Deep below the ancient city of Machu Picchu, settled between the steep slopes of the Andes lies the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Close to the Incan capital of Cuzco, El Valle Sagrado was formed by the Urabamba River and is an intriguing stretch of historical Inca sites, small villages and renowned markets.

In Incan times, the Urabamba River was considered sacred; the earthly counterpart to the Milky Way and along with the constellations, the valley acted as a navigation guide to the ancient empire. The importance of the valley and its fertile land led the Incans to make the area an important center of their empire. Today visitors to the region can explore numerous ruins of villages, temples and palaces as well as experience the provocative traditions and village life that lives on.

local at the Pisac ruins in the Sacred Vallery, Peru

Among the great archeological sites of the Sacred Valley that can be explored today are the ruins of Ollantaytambo and at Pisac. Both have sweeping terraces and ancient temples and are a testament to the architectural skill of the Incas. Additionally, a lively local market featuring an abundance of Peruvian crafts, goods and foods is held daily though the best days to visit are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. At the market, visitors will find Peruvian women dressed in traditional bowler hats and vibrant bulbous skirts offering fresh herbs, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and maize. Other attractions are the impressive terracing of Moray and the saltpans of Salinas, both near the small town of Maras.

The Sacred Valley is often visited as a vehicle between Machu Picchu and Cusco, which lay at opposite ends of the channel. At one end of the Sacred Valley is Machu Picchu and at the other, is the city of Cusco. Many of the villages that lay along the stretch between the two destinations offer a relaxed environment in which visitors can experience the slow pace of traditional life alongside breathtaking nature and storied history. The villages of the Sacred Valley both feel untouched and provide plenty of opportunities for adventure seekers as well as relaxed sightseers.

women in traditional Peruvian dress in the Sacred Valley city of Ollantaytambo, Peru.

During the dry season (April- September), weather conditions are warm and enjoyable, which is perfect for wandering through the colorful markets and experiencing the majesty of the ruins. During the rainy season of October- March, the weather can sometimes create transportation interruptions through the valley so make sure you build extra time into your schedule if visiting then.

Whichever small town you decided to stop in, El Valle Sagrado provides a rich amount of Incan history, plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and impressive Peruvian scenery.