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by Mary Glenn
“The Incas were the most important civilization in South America. They conquered almost the entire continent. They built huge architectural works. They believed in Inti, the Sun God in Quechua language”, are some of the phrases you can read in History books or words which I heard during the tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu before I came to explora; before I discovered what you can learn beyond a regular tourism experience. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to go to the must-see locations to grasp the true wealth of this civilization and understand that this Valley was the main stage when it was at its peak.
Located 2,850 meters 9,350 feet above sea level –600 meters 1,970 below Cusco and only 32 kilometers (20 miles) away from it– the Sacred Valley of the Incas is sited among huge mountains, fed by the Urubamba or Vilcanota, the river that brings life to the most fertile valleys in Peru. There, in a remote hacienda, was what I used as my exploration headquarters for a few days: explora Valle Sagrado, a hotel built as a base from where to explore one of the most unknown corners of this destination, accompanied by expert guides, following roads only walked by shepherds and where Quechua is the first language.
A few hours after my arrival, one of the guides asked me if this was the first time I was there. Upon learning that it wasn’t, he suggested explorations to the three geographical areas that explora has defined as a must-see to really get a sense of this destination: the valley, the plateau and the summits. I would visit new places and return to others to explore them –as assured by the guide– from a “different perspective”. In a map, he showed me unknown lagoons; he told me about a glacier found up north; and he mentioned that there are archaeological remains the origins of which are still a mystery. He also showed me other sites, like Moray and Salineras de Maras.
On day one I decided to go to Moray, one of the Valley’s landmarks. However, the guide told me that I wouldn’t arrive and leave the place as most people do: by bus or van. The day before he had already asked me if I could ride a bike.
The first thing we did was leave explora by van to the starting point of our hike: a farming community on the hills. We began hiking among houses and narrow dirt roads crossed woodlands and continued down through fields, with views to Moray. From the heights, we could perfectly see each of its circular terraces. As we walked, Bruno, the guide, explained the history of this archaeological site and the theories about its operation. This way, when we got to Moray, we were able to wander around freely and calmly.
When we were done, Bruno was waiting for us with the bikes to begin the second part of our adventure: riding downhill through the Cuesta del Sapo, an exploration suitable for all of us there: a family with children aged 10 and 12, and my husband and I, both of us in our mid-fifties. Before that though, we had lunch under the shade of a tree on a field covered with thousands of small yellow and violet flowers: an excellent setting to eat and relax. There was a table with a tablecloth, foldable chairs and a buffet including pumpkin soup, smoked trout with capers, husked wheat salad with white cheese and energy balls, among other things.
We started our ride gazing at green mountains to the horizon and rode down the slope up to the Urubamba River. We continued along the river crossing fields and houses, from where local families greeted us, until we got to the van. They were waiting for us with well-deserved snacks and drove us back to the hotel. What an exciting first day!
The day before we left and after three days of different types of explorations, I dared to take “La Verónica”, a hike at more than 4,400 meters (14,400 feet) above sea level. My husband preferred to stay enjoying the pool and the spa.
We took a van and headed to the mountains, riding up a steep slope surrounded by small houses, abandoned archaeological remains and waterfalls. As we went up, it seemed as we could almost touch the clouds. When we got off the van, most of the mountains were covered by fog. We started walking and climbed to a place with a view to the La Veronica Mount, which stuck out through the clouds. From there we began our descent, first crossing a forest which is habitat to different bird species and then through plains with shrub-like vegetation typical of such altitude, always surrounded by mountain foothills. We continued for a long while until we had lunch on the banks of a small river; we then continued descending to where the van was waiting for us.
During this exploration we only came across two people: a girl tending her sheep and the owner of the only house that we saw; both only spoke Quechua. Luckily, Rubén –my guide– exchanged a few words with them and we were able to find out a little about their life stories.
Back at the hotel and while I was having my last pisco sour, I was telling my husband how I felt. I wasn’t just pleased…I was truly and extremely happy! I had managed to complete that hike. While it required more than other explorations I had made, I had definitely accomplished something unique.
The design of each of the explorations they suggest is an art out of the ordinary and unique in its style. This proposal is precisely what makes this hotel something that goes way beyond a room with four walls.
The feeling of walking through local roads among landscapes where vast prairies fade away into the mountains and the mountains look like they were reaching into the sky gives meaning to leaving the beaten path behind and adventuring yourself into the secrets of the Sacred Valley. Without hesitation, this experience is an invitation to return, to continue discovering, to go after more.
After being at explora Valle Sagrado early this month, US traveler Mary Glenn sent us a mail sharing her experience. She wanted to thank us for what she experienced and invite others to visit us.