Machu Picchu is certainly what most people consider the main highlight of a Peru vacation, but you can also enjoy an authentic taste of Peru away from the crowds, by visiting one or more of the many museums in the heart of Peru’s stunning Valle Sagrada (Sacred Valley). Formed by the Urubamba River, the valley is the former heartland of the vast Incan Empire. Though the empire collapsed close to half a millennium ago, destroyed by Spanish conquistadors, the valley is a testament to its former glory. Majestic Incan ruins still dot the countryside, and Inca-era terraces and irrigation systems run across mountainsides. The valley is still inhabited by Quechua speakers, the lingua franca of the Incan Empire.
Take a peak into the past at one of these magnificent Sacred Valley museums.
1. Museo Inka.
Just a block from the Plaza de Armas, the Museo Inka provides a look into the fascinating past of the Incan Empire. Though it rests on the foundations of an important Incan site, the building itself dates back to the 17th Century. The museum boasts an expansive collection of restored metal - and gold work, jewellery, pottery, and textiles, and also houses the world’s largest collection of queros. Oh, and did we mention the museum even has several Incan mummies?
Though this is an archaeological site as opposed to a museum, Moray certainly deserves a spot on the list. An enormous terraced circular depression was once a key part of the Inca’s sophisticated agricultural and irrigation system. Archaeologists speculate that the site was once a kind of agricultural experiment station. There is roughly a 20-degree difference between the top terrace and the bottom terrace, which are situated an impressive 100 feet apart, which creates micro-climatic conditions. This likely allowed the Incas to directly observe the effects of temperature and altitude on different crops.
3. Museo de Arte Religioso.
Set in a beautifully restored colonial manor in the heart of Cusco that formerly belonged to the archbishop of Cusco, the Museo de Arte Religioso (Museum of Religious Art) is a quaint museum that boasts an incredible collection of religious paintings, including pieces by Juan Zapata. Don’t spend all of your time looking at the paintings, however. You will also want to check out the home’s stunning architectural features, including Moorish-style doors, a beautiful traditional wooden balcony, and historic stained-glass windows.
Situated on the windswept altiplano of Anta, this whimsical hamlet is set at an altitude of roughly 3,700 meters and offers stunning views of the Sacred Valley, with the Cordillera Vilcabamba and the snowcapped peak of Salkantay looming in the horizon. According to Incan legend, Chinchero is the birthplace of the rainbow. While we can’t guarantee that you will see a rainbow looming above the Andean peaks, you are certain to find one in Chincero’s beautiful Incan markets, which are home to an assortment of colorful textiles. Additional highlight include a beautiful colonial church and intriguing Incan ruins.
5. Salinas de Maras.
Salinas de Maras, situated roughly 40 miles north of Cusco, is an expansive collection of salt evaporation pools that date back over 500 years to the height of the Incan Empire. Since pre-Incan times, salt has been obtained by evaporating high-salt water from a local stream. Your guides (if traveling on a tour) can give you an informative look at this fascinating site.
Formerly the royal palace of Emperor Pachacuti, this palace and fortress also served as an Incan stronghold as they resisted the Spanish conquistadors. Remnants of storehouses, quarries, terraces, and temples are still incredibly well preserved today. It’s arguably among the most impressive ruins in the Sacred Valley and the starting point of the Inca Trail.
Meaning “flat land of spiders” in Quechua, Urubamba is a small town situated on the banks of the Urubamba River roughly one hour from Cusco. The largest town in the Sacred Valley, Urubamba is a bustling economic centre. Here, visitors can find the workshops of famous ceramic artists, like Pablo Seminario and Marilú Behar, most of which function as kind of living museum and are available for tours. You also won’t want to miss the Museo Inkariy, which offers a look into a number of Peru’s pre-Colombian cultures.
While exploring Peru, it's worth taking the time to pop in to some of the not so well known sites and museums. Many people are surprised at some of the unique items (even mummies) tucked away in the corners of these places.
If you have found any intriguing hidden treasures while on your Peru adventure, we would love to hear about them below in our comments section.