Sacred Valley and Chinchero, Peru
From Cusco there is an interesting excursion that will take you through the Sacred Valley of the Incas along the River Urubamba. There are a number of Inca towns along the route near to Cusco but the highlight was a former Inca citadel, Pisac, that sits at a strategic point above the gorge at the entrance to the Sacred Valley guarding Inca trade routes from the highlands down into the Amazon basin. Clambering up to its former battlements gives you a panoramic view over the Sacred Valley that is breathtaking. The site itself is large, much larger than Machu Picchu but also much more spread out along a mountain ridge that extends for a mile or more. The superb Inca Fortress is high in the hillside. Here is the Reloj Solar (Hitching Post of the Sun), now closed off because thieves stole some part of it, palaces of the moon and stars, solstice markers, baths and water channels. It is surprisingly well preserved with only the roofs of buildings missing. Although the walls were made of thick stone that can withstand whatever time throws at them, the roofs were made from straw (obviously bio degradable) and have long gone. The Spanish invaders used much of the Inca masonry to build their own constructions but plainly did not feel inclined to move the stones from this inaccessible location.
A key Inca stop in the valley is Ollataytambo, to visit the temple of the sun. The steep climb to the temple is rewarded with fine Inca construction, where huge Stonehenge style stones have been moved from a quarry the other side of the valley to the site are cut and placed so meticulously that only the finest of binding materials are required to seal the walls. An Andean cross is the key to the central part of the temple as are the water irrigation channels that direct pure glacier waters down through the site and to the town below. Most of the town is has been built on the Inca wall foundations followed by adobe bricks (mud and straw) with thatched roofs, though now all the roofs have been replaced by corrugated iron.
Take the time to travel onto Chinchero, a lovely village situated on a small hill with tremendous views of the surrounding mountains. There is a once weekly market that fills the plaza outside the church where the women of village sell lots of beautiful crafts and weavings in the narrow streets. The finest of the woven products are made using traditional methods to clean the llama wool (with cactus root), to dying the wools using herbs and vegetable colours, such as onion, and then to spinning them weaving into goods such as scarves, rugs and hats.