The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, my fellow traveler, is not only one. I could start saying that the space crossed by the Vilcanota River, in its valley condition, has very good agricultural lands. For example: the well-known giant white corn (paraqay in Quechua) from Urubamba – that has a Protected Designation of Origin – or kiwicha. Or Wheat and barley, ¡f I have to mention Western grains. Here, the weather and altitude are gentle. You are between 2.800 and 2.900 meters of altitude, it is a place not so high as Cusco (therefore, less exposed to the excessively feared soroche or high-altitude sickness), and that is the reason why many tourists prefer to land at the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, and head directly to one of the Sacred Valley’s towns, leaving Cusco as a visiting spot.
The difference with other valleys such as the Colca is that the landscape is plain; there are neither canyons nor abrupt territories. In its lieu, there are slopes and narrow passes that form different ecological floors and explain the generosity of the agriculture, and this, at the same time sustains the “sacredness” of the name Sacred Valley. It is said, that the quality of corn in these lands was so good that the production was earmarked for the Inca and his panaca, additionally to the submittal, to say it in some way, of these fertile lands to the imposing snow covered mountains as Chicón and Verónica.
In the pre-Hispanic period, the valley was inhabited by different ethnic groups. Then, the Incas arrived and built palaces for the entertainment of the Inca and his panaca, sanctuaries, temples, splendid terraces and great hydraulic engineering works. The Spanish applied the model of reducing the indigenous population and built towns with a main square and a grid plan urban design, like a chessboard, beside the river, on Iands that had been assigned exclusively for agriculture before their arrival.
In this space of 700 kilometers are located the towns of Chinchero, Pisac, Calca, Yucay, Urubamba, Maras, and Ollantaytambo, only to mention the ones that are known to tourism, geographically very close to one another and with a shared history. To visit them with pleasure and a bit of detail, I suggest you to stay at least five days, maybe changing the place where you sleep: in order to have the option of deepening the visit in some of these towns, that are still great despite modern times, raging tourism and the invasion of Limenians. Even though they share certain identity, the towns are very different among them. Each one has lived history in a different manner and you can see it through the architecture, the land-scape or its live culture.
Tourism and the recent discovery of the valley by well-off Limenians have changed substantially the human and social landscape that, until recent times, had other charms because the travel experience was transmitted directly by local villagers. There were much more green areas than the ones you can see now and much less stridency and visual contamination, pulmonary and auditory than now. The square meter in Urubamba is valued in about 100 dollars. Investors have built luxury hotels and spas, as well as some not so luxurious too, near a hippie-style lodging project and more achichado, informal-kitsch, commercial centers. Wealthy people from Lima have built closed condominiums that generate distrust by their closeness to archaeological zones. Calvin Klein spends vacations incognito in some splendid hotel here. Susan Sarandon has ridden a Peruvian Paso Horse in the valley. Cameron Díaz recorded a program for MTV between the greeneries and the rural architecture of some town. The local artisan markets debate themselves between “authenticity” and the Gamarra-new-rich style that has brought substantial changes, for example in the mestizo city of Pisac. Traveler, everything gets mixed, as only things in our country can be mixed: there is cosmopolitism, there is genuine and ancestral culture, there is austerity and tranquility, and there is also, much of the modern Perú, and of the “chicha” culture of Perú. However, the main problem of the valley goes by the side of uncontrolled urbanization. On the other hand, the unmeasured touristic growth does not come together with sustainability programs, and makes it more noticeable the | subject of waste handling. Until now, the Vilcanota river continues being the main recipient of tons of garbage that are produced daily and the local, regional and non-government initiatives to solve this and decontaminate it are not effective in a problem that is rapidly increasing.