Cusco and Sacred Valley Travel

The must see sights and where to stay in Cusco and Sacred Valley (Sep 2017)
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In my final post on my amazing trip to Peru last year with R & Y, I will delve into the best sights to visit while in Cusco and Sacred Valley. These 2 destinations are a natural place to stop by if you are going to Machu Picchu. We chose to stop by in Cusco for 2 nights stay before going to Machu Picchu for a night, after which Urubamba in Sacred Valley was the last stop in Peru where we chilled out for 3 nights. You may decide to do it in the reverse order, purely because Urubamba is lower in altitude at 2900m versus Cusco at 3400m and might be a more natural base to stop by to let yourself slowly climatize to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu and Cusco. For us, we had already done Bolivia which had such a high altitude, so these places in Peru were pretty manageable for us!

Cusco and Peru Flags

Peru Flag and Cusco Flag (no it’s not a LGBT Flag).

Cusco

Cusco is definitely a key destination for any first timer’s visit to Peru, because it’s known to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere and is also known as the cultural city of Peru. Our guide told us it’s known also as the Archaeological Capital of the Americas – it was laid out in the form of a puma and was dominated by impressive buildings and palaces, during the reign of the Inca Empire from the 1400s to 1534. Here’s my favourite culture sights that’s a must see!

Cusco Iglesia De La Compañia De Jesús

Iglesia De La Compañia De Jesús – Catholic Church

Cusco Plaza De Arnas

Walking around Plaza de Armas.

Cusco Festival celebration

Catholic procession on Sunday at Plaza de Armas.

Sacsayhuaman

Located on the outskirts of Cusco city is this impressive mountain fortress which my guide jokingly told us we can remember it as Sexy Woman, as it sounds like that when pronounced. Built on an artificially levelled mountaintop, it was built to overlook the entire Cusco city and has sweeping views of the valley below. The ‘fortress’ is composed of three large terraced walls,  which are said to represent the ‘Teeth of the Puma”, as I had mentioned earlier the city was laid out in the form of a jaguar, hence some say the temple of Sacsayhuaman is the head. It was likely to have been constructed first using mud and clay, and later to be replaced by magnificent stone work, which is really impressive when up close. What’s most fascinating are the large stones are irregular in shape as they are individually carved, and put together without any mortar, and yet fit together perfectly. Our guide Welda told us that historians and archaelogists are still trying to find an explanation behind what binds these stones together. It’s a perfect masterpiece of the Incas’ engineering prowess.

Cusco Sacsayhuaman stone wall landscape
Cusco Sacsayhuaman stone wall landscape closeup

Admiring the fortress which spans 1,500 ft long and 54 ft wide.

Cusco Sacsayhuaman wall portrait

Up close with the stone wall. 

Cusco town birdseye view

Trying not to fall over, looking down into the valley.

Temple Qoricancha or Coricancha

Coricancha otherwise known as the Temple of the Sun was believed to have been built around 1200 AD, and is living testimony of the Incas who were indeed master architects and builders ahead of their time. The large stone walls were built in a similar fashion to the Sacsayhuaman, with large carved stones and no mortar used, and complemented with thatched roofs. Given, this temple was dedicated to their god and goddesses, it was zoned for different uses including keeping the mummified remains of their emperors and wives, and even the taking of astronomical observations. Unfortunately, most of the walls were covered up by the Spanish after they were colonized and many of the gold walls and statues were removed and a Catholic cathedral was built. Hence, the architecture today of Coricancha represents 2 very diverse cultures or religions – the Inca and the Catholic. It’s best to join a local guided tour to explain the context and history of the site. There are some of the original stone works on display in the grounds.

Cusco Temple Qoricancha wall up close

Admiring one of the original stone walls of the Coricancha.

Walking through Coricancha.

Walk around San Pedro Market

The culture in Cusco is also very much about the food as well, and if you like to visit local markets, a walk around in San Pedro Market is a must. You can get your hands on spices, exotic fruits from Peru, and more. We were here for a quick stopover in the afternoon and I was so happy to grab my paws on some nice spices and fruits.

Cusco San Pedro Market
Cusco San Pedro Market spices

San Pedro Market, and a spice stall we stopped by at. 

STAY at Palacio Del Inka Hotel

Palacio Del Inka Hotel, was a perfect hotel to rest at after our hectic leg in Bolivia prior to this. Considered a luxury hotel in Cusco, it’s got an amazing spa where we got some nice massages here and a sumptuous breakfast buffet selection. It is built on the foundations of the “Aclla Huasi” (home of the chosen virgins of the Incas) with some of the  original Inca walls still remaining, and has a mix of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture. Given it’s location, it’s also easy to explore the town area on foot. If you prefer something a bit more modern, there’s also other great hotel options such as the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, or the posh all-suite boutique hotel – Inkaterra La Casona which was rather out of my budget.

Cusco Palacio Del Inka Hotel hotel room

Relaxing in my bedroom at Palacio Del Inka.

Cusco Palacio Del Inka Hotel reception

Lobby area of the Palacio Del Inka hotel.

Cusco Palacio Del Inka Hotel breakfast

Enjoying breakfast with Pacapaca (my new friend).

SACRED VALLEY

We arrived in Urubamba by the Vistadome train after our stay in Machu Picchu. Here for 3 nights, it was a nice relaxing ending to our leg in Peru. It definitely has a more rustic and idyllic setting, not as populated with tourists when we went as compared to the more famous neighbouring Machu Picchu and Cusco. I think it is still worth a short stopover for two nights, to visit the Inca fortress – Ollantaytambo, their larger-than-life salt pans and the ancient city of Pisac. Here’s my list of must visits and where I stayed!

Typical architecture in the local houses of Sacred Valley. 

Ollantaytambo, Urubamba

The legend of this famous ruins in Sacred Valley is that a soldier – Ollántay, the titan of the Andes, fell in love with the princess Cusi Coyllor – the Inca king’s daughter Pachacútec, who objected to their relationship (yes sounds like the typical drama we see from Shakespeare’s novels to modern Korean Drama). To separate them, the king – Pachacútec sent the princess to a house of Virgins, and Ollántay tried to abduct her. Subsequently, Ollántay built a fortress dedicated to the princess, and to battle against and to rebel against the king. Hence the name Ollantaytambo is a combination of the soldier’s name and ‘tambo’ means home.  So hence, the landscape here is built for a lot of climbing – with the terraces and temples built into a steep hillside. Considering we just did some major walking the last 2 days in Machu Picchu, we kind of blacked out looking at all these terraces, and did not really attempt much walking uphill to the top. Across from the fortress lies the Pinkuylluna mountain, where we could see houses perched here, operated as storehouses, as well as security towers. It is believed that these storehouses were built in the 15th century by Incan emperor Pachacuti to store grain produced in the surrounding agricultural terraces. For the avid hikers, you can also hike through this mountain in half a day, and get up close to these structures, but heh heh lazy me skipped that.

Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo terrace

At Ollantaytambo Ruins.

Sacred Valley - top of Ollantaytambo

Enjoying the breathtaking views from the higher points of Ollantaytambo Ruins.

Super zoom into the Pinkuylluna storehouses and watch tower from Ollantaytambo.

Breathtaking views of Ollantaytambo.

Valley - Ollantaytambo Ceremonial fountains

One of the ceremonial fountains at the base of Ollantaytambo.

Salineras de Maras, Maras 

Located in the town of Maras, this area is famous for its hundreds of salt evaporation ponds stacked on layers of terraces in a valley and it is a sight to behold. Definitely worth visiting, make sure to wear good “rough it out shoes” as it’s not hard to end up stepping into a salt pond by mistake or maybe it’s only clumsy me. Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream, through the hundreds of shallow terraced ponds.Given the volume of salt Maras produces, it’s also the principal salt mine in Cusco. What’s nice are how these salt pans are tended to and harvested by different families in the local community. They are packaged and sold in bags, which we bought some to bring back home, and is a great way to support these humble simple efforts of the salt farmers.

Sacred Valley Salineras De Maras birdseye view
Sacred Valley Salineras De Maras valley

Countless salt ponds in Salineras De Maras.

Sacred Valley Salineras De Maras portrait

Trying not to get salt on my paws while trekking through the salt pans at Maras.

Sacred Valley Salineras De Maras water collection

Close up of the salt ponds.

Sacred Valley Salineras De Maras Salt collection

Tower of evaporated salt waiting.

Moray Ruins, Pisac

This can be visited together with the Salineras De Maras, given their proximity to each other. Pisac is an entire mountain that has been carved into terraces, and also existing back to Pre-Inca time. These terraces resemble the old Roman amphitheater but were most likely used in the past as an agricultural laboratory. Some say, they were created by aliens, but nope it was thanks to the Inca brilliant architecture. The way the terraces are positioned, from depth to design and orientation was developed in consideration of the wind, sun and other key elements. Our guide, Wilda also showed us some of the flora and fauna thriving in this area, including some of the plants that are used by the local villages as a natural dye for their woven products!

Sacred Valley Moray Ruins
Sacred Valley Moray Ruins birdseye view

In front of the circular-shaped Moray Ruins.

Sacred Valley Moray Ruins terraces

Close up of the terraces of Moray.

Amazing what crops were harvested here.

One of the plants in Moray Ruins used for dye.

How the plant becomes a natural dye for wool.

Chinchero Cuzco and town area

I won’t say absolutely this is a must visit, but if you have some time, and like to learn about local culture beyond doing sightseeing, I do think it’s educational to see how the local Quecha woman create their finished textile products from start to end in the Chinchero Cuzco Village. It was a little bit touristy, but I felt happy to support the efforts of these local Quecha women who are reviving an almost forgotten skill of weaving techniques from the Incan time. Elizabeth, one of the local weavers who speaks pretty good English, demonstrated the process from cleaning the alpaca wool with their natural cleaning agent, to the different plant and insect dyes which are extremely strong and permanent. What’s most fascinating is learning the cochineal bug is used traditionally from Inca times to now for their red dye. The natural Maras salt available in this region, is used often as an agent to change the colour of the dye in the colouring process. You can take a drive through or walk through the village in this area and admire the little narrow cobblestone streets and local housing.

With one of the experienced weavers, showing us how they make the dye.

With Elizabeth, young and animated weaver at Chinchero village.

Sacred Valley Quecha woman

Local Quecha woman spotted whilst meandering around the Chinchero Village.

STAY – SOL Y LUNA HOTEL

We stayed for 3 nights, at Sol Y Luna Hotel, a member of the Relais Chateaux. It is an elegant resort hotel, set in a large sprawling estate, surrounded by flora, fauna, and the Andes Mountains around it. It has their own spa, gym, lap pool, suite rooms all set in casitas just 43 of them and of course restaurants where we dined in daily for breakfast and dinner. They even have their own horse stable and horses where they do horse live performances over lunch time at the terrace. This was probably a tad touristy for my liking, but I quite enjoyed the desserts that came with the lunch served at Wayra. I would recommend this as a great place to wind down, it’s got a good balance of modern amenities with the traditional design of the casitas. For more modern comforts, Tambo Del Inka is also another luxury property, but we chose Sol Y Luna as it seemed to have more character and pricing was also a little friendlier on the pocket, and it had to be good given it’s a member of the Relais Chateaux.

Sacred Valley - Sol Y Luna Hotel room

Chilling out in our suite.

Sacred Valley - Sol Y Luna Hotel

My favourite spot if not for the strong sun at Sol Y Luna.

Sacred Valley- Sol Y Luna casitas

Exterior of the Casitas.

Sacred Valley Sol Y Luna Hotel poolside day

Can the view get better than this? At poolside of Sol Y Luna.

Sacred Valley - Sol Y Luna Hotel

Grilled chicken with fried rice at Wayra! 

TIPS

If you choose to go on your own without any private tours in Cusco and Sacred Valley, I would advise you to buy the tickets online for some of the sights, as some of the tickets comes as a bundle for different sights and you may be able to get a better deal versus buying individual tickets at the different locations.

As mentioned, we visited Sacred Valley last although most people would choose to come here to climatise first before going to Machu Picchu. I do like this itinerary, as Sacred Valley is more idyllic as compared to Cusco, and was definitely a nice way to end the whole trip before heading back. My only tip is if you are really into your food, and you are planning a trip straight back to your home after Peru, I think stopping by in Lima for at least a day to do a last round of bingeing and buy some of their spices and fruits to bring home be fantastic. This is probably my only small regret given we were still going to visit cities like Tokyo after this leg and had no more time. This post marks the last of my amazing trip to Peru that I took with Lightfoot Travel.

If you have missed my other posts on this trip, read here for:

Visit to Machu Picchu

Best of Lima 

Sacred Valley - with my new furry friends

My new friends – Pacapaca (the bear) and Coca (the Llama).

Read more related posts

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