I’ve been obsessed with the Incas since my early 20’s. Maybe it’s because the Inca civilization is so enigmatic. Or perhaps admiration at having created such an impressive culture without written language, monetary system, iron, or slaves. I’d pour over photos of Machu Picchu in glossy magazines, imagining myself standing on that precipice, gazing down on the mystical citadel.
I got close in 1985, but a bombing in Lima by Shining Path guerillas caused the US State Department to cancel my flight just a few hours before takeoff.
Finally, I made to Peru’s Sacred Valley. While Machu Picchu is incredible and worth seeing, don’t make it your be-all-end-all. It’s jammed with tourists, highly regulated, heavily guarded, and exploration time is limited. And there are also alternatives to hiking the Inca Trail.
The Incas left behind a treasure trove of other historic sites that give a glimpse into their civilization. The best part is you’ll have them all to yourself.
My foray into Peru’s Sacred Valley started in Cusco, one of the oldest and most vibrant cities in the Americas. I was surprised to learn it was home to an imposing Inca fortress, perched at 12,142 feet overlooking the old city. Constructed during the reign of Inca emperor Pachacútec, the Incas fortified the walled complex of Sacsayhuamán with massive stone boulders, cut and fit precisely together without mortar.
The Incas thought Sacsayhuamán was impregnable, but in an epic battle, Spanish conquistadors charged uphill and crushed the Inca army. If you labor to reach the top you’ll have a keen appreciation for this extraordinary feat, not to mention stunning 360° views of Cusco.
Just a short walk from Chinchero’s small village, the archeological site encompasses sweeping views of hillside terraces with a backdrop of 18,140 foot snow-capped Chicón Mountain, and Vilcanota and Vilcabamba ranges. Adjacent to the terraces is an authentic indigenous market bursting with culture and color. Friendly vendors are decked out in dazzling, traditional Peruvian textiles. Just outside of town is a weaver’s coop with live demonstrations. Chinchero is an easy morning visit if you want to immerse yourself in some [read more]