This post describes the horseback experience in Sacred Valley and the surrounding areas.
Sacred Valley overview
The Sacred Valley is a region that used to be the Incan Empire’s most important agricultural land. It is situated in Peru’s Andean highlands, and along with the nearby town of Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, it formed the heart of the Empire. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Ollantaytambo, an archaeological site and Pisac, home of the famous Incan citadels.
A great way to experience Sacred Valley is on horseback. Whether you are a novice or expert rider, you will find an appropriate ranch to meet your needs. The trails take you through small villages to high peaks, on the way passing local sheep herders tending their cattle.
Riding the elegant breed of Peruvian Paso Horse, ideal for beginners, is a wonderful experience and a fantastic way to take in the dramatic scenery of the Sacred Valley. Tours can be one day or overnight with different accommodation levels. There are also tours that require more commitment, they start at Sacred Valley and end at Machu Picchu (up to 10 nights between 2 hotels). Some tours start in Cusco and end in Machu Picchu with a tour through Sacred Valley in between.
Many of the tours accommodate non-riders by having stand-by small vehicles and include walking tours instead. The tour we took was safe and very well organized, the trail guides (2) brought lunch and it was an overall memorable experience we would not have missed. It was a private tour so we went at our own pace, it is very important to let the guides know your riding level.
Ollantaytambo is a village in the Sacred Valley of south Peru known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain. The village’s old town is adorably quaint with an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings. Before you get to Ollantaytambo, a stop at the Moray ruins is reccommended. These ruins served as a natural greenhouse to grow an extraordinary variety of crops at an altitude that they would typically only grow in the tropical Andes.
Ajha Wasi is a small, quaint restaurant in Ollantaytambo run by a woman that is considered a national treasure in this area. It is one of the few places you can get chicha de jora, a fermented corn beer dating back to the ancient Incan Empire. Mrs. Mercedes has been making fresh batches of corn beer for the last 35 years and serves it up to travelers daily. She also raises cuy, guinea pigs which are sold to the locals.
Maras salt mines
The Maras salt mines are world famous and go back to pre-Incan times. As a result of the process they use for extracting the salt, they look more like ponds or pans than mines. Today, the individual ponds are privately owned by individual members of the community who extract the salt and sell it. They used the same methods as their ancestors.
It’s in the top 10 largest salt mines in the world.
Cuzco (or Cusco), the capital of the Incan Empire and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest continuousy inhabited city in the Americas. Archaeologically, it is rich with specimens. Its Spanish colonial architecture is evidenced in its central Plaza de Armas, the Incan ruins are exhibited in the old city and the Baroque Santo Domingo Convent was built on top of the Incan Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha), with archaeological remains of Inca stonework. It also has a Catholic Cathedral with revered icons.
Cuzco Cathedral and the Black Jesus
The Cuzco Cathedral sits between the Church of the Holy Family and the Church of the Triumph and once inside you can go from one to the other. The Cathedral was built in 1559 when the Spanish started to replace the Incan religions with Catholicism. Most revered item inside the church is the Black Christ, although that is not the original flesh tone, it was created from centuries of smoke, dust, buildup of soot from candles and oil lamps, and pigment. The Black Christ is paraded through town once a year and is said to protect the city from Earthquakes (Señor de los Temblores). The cathedral was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site under the City of Cuzco listing in 1983.
Interesting to note, the Incan workforce that built the Cathedral included some of its Incan symbolism. For example, the carved head of a jaguar (an important god or religious motif in ancient Peru) is part of the cathedral doors.
We were not aware that photos are not allowed inside.
Ceviche is Peru’s most famous food, the cooking method involves immersing delicate raw fish in aromatic citrus juices, is an innovative way to slowly “marinade” fresh fish. Habanero chiles add a spicy kick to the dish, balanced out by a mixture of sweet potatoes, corn, and butter and lettuce
As China first sent its laborers to Peru in the 1800s, mainly from the Province of Canton who settled mainly around Lima, the new immigrants started adapting their cuisine to existing ingredients. Chifa is the Peruvian term for Peruvian–Chinese (Cantonese) cooking. The Chinese Peruvians began importing seeds from China and planting many new vegetables, which they used in their dishes. Chifa became famous in downtown Lima’s Chinatown. Dishes include Cantonese Peruvian chow mein, Lomo Saltado, Gallina tipa Kay and Pollo Enrollado.
The most important ingredient in all Peruvian cuisine is the potato, as Peru has the widest variety of potatoes in the world.
One traditional alpaca dish is apanado de alpaca, made with breaded alpaca meat, rice, potatoes, and salad. Other ways Peruvians cook alpaca is a chili con carne de alpaca with ground alpaca, black beans, pumpkin and hot sauce or alpaca tenderloin kebabs served with corn husks.