Visiting the Sacred Valley: the complete guide!
The Sacred Valley is located just a few kilometers from Cusco, the great Sacred Valley is the true cradle of the Inca culture; Proof of this are its many archaeological sites.
However, the region offers not only a rich historical past but also numerous opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities, surrounded by absolutely magnificent surroundings.
Missing a visit to the Valley and going directly to Machu Picchu is a serious mistake!
In order to help you plan your itinerary in the best way and to have all the necessary information at hand, I have gathered in this article the main attractions of the region. Here is everything there is to do and see in the Sacred Valley.
Before visiting the Sacred Valley
Is the tourist ticket for the Sacred Valley mandatory?
Yes and no, it all depends on the attractions you plan to visit.
If it is your first trip to Peru, I recommend buying the tourist ticket, since it is mandatory to access the main sites of interest in the Sacred Valley and Cusco, with some rare exceptions such as Maras.
It is impossible to buy tickets to tourist places individually, so making the investment is really necessary!
The tourist ticket can be purchased in some places in Cusco or at the entrance of most of the sites included in it.
Is mountain sickness felt in the Sacred Valley?
Upon arrival in Cusco, it is normal to feel the effects of the altitude, but their intensity will depend on your body. The Sacred Valley, however, is at a considerably lower altitude: Ollantaytambo is at 2,792 m and Pisac at 2,972 m.
This means that the effects are much less felt in the Sacred Valley. This is why if the altitude becomes a problem on your trip, a good solution is to leave Cusco and head to the Sacred Valley.
It is also recommended to avoid any demanding physical activity, such as trekking , during the first, and even the second, day at altitude.
The essential attractions in the Sacred Valley
A visit to the Inca city of Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is known mainly for its fortress, as it was one of the important sites in the Inca resistance against the Spanish.
But beyond the historical interest of the archaeological site or the magnificent view it offers of the city, Ollantaytambo is a charming Inca town, whose visit deserves at least a full day, if you have a little time available in your itinerary.
By the way, if you plan to visit Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is on the way from Cusco. You could even spend the night before continuing on to Aguas Calientes!
Here we show you everything you can do in Ollantaytambo:
Walking through the streets of the town: as Ollantaytambo has preserved its original layout since Inca times, strolling through its cobbled streets between its small houses and squares is like traveling back in time.
The fortress of Ollantaytambo: it is one of the most important Inca sites in the Valley. In it you will find the typical Inca terraces for cultivation, and several interesting buildings such as the Temple of the Sun and the Bath of the ñusta, which was the place where the Inca women bathed to purify themselves.
As the fortress is situated on a hill, it offers a magnificent view of the surroundings. The tourist ticket is necessary for this visit.
Pinkuylluna : these are the ruins of agricultural warehouses from the Inca era. Access is free and there are very few tourists. The 30-minute climb to the spot, but I assure you it’s worth it.
Find here my complete guide to Ollantaytambo, which includes all the information to discover the main tourist attractions.
Explore an Inca sanctuary hidden in the mountains
In addition to housing the Brewery, the small town of Pachar is the gateway to the Ñaupa Iglesia, an Inca sanctuary with free entry and practically no tourists.
It is very easy to get there, the walk is relatively short (45 to 60 minutes) and during the journey you can enjoy the view of the fields and small houses. The place was built on terraces, so take your time going up, remember that with the altitude it is easy to get tired quickly!
It is also possible to take a taxi from Ollantaytambo, so that it drops you as close as possible and you only have to walk a short distance along the path along the tracks, although I personally find the walk from the Pachar entrance much more beautiful and motivating. .
To learn more about the site and how to get there, I present my guide to the Ñaupa Iglesia
Drink a craft beer
If you like good beer, you should definitely make a visit to the Cervecería del Valle Sagrado.
Located less than 10 minutes by bus from Ollantaytambo, at the entrance to the town of Pachar, Cervecería del Valle is one of the best craft breweries in the country and its products have been awarded numerous international awards.
