Exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
July 14 2014 11:07 AM

Exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru

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Photo by James Emmerman

A weaver in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

In the Andes of Peru, tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu, lies the Sacred Valley of the Incas. A stretch of virtually untouched villages and ancient ruins ranging across broad fields and mountain slopes, it drips with Andean history, culture, and beauty.

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Originally formed by the Urubamba River (the region is also known as the Urubamba Valley), the valley was once the fertile and spiritual base of the Incan Empire. Corn, coca, potatoes, and more grew in fields and along terraced mountain slopes, while the Incan astrological beliefs reflected the river's relentless flow.

Today, the mountain air is crisp and thin. Massive sky tumbles into tremendous landscapes. Quechua-speaking farmers work the fields with methods unchanged since the ancient Incan era. But while the Sacred Valley is deeply rooted in its history, contemporary influences are now intertwined with tradition. The only thing more striking than the landscape is the cohesive, living blend of the ancient and the modern.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Farmers in the Sacred Valley region.

The region continues to produce crops for Cusco including grains, peaches, and avocados, and while the ages-old farming methods and market days attract tourism, they also remain important cultural practices.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Farmers in the Sacred Valley region.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A farmer in the Sacred Valley region.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A farmer drinking from a mug in the Sacred Valley Region.

In Maras, approximately 25 miles north of Cusco, salt has been harvested through up-slope evaporation ponds since pre-Incan times. Heavily salinized spring water flows into an intricate system of tiny channels, constructed so it runs down to several hundred ancient terraced ponds. An informal cooperative system between farmers established during the time of the Inca, if not before, keeps the system running.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Salt ponds in Maras, Peru.

The Sacred Valley boasts some of the finest Incan ruins in all of the Americas, peppering the landscape like grounded ships. The town of Ollantaytambo is set on a plateau with surrounding mountains, each covered in terrace-style ruins, originally for farming on the unstable terrain.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Smoke from a nearby fire in Ollantaytambo.

Today the space is used for public enjoyment, such as the summer Ollantay Raymi festival dedicated to the Incan sun god. An elaborate performance of the 18th century Ollantay Drama is performed on the ancient terraces, which tells the story of general Ollantay and his forbidden love of a princess.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Ollantay Raymi performers in Ollantaytambo.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Ollantay Raymi performer standing on the terraced ruins in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

With so much tourism flooding in and out of Machu Picchu and Cusco, it's easy to miss the teeming beauty of this region. From its natural vibrance to rich history, the Sacred Valley is a truly unique hidden wonder.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Ollantay Raymi performers standing on the terraced ruins in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Ollantay Raymi performers in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A weaver in Ollantaytambo.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A weaver at The Textile Centre in Chinchero.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Farmer walking with donkeys in Chinchero.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A shaman in Ollantaytambo.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Ollantaytambo.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Thread at the The Textile Centre in Chinchero.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Two weavers at the The Textile Centre in Chinchero.

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Photo by James Emmerman

A weaver's hands at the The Textile Centre in Chinchero.

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Photo by James Emmerman

Clouds over ruins in the Sacred Valley region.

This post originally appeared as an Atlas Obscura article.


View Sacred Valley in a larger map

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