Traveling to Peru has been on my dream list for quite some time - exploring the Sacred Valley is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Not only is it home to one of the most recognized seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, but for me, the vibrancy of the culture coupled with the ancient mysterious nature of the Inca’s, shamanism and the Amazon rainforest made for a very intriguing journey.
One of my main objectives in traveling to Peru was to learn about and buy Peruvian textiles to use in my designs while also collaborating with artists in Peru. When I travel I am less interested in the big tourist attractions and I more enjoy wandering the streets and markets, sitting in interesting cafe's and soaking in the street culture. As a result, this guide focuses a bit more on my own discoveries rather than a list of the best archaeological sites to visit in Peru.
To see and shop some of my work that was inspired by this trip, you can shop from our Peruvian bags collection here. I'll do a separate post eventually on my whole process and inspiration but for now, here are a few pieces from the collection.
The whole region of the Sacred Valley is a vibrant feast for the senses, from the lush landscapes to the bright local textiles worn by local villagers. I started my journey flying in to Cusco via Lima where I promptly took a taxi to Ollantaytambo. After two days of traveling, Ollantaytambo’s calm, ancient vibes washed over me like a warm, soothing balm. Ollantaytambo is a great place to acclimate to the altitude in the region while also providing a stepping off point to Macchu Picchu. Home to two massive Inca ruins, the town has been inhabited since the 13th century and is a remarkable example of Incan city planning. In and around Ollay, there are some villages where I was able to meet some Quechua weavers and see their work. It’s worth asking around at your hotel if this is something that interests you as there are many textile artists in the area. The weaving community of Huilloc is a great place to start, perched high above the mountains in the Urubamba Valley.
My second day included a trip to Macchu Picchu. In Ollay there are a few cute cafe’s where they will pack you a special lunch to take on your journey - you will see them on the road leading out of the main square. However I didn’t end up needing a lunch because when I arrived at the train station, they informed me that I had been upgraded to first class! We were greeted with cocktails and a 4 course meal, a live band and a balcony where you could go outside and take in the spectacular mountains and Urubamba River. This is definitely worth the splurge if you can, my experience was outstanding and I can’t recommend locally owned Inca Rail enough!
I know a lot of people spend the night in Aguas Callientes and line up at 3am to get to Macchu Picchu before the crowds for the sunrise but the truth is, Macchu Picchu is at its MOST busiest in the morning. It depends on your priorities but I opted for a day trip - leaving in the late morning and returning in the evening and it was perfect! When I left Macchu Picchu the sun was setting, there was barely anyone around and this rainbow appeared, just as I was leaving:
My next destination was Cusco where I stayed at Hotel Nino. I cannot recommend this place highly enough! It is run by a Dutch-founded non-profit organization that serves underprivileged children in the town. It’s a rambling colonial home with a sunny courtyard and a little store selling great textiles woven by local artisans. All of the food served in the restaurant is organic and grown locally. I loved the fireplace in the dining room and my room was so cozy.
One of my favourite excursions in Cusco was a visit to the San Pedro market, a local feast for the senses filled with food stalls, juice bars, craft vendors and flowers. So much fun to see vendors selling local superfoods like amaranth, maca, quinoa and chia as well as little bundles of sacred herbs and palo santo from the Amazon.
After the market, take a cab over to the Centro Artesanal, a great spot to pick up a range of local craft items, textiles and souvenirs.
If you happen to be in Cusco on a Saturday, the El Baratillo is a sprawling market with three streets dedicated to textiles. This area is a little off the beaten track though so watch your cameras and wallets as pickpockets target this area.
Finally, the San Blas neighborhood, heading out of the main square is a great spot to explore for interesting little cafe's and shops. There are amazing remnants of the Inca's archaeological brilliance at every turn so simply take it all in!
My final destination in the Sacred Valley was Pisac - about a 45 min glorious scenic drive from Cusco. The Sunday market is an amazing spot to shop for textiles, trims and alpaca knitwear. There are some really cute shops selling textiles in and around the market and a famous shaman’s supply shop. Pisac is somewhat of a spiritual hotbed of activity, especially for ex pats with many ayahuasca retreats and yoga centres. The whole area is considered to be one of the most energetically charged destinations on the planet and you begin to feel it as you descend and weave through the valleys of the majestic Andes.
A few other spots in the Sacred Valley you might want to check out:
The ancient salt ponds of Maras are a true wonder of the Sacred Valley. Carved into steep mountain hillsides, the site is made up of over 3000 small terraced salt ponds. The local community has been harvesting this salt in artisanal form for thousands of years and, depending on the expertise of the salt miners, are able to harvest white pink, red, and even brown salt.
In Chinchero, a little town about an hour from Cusco, you’ll find Incan ruins, views of snowcapped mountains, colonial churches and colorful markets. On market days, the locals come down from the hillside villages to sell their wares. And don’t miss the church or “Iglesia Colonial” in the small town center. It’s one of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture in the Sacred Valley, its interior walls covered with ornate fresco paintings.
Thank you Peru for being such a beautiful inspiration to me!
Stay tuned for my travel guide to Barranco in Lima!
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