Part 1 of our 2-day tour to Machu Picchu – Read part 2
He introduces himself as Henry, our tour guide for a two-day overnight trip. He will take us to some of the outstanding Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley in Peru, culminating with a visit to Machu Picchu the second morning. We will travel by van along the Urubamba River and by train the last stretch of railroad to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.
He is Quechua, of indigenous descendance, and probably has a much more tongue-twisting name in his native language. He is accompanied by a young driver who is responsible for us getting there safely by the winding mountain roads.
Where to stay at Machu Picchu/Cusco? Andino Hotel at Machu Picchu Hot Spring, Panorama B&B at the town market, Cusco Hotel Boutique 800 m from Cusco main square, Tariq Hotel Boutique in the heart of Cusco.
We have after thorough online research found and bought the two-day Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley tour through a Peruvian agency. This tour will cover both Machu Picchu and the most important Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley as well as a number of other sights on the way, including the Incan agricultural area Moray and the Maras salt pans. Surprisingly, it turns out to be a private tour for just the five of us, even if we have booked and only paid for a group tour!
‘Sacred Valley Peru, Maras, Moray and Inca Ruins in Pisac’
We are picked up by car at our hotel in Cusco at 7 a.m. Soon we realise that, even if young, the driver is very competent and safe in his driving. He takes us proficiently up the narrow hairpin roads that at first glance seem impossible due to appalling traffic congestion.
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Henry is very informative about the native culture of Peru and how the descendants hold on to their roots. He teaches us that Quechua today is widely spoken and now again compulsory to learn in Peruvian schools. During the last years priority has been given to the native language at the expense of learning English. Previously, English was taught as the first foreign language, but this is actually no longer the case.
Cusco Hotel Boutique has both family rooms and features a terrace & garden and is located about 800 m from Cusco main square. Choice between continental or a la carte breakfast. A hot tub is available at the hotel for the guests.
Tariq Hotel Boutique is located in the heart of Cusco, just 300 m from the small San Blas Church. The hotel features a garden, a terrace and a bar. There is a restaurant at the property. Family rooms are available. Paid airport shuttle service available.
First stop is at the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary. We are not really prepared for what we are going to see here since our focus has been on the Inca ruins in the valley.
It is therefore with genuine astonishment that we enter behind the fence and discover the world of animals there. The sanctuary in the Sacred Valley reveals a great number of species native to Peru. Three lively bears are playing around behind a fence which does not look particularly safe to us. Anyway, the staff reassure us that these bears do absolutely not pose any danger to humans. They are entirely vegetarians and supposedly very friendly by nature!
All of a sudden, the youngest bear climbs up onto a homemade wooden climbing frame and begins to jump up and down on the very top. It looks as if the heavy creature can fall through at any moment – but of course it does not happen!
It is a gem of a sanctuary where they rescue, care for and rehabilitate wild animals that have been captured illegally. During the next hour we are taken round to see the llamas, vicunas, alpacas, colourful birds, a shy puma and, not least, the beautiful condors. The staff animate them to fly from one side to the other in their huge enclosure across the valley. It is the first time we get the chance to watch condors flying, and this is even in close-up. With their gigantic wingspan they are soaring majestically in the air, leaving us full of admiration for their elegance and gliding movements.
Pisac in Peru is famous for its Inca ruins and we are definitely not disappointed. It is a lot harder, though, to climb the hillside than I have expected. Even if no longer any altitude problems walking around at normal pace, physical exercise like climbing in the relatively thin air in Peru at the Pisac ruins, challenges me. A few well-deserved stops on the way up are required, but encouraged by the captivating Inca history, we finally all reach our target!
At first we cannot spot any traces of the Pisac cemetery. It then suddenly occurs to me that I have read that they in fact buried people in the mountain. The Pisac cemetery is simply a lot of holes in the vertical mountainside! Henry then clarifies to us how the holes were used as tombs. The more prominent the person was, the higher and more unreachable the tomb.
The Peruvian Incas built agricultural terraces or andenes up the lush hillsides. Just like the ruins of distinguished Inca houses and complex fortresses in Peru, many of the terraces on the sloping hillsides of the Sacred Valley are also still preserved and protected.
Around the town of Pisac some of the best preserved agricultural terraces in Peru still stand. Many of them are today protected, but our companions take us to some terraces near a viewpoint, which are, still today, in use with crops on it. I cannot deny that I am completely spellbound by the thought that people have worked on these same terraced fields throughout hundreds of years. Seen from afar they appear like an artistic, intricate painting – a breathtaking scenery with snow-capped peaks in the background.
