Words and Photos Dearbhaile Ní Dhubhghaill
In the heart of the Andes, a sparkling river, bordered by swaying yellow grass, misty forests and carelessly strewn boulders, cuts a deep path between sharp mountain peaks. Though the Urubamba River meanders for over seven hundred kilometres through Peru, the stretch between Pisac and Aguas Calientes is by far the most visited. This is the Sacred Valley, heart of the once-great Incan Empire.
Just a short distance north of Cusco, the Incan capital, the Sacred Valley is where most visitors to the country spend their time. And with good reason. This is where the magic of Peru is most obvious, where history, geography and legend collide spectacularly. There are innumerable ruins dotted throughout the mountain landscape, many of which can only be visited on a multi-day trek, known around the world as the Inca Trail.
The destination of such a hike is far more accessible these days, with buses and trains now traversing the valley to reach the jewel of Peru and the Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu. For about a hundred years during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Lost City of the Incas, as it later became known, was a fortified citadel, a royal mountain retreat away from the busy city of Cusco. The ruins now have over a million visitors each year.