afternoon of activities scheduled upon arriving in Urubamba although unfortunately, our flight was delayed due to storms so by the time we arrived, we had missed our tours. After a quick buffet lunch at one of the only places still open in the village, Jody and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our hotel, trying to get acclimated with the altitude difference. We had heard that the best ways to get used to the altitude were to take it easy on your first day and drink coca tea, which we did!
After some drama of whether our tour of the valley would occur due to driver protests, we thankfully heard the wonderful news that our tour was on! We had a full -day scheduled– Ollantaytambo Tour, Pisac Ruins and the Pisac Market. We were thrilled to spend the day exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Our wonderful tour guide suggested that we visit the Ollantaytambo ruins first, as it tends to get crowded as the day continues on. I honestly didn’t know what this tour was about, and probably should have looked it up prior to leaving. When we arrived, you might be able to imagine my surprise when I saw this was built out of the side of a mountain and I was wearing ankle boots! Our tour guide had a good laugh when he noticed my choice of shoes for the day.
The Incans built this fortress, but never finished it due to the Spanish invasion. Nonetheless, it was still spectacular to see all of the work and precision that went into this structure. Even more amazing was the fact that they figured out a way to transport giant blocks of stone from the quarry on the other side of the mountain across the valley.
After the most delicious lunch, I think I’ve ever had, we continued our way across the valley to the village of Pisac. A few windy roads later, and we were halfway up the mountain, which also included the entrance to the Pisac Ruins. Similar to Ollantaytambo, this hillside village was built by the ancient Incans, just on a much larger scale. We continued to be amazed at their grasp on the technology of the time and their environment. The Incans utilized Terrence farming, which they used to grow a variety of crops based on the climate that it required to grow properly. I am so amazed that they knew that, especially without all of the modern technology.
While exploring the ruins, our tour guide pointed out a trail that led to the peak of the mountain. We were already so close to it, we couldn’t find a reason for us not to continue upwards. After only a few breaks to catch our breath (the altitude makes it so much harder to hike), we made it to the top of the mountain and the view left us actually breathless. We were 11,528 feet up in the sky and no matter which direction we were looking in, the Andes surrounded us on all sides. We looked up and saw the peaks of mountains; we looked down and saw a valley of green. It was truly one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.
Once our time ended at the Pisac Ruins, we made our way down into the village of Pisac to head to the Pisac Market. I had been looking forward to this stop on the trip for quite some time to spend a little time shopping for Peruvian souvenirs. The Pisac Market is one of the most famous in the region and is known as one of the markets where you can get the best deals on authentic souvenirs. If you are traveling to Pisac while in Peru, I would definitely suggest waiting to shop until to get to this market!
Upon arriving, we visited a clothing and jewelry store, where we received a brief lesson on learning the difference between authentic and fake jewelry and alpaca products. While I wouldn’t say that we are now experts, we did check the prices in that store to compare to some of the booth sellers. If the product you are looking to buy is truly 100% alpaca, it should be very soft and not very cheap.
We spent the rest of our time at the market, wandering from booth to booth, picking up souvenirs whenever we saw something that caught our attention. We found scarves, a jersey for Jody’s brother, magnets, gloves and our prized llama blanket that perfectly matches our living room decor. I also touched just about everything in eyesight, though I’m not sure how the shop owners felt about that!!
Later that night, we headed back to our hotel, where we relaxed with (multiple) cups of coca tea and dinner (ceviche again). Aside from the mountains, I think the thing I miss most about the Sacred Valley is the coca tea!
Something that we weren’t prepared for was the cold. Luckily, during the day, the sun warmed us up (after all, we were 10,000 feet closer to it than at home!), but once the sun set, the temperature dropped. It averaged around 30 degrees at night while we were there, and even the hotels didn’t have heat. We layered long sleeve shirts, sweaters, scarves, and our light jackets and tried to hunt out a seat next to the fireplace in the lobby. Of course, no matter where we went, we always did have a hot cup of tea in our hands!
We had an early wake-up call to leave for the train station to take us to Machu Picchu, so the remainder of the night was spent packing our bags and debriefing the past two days. We couldn’t believe how much fun we had in the valley, and were surprised by the amount that saw and did in those two short days. We could hardly sleep due to the anticipation of going to Machu Picchu the next day!