But the place not only offers good beers, also, on the last Saturday of each month, but they also celebrate a party for the benefit of a local people
By attending, you will be contributing to this cause, while enjoying the local atmosphere and a delicious beer under the starry sky of the valley.
Make a visit to the ruins and the Andean market of Pisac
Pisac is an Inca town built in the fifteenth century and one of the great essentials of the Sacred Valley.
Discover here everything you have to do and see in Pisac:
-Its Inca ruins: once the residence of the Inca Pachacutec (15th century), today they are an imposing archaeological complex with residential, ceremonial and agricultural areas, with terraced crops. The tourist ticket is mandatory to visit the site.
-Its Andean market: it is true that it has become a great tourist attraction in recent years, but it is still interesting to walk through its corridors, as it is an excellent way to discover local life. It is also a good place to buy souvenirs, since there you can find regional crafts; although, if your thing is to get away from the tourists, I recommend that you go directly to the fruit and vegetable section.
So you don’t miss anything during your visit, check out my full article on Pisac!
Appreciate the magnificence of the salt mines of Maras
You will be amazed at the impressive mosaic of almost 3,000 wells, which have been used since the time of the Incas, by local families, to extract salt by evaporation.
It is fascinating to see the dance of reflections at each movement of the sun. You will certainly be able to take sublime photos. It is definitely my favorite place in the entire region for being an absolutely unique place. This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places to see in the Sacred Valley!
To learn more about the Maras salt flats, read my article with all the practical information!
You can also book the Maras and Moray tour here:
Admire the skillful agricultural engineering of the Incas
After the maras salt flats, the terraces of Moray might not offer the same visual impact, but their great charm lies more in the functioning and efficiency of the structure than in the landscape they create.
It is nothing less than an advanced agricultural research center from the Inca era, made up of magnificent circular terraces, whose function was to create 20 different microclimates (there is a difference of 3°C between each level!).
This is how the Incas managed to cultivate around 150 different types of corn and potatoes.
The sites of Maras and Moray are easy to combine in a visit to the Sacred Valley, because they are located only 7 km from each other; but, unlike Maras, the tourist ticket is necessary to visit Moray.
To know everything about these Inca terraces, discover my article about Moray
Book your visit to the terraces of Moray and the salt flats of Maras, here:
Know the color of the textiles of the Sacred Valley
Former resting place of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, the town of Chinchero is recognized, today, mainly for the quality of its textiles.
This is the ideal place to attend a demonstration of the manufacture of textiles, fabrics, dyes and other traditional Inca techniques. Take advantage of it, it’s free!
oh! And do not forget to take a look at the market, there you will find the typical colorful wool clothes and rugs, made entirely by hand, at extremely attractive prices.
But don’t think that textiles are all that Chinchero has to offer.
It is also a very nice place to take a walk through small cobbled streets, contemplating the main square and the church of Nuestra Señora de Montserrat, which were built in the 17th century on the ruins of an ancient Inca palace.
Visit the city of Urubamba and Yucay
Urubamba was one of the most important agricultural centers during the time of the Inca Empire and today, although it does not have as many sites of historical interest, it is literally a must-see in the Sacred Valley.
And not only because it is a place of forced transit between the different sites, which has undoubtedly stimulated its growth, but also because you will be able to find very good restaurants, comfortable hotels and yoga and wellness centers, both within the city and in its surroundings.
If you have a little time, I recommend that you go to Yucay from Urubamba, as it is only a 30-minute walk away. This small rural town is the place where Huayna Cápac settled, enchanted by the good weather.
Agricultural terraces and century-old aqueducts, still in operation, surround the charming mixture of colonial and Inca buildings.
Enjoy a delicious Baked Cuy in the Sacred Valley
It would be a shame not to try cuy, the famous guinea pig!, at least once.
It is true that, due to lack of habit, the idea of eating a rodent can scandalize more than one.
