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Peru’s Sacred Valley

_MG_7279 The "Sacred Valley" in Peru stretches from the lower foothills outside Cusco to the old Inca fortress town at Ollantaytambo and is defined by the Urubamba River, one of the headwaters of the Amazon.  Kongo visited this beautiful valley in late April and lived to tell the tale.


The tour Kongo and his intrepid group took left their hotel in Cusco early in the morning in a dense fog interrupted by misty rain. In the Andes, that’s pretty much a normal weather pattern and since the weather here changes about every fifteen minutes it didn’t put a damper on the outing.

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Leaving Cusco takes you past the old Inca fortress known as Saxsaywaman (when pronounced this sounds like “sexy woman” so Kongo sat up and paid attention).  It guarded the Inca capital which is today the city of Cusco.  The massive structures here were built  by fitting huge stones, some weighing several tons, very closely together without mortar.  It was a time-consuming process as the stones were cut using sand, grit, and water then polished and fitted using an arrangement like a modern-day Lego toy.

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The view of Cusco from the mountain fortress is spectacular.  It is a breathtaking 11,000 feet above sea level.

Traveling across the upper ranges of this part of the Andes the winding road eventually descends into the Sacred Valley and runs along the Urubamba River.

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The river doesn’t look like much here in the mountains but as you progress through the valley it gets bigger and bigger as more streams add to the flow.  Eventually it cascades down the mountains and becomes the mighty Amazon.

This being Peru a trip like this wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a llama farm.  Yup.  The llama farm sits across the road from the river and is actually a pretty cool place if you’re into llamas and Kongo’s group quickly got into the act.  They also make excellent clothes here woven from llama wool and alpaca.  Mrs. Kongo quickly helped the local economy.

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Mrs. Kongo shares a llama joke with this spotted guy at the llama farm.

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We got to help the llama ranchers out by feeding these guys.

The buildings at the llama farm are made of adobe and this worker was putting the finishing touches on a new addition to the complex.  Kongo liked this image because it emphasizes how adobe is made with just mud and straw.

The buildings at the llama farm (and a lot of other Peru buildings) are constructed of adobe and this worker was putting the finishing touches on a new addition to the complex. Kongo liked this image because it emphasizes how adobe is made with just mud and straw.

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Women work on making the clothes sold in the llama farm gift shop. Their colorful attire present plenty of photo opportunities and it was fascinating to watch them weave on the looms they hold in their laps.  This has to be hard on the knees after several hours of sitting cross-legged but their work is beautiful.

Leaving the llama farm behind we proceeded to the market town of Pisac.  Sure, the Pisac  Market is a bit touristy and Kongo doesn’t believe for a llama second that the locals are buying any of the tourist junk sold here but it was an interesting place and if you got away from the stalls selling hats and stuffed llama toys (oh yeah, Mrs. Kongo bought some of those too) the vegetable and meat markets were interesting.

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These colorful bulls are sold all over Peru but especially in the market at Pisac. They are a sign of fertility and most of the homes hove some of these guys mounted on the roofs. Before the arrival of the Spanish the Incas used llamas as a fertility sign (they are evidently fairly frisky) but the Spanish being Spanish did away with that custom and substituted the bulls. Mrs. Kongo declined to take home any of these guys and went for the stuffed llamas and llama slippers and llama hats instead. Go figure.

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Potatoes were invented in Peru and there are thousands of varieties of potatoes and aficionados of this tuber can get into heated arguments about exactly how many.  We had one of these discussions on the bus.  Our tour guide insisted there are 5,000 species and Kongo thinks that is a bit on the high side unless you’re counting french fries, garlic fries, cheese fries, etc., as individual species.  Wiki indicates there are only 1,000 varieties.  Other research results refer to “thousands” of varieties.  In any event, there are a whole lot of potato types out there besides mashed and baked.

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The market is a colorful place.  Brightly colored spices, chicken feet, stuffed Inca dolls, native costumes, and the ubiquitous Peru hats are everywhere.

There are also the women who wander around trying to get their picture taken. There is a science to this.  Many clueless American tourists think that maybe these women are wandering around in native costume just to make visitors happy and give them some photo memories to take home to Des Moines.  It’s actually a business and they expect a “propina” for their pose.  Propina is tip and the going rate is one Peruvian soules (pronounced SOUL less) which is about 30 cents.  For a dollar you can shoot all day long so don’t shortchange the ladies. They do have wonderful smiles.

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From Pisac we proceeded another hour to the end of the Sacred Valley and the town of Ollantaytambo and the huge Inca fortress that guarded the entrance to the valley from the Amazon basin.

One of the amazing views here is the giant stone face of an Inca warrior carved into the granite mountain overlooking the town.  Legend is that an Inca guru by the name of Tunupa who wandered the mountains dispensing Inca knowledge to the people and eventually became the stone face on the mountain.

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The steep slopes surrounding the town are covered with terraces built by the Incas and were situated so that they made a natural greenhouse that produced flowers and food for the royal family that conquered the region in the 15th century.  After the Spanish conquest, this was one of the last remaining strongholds of the Inca.

Ollantaytambo is also the beginning of the Inca Trail.  Intrepid travelers can make the four-day hike from here to Machu Picchu.  It is also the spot where Kongo caught the Peru Rail train to Machu Picchu the next day.

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This is a popular, very popular tourist destination as seen by the crowds climbing the terraces in the image above.  Kongo took a more simian approach to beating the crowds and scaled the walls on his own.

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After Ollantaytambo, Kongo’s tour returned to Cusco exhausted.  Bus rides in Peru are an adventure all in themselves and they had to get up early the next morning to catch their train to Machu Picchu.  See Kongo’s post about the train to Machu Picchu here.

The Sacred Valley is a beautiful day trip and shouldn’t be missed.  Of course, if you’re going to Machu Picchu you can’t miss it at all since you have to travel through it to get to the trailhead or train station but take the time to see some of the sights.  Kongo is sure you will love the views, the llamas, and the propina ladies in Pisac.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a great little restaurant where you could also get your photo taken with, you guessed it, a llama!  Here Martha, one of Kongo’s group, poses with a llama.

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You can view a lot more of Kongo’s Peru photos here.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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About Kongo (682 Articles)
Kongo is a traveling monkey owned by a nice man who has a soft spot for simians. Follow Kongo at www.travel-monkey.me and on Twitter @kongomonkey

14 Comments on Peru’s Sacred Valley

  1. Beautiful photos! We’d love to visit Peru. Is it advisable to bring a preschooler with this kind of itinerary? 🙂

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    • My personal view is that you’re going to have your hands full with a pre-schooler. There’s a lot of bumpy bus rides and steep stairs and trails to properly see the Inca ruins. Plus if you let them run loose you’re going to be constantly worried they’re going to fall off a cliff. Having said that, if you keep them in check and are up to carrying them when they get tired (and they will — the altitude alone is going to get them) then go for it!

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  2. Wonderful pictures. They make me want to go…(Suzanne)

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  3. Great images…

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  4. Lovely! I’ve always liked llamas.

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    • That’s a good thing, Pam. It’s llama land down there and despite the stories some travelers have told, not a single llama spit at the monkey. Or maybe it’s camels that spit. They’re all related.

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  5. llamas versus bulls in the frisky sweepstakes? Very amusing side note.

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  6. Wonderful, Kongo! Although I’m not sure even you are allowed to climb on the walls in Machu Picchu 😉

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