The Sacred Valley
The Inca breadbasket in the valley below Cusco
As a means of acclimatising, it is becoming more and more frequent for clients to start an itinerary to Cusco and Machu Picchu by first heading down to the Sacred valley (also known as the Urubamba Valley or the , that winds its way eventually to the foot of Machu Picchu. This verdant area was once the centre of food production for the nearby Inca capital of Cusco and offers plenty to see and do as far as viewing some of the important Inca ruins of the area and getting a glimpse of a simple Peruvian way of life.
The main bulk of the historical ruins lies just to the north of the city of Cusco and includes the gargantuan fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the Incan shrine of Qenko, the small fortress of Puca Pucara and the bathing location of Tambo Machay. All of these historical sites are well worth a visit on the way down the sides of the valley and are normally included in part or in total on a valley tour.
Once down in the bottom of the valley most will head for the friendly village of Pisac, located right next to the Urubamba River, the main water source for the valley. This picturesque market town plays host to arguably the busiest and most interesting market on a Sunday and is also overlooked by the one time fortress city which, while smaller than Sacsayhuaman, has arguably the better stonework.
From Pisac it is a short distance to the village of Urubamba, which lies at the heart of the valley. As the idea of using the valley initially as a form of acclimatisation has grown, Urubamba has become well positioned to allow the best of all worlds as far as access to the valley and also on to Machu Picchu is concerned. Often the village is used as a good access point for the saltpans at Salinas and the circular Inca terracing at Moray.
Finally, the town of Ollantaytambo, to the very west of the valley, provides the final stopping point for many on their journey through the Sacred Valley. More than just the main train station on the way to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, the ruins that overlook the town are some of the best preserved of the Inca period and so merit some time to explore before boarding a train to the citadel.