Originally I booked the Inca Trail Extension as an add-on to my Active Galapagos Tour with Intrepid. Due to needing knee surgery for the 6th time coming up in November, I decided hiking the grueling Inca Trail was not a good idea. Intrepid was able to change some things so that I could still see Machu Picchu and even more.
A lot of my time in Peru was spent solo. It was a bit of a “social nose dive” after spending the prior ten days with 15 other travel-mates. I was thrilled that two other solo travelers joined me on the Sacred Valley Tour (Hemma from New Zealand and Jose from Australia).
We left Cuzco around 9:00 am and our first stop was an unexpected one at a “zoo”. I’m not sure I’d call it that, but it had some pretty amazing experiences for us. The highlight…standing in the Condor enclosure while one flew right over our heads (their wing span is approximately 5-6 feet). Oh…and petting an Alpaca. We also several parrots, llamas, a crane, and a hairless Peruvian dog (their dark skin absorbs heat during the day and keeps them warm all night). This “zoo” is a rehabilitation center. Some of the animals will be rereleased at some point; others will have to stay forever.
We then had a brief stop at the beginning of the Sacred Valley for photos and some history. Victor, our guide, was actually from this area and quite knowledge. One end of the Sacred Valley is ~3000 meters, while the other is ~2500 meters. This difference causes different growing climates and therefore different products are grown (and were traded).
The first ruin we stopped at was Pisac. There were four main areas in Pisac (residential, industrial, military, and religious). We visited the military and industrial areas. The basic foundation of Pisac was built in the 1350s and the remaining work was done in the 1400s-1440s.
The hike was straight up and the wind was fierce. I asked our guide if the wind always blew hard and the answer was yes. In addition to the areas we hiked to, I was also able to get photos of the residential area. Photos from afar worked great for this area, so that the distinct Condor shape of the area could be seen.
Several types of stone work can be seen in Pisac. The exterior defensive walls are made out of large, almost brick-like stones with a smooth texture. The interior walls are of two types; odd shape stones and brick-like stones (thought to be pre-Inca) both with mortar. I find visiting ruins to be a much better learning experience than just reading about them. And, to make it more worthwhile having had our local guide Victor along was a major plus.
In the valley below the Pisac ruins, the “modern” (not so much for those used to large cities) town thrives. It was finally time for lunch and once again Victor pointed us to an amazing local place for empanadas. This is the same place my indecision about eating guinea pig was expanded. After lunch we walked to a local silver shop for a demo and then we finished our tour of Pisac with a leisurely hour of shopping in the craft market.
Our final stop on the Sacred Valley Tour was, Ollantaytambo. The “modern” town was built right on top of the original ruins. It’s easy to tell by looking at the buildings where the old stone work ended and the more modern building began. The original water system is still in place and actively used.
Arriving right around 4:00 pm, we were caught in a small town traffic jam. The single entry point is really only large enough for traffic going one way. The locals are really good about working/driving around each other, but throw in two large trucks (one going each way) and we were in gridlock. After much debate, it was decided that we would walk into town and our driver would drop our bags off at my hostel. It was one of those colossal “how many men does it take” moments as they town men tried to work out the most logical way to clear the mess up.
As we approached the main ruin site of Ollantaytambo, I was awestruck. For some reason, I felt very connected to this place. I can’t explain it. We hiked up to the religious area and visited the Sun Temple. We also had a great view of the granaries across the valley. Victor very carefully explained where the sun rises from at different times of year and how it reflects on the Sun Temple. We got there at the perfect time for photos. Since I was so caught up in the beauty of Ollantaytambo, I didn’t catch as many of the facts as I did in Pisac. It was a joy to visit.
The next day I hiked the opposite side of the valley, and got photo as the sun began to shine on the Sun Temple.
At the end of the tour, Victor caught a ride back to Cuzco and Hemma, Jose, and I had dinner. That’s when Hemma and I decided to share alpaca. Later, Hemma and Jose headed to the train (they were going to Machu Picchu Town that night) and I retired to my room early…it was an interesting and exhausting day.