Located in the Andes mountains near Cusco, the Sacred Valley holds great historical and cultural significance as it was once the heartland of the Inca Empire, and lies beneath the world famous site of Machu Picchu. This fertile valley is fed by a network of waterways and encompasses a wealth of archaeological sites, including Ollantaytambo, renowned for its extensive Inca ruins; Tipon, which features ancient agricultural terracing and a working irrigation system; and Pisac, with its ancient vestiges and colorful weekly market. The valley is dotted with villages, high-altitude hamlets and ruins linked by trail and railway tracks to the continent’s biggest draw–Machu Picchu.
Other must-sees in the region include the archaeological sites of Maras and Moray. Maras is known for its unique salt evaporation ponds, often referred to as “salt pans” or “salt mines.” The site contains over 3,000 small, terraced pools that have been in use since Inca times and possibly even earlier. The salt pans are built into the side of a steep hill and are fed by a saline spring emerging from the mountainside.
Moray is an archaeological site featuring a series of concentric terraces that resemble an amphitheater. The site is believed to have been an agricultural experimental center for the Incas. The circular terraces descend to a depth of approximately 100 feet (30 meters) below ground level. Moray’s design creates distinct microclimates within each terrace, with temperature variations from the top to the bottom. The Incas used these terraces to study the effects of different climatic conditions on various crops. This allowed them to develop and adapt agricultural techniques that contributed to their impressive success in farming diverse crops across their vast empire.
A stay in the Sacred Valley can be adventurous, filled with rafting, biking, ziplining, and hiking, or rejuvenating and healing with spa visits and ample time sitting in the gardens taking in the green mountain scenery surrounding you. It’s a required pause before continuing onto the mecca of Machu Picchu, and a sojourn here allows travelers to acclimatize before continuing their journey into the Andes.