The ancient Inca culture fascinates us, and our guide clarifies many details about the archeological remains. We all listen carefully to his nuggets of information about the Inca ruins, both because it is super interesting, but also because he double-checks if we remember what he has already explained! We get loads of information!
In the present-day town of Pisac a bit further down the mountain, there is twice a week an important fair of crafts with clothing, bags and ceramics. Indigenous merchants from near and far come to sell their products on the local market. It is unfortunately not one of those days that we are here, so we will have to do with the not either insignificant supplies in the Cusco markets! Passing through the modern village of Pisac, we notice the traditionally and colourfully dressed women carrying children on their backs.
Next, our driver shows extraordinary driving skills by taking us up the narrow mountain road towards Maras, Moray and the Inca culture in this part of Peru. At some moment we are honestly convinced that we will never arrrive – or be able to continue at all, due to a hopeless line of vehicles blocking the road. Nevertheless, our young driver can do wonders with the car, and ten minutes later we miraculously get out near the entrance of Moray.
The archeological site is situated on a high plateau at 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) and consists of terraced circular depressions. Henry explains that the Incas used the terrace rings for agricultural experiments. There is a considerable temperature difference (about 15 degrees Centigrade) between the bottom and the top level of the circular stone depression. The Incas in Peru could then test various kinds of crops on different levels here at Moray (also with soil imported from elsewhere).
Today it is believed that the existence of more than 2000 Peruvian kinds of potatoes can be attributed to the Inca experiments in such ancient, agricultural laboratories as Moray. We see for ourselves that an old preservation technique is still being used on some of the fields in the valley, where we notice potatoes spread out on the ground. They are drying, and Henry explains that after drying in the Andean sun, they can be preserved for 500 years!
We are walking around one of the best conserved archeological amphitheatres. Henry points out that the vertical distance between the levels is at least 3 metres (10 feet). This is the minimal distance required to avoid that the llamas jumped from one level to another, and the terraces were also used for animal husbandry.
Near the old, circular terraces of Moray Inca ruins we catch sight of several female shepherds with a flock of sheep or alpacas as well as their younger children around.
The Incas were clever and built in an irrigation system with drains in the terrain, as they did at the majority of all construction sites. Our Peruvian guide further describes that even when there is heavy flooding in the area, the water nearly always immediately disappears on the archeological site of Moray!
Ten minutes’ drive from the picturesque Moray we get out at Maras. The salt pans Salineras de Maras are extraordinarily beautiful with all shades of reddish brown basins. It is a very intriguing sight. According to the information we have, the Maras shallow pools of salt water are no more than 30 cm (12 in) deep each.
The brine channeling down comes from a subterranean source, and thanks to a clever irrigation system, the salt water can be let into and further through the pools to fill them all. The water eventually evaporates and leaves crystallised salt behind. This process and the Maras salt pans have existed ever since the Inca period.
We are allowed to balance along the edges of the pools and can hardly stop taking photos. Flanked by the characteristic surrounding mountainsides and peaks, they are the epitome of Andean beauty.
Time flies, it is 2 p.m. and now it is lunchtime. The driver takes us to an ‘Inca restaurant’ with a plentiful and appetizing buffet of Peruvian, tasty dishes. To follow up on our new knowledge on the numerous sorts of Peruvian potatoes, we absolutely must try a few here. They are exquisite and very different from each other in texture and flavour! Also alpaca and Peruvian ceviche are among our favourites here.
It is a nice restaurant where people stay for a while, enjoying the varied buffet. Apparently a good meal here implies a liquor with the dessert. The waiter doesn’t even ask if we want it, but brings glasses for everyone – our driver included! We glance nervously at each other. It is hopefully unthinkable that our challenged mountain driver will accept it, and to our relief he declines, since he does not like alcohol at all!
We end our Sacred Valley tour by visiting the location of the Inca military and religious complex in Ollantaytambo. The town of Ollantaytambo is also the only Inca town that remains relatively intact and it is still partly inhabited by their descendants. One of the most recent theories is that the Incas succeeded in hiding Machu Picchu from the Spaniards by decorating the fortress so sumptuously that the Spaniards would believe that they had in fact found Machu Picchu.
After an awesome day in the Sacred Valley visiting the most amazing Inca ruins in Peru, in particular Maras, Moray and Pisac, our driver takes us to Ollantaytambo Station from where we will be catching the train further to Machu Picchu.
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‘Sacred Valley, Maras, Moray Peru and Inca Ruins in Pisac’
Machu Picchu sightseeing
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Sacred Valley, Moray, Maras Peru and Inca Ruins in Pisac:
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