Moments from the Sacred Valley that took my breath away

Climb the mountains surrounding Cusco and you'll find the remains of the Incan Empire, spread throughout the Valley below and in the Andes around. Though the bus ride will be bumpy and the altitude (almost 13,000 ft) will make your lungs feel like sandbags, the sights are so impressive it's difficult to think of anything as beautiful.
  1. Ancient Pisaq
    Positioned high in the mountains to keep safe from the Valley's floods, this Incan city overlooks the modern city of Pisaq that now sits on a river's edge. It includes burial sites dug into the side of the mountain and a structure used for refrigeration that was so innovative, it could keep food from spoiling for over a year.
  2. Ollantaytambo
    Like Pisaq, this was an Incan town that included homes, farming, and temples. A difficult climb but certainly worth it for the views. This was my favorite Incan stop of the day.
  3. The Temple of the Sun
    Though part of Ollantaytambo, the beauty of this spot was almost too much for me to handle, so it gets its own bullet point. Seated so high in the mountains, it's as if you can reach out and touch the snow caps of the peaks surrounding you. At the temple's edge, the entire Incan city sits below you with a glacier to your right. Sure, the altitude played a part, but this spot actually took the breath from me.
  4. Chinchero
    This little city was raided by Spanish colonialist and torn almost to the ground. However, beneath the colonial Cathedral sits the well-crafted stonework of the Incans, serving as the church's foundation. This is ironic, as the people of Chinchero practice an alternative form of Catholicism, one that prays to Jesus and the Sun God like their ancestors before them. Most impressively, this is the view of a line of glaciers from the churchyard as the sun sets.
  5. This view of mountains from the bathroom where I spent 10 minutes throwing up, some 11,000 feet higher than my hometown.
    My breath was taken away, and then forced back out of me along with, it seemed, anything I'd ever eaten ever. As a man in my Hostel in Lima warned, "you can never be sure when the altitude will hit you. But when it does, you'll certainly know." Thank God for coca leaves, as without those I wouldn't have been able to see any of the sights above. Plus side, I guess I'm officially acclimated to Peru's altitude, just in time to climb Machu Picchu!