Interesting Facts For your visit to the Sacred Valley in Cusco
As this is my third stay in Peru – in Cusco – I am sometimes tempted to think that I’ve seen and done it all. This is, of course, far from the truth. When my sister and brother-in-law decided to come visit me, I got the chance to explore several famous sites in the surroundings of Cusco with them for the first time, such as the day we spent in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, just outside of the beautiful city of Cusco. We took our time and lots of pictures, and got to explore Ollantaytambo, the Salinas, Moray, Chinchero and many miles of spectacular scenery in between.
One of our nicest days started in Cusco where we took a combi (a mini-van) from Puento Rosario, in Cusco. As it was a holiday, seats weren’t easy to find, but we were soon on our way out of the city toward the steep hillsides and incredible views of the Sacred Valley.
Once in Urubamba, we continued by (private) car: a nice and reasonably-priced taxi was negotiated by a Peruvian friend so we were in this comfortably situation with a private cap that we would use the rest of the day. As we made our way along the road to Ollantaytambo, our driver pointed out a mountain in the shape of a frog (we thought it looked like an octopus, but either way it was interesting), and answered our many questions regarding directions, weather and the traditions in Peru. He explained the story behind a particularly noticeable shrine: decades earlier there had been a string of particularly lethal accidents on that curve, and the local people believed that the earth was drawing the blood of the victims. They accordingly set up a special shrine to counterbalance the bad energy coming from the earth, and had subsequently seen a drop in the mortality rate. I couldn’t get a picture, but I’ll never forget the matter-of-fact manner in which our driver-friend explained the story.
We made it to the ancient fortress in Ollantaytambo in a drizzle of fog, had a small snack, decided where to meet our taxi, and then had to make the ever-confusing decision regarding which Tourist Ticket (or: Boleto Turistico, in Spanish) we should buy. We all decided to go for the 70 soles 2-day, Sacred Valley ticket which includes Ollantaytambo, Moray, Chinchero, and Pisac. As we began the climb up thru the ruins of the citadel of Ollantaytambo, the rain started and continued for half an hour – just enough to clear the site and leave us alone, but gently enough to not cause real discomfort. We continued exploring, found what we decided to call the “Back Door of Ollantaytambo,” a few solitary cows, and a lot of different kinds of stairs. As we wandered around the ruins we couldn’t help but feel that strength and grandeur of the structure and the people who had built and inhabited it.
I stayed to explore while my sister went with her husband to enjoy the quaint town where they decided to try “chicha morada” (a typical Peruvian non-alcoholic drink made out of purple mais) and – no surprise at all here – loved it. We met at the taxi and as we made our way to our next stop, the Salinas, we got to see the famous hotel pods on the side of the sheer cliff the rises next to the road to Ollantaytambo.
By the time we reached the Salinas, the sun had come out, giving the salt flats the tremendous shimmery effect that can only be experience in person. While exploring the paths that wind throughout the flats over the entire mountainside, we got to listen in to a tour guide explain how they controlled the water flow. Turns out that they use small rocks to block the channels of water, and in this way refill flats that have evaporated sufficiently, and block off full ones. The time we spent in the Salinas left us with the impression that this is a truly unique place with its own singular charm.
Next stop: Moray. As we stepped out of the taxi and walked toward the edge of the ridge, the warm sunny air was disturbed by an incredibly chilly wind. We donned our jackets, and took off along the path that led down into the circular terraces. At one point the path split and we took the road that led to a miniature version of the famous site behind us. As Americans, we are used to railing everywhere, signs that say “Do not touch,” and any number of other prohibitive measures – the openness of this site impressed us. As we wandered back toward the main attraction, we encountered more of the stairs built into the wall that we had first found in Ollantaytambo, some tiny sea shells, and then a sign that said “NO PASAR.” Now here I will confess that nothing as small as a wooden sign was going to stop me from climbing down those stairs one terrace at a time. I only had two more to go when the security guard at the top started yelling at me. Oh well – it was worth a try… As my sister and I climbed back thru each microclimate, we marveled at how quiet and still the place was, almost as if the energy of the plants that had once grown in each terrace was still emanating – overpowering decades of human presence.
By the time we got back to the car, it was late afternoon and we were ready to hurry to our last stop: Chinchero. Fortunately our wonderful driver-friend knew a shortcut. Though I’ve never been on a road quite like this one, we made it into the town in good time, and our first stop was a road-side stand where we bought “choclo con queso” (mais with a piece of white cheese), one for each of us and one for our patient, hungry driver.
The sun was starting to set as we climbed up into the ruins of Chinchero. Unlike the rambling fortress of Ollantaytambo and the organic circles of Moray, Chichero is severely symmetrical. The straight rock terraces build up from the valley floor, where children and llamas play, to the Catholic church built on top of the ruins, and there is ample space in between for families to picnic and friends to play football (that’s soccer for you American readers…). The last horizontal rays of the setting sun and the children playing in the ruins of an ancient civilization gave the whole place a sensation of ancient life.
When we finally got back to the car for last time, we were all tired and ready to get home. The day had been long and fulfilling, but it was time for dinner and some relaxation before bed. After all, we still had Pisac to visit the next day…!
Beth Penzur, Dicember 2015
Tours to the Sacred Valley with Dos manos Travel