Although Machu Picchu is the poster child of the Peru, the Sacred Valley is so much more.
We flew to Cusco, which sits at such an extremely high altitude that our heads hurt the minute we landed. From Cusco, it is a winding 2-hour drive down into the Sacred Valley. We had just come off the gorgeous landscape of Patagonia, Chile and yet we were still amazed by the Valley. Jagged peaks and lush green fields with small towns scattered in between. The homes all made of clay brick and tin roofs.
The Sacred Valley was once the center of the ancient Incan civilization, sacred because pretty much anything could grow there. The Incan were masters of agriculture. In order to farm in the middle of the Andes mountains, they developed a system of terraces that resembled giant green staircases. The most amazing thing about the Sacred Valley was the preservation of ancient culture and traditions.
People wore traditional clothing, spoke the ancient language Quechua, and lived off of the land. In the Sacred Valley, you won’t find huge pieces of privately owned land. Instead, the land is divided by communities who distribute the land to families or individuals for farming. Each year, the land is re-distributed and the location of your plot depends on a lot of factors, including age and physical ability.
A lot of villages still don’t use a currency (they exchange goods), and they share the products of the land (i.e. corn, potatoes, sheep) amongst every member of the community. Respect for the sacredness of the valley was evident.
We spent each day exploring a new Incan archeological site by walking, hiking, or biking. The valley is huge and we tried to cover all of it. (I like to think we did!)