The Sacred Valley

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The Urubamba River Valley was the heartland of the Inca Empire. Stretching from the capital of Cusco in the east to the sublime ruins of Machu Picchu in the west, it is one of the most beautiful places in South America, with soaring mountains and fertile green terraces that evoke the magic of pre-Hispanic legend. Standing amidst this miraculous scenery, you understand why the Incas viewed these lands as the dwelling place of the gods.

The Sacred Valley is home to the greatest monuments of Inca engineering. Chief among them is Ollantaytambo, the vast temple-citadel that during the struggle for the Inca empire was the scene of the greatest Spanish defeat in South America. Looking out from its ramparts, you’ll see an Andean village essentially unchanged since pre-Hispanic times. Even the blocks retain their Inca names.

Equally monumental is Pisac, a vast archaeological complex that includes workers’ cottages, agricultural terracing, and one of the mysterious “hitching posts of the sun” that grace Inca religious structures. It’s within easy driving distance of the enigmatic rock caves of Q’enqo and the sacred baths of Pukapukara, as well as the Inca waystation of Tambomachay.

Further up the valley there’s still more to discover. The salt pans of Salinas were originally mined by the Incas by diverting a salt stream into a flat basin; Peruvians today still cultivate them to feed their cattle. Meanwhile, the concentric circles of the nearby site of Moray were used for agricultural experimentation by ancient Andean peoples. Its uncanny geometry still astonishes all who walk through its diverse microclimates.

Rustic villages, mysterious ruins, heart-stopping scenery: the Sacred Valley abounds in wonders. When you visit, you’ll discover why this luminous place is an essential stop on any trip to Peru.

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