The Sacred Valley of the Incas or the Urubamba Valley was cherished by the Incas because of its special geographical and climatic qualities. The diversity of microclimates allowed for the most significant area for maize production in the heartland of the Inca Empire as well as the farming of various crops like coca leaves, cereals, vegetables like potatoes and chile peppers, and fruit trees and ornamental plants. The area is also home to a plethora of wildlife like deer, chinchillas, viscacha, foxes, Andean pigeons, and hummingbirds with the Vilcanota river home to delicious salmon and rainbow trout.
The Inca used the valley as a religious center and an agrarian laboratory to experiment with crops imported from the empire’s distant regions and altitudes. The Sacred Valley is thus regarded as “sacred” both because of the concentration of worshipping sites and for its importance in the development of economies of past and present indigenous populations. The Sacred Valley boasts a rich concentration of archeological sites. The fortress of Ollantaytambo and the ruins of Pisac, which both stand on terraced mountainsides overlooking Andean towns. Then there are the ruins at Chinchero, Maras, and Moray and a multitude of other sites that have only recently been excavated, with more waiting to be rescued from under the dust of centuries.
Only 20 kilometers (12 mi) from Cusco the Sacred Valley stretches between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo with elevations ranging between 2,790 meters (9,000 feet) on the valley floor to 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) at the highest peaks. Home to more than 65,000 permanent residents, or approximately 10 percent of Cusco’s total regional population. Indigenous Quechua communities in the Sacred Valley continue to be the guardians of centuries-old practices, for example, in the use of non-monetary forms of exchange or barter called trueque. In food, dress, music, dance, myths, and legends, they preserve the ancient rites and customs that provide a link between the deep history of the Sacred Valley and contemporary life in the Andes.