August 31, 2015
While Machu Picchu is the one of the top go-to destinations in all of South America, the Sacred Valley also offers those with a little extra time other amazing experiences with a fraction of the crowds. There are two routes through the area to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu.
One is via Pisac. If you don’t have time to do it as a separate day trip out of Cusco, consider stopping at this market town with hill top ruins on your way to Ollantaytambo, a beautiful Inka stone town with more great ruins. If you have the time to do it all, take the Chinchero route to Ollantaytambo with additional stops at the otherworldly ruins of Moray and my favorite, the Salineras de Maras, ancient Inkan salt pools.
We arranged private transport with our hotel for the beautiful drive from Cusco into the Sacred Valley via Chinchero. As most of the traffic seems to go the Pisac route, it’s a calm drive through the country which on a clear day would have breathtaking views of snowy peaks in the distance.
Chinchero, about 45 minutes from Cusco, is known for its Sunday textile market but the ruins, a short walk above town, are also worth exploration. On a clear bright day the mountain setting would be stunning.
The ruins start at the Spanish colonial center of town where locals sell textiles in the courtyard.
Be sure to stop in the church with a striking painted ceiling and walls. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside.
Past the colonial center starts the Inka terraces that line the valley. While there aren’t many structures to explore, it’s a lovely stroll through this charming valley. The best views of the terraces are from above.
Moray – a dirt road leads to this Inka site of what looks like an ancient amphitheater of sorts. While no one is certain why the Inkas built the structure – some suggest it’s some sort of plant experiment dealing with micro climates – it’s an imposing sight none the less enhanced by surrounding snowy peaks.
Salineras of Maras – One of my all-time favorite sights. Some may not find it so remarkable, but I just can’t get over the endless pools of salt water first built in this narrow canyon by the Inkas centuries ago.
While the experience is more touristy than when I first visited the site 6 years ago, it is fairly easy to get away from the crowds as most tourist don’t venture more than a few yards from the start of the pools.
Be sure to stop on the way in or out take at the top of the road for a full view of the valley.