For our second week in Peru, we wanted to revisit an area we first explored 11 years ago: Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. Back then we hiked the four day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and enjoyed the nightlife of Cuzco. This time we wanted to stay somewhere else (as well as revisiting Cuzco) in the Sacred Valley so we plumped for Ollantaytambo (Ollanta), about two hours west of Cuzco.
The small town is a nice mix of touristy and traditional. There are loads of cafes and restaurants serving world cuisine, tonnes of souvenir stores and loads of tour agencies. But the town is overlooked by two sets of Inca ruins, away from the main square there are quiet cobble-stoned alleyways and much of the local population still dress traditionally.
Just look at these clothes and headwear, amazingly intricate and colourful:
Inca fortress and temple, Ollantaytambo
These terraced fortifications cling to the side of the mountain next to town. This was the site where Emperor Manco Inca men successfully defeated the Spanish conquistadors in 1536 with a barrage of rocks, spears and, finally by flooding the plain below the structure.
We climbed to the top, which was hard work in the midday heat and because it sits at 2,800m above sea level, to admire the views and the skills of the Incas who had brought the stone 6km away to build the site.
Amphitheatre terracing, Moray
A couple of local buses from Ollanta brought us to this spectacular view:
The purpose of these concentric terraces built by the Incas are unknown but each layer has its own micro-climate so it is theorised that they used them as a type of laboratory to determine the best conditions to grow different crops.
They were an amazing sight on their own but even more so as situated in rolling countryside surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
We hurtled along in a battered collectivo (shared minivan) down a bumpy dirt track from Moray. Suddenly the driver stopped on a cliff top bend and ushered us out. It was our first view of the incredible Salinas, a surreal collection of thousands of salt pans dotting the valley below:
These have been in use since Incan times by diverting a saline-rich hot spring into various pans where the water is evaporated and the salt left over is used as cattle licks.
The town is famous as the jumping off point for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but it is a picturesque place on its own and we spent a couple of days enjoying the architecture, food and the dressed up llamas:
Inca citadel, Pisac
The small town of Pisac, with its popular handicraft market, is overshadowed (quite literally) by the Incan ruins that cling to the hillside above the settlement:
On top of the hill, sits the ceremonial centre but what is really impressive is the huge terracing which wraps around the mountain. We took a taxi up from town but walked back down a beautiful (if a little precarious) path which made you feel in awe of the Incas achievement…
We spent the final night back in Lima, eating the two famous Peruvian dishes that had eluded us: cuy (deep fried guinea pig) which was crispy but not very flavoursome and anticuchos (beef heart skewers), a delicious cross between steak and liver:
An amazing second week of our brief Peru jaunt.
Next stop: Los Angeles, USA