But the guinea pig has been raised and consumed by local populations for 5,000 years, as it offers the Andean inhabitants an excellent source of easy-to-digest protein, with very little fat.
There is even a national guinea pig day in Peru, obviously!
The guinea pig can be served in different ways, so I advise you to ask how it is presented before ordering it, because it can be served whole and… let’s say it is difficult to cut (and see) and, in my opinion, it is much less enjoyable. So make sure you ask for it nicely grilled and sliced!
Tipón is well known for its guinea pig, so if you get the chance to go, don’t miss the opportunity to try it.
Rafting in the rivers of the Andes of Peru
There are programs of 1, 2, and 3 days of rafting in the Urubamba River.
You have to pay special attention to the water level, since it changes enormously according to the season, which, of course, directly influences the level of difficulty. For beginners, it is better to try it during the dry season, since the wet season reaches levels 2 and even 4.
It is possible to book the rafting tour directly here. Includes pick-up from the hotel, a 2:30 rafting trip on the rapids, accompanied by an expert guide, and well-deserved lunch, after taking a nice hot shower or visiting the sauna, at the Cusipata River camp.
How to see the Sacred Valley from the top
If you are one of those who like to soar through the heights, there are several activities you can do in the Sacred Valley, such as bungee jumping, slingshot, climbing the via Ferrata, or tandem paragliding with a professional. The flights range between 10 and 20 minutes, and the route is between 500 and 900 m.
There are also zip lines, for example at Pachar, with cables running 1–2 km in length. The advantage of this activity is that it is more accessible to everyone… unless you suffer from vertigo, of course.
A visit to Huchuy Qosqo, the little Cusco
Little Cusco, in Quechua, Huchuy Qosqo, is an Inca archaeological site made up of several buildings with peculiar architecture and a complex irrigation system. It is nothing less than the most important archaeological site in the Urubamba Valley, after Ollantaytambo and Pisac!
With the great advantage that it is much less frequented than the previous ones, since you have to walk to get there.
- How to get to Huchuy Qosqo:
- From the town of Lamay: An (intense) climb of 2:30 hrs.
- From the town of Calca: Take a taxi that will leave you a 10-minute walk from the ruins.
From the community of Tauca (near Chinchero): a slightly longer trail (3 hours walking) but much less traveled and with magnificent landscapes. Its highest point is the Laguna de Piuray at 4500 meters above sea level.
You can visit the Sacred Valley in CUATRIMOTO
Personally, I am a big fan of ATVs, and I can hardly imagine a more mystical place to enjoy an enchanting ride.
Imagine crossing the ancient route of the Incas, walking between the high mountains and the chestnut fields of quinoa, to contemplate the reflections of the sun on the salt flats of Maras and the great ingenuity behind the terraces of Moray…
Discover pre-Columbian cultures
Between Pisac and Urubamba, less than 10 minutes from Calca, is the Inkary Museum , one of the best museums in the region! And one of the essentials in the Sacred Valley.
It is a very well designed museum that houses 10,000 historical pieces, with several pavilions dedicated to the Caral, Chavin , Paracas, Mochica, Nazca, Wari, Chimu / Lambayeque , and Inca cultures. The exhibitions are very complete and show the art, customs, beliefs and traditional clothing.
The visit is guided and takes a little over an hour, something really interesting!
Relax in the Thermal Baths
Calca is a town built by the Inca Huiracocha as a resting place in “Villa de Zamora”, which was founded by the conqueror Pedro de Zamora. It has two squares, a beautiful church, the Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol, and some cobbled streets.
It is best known as the starting point for excursions to Huchuy Qosqo (located only 8 km away), but it also has other attractions, such as:
The thermal baths of Minas Moqo (500 m from Calca): These are hot springs on the banks of the Vilcanota River that are said to have healing properties. They are located a few minutes walk from the main square.
Machacancha hot springs (7 km from Calca): these are hot springs located at an altitude of 3050 meters above sea level, to which