Making a Day Count in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

If you are in Peru, the likelihood that you are going to Machu Picchu is pretty much guaranteed. It is truly is a Wonder of the World. But depending on how you are getting there, you may or may not be spending much time in the Sacred Valley.

You can hike the Inca Trail, a bucket list trip for many, or you can take the train, then the bus, to the site. If you are hiking all the way there, you will spend some good time in the Sacred Valley. If you aren’t in the position to hike, whether it’s time or physical ability, you will pass through the Sacred Valley on the train.

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View from Ollantayambo.
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Spiritual/religious center in Ollantayambo.

In the high season, there is a bi-modal service that takes you by bus to Ollantayambo, the second most famous Incan city, and then on the train to Agua Calientes, the town that really only exists to accommodate tourists going to Machu Picchu. This is what we are doing on a sunny day. We take the early bus so we can spend the day in the Sacred Valley before sleeping in Agua Calientes that night. If you have more time, you can stay in the Sacred Valley for a few days, but if you want to get the most out of the Valley in one day, you have plenty of options.

Passing through the Valley, you know why it is Sacred. The mountains tower, condors fly above them, and the sky is crystal-clear on this day. We get off the bus at Ollantayambo and drop off our bags at the Peru Rail station, which is an invaluable convenience of taking their train. It is not cheap to take Peru Rail, but the level of service and convenience is unbeatable in a place with inadequate infrastructure.

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We find the site by asking around and quickly realize we are going to spend a decent amount of time climbing its steps and wandering the enclaves where the Incan people lived. We pass on a guide because we know we’ll want to get one in Machu Picchu and funds are limited, but if you aren’t worried about money the people here will tell you a lot more about the ancient city than you could find out on your own.

Climbing high above the town, the view is beautiful up here. We particularly like the spiritual center, the Templo del Agua with an advanced irrigation system, and the healthy cows grazing nearby providing an agricultural context to the way the people in the ancient city lived. Though we don’t have a guide, a laborer on break tells us in Spanish details about the spiritual, astronomical, and religious centers. He wants for nothing except sharing the greatness of the ancient culture that was cultivated in his homeland, but we tip him anyways. The kindness of the Peruvian people is truly heart-warming.

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Enclave in Ollantayambo.

We lose ourselves in the site, and skip taking a cab to Moray, a beautiful agricultural site of the Incas, and the salt mines nearby. We don’t regret it, but if you have the funds definitely go check out these sites and others. We would have had enough time in our day in the Sacred Valley.

Instead we drink coffee, eat some delicious Sopa Criolla, which is a beef noodle soup with ground meat, angel hair noodles, and a poached egg. Savory, spicy, and extremely delicious, the Asian influence in Peru is present in this dish, and I relish the old and new colliding. I will think about the soup off and on throughout the rest of our time in Peru.

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Before lounging about waiting for our train, we explore the wears of shop-owners, which sell many handmade items. A bohemian family from Spain shows us their crafts and holistic creams and oils for your skin. They are very kind, and their products are truly well-made.

Getting on the panoramic train, we have a pisco sour on the beautiful ride up to Machu Picchu and we couldn’t be happier.

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