The Sacred Valley was one of my favorite areas to explore in Peru. The Incan ruins here tell stories of wonder, strength, power, science, discovery, prosperity, and sadly, loss–and this is a wonderful, yet sometimes overlooked region, that is bursting with stories to tell. Some people come to Peru on a mission to see Machu Picchu, and end up missing the gems along the way–like the ones I found in the Sacred Valley. On top of exploring all the fascinating ruins, there was also a ton of beautiful scenery to take in; between the rolling hills and lush valleys peppered throughout the region, I just couldn’t stop staring at all the raw beauty of Peru’s sweeping landscapes.
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If you’ve been following along on the Peru journey, then you read my last post about exploring Cusco City by foot. After we finished exploring Cusco City, we checked out of our charming little boutique hotel, and hired a driver to take us to the Sacred Valley. We made a few stops along the way before arriving at the best Airbnb ever! Well, technically it was my first Airbnb ever, but it was way more incredible than I ever imagined an Airbnb property would look like.
Here’s the rundown on everything we experienced during our Sacred Valley adventure.
PLACES WE VISITED ON THE WAY TO THE SACRED VALLEY
Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary
This is a legitimate animal sanctuary that actually exists to rescue wild animals from soulless human beings like poachers and abusive owners. Those who know me know I hate seeing wild animals being exploited, abused, locked up, and used for our entertainment. Grimy people all over the world are making millions off tourists who pay to see these abused animals–but you don’t have to worry about that here. Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary is an ethical facility that rescues endangered animals, cares for them, and releases them back into the wild when possible. It’s free to enter, but they do accept donations.
One animal in particular they educated us on was the Andean Condor, which is dangerously at risk of extinction, largely due to poachers who kill them for their feathers, which they turn around and sell to tourists. If you ever see condor feathers being sold–do not buy them! Don’t support this cruel trade.
Just a short 15-minute drive northeast of the animal sanctuary brought us to Pisac, a small traditional Andean village in the Sacred Valley, surrounded by Incan ruins and lush landscapes. If you miss your chance to do any shopping in the markets of Cusco City, you have plenty of opportunities here. The artisan market is filled with all kinds of colorful handicrafts—knitted scarves, trinkets, jewelry, clothing, ceramics—it can actually get overwhelming! And you might want to make sure you exchange your money before arriving here. We noticed the rates were nowhere near as good as the rates in Cusco City.
SETTLING INTO OUR AIRBNB PARADISE
Cozy Cottage Sacred Valley
After the scenic drive, it was time to check into our Airbnb, and I was absolutely not prepared for how amazing this place was. I’m usually a boutique hotel kind of gal, but I decided to try something new. I booked my stay at The Cozy Cottage using Airbnb for the first time ever, and I believe I may have struck gold. The property owner is a woman who went to Peru and fell in love twice. First, she fell in love with Peru. Then she fell in love with a Peruvian man. Out of this love story, a home was built, along with a guest house that she rents out to travelers like me who want to fall in love with Peru too. And fall in love, I did.
The next morning, we got a late start to our day, because…you know that feeling you get when you stay somewhere you don’t want to leave? That’s how I felt at the Cozy Cottage. I spent some time meditating and doing ab workouts in the all-glass yoga room built in the middle of the property. With mountains looming, streams flowing, and birds chirping in the background, this moment was a slice of heaven for me in the midst of a hectic, non-stop itinerary. Had our time not been limited, I literally could have stayed there all day.
SACRED VALLEY EXCURSIONS
We hired a driver per the recommendation of our host, and we soon saw that we were in for a real treat. As usual, I couldn’t get over the the vastness of the lush landscapes. On our way to our first stop, we passed by massive mountains, valleys, and fields.
Remember how I said Incan ruins tell all kinds of different stories about their way of life? Here in Moray, this story is all about science. It is widely speculated that the Incas used these circular terraces as an agricultural laboratory. Moray is a beautiful mystery, but although the reasoning behind its existence is clouded with uncertainty, the agricultural research station theory is a very likely possibility. Not surprising either, since about 60 percent of the world’s food crops originated in the Andes!
We left Moray and headed to Salineras, the salt mines of Sacred Valley. I have never seen so much salt in my life! I guess back then the Incas hadn’t yet figured out that too much salt causes health issues. What they did know however, was that salt tastes delicious so they created a ton of it. Amazingly these salt ponds were mined by the Incas of the past, and are still being used by Peruvians in the present. Since I normally use herbs and spices as opposed to salt when I cook, I bought a couple small bags of salt to give away as souvenirs to friends.
2 Hour Hike
One other cool thing about our Cozy Cottage Airbnb is that it was only a 2-hour walk away from Salineras! So we ditched the car, whipped out our Google maps, prayed our phones wouldn’t die, and walked for two hours all the way back to the Cozy Cottage. The hike was absolutely peaceful. No guide. No tourists. Nothing but mountains, fresh air, a rickety bridge we were forced to cross, and friendly locals smiling at us and going about their daily routines.