The Sacred Valley is the region surrounding Cuzco and is what you will pass through if you plan to visit Machu Picchu. Cuzco was the capital city of the former Incan Empire, but many of their buildings and constructions were destroyed when the Spanish invaded and took over. Although the city was the epicenter of all things Inca, it was surrounded by satellite cities and buildings. These were damaged by the Spanish, but typically not rebuilt upon (as they were in Cuzco), meaning that today the Sacred Valley has some of the best Inca ruin remains in all of Latin America.
Pisac is about 30 kilometers outside of Cuzco and is famous for its traditional artisan and food market. It is also the location of some massive Inca ruins. Situated on top of a hill, the Pisac ruins are surrounded by terraces and often overlooked by tourists on one-day Sacred Valley tours. The ceremonial center and temples are some of the site’s highlights.
Another great place to visit in the Sacred Valley is Moray. Although this location does not have any ruins, it does have several intriguing downward spiraling agricultural terraces. Right next to a steep valley drop off, creating a direct path to snow-covered mountain peaks beyond, this was where the Incas experimented with different types of seeds, soil, and growing patterns. They used their knowledge to increase their food supply, strength, and characteristics.
One of the most famous towns in the Sacred Valley is Ollantaytambo. The town is tiny and ancient, which is what makes it so attractive. It has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century, and the original walkways and structure of half of the town are original. Visitors actually walk along the same streets the Incas did, which although this can be done at ruin sites, doing it along currently occupied streets where locals live and work is remarkable, as if one is stepping back in time.
The main attraction at Ollantaytambo is its massive hillside ruins. The ruins sit upon a layer of green terraces, which are lined by well-structured stone supports. After climbing up a steep staircase, visitors are rewarded with two main impressive structures: the Temple of 10 Niches and the Sun Temple. Both include large rocks that were hauled from a quarry six kilometers away and perfect stone alignment. The ruins offer a great view of the valley, surrounding mountains, and the town below. However, for the best view in Ollantaytambo, head up the mountain directly across from the main ruins, where several Incan storehouses are located. These alternative ruins are free to visit and give you the best view of the main Ollantaytambo ruins.