The Sacred Valley (Urubamba Valley), Peru
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba Valley, is a valley in the Andean Mountains in Peru.
The Sacred Valley, or El Valle Sagrado was formed by the Urubamba River that runs through the area and is located north of the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. The area called the Sacred Valley encompasses the towns of Ollantaytambo, Urubama, Calca, Pisac and Chinchero. The proximity of the river, fertile plains and natural defences made this an ideal area of settlement for Quechua people and it was one of the last bastions of Incan culture before it was conquered by the Spanish.
To this day the area produces a lot of the crops that feed the nearby city of Cusco, but it is making an increasing amount of money from the tourist trade. Trips to Machu Picchu pass through this valley and locals have made a business out of selling everything from Quechuan cuisine to clothing/equipment needed to climb the mountains.
The area of the Sacred Valley is one of outstanding beauty and almost every point looks over a view like something out of Lord of the Rings (the good part, not the fiery hell part). I visited a couple of cottage industries while I was out there, drank some purple corn juice and generally just admired the views. My walk around Ollantaytambo was perhaps my favourite experience. The town has ancient Incan ruins, a small community feel and a landscape unlike anything I have seen anywhere else.
Although most of my hike to Machu Picchu took part in the Sacred Valley, the pictures below cover only the towns in the valley itself.
Just before the EU Referendum in June 2016, I mentioned that a leave victory would see the cost of travelling abroad creep up and thats exactly what happened. Luckily my trip to South America happened just a couple of months beforehand. Whether the cost falls over time depends on a number of factors, but for now some of the prices I came across might be slightly more expensive now.
I spent just over a month travelling from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast and in that time I managed to see four different countries. There's a couple of big omissions; Argentina and Colombia but I managed to see Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil and there is a variation of cost between the different countries.
Compared to the cost of travelling around Thailand, South America was considerably more expensive, even in Bolivia which was the cheapest of the countries I had visited, however there are certain things you can do to make sure you get the best value for money. As I mentioned in my post on travelling around Thailand, the more you get to know a place, the cheaper the cost per day becomes.
How expensive is South America? Here's my take...
Peru is one of those few countries that seem to have mastered being modern and traditional at the same time. The majority of the population is Amerindian, with Quechua and Aymara people still speaking the same language as they did during the times of the Inca. There is also a sizeable population of European descent who have brought with them Spanish culture. Unlike other areas of South America, however, the Spanish culture didn't completely replace the culture of the Amerindians, instead it seems to melt into it. When you add minorities from Africa and the Far East, you truly have one of South America's most multi-ethnic countries.
From the cuisine to the sights, Peru has a lot to offer. Whether its modern Lima with its Skyscrapers in Downtown or the bars and restaurants in Miraflores, or Ollantaytambo with its beautiful snowcapped mountains and preserved Incan culture, Peru certainly has a little something for everybody.
I didn't get to explore the northern part of the country and I heard amazing stories about Arequipa, however, here are my 5 favourite things about Peru.
South East Asia or South America. These two parts of the world have seen an explosion of popularity over the past decade and for most people the decision of where to visit first is often a difficult one. In this entry, I'll try and rate each of the locations on factors that are important to the average person and come up with an overall rating.
Things to consider
Before I get things started, its important to note that my experiences over the two locations will vary. I spent more time in South East Asia, and it was also the place I decided to visit first. There are important locations missing from both locations. I didn't visit Laos in SE Asia and I didn't visit Colombia and Argentina in South America. Personally, I feel that Argentina is a significant omission due to the size of the country and the number of things to see and do. Ratings and experiences are also very subjective, my experience could be significantly different from the experience of others so I'd bare this in mind when you make your decision.
Finally, a comparison between the two locations isn't an exact science. The phrase apples and oranges comes to mind. Peru and Brazil have completely different cultures, speak completely different languages, yet for the purpose of comparison they have been lumped together under a loose 'South American' category. This entry is a subjective rough overview of my experiences and can form part of your research into each location.
I was ridiculously underprepared for my trek to Machu Picchu, but I made it to the site in one piece. Looking back at the trip now, I realise there were probably a few things more important than others, and possibly a couple of things I could have done without.
Airport Rating n/a
Reception of locals *****
It's one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. It was after visiting Angkor Wat on the other side of the world in Cambodia that I had begun to plan a trip to South American to see Machu Picchu. The Incan site has seen a growth in popularity over the past decade and it's something that I have personally had an interest in from an early age after reading a few books on pre-Spanish civilisations in South America.
There's a few ways to get to Machu Picchu. The most simple and easiest way is to get a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and then a 20 minute minibus to Machu Picchu. For the more adventurous there are a number of different hiking options. The most famous is the 4 day 3 night Inca Trek which involves walking the same path that the Inca's did to the famous site. However, you can also take 2/3/5/7 and even 8 day treks that either cover the same path and different distances or completely separate paths.
Airport Rating n/a
Reception of locals *****
As far as natural beauty goes, there aren't many places in the world more beautiful than Ollantaytambo. Unlike Cusco, which gains some of its splendor by its architecture and cobbled streets, Ollantaytambo's splendor is completely in the breathtaking scenery that surrounds the settlement.
The drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo was a little over two hours, and on the way we stopped at a lookout point that had spectacular views of the Sacred Valley, of which Ollantaytambo is an important part. The Valley was the traditional heartland of the Inca Empire, and looking at the difficult mountain passes and Incan Era fortresses still visible, it makes you wonder how the Spanish found and then conquered the area. The drive down takes winding routes through mountainsides and the views are pretty amazing.
Airport Rating **
Reception of locals *****
I don't like flying at the best of times, which is strange considering all the flying that I do. Something about being in a glorified rocket where you put your life in the hands of complete strangers just doesn't work for me, no matter how many times I'm told it's the safest form of transport in the world. Usually, however, once I'm in the air at cruising altitude I tend to forget where I am and get lost into a book, or, on the larger flights a film or music until I have to land again. The flight into Cusco was genuinely one of the scariest flights I have done.
The flight from Lima isn't particularly long, and unlike some other journeys it was a decent sized plane that was almost full. The flight was relatively smooth until we came in for landing. Cusco is a city built at a high altitude (almost 3,400m) and as we began our descent I very quickly realised that some of the surrounding mountains were actually higher than the plane which was now beginning to make a lot of sharp turns and a very steep and quick descent. Usually at this point I would look around and see people around me acting normal but almost everyone else had their hands dug into their seats, some had their eyes closed. I turned to look out the window and the hills and valleys looked ridiculously close to the plane, it was both beautiful and also panic inducing. The constant turns from the plane didn't help and I don't think I've ever been more glad than when we finally landed on the runway. We walked out into an environment significantly cooler than Lima and an airport which was extremely small. However, if I thought my journey into Cusco was bad, going out, almost two weeks later, would be even worse.
Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals *****
Lima was my gateway to South America and formed the basis of my first impressions of the continent. Its difficult to generalise a whole continent on one city, not all of Europe is like London, not all of Asia is like Amritsar, but the heat and the chaos were two characteristics that would follow in most other cities. In fact, as soon as I left the airport in the nearest taxi we pulled onto a main road, and it was absolute gridlock with cars pulling manoeuvres that I didn't even see in SE Asia. In Asia I came across a lot of 'organised chaos'. Well this was just 'chaos, chaos'. The taxi driver, like many in other countries, was interested in talking about English football and was happy to know that one of his favourite Peruvian players had played for my favourite team.
After checking into my room, I decided the first thing I would do was use an app that can connect you with local people to show you around. Once I had sent a message out I decided to go for a late night walk to orientate myself and get a feel for the city. After a long flight (including a layover in Madrid) I was quite tired and only managed about 20 minutes walking around the centre of the Miraflores area. Generally regarded as 'upmarket' the area felt safe, even late at night.
Until this point, Hanoi in Vietnam had been the place where I found crossing the road quite difficult, especially at the start. Lima was comfortably more dangerous. In Hanoi I was told that you just need to step into the road and vehicles will automatically navigate their way around you, in Lima, if you weren't careful they would go straight through you. I found myself waiting for sometimes nearly 5 minutes before I was safely able to cross.
The one thing I'd like to mention about my journey to Peru was the stop over in Madrid. In attempting to board the flight from Madrid to Lima, I was checking my bags through security and once I had walked through the metal detector, a security guard stopped me and asked me to remove my patka. I politely refused and explained it was an article of faith. The guard remained unconvinced so with a bit more force I explained that the metal detector had not gone off and therefore I would not be removing my patka unless I was given a good reason. I then gestured that he was more than welcome to do a patdown, which he did and then let me through. As I was collecting my belongings from the tray, another security personnel approached me. She asked me if everything was okay (in English) and I replied yes. She then enquired whether I felt I was ill treated by the security guard. I replied that I didn't feel ill treated as the guard had let me through once I explained my position but added that her staff should have further training on Sikhs to prevent other passengers having to explain themselves. She made a note of this and wished me a pleasant journey.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.