Monday, June 18, 2012

Peru Part 3: The Sacred Valley

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On Sunday morning it was time to pack up and head to The Sacred Valley for the next two nights.

Our hotel (and all of our hotels) included breakfast each morning. The Aranwa had a nice selection of fruits, pasties, cookies, breads, and some warm items like sausage and the strange red Peruvian bacon. You could get eggs or omelets made-to-order. Dave discovered a new favorite cereal: Kiwicha Pops. These were sweetened puffed grains that were a bit smaller than quinoa. We were able to find a couple bags to bring home at a grocery store in Lima.

We were picked up by our tour guide and driver, Rony and Boris respectively, around 8:30. Another couple from Milwaukee would be the only other folks joining us on the tour. The plan was to leave Cusco and drive about an hour to Pisac to see the Sunday Market. Next we'd see the ruins at Ollantaytambo. After that, Holly and I would be picked up and taken to our next hotel (near Huayllabamba) while the others had lunch and then headed back to Cusco.

According to Wikipedia.....

(The Sacred Valley) has been formed by the Urubamba River, also known as Vilcanota River or Wilcamayu. The latter, in Quechua (the still spoken lingua franca of the Inca Empire), means the Sacred river. It is fed by numerous rivers which descend through adjoining valleys and gorges, and contains numerous archaeological remains and villages. The valley was appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. It was one of the empire's main points for the extraction of natural wealth, and one of the most important areas for maize production in Peru northwards from Pisac. The early Incas may have come from Wimpillay as their mummies had been discovered there. Large scale maize production started around 1400 as Inca urban agriculture based on varieties bred in Moray, either a governmental crop lab or a seedling nursery of the Incas.

Beautiful countryside, amazing scenery, and great culture in this part of Peru. As our guide explained, many people in the valley still speak Quechua; the Incan language. Along the way we saw evidence of how these folks have held to their traditions. We made a couple of stops  to admire the scenery before reaching Pisac. Our guide taught us about the variety of corn, potatoes, and quinoa grown in the area and how some of these crops are still grown on terraces the Incans developed on mountainsides 700 years ago.

Pisac is home to a very important collection of Incan ruins. We didn't get to see them. Instead we went to the market. It's open 3 times a week, but Sunday is the big day - when the produce trade is heaviest. Farmers come with their individual crops and barter with each other. There are also MANY stalls filled with tourist items so prices are pretty good if you haggle. Rony told us about the local produce and then took us to a silver factory. Holly picked up a bracelet and Dave got a silver llama. We picked up some other tourist items and then found it was already time to leave. For people that didn't want to go to the market we were wishing we had more time. It was a lot of fun.

Potatoes originated in Peru and were brought to Europe by the Spaniards. Peru has over 4,000 types of potatoes.

Around Peru you see folks in traditional outfits with assorted livestock for photo opportunities. Our guide told us the folks in the market (vs Cusco) were the real deal and we could take our pictures with them. All they asked was some form of small tip. 2-3 soles, between 80 cents - $1.20 was the going rate.

Our next stop would be Ollantaytambo. On the way we learned about ceramic bull figures on the rooftops and chi cha, a local homebrew corn beer. It's quickly fermented, so low in alcohol. Houses serving chi cha would have a red bag flying outside the door alerting farmers they could buy some.

We also learned about more Peruvian food......

This is cuy.....guinea pig. Big traditional food item in Peru. We learned that tourist restaurants typically served it with sauces while local places will stuff the insides with herbs. Price for cuy at a tourist restaurant: $24. Price at the roadside stand: $13. The Peruvians seem perplexed that these animals are pets in the Northern Hemisphere.

On the way to Ollantaytambo we had to go through the town of Urubamba. They had a big festival going on blocking many streets. Our driver tried many narrow streets, drove on stoops, etc to eventually get us through it. If we couldn't get through we thought we might have to just enjoy the festival.

There's a lot going on in Ollantaytambo. It's the starting point for most trips to Machu Picchu. From here people either take the 90 minute train ride to Aguas Calientes or start their 4 day hike on The Inca Trail. Town is filled with little cafes, hotels, hostels, and pizza places. Definitely where backpackers congregate. Also in town is an impressive incan ruin.

We spent most of our time in Ollantaytambo at the ruins. This area. Has been continuously inhabited for several hundred years. The Incans developed architectural terraces, storehouses, and temples here. This was our first detailed look at the impressive Incan stonework. The granite at this site was quarried from 7kms away - 600 years ago.

After touring the site we were transferred over to our hotel's shuttle and set off for the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel. This was one of the prettiets settings we've seen for a hotel. We were surrounded on all sides by mountains. Onsite there were ponds filled with koi creating a moat for an old church. That afternoon we enjoyed a nice lunch outside and relaxed. We spent our next day at the resort just relaxing and had a hot rock spa treatment. Since the hotel's occupancy was low, and most people actually go touring during the day, we had the place to ourselves.

Now that we were at lower altitude it was time to enjoy a beer!

The next post we'll take off for Machu Picchu.


  1. "For people that didn't want to go to the market we were wishing we had more time"

    I love that! I would totally have been annoyed at having to go to a local market. That's so not my thing. But now maybe I'll reconsider next time (at least next time I'm in Peru!)

    1. I thought maybe the tour description just glossed over the significant ruins near the market. At least I found out we were skipping them beforehand. The market was fun though. I got scarred on shopping stops on tours when I was 14. One day in Italy we spent an hour at the Pompeii ruins then 2 hours at a cameo factory.