Peru: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

This past November, Chelsea and I took a vacation to Peru and hiked part of the inca trail. We spent the first 2 1/2 days acclimating to the elevation of 11,000 ft in the city of Cusco where we explored the city, browsed the markets, and saw some ancient inca ruins in the city and Sacred Valley.  

 Chelsea at the inca site Sacsayhuaman.

Chelsea at the inca site Sacsayhuaman.

 Cusco rooflines.

Cusco rooflines.

 Church of Cusco above the city rooflines.

Church of Cusco above the city rooflines.

 Plaza De Armas.

Plaza De Armas.

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The first day we arrived in Cusco we saw a massive Inca site sitting high above the city. We hailed a cab and took the winding roads up to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sacsayhuaman. It was built in the 13th century as a fortress and is a perfect example of ancient Inca architecture. The dry-stone walls were cut to fit together without mortar. The ancient site is now used by the locals for sporting events on the large open fields as well as traditional Inca festivals. 

 Dry-stone walls, used no mortar.

Dry-stone walls, used no mortar.

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The next day Chelsea and I got up early and went on a day tour of the Sacred Valley, which brought us to the bordering towns of Cusco and some more Inca ruins.  

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The first stop was Moray a agricultural laboratory to cultivate hearty varieties of plants high in the Andes. The site was designed and oriented with the wind and sun in mind to allow a variation of temperatures to grow different plants. The temperature change from the top to the bottom could be as much as 27 degrees.

 Moray agricultural laboratory.

Moray agricultural laboratory.

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The next stop was to see how alpaca and llama textiles were made. The yarn was made by spinning the alpaca or llama hair together. Various types of vegetables, bugs, and roots were used to create the vibrant colors. Once dyed, the yarn is woven together on a loom to create the finished textile. 

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Maras was the last stop of the tour. It is a large saltpan that has been harvested by the local families for over 1000 years. There are over 3000 salt pools and is still tended to and bagged by hand.

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On our last day in Cusco we went on a tour of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, ancient inca towns in the Sacred Valley. Pisac is known for its classic Inca ruins of agricultural terraces on its steep hillside. They are still in use today and were created to produce a surplus of food that normally isn't possible at an elevation of 11,000 ft. 

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Ollantaytambo was the next destination and is an important archaeological site because it became the last stronghold for the Incas after the Spanish conquered the capital of Cusco. It is also the best surviving example of an ancient Inca town plan, built with blocks that lead to central courtyards and homes surround those courtyards. 

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 The town of Chinchero.

The town of Chinchero.

 Traditional Inca women looking over the town of Chinchero.

Traditional Inca women looking over the town of Chinchero.

As the sun set we made our way back to Cusco to relax, eat, and pack our bags. The next day we had a 4am wake-up call to start our 4-day hike to Machu Picchu!