Since travel to Machu Picchu tends to be the first priority for people who travel to Peru, other tourist destinations in the country like the Colca Canyon near Arequipa and even the Peruvian capital city Lima tend to go unnoticed.
Like Machu Picchu, Peru’s aptly-named “Sacred Valley” is close to Cusco, the largest city in southeastern Peru and the ancient capital of the Incas. If you only have one day to dedicate to the massive Sacred Valley, take a day trip to the Moray Inca Ruins, about 50 km from the center of Cusco.
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Wake up as close to 8 a.m. the morning you plan to head out to Moray, then call or hail a taxi to Cusco’s Santiago bus terminal. Upon exiting the cab, make your way inside the white walls of the station and ask any attendant which bus is going Maras, the town closest to the Sacred Valley. If your Spanish isn’t good, simply write “Maras” down on a piece of paper and give it to the first person who approaches you.
Bus schedules are about as common in this part of the world as the Queen’s English, but you thankfully shouldn’t wait more than 15 minutes for your vehicle, which may be either a large tourist bus or a smaller collectivo van. Whichever means you use to get to Maras, the fare should be no more than three soles, which was around $1 US as of November 2012.
As your bus climbs over the mountains that almost completely encircle Cusco, you’ll notice a gradual increase in the number of flat fields around you, which are replete with golden- and lavender-colored wildflowers. Given the country’s highly-indigenous population, the excess of native-looking people shouldn’t surprise you if your Peru travel has lasted at least a few days, although the herds of goats, cattle and other livestock crossing the road at their own leisure may take you aback. You might characterize the overall aesthetic as being “Sacred.”
Sacred or not, the Sacred Valley of the Incas isn’t really much of a valley. Although the Moray ruins which lie at the bottom of a crevice the Incas dug for them, the Sacred Valley and its attractions still sit almost 12,000 feet above sea level, only slightly lower than Cusco and higher, in fact, than Machu Picchu.
Don’t let the altitude of the Sacred Valley deter you from enjoying your experience to the most sacred extent possible. If you’ve having trouble with altitude sickness during your travel in South America, ask any local if he can bum you some coca leaves, which truly do help.
Your vehicle will drop you off in Maras, about 13 kilometers from the Moray Ruins themselves. Resist the urge to hire a taxi. Your decision to man up and walk is quickly rewarded: The scenery in Peru’s Sacred Valley is among the most pristine and beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life.
I’ve seen blue skies and massive mountain towering into them, rolling hills and fields of phlox rolling over them like outdoor carpeting. I’ve come face to face with more than my fair share of farm animals and hiked harrowing cliffs over dried up riverbeds that mean certain death for those who fall into them. Peru’s Sacred Valley is home to all these incredible things and more — and something else I can’t put my finger on.
I suppose this could be partially because once you pass over the last of Maras’ paved roads, the only people you encounter are the few that tend to the animals that roam across this plateau and their children, who seem never to have seen white tourists.
After between one and two hours of walking, you’ll notice a modern-looking building and the taxis you waved off when you began your walk. This is the entrance to the Moray Ruins at the Sacred Valley.
The attendant blocking your would-be complimentary entrance into Moray will do his best to upsell you into a “Sacred Valley Tourist Ticket,” one which permits you entry into all the sites of the Sacred Valley over a several day period for a low price of more than S./100.
Unless you’re spending several weeks in Cusco, decline this offer and buy a one-day pass to enter the Moray Ruins at the Sacred Valley, which costs just 10 soles.
You won’t realize the true grandeur and magnificence of the ruins, a series of concentric, stone-walled circles that descend gradually as you go inward, until you reach the bottom and look up. On the day I went, I was lucky enough that my companion Assaf descended into the abyss while I was still at the top, affording me an incredible vantage point that put the scale of the construction into breathtaking perspective.
We happened to be the only tourists in the Sacred Valley for most of the hour or so we spent actually exploring the ruins, which would seem to have been used as an amphitheater of sorts back in the day based on its incredible acoustics. Most historians now believe that Moray was an “agricultural experiment” of the Incas.
Whatever Moray’s purpose for those who built it, it’s an otherworldly, fascinating, secluded diversion from the gringo madness of Cusco and Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is an essential part of travel in Peru.
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