Machu Picchu, Peru, photographer

Photographing Machu Picchu, (c) Megan Koelemay

During the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to travel through Perú. This country has a rich history of Inca, Quechua and Aymara culture that has left incredible ruins, tales of defeat and conquest, and a population of descendants who are eager to speak of their ancestral history. Aside from the historical aspects of this beautiful country, Peruvians tend to be some of the kindest and most hospitable people that I have encountered. This country is mysterious, and remnants of the time of the Native people’s control over the region lingers throughout the Andean highlands. The culture is vibrant in its clothing, textiles, jewelry and more. They are also creatively brilliant with local ingredients, such as the over 4,000 varietals of potatoes that are grown here.

Machu Picchu is of course one of the most magnificent wonders of the world and a must-see in one’s lifetime. En-route to Machu Picchu are some other must-see places to tack onto your bucket list. Here are my top six:

1. Pisac/Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley has long been known to have the ability to grow one of the widest variety of plants and vegetables in the world. The land during the time of the Inca was not allotted to the Empire yet, only to the Emperor himself. This region also boasts many famous Inca ruins. Pisac is well-known for its weekly market, in which locals from the highlands gather with their fresh produce.

Sacred Valley, Pisac, Peru

Sacred Valley overlooking Pisac © Ami Jones

2. Awana Kancha

Awana Kancha, literally translated as the “Palace of Weaving” should definitely be a stop on your way from the Sacred Valley to Cusco. With no entry fee, visitors to Awana Kancha can marvel at traditionally-dressed women and the colorful textiles they spin before your eyes. Using the wool of alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunyas, the women create patterns using natural dyes that have existed in the Andes since the time of the Inca. Visitors also have the chance to see the alpacas, vicunas and llamas that live on the farm. Awana Kancha is operated as an NGO, with proceeds from visitor purchases going back into the community.

Awana Kancha, Peru

Close-up of woman weaving at Awana Kancha © Ami Jones

3.  Sacsayhuamán

Just outside of Cusco, stop at the “sexy woman” or Sacsayhuamán ruins to marvel at the sheer mystery of ancient Inca ruins. There are many theories and stories told of how the Inca got these massive stones to the hills outside of Cusco. This is a quick hour to two hour stop on your way out of town heading to Machu Picchu and well worth the time.

Sacsayhuaman, Peru

Ruins at Sacsayhuamán © Ami Jones

4. Q’enko

Near Sacsayhuamán is a not so well-known ruin, Q’enko. This is a small ruin with a large boulder from which the Inca carved religious area underneath. It is said this is where sacrifices or offerings may have been made. It has also been said that this is possibly where Inca royalty were prepared for burial. It is a mystical and energetic place to experience.

Q'enko, Peru Ruins

Altar at Q’enko © Ami Jones

5. Tambomachay

Plan for an hour to spend at what is known as “Los Baños del Inca” or the Inca baths. It is said this is where Inca royalty would come to renew themselves with the water pouring from the aquaducts. It is a very special place that is shrouded in mystery.

Inca Ruins, Peru

Healing waters at Tambomachay © Ami Jones

6. Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo, your last stop on your way to Machu Picchu, is an ancient city where the Inca retreated after the Spanish took over Cusco. Try to get here early, as it can get very busy. There is also a market with local food and handicrafts that is worth checking out.

Inca Ruins, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley

If you’ve dreamt of traveling back in time to ancient Inca culture and experiencing beautiful Perú, join Nat Hab and WWF on our Guided Machu Picchu Adventure.