Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
Cradling Peru’s meandering Urubamba River, the verdant Sacred Valley of the Incas (official name: Urubamba Valley) sits between colonial Cusco and Incan Machu Picchu. In recent decades, the green blanketed expanse of terraced lands has become a top draw in its own right. Its sweeping vistas, fertile farmlands, small villages, and mysterious stone fortresses are gorgeous and peaceful. The hairpin-curved roads, however, are a tad unsettling.
What We Love
Sightseeing Your Way: Some people like to hike, others prefer to mountain bike. Horseback riding, river rafting, hot air ballooning, and paragliding are also excellent ways to gain perspective on the Sacred Valley. Of course, there's always hopping on a tour with a guide and driver.
Mighty Veggies: Corn kernels the size of quarters and potatoes the color of eggplant? You can taste test both and a whole lot more. Peru grows an astounding 4,000 varieties of potatoes and more than 55 different kinds of corn.
Best Known For
Sunday Market at Pisac: The weekly open-air handicrafts market in Pisac is filled with local color — literally. The local Quechua people favor vibrant clothing and all kinds of cool hats. An afternoon here is a dream for craft lovers, photographers, and fans of street food.
Ollantaytambo: Continuously inhabited since the 13th century, this Sacred Valley town is home to two sizeable Incan ruins set on steep hillside terraces. These were among the last Incan strongholds and display the same ingenious stone craft (massive pieces of rock were carved to fit precisely together) as better-known fortresses such as Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman.
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Who It's Best For
Couples: There’s a romance to the Sacred Valley that other parts of the Andes don’t quite have, enhanced by the urgent rush of the Urubamba River.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It’s Hard to Resist Buying Souvenirs: After visiting Incan ruins, you’re likely to be swarmed by local women and girls selling handmade souvenirs — colorful dolls, woven bags, necklaces, hats, and sweaters. Have cash handy and be prepared to bargain.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.