Lima was nice, but our true goal was Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is a valley in the Andes where the Inca once reigned. Ancient, mysterious, beautiful and frozen in time…it includes not only Machu Picchu but many Inca towns and ruins. We spent a week there, and barely scratched the surface.
To reach the SV we first had to fly to Cusco. The capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is a destination in itself. But at an elevation of 11,200 feet we chose to spend time there at the end of our week so we could first acclimate to the altitude. So at the small airport in Cusco we grabbed a cab to take us the beautiful 1 hr 45 min ride through the Andes to Ollantaytambo. Along the way we stopped at the village of Chinchero (elevation 12,300). Our wonderful driver Ismael proudly played the role of tour guide and told us all about Cusco and the valley. He didn’t speak a lick of english, but my eldest translated with her decent spanish.
First stop Chinchero. A cute village, I had read about the weaving coop in my research and wanted to stop there. Ismael drove us to the remote location overlooking the town where many Inca women weaved. For no cost or appointment they sat us down, served us Coca tea, and gave us an amazing demonstration on the dying and weaving of alpaca wool. The women were fabulous and quite funny. Afterwards we perused all their merchandise and of course bought many things. It was cold, and we already realized that we were going to need warmer clothes. Hence the multiple Alpaca sweater purchases!
Ismael drove us on to Ollantaytambo where we checked into our guesthouse and went out for dinner. Ollantaytambo is a small quaint village full of narrow cobblestone alleys and 600 year old Inca structures. It is lovely, where tiny old ladies roam the cobblestones in Peruvian dresses and there is always a red bag hanging from a local home advertising a fresh batch of Chicha, their version of homebrew. It was my favorite of all the towns we visited. All visits to the Sacred Valley should include a stay in Ollanta.
The next day we visited the Ollantaytambo Ruins. They are on the edge of the village so that you can see the ruins from anywhere in town. After Machu Picchu they are perhaps the best Inca ruins. Extraordinary stone work. The ruins are large and encompass a lot so it took us several hours to walk around. Also, Ollanta is at 9200 feet and we were not acclimatized to the altitude yet. We had to sit often to huff and puff…the ruins are all on a hillside! At the bottom there were llamas and a cute little street market to begin our souvenir purchases. Finally a little Ollanta wandering and dinner concluded a lovely day in the Sacred Valley.