During my trip to the ancient city of Cusco, I decided to spare a day visiting the surrounding areas of the city. Turns out, there are other ancient ruins within an hour drive from Cusco. This area is known as the Sacred Valley and it is also located scattered around this part of the Andean Mountains.
The Sacred Valley of Peru consists of several towns such as Pisac and Ollamtaytambo just to name a couple. Around this modern-day towns are the ruins of what was the ruins of a fortress and agricultural terraces of the natives that once occupied it. Before the Incas, there were other native South American tribes that once lived in the area. All of these tribes or civilizations were dependent on the nearby rivers which is why most of these ruins are close to these water source. Many of the indigenous people that one will see in and around Cusco still lives in the Sacred Valley.
Our first stop was the marketplace in Pisac. Here one will find dozens of vendors selling all kinds of native products such as ponchos, woven bags and beaded jewelry all made in colorful patterns and designs. There are also housewares sold here such as wooden bowls and trays painted with colorful native motifs. But the place I decided to spend time and money on is a silversmith’s shop located on the main road. The shop is where artisans make silver jewelry using semi-precious stones such as lapis, onyx and serpentine found in the area. It is interesting to see all the artisans working on various styles of jewelry sold in the very same shop. Silver jewelry in Peru are quite good quality and a perfect souvenir for a trip like this. After an hour of shopping we headed to the ruins a few minutes from the marketplace.
It was a steep drive from the marketplace to the ruins. That’s because the ruins itself is located high above the mountains. The buildings were built on the flat edge of the mountain while the old fields or terraces slope down like stairs from the top to somewhere close to the bottom. Today, one will find a small village at the bottom of these mountains where possible the descendants of the occupants of the ancient ruins once lived. Lunch was somewhere between Pisac and Ollamtaytambo in a small village restaurant where the food was very forgettable.
Upwards and onwards this time to the ruins of Ollamtaytambo where once again, the ruins are at the edge near a peak of another mountain. Why did the natives build their settlements high up in the mountain? What was the reason for that? The ruins of Ollamtaytambo is surrounded by a stone wall much like a fortress. One needs to enter the gates of this fortress in order to see the ruins. Upon entering one will find themselves in a rather large plaza and several yards from the gates, one will see another agricultural terrace with steps on either side leading all the way to the top of the mountain where ancient stone buildings still stand. If one is not yet experiencing altitude sickness by this time, feel free to climb the steps to the top.
While walking around the plaza, I found the most famous of all species in Peru roaming around the lawn looking for some food – Llamas. Children big and small were thrilled to have seen these two. Though the wildlife here is tagged, it seems they are free to roam around the ruins. Upon leaving the fortress, one will find another small marketplace and a few cafes selling snacks and refreshments to visitors. It is in Ollamtaytambo where people can catch the train that takes them to Aguas Calientes – the town at the base of Machu Picchu. So, on the way to the next stop, we dropped off other visitors to the train station nearby, those spending the night at Aguas Calientes before heading to Machu Picchu.
By this time, it was getting dark on the way to the next place which is an easy drive. This time the ruins were so far from the road that we can only see it from a lookout on the hill next to it. It was a short 20-minute visit before we were off again to our last stop.
Our last stop was certainly interesting. It was at a town called Chincero. It was not another ruin but a cultural center showcasing ancient Incan traditional ceremonies and rituals. One of the women in the center showed us how it was done. Afterward, we were given a few minutes to shop around the merchandise of the center. I was skeptical at first, but we were told the sales from these merchandise goes to the center so they can continue to preserve old Incan traditions now getting lost among young Peruvians. This was our last stop before driving back to Cusco.
It was already dark, and we had been out and about for around 12 hours. Most of us are glad this exhausting trip has come to an end, but it was well worth the trip. It was certainly interesting and eye-opening for a first-time visitor like me. I highly recommend that you one visits these places too when visiting Cusco.