Peru continues to be a top travel destination year after year, and for good reason. From it’s ancient history, diverse ecology, and delicious culinary offerings to name a few, there’s something for everyone here. The Sacred Valley was once the heart of the Inca Empire, but this area along the Urubamba River offers numerous photographic opportunities and experiences for visitors. Over the past five years I’ve had the opportunity to make multiple visits to this part of Peru, and there are five of the big draws to this part of South America.
Cusco was once a center of power of the Inca, and now it serves as a gateway to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail and many other popular destinations in this region. While Cusco blends new with old, there is plenty of photographic opportunity here if you venture just beyond the big plazas and popular tourist spots. Be sure to visit the local markets for a dose of local culture, where chatting with the local vendors with a few Spanish phrases can get you some great photographs. Areas of town such as San Blas highlight the Spanish architectural influence in the country, and often make for some of the best street photography.
The main reason why people travel from around the world to visit this area of Peru, Machu Picchu is still a stunning sight to see for millions of people every year. As regulations are changing for experiencing this marvel, there is no time better than the present to experience it for yourself. Off season months provide great photo opportunities without the large crowds, and adding in a tour of Huyana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain opens up new ways to enjoy your time at Machu Picchu. The Peruvian government along with UNESCO have put into motion new regulations to curb traffic flow to help preserve the archeological site, so the time is now before all the new regulations go into place for visitors.
Ollytatambo, Maras, & More
In addition to your time in Cusco and Machu Picchu, plan to take day trips our stops along your train ride to see some of the best kept secrets in the Sacred Valley. Towns like Pisac or Ollantaytambo have substantial Inca ruins that are just as impressive as the structures of Machu Picchu with less tourists, giving you freedom to explore and photograph at your discretion. Book an early morning ride out to Salinas de Maras, where locals harvest salt from the hillside pools which looks like something out of a work of fiction. In addition to finding more pleasant interaction for travel portraits or unique crafts, you’ll find great opportunities for souvenirs to remember your time in Peru. For the adventurous types, the Sacred Valley is the starting point for various treks through the Andes and other popular landmarks such as Salkantay and Rainbow Mountain.
The people of Peru, especially those you meet beyond the hustle of the popular tourist areas, are warm, proud, and cheerful individuals. While you may find less concern for interaction with tourist in popular parts of Cusco, venturing outside the main cities will open up a whole new experience in Peru.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a non-profit group a short car ride outside of Cusco for three years and I have learned so much from the time I’ve spent with Picaflor House Community Project. The youth in the community receive needed assistance with homework, language skills, nutrition, and hygiene all while working towards greater opportunities for jobs where a middle class is now emerging. With The Giving Lens, we’ve helped develop a photography program for the students to aid in boosting self esteem and creativity through the use of a camera. In addition to helping with the NGO’s efforts, I’ve had the opportunity to take multiple groups to do home visits with the children, to meet their siblings and parents, and get an insight into daily life and how Picaflor is helping change things for them.
It would be hard to talk about travel anywhere and not bring up the subject of food. Peruvian cuisine varies across the country, but within the Sacred Valley its likely you’ll find some amazing dishes that will appeal to your palette. Many menus boast a variety of chicken, lamb, and even alpaca along with trout and vegetarian dishes. Potatoes of many different varieties are often part of many of the dishes, along with many other fresh veggies. Cuy, or what many people know as guinea pig, is a delicacy that can often be found on the menu for a price. Often cuy is something Peruvians enjoy for special occasions, and it can either be featured in dishes or cooked whole. If those aren’t on your agenda, you’ll find a variety of modern foods that you and your stomach will appreciate.
The Sacred Valley area has so much to offer the traveler beyond just Machu Picchu and the busy streets of Cusco. Taking a week or more opens up lots of potential for exploration, cultural experiences and much, much more. Taking part of a travel experience such as those offered by The Giving Lens (TGL) gives you a trifecta of travel photography, bucket list worthy experiences, and the ability to give back through your time visiting popular global destinations. Have more than a week to explore Peru? The Sacred Valley is a great staging point for visiting Lake Titicaca and Bolivia, or maybe take a bus to explore the world renowned rainforests in Manu. Regardless of your travel choices, this part of Peru should by all means be atop your travel list.