Let the Urubamba River set your course during a thrilling rafting adventure along the Ollantaytambo rapids, available through the Belmond. The river helped form what is now the Sacred Valley, and along the way you'll not only sense its power, but also get a feel for some less visited corners of the region it created. You’ll pass towering eucalyptus trees and the ruins of Inca terraces and more as you make your way down river, ending with a picnic lunch before returning to the hotel by car. Photo by Rod Waddington/Flickr.
The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba River Valley, was once the heart of the Incan Empire, and it is still inhabited by Quechua-speaking people to this day. Since Pre-Columbian times, the valley has been an important hub for maize production and mineral extraction. The area begins just 15 kilometers north of Cusco City, but it feels peaceful and remote. The valley floor is dotted with a series of isolated weaving villages populated by indigenous people. Make sure to visit Chincheros, where you cant miss the view of the charming local church. While you're in the valley, consider making a trip up to the lofty Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, the latter of which resembles an impressive ancient stone fortress.
By Ana Paula Bedoya, AFAR Local Expert
Explore some of the Sacred Valley's top sites like its past residents did—on horseback. Saddle up to trot along one of three pre-set horse riding circuits; depending on which trail you take, sights might include the archeological site Pumawanka, the stunning Maras Salineras salt terraces, and traditional residential neighborhoods. Rides can be arranged through the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado. Photo by McKay Savage/Flickr.
A Rail Icon
Named for the explorer who rediscovered the citadel, the iconic Belmond Hiram Bingham train is as much a part of the Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu experience as the destinations themselves. Dashing attendants in retro uniforms welcome you onto the 1920s Pullman-style carriages outfitted with plush armchairs and oversized windows. Based on the typical schedule, riders heading up to Machu Picchu will enjoy a gourmet lunch served on white tablecloth- and fine china-topped tables; those heading back down to the Sacred Valley will celebrate the journey with drinks and live music in the bar car. Even if you just splurge for a ride in one direction (and take the regular train or bus for the other), the ride will become as much a part of your Peru stories as your citadel selfies.
Sacred Valley, Peru
Our entry into the Sacred Valley of Peru, on the way to the Pisac Market.
By Blake Burton
Reveling in the History, Culture & Colors
We spent the day around Pisaq, with their adobe dwellings a fresh change from the old wooden structures of the frontier towns along the Madre de Rios. We spent the late afternoon at the Sunday market, the square hosting stalls set up with their temporary awnings, resplendent with fresh vegetables, meats, fruits, clothing items and, of course, touristy trinkets. Two local girls in their traditional dress, holding a baby goat in their arms, presented themselves for a photo op, which we could not turn down, giving them a few Soles. Outside town at some ruins, we traversed the hillside, looking across to some of the 13,000 burial holes cut into the red stone walls. We passed a local just off the trail, facing the walls, playing a Peruvian flute with his haunting melody echoing over the Urubamba River and valley below. Our hiking for the day was up the Patacancha Valley, first stopping at an archaeological complex at Pumamarca (named so because of pumas feasting on llamas), our guide telling us the background on the town of Ollantaytambo, named after Ollanta, a commoner warrior who loved the daughter of a great Inca leader, Pachacutec, who banned his daughter as a result. Our hike also took us alongside fresh, cold mountain runoff flowing through aqueduct-like formations, being shown many plants and told of their medicinal qualities. We descended from our hike at 11,100 feet, passing through Choquecancha, an ancient terraced complex, reveling in the surrounding mountains, the lush Urubamba Valley below, on a beautiful sunny day, a wonderful slice of Peru! We treated ourselves to two nights at the beautiful Sol y Luna, the grounds beautifully appointed and well-manicured, many purple flowered Jacaranda trees, cascading multi-colored bougainvillea and great service.
By S.A. Moffett
Pisac, Sacred Valley, Peru
Pisac, the starting point to the Sacred Valley, is one of the most colorful and diverse cities in Peru, and with far fewer tourists. The Inca ruins are stunning with stunning views of the hillside terraces and the rugged Andes. The colorful market is a fun places to shop for souvenirs and locally-made alpaca weavings. You can dine on a local pachamanca meal which consists of meat and potatoes cooked with herbs in an underground earth oven of hot stones.
By Patti Morrow