Peru |Highlights of the Sacred Valley

Peru’s Sacred Valley took my breath away – literally and figuratively. The valley floor is at 3000 meters above sea level outside of Pisac and descends over its 100 kilometers to just above 2000 meters near Machu Picchu. Also known as the  Urubamba valley, its namesake river meanders the entire length and irrigates the otherwise arid region.  


The mountains that rise on either side are etched with criss-crossing paths and  terraces known as andenes that attest to the engineering and agricultural skills of the early inhabitants.

Ollantaytambo Mujer

The valley was settled by Quechua people in the  mid-15th century. They were ruled by the Incas for a little more than a century before the Spanish conquest. Today, a majority of the inhabitants speak Quechua and you can still see traditional dress, especially in the smaller villages. There are a few major sites that should not be missed:



Try to say Ollantaytambo three times fast (and note that a double “l” is pronounced “yuh”)! That might distract you from the innumerable stairs leading the way to an amazing panorama.

View across Ollaytaytambo

Ollantaytambo was a fortress and a temple with a thriving village. It was the site of a great battle and one of the few defeats suffered by the Spaniards during the Conquest. The temple hill ruins provide fantastic vistas, while the ruins are well preserved and give insight to daily life.


Maras is world famous for its salt, produced since pre-Inca times by evaporating water from a subterranean stream.  There are over 1000 salt pans harvested by local families in a cooperative system.

Maras Señora
The women of Maras wear a distinctive hat only found in their community.


Moray TerracesThe ruins at Moray lie on a high plateau (3500 meters) not far from Maras.  There are two archaeological sites comprised of concentric circles that descend as they decrease in size. The one in the photo above has been restored, while the one below is a work in progress.  Moray Terraces 2

The depth, design, and orientation creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. This enabled farmers to grow crops which otherwise would not flourish at this altitude including maize and avocados.


Pumamarca Panorama

An easy half-day hike from the main road takes you to the ruins at Pumamarca where we came across some curious alpaca.  Alpacas and llamas are both members of the

camelid family,  but the former is smaller in stature and its finer hair is highly prized (and pricey!).Paso Ponies

Another way to explore the valley is on the Peruvian Paso. This horse’s four-beat, lateral gait is fairly unique and supposedly much smoother and more comfortable for the rider. I will let you be the judge!

At the end of the Sacred Valley, the terrain changes to jungle and the trail or train to Machu Picchu awaits!

12 thoughts on “Peru |Highlights of the Sacred Valley

  1. I managed to get food poisoning twice in my time in Cuzco and in the Sacred Valley, but nonetheless I really enjoyed it. Having seen a BBC documentary before it really helped me understanding the purpose of both Ollanta and Moray; I wanted to go and hike to those warehouses you photographed on the hill on the other side of Ollanta town but my legs gave up halfway and the ‘smart’ voice in my head reminded me I didn’t have insurance in Peru…
    Don’t you love how clear the air seems to be over there? How detailed even the things furthest away from you are?
    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi Maggie,

    I’m not sure whether this will reach you, or whether this is a no reply email address! I’ve enjoyed reading about your travels, it’s been a number of years since we were in touch, hopefully my name “rings a bell”. Charlie (Cassidy) and I are going to the Galápagos Islands on Jan. 27th, and I just read your posts. If you have any suggestions I’d love your input. Also if you’re in Boston, let me know, would be fun to catch up. (BTW I just ordered Lindsay’s new cookbook!)


    Kappy (Freund)

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kappy! So great to hear from you! The Galápagos are amazing! There are two circuits – we hope to return to see the other half. If you are transiting in Guayaquil, be sure to eat lunch (not open for dinner) at Marrecife – near the Hilton. You will be the only gringos and the food is spectacular. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for buying Healthyish! xoM


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