Some people think that a visit to Cusco is only about going to Macchu Pichu. This is certainly not the case. There are various destinations in this beautiful city, each suiting the diverse preferences tourists may have. Do you want a calm and relaxing vacation? Go a take a soothing paddle ride in Laguna Piuray! Do you like precise historical facts and anthropological information? Visit the Inkariy museum! Do you wish to interact with local people and learn about their lifestyles? Visit the various communities of Lamay. We’ll tell you all there is to know about the Sacred Valley, so you can plan a fantastic trip!
Chinchero or “Brave man” was a place of great historical importance to the Incas. It is thought that it was Inca Tupac Yupanqui’s favorite getaway resort, and also, several aqueducts and terraces where built in the place. Here you will find more of the typical and elaborate Inca stonework, as well as incredible weaving demonstrations. Locals will kindly show you how they produce different colored dyes for wool and then spin it into beautiful pieces. Enjoy the fantastic landscape of the multi-toned green farming areas, and paddle in the nearby Laguna Piuray.
Another place you must stop by is the traditional Pisac Market, which will be fully open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Pisac Market is one of the most famous marketplaces in the whole of Cusco, probably because of the beautiful hand made souvenirs locals will offer, such as knitted products, pottery, jewelry, and more. Also, the way the market is enabled -with locals gathering cheerfully around the plaza and adding vending spots as they arrive- is something different from the western shopping experiences. As you walk by, you will feel the delicious smoky smell of fresh Andean-cheese-filled empanadas being prepared by locals, which are made in the same clay ovens that were used by inhabitants of this place 19th century. Don’t miss out on trying them.
Although the Pisac market place is unique and buzzily beautiful, it is not everything this place has to offer. If you are in the area, you must visit the ancient ruins. Located at about a 3-hour, uphill hike from the main square, the Parque Arqueológico de Pisac is the home of a great stone complex and the traditional Inca agricultural terraces. If you are getting breathless on the way up, never mind. There will be lots of friendly drivers eager to take you to the main spot by car. The most beautiful and emblematic archeological piece in the area will be found on your way down: The Moon Temple. Its architectural intricateness is just like the great buildings of Machu Picchu, and the countryside view you get from this spot will be hard to match.
Awanacancha is an interesting social initiative, which has its main base at the 23rd kilometer of the Cusco-Pisac highway. It started as a conservation project for many of the local camelids such as alpacas, llamas, and vicuñas, but eventually, after a local investigation concluded that traditional customs were being lost, the Awanacancha team selected certain communities that were interested in maintaining them, to provide them with all the necessary means to do so. Hence, Awanacancha is now a self-sustainable cultural center that investigates and promotes the ancestral techniques of weaving, dyeing, handling, and production of camelid fibers; and offers artisan weavers spaces and opportunities to show and transmit their knowledge. Do stop by to learn these amazing techniques and purchase fair-trade high-quality products. You might even get the chance to see a fluffy baby alpaca!
Cusco never stops surprising us with its varied and unique destinations. Salineras de Maras is an amazing one-of-a-kind place you must visit. Here you will find stone lintels, salt evaporation ponds, and salt mines, which were the main source of salt for the Incas themselves. Salt extraction requires cooperative efforts from all local pond owners, reflecting the cooperative and collectivistic values which they inherited from their ancestors. The classic pink Maras salt has an intense and complex flavor, which is why it is currently a favorite of Peruvian and foreign chefs. Here, you can purchase it at a surprisingly low price, directly from the producers. Do bring a camera, so you can immortalize memories of this spectacular place.
Moray, a set of leveled circular terraces that reach 150 meters of depth, show a whole different level of Inca agricultural engineering. Some experts hypothesize that this place was an agricultural research center for the Incas, especially due to the temperature differences found at each terrace level. What is more, research has shown that soil in Moray had been imported from all over the Inca Kingdom, and located at specific places within the terraces, which curiously match the temperature of the geographical location from which they where extracted. Moray is by no means “just another ruin”, it is perhaps the most impressive scientific development of the Incas that we know of, making the visit here entirely worthwhile.
Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley, is best known for being the home to one of the most impressive fortresses in the Inca Empire. It is said that one of the few successful battles of the Inca’s resistance to the Spanish invasion occurred in this place, in part because its extremely high location allowed the Incas to have a panoramic view of the valley, and helped them foresee the attack of the invaders. You will also find large terraces and the impressive Intihuatana, a monolithic structure used as an astronomic observatory. Don’t miss the chance to see the Baños de Nusta, a wonderfully carved granite fountain.
Museo Inkariy is located in the 53rd kilometer of the Cusco-Urubamba highway, and it is recognized the rigorous historical and archeological research on which the information provided is based. The Meridas, the founding family, wanted this place to showcase and inform tourists on more than just the Incas, which is why they implemented aisles dedicated to one ancient Peruvian civilization each, such as the Caral, Chavin, Moche, Paracas, Wari, Nazca and Inca cultures. Each aisle includes general information on each culture as well as the recreation of emblematic scenes that best represent each. For example, for the Moche, you will see a person working on the complex precious metal pieces that this culture was known for. This is one best innovative and didactic museums in Peru, which is why you must stop by.
Lamay is a district in the province of Calca, in Cusco, where you will find a wide variety of activities. First of all, you have Pachar Chumpe lagoon, a fantastic spot to do relaxing activities such as fishing and resting in the lakeshore. If you’d like to see some architectural pieces, you can go to the Huchuy Qosqo ruins, which are much less transitted than others, in case you’d want a calm, historical visit. If you enjoy immersive tourism, you must visit the nearby native communities of Huayllafara and Chuquibamba, where locals will kindly tell you all about their customs and traditions, as well as show you typical dances and music. Also, in Janac Chuquibamba, you will find the Ruta de la Achupalla tour, where locals will teach everything about the Achupalla, a typical plant that is used by them for many purposes, from feeding animals to preparing medicines.
Urubamba is a wide territory located 50 kilometers from Cusco City, and it is best known for being calmer and quieter than the other emblematic touristic hotspots. However, this place hosts outdoor activities with the fabulous landscapes found in the area. Schedule a fun horseback ride, go on the famous rock climbing circuit Via Ferrata if you’re craving for a little adrenaline, as well as soaring through the skies in the zip lines. Do you like art? Go and visit the galleries of Tater Vera Ceramics and Seminario Ceramics, both belonging to two internationally recognized artists who love to showcase Precolumbian and colonial pottery techniques in their high-end art pieces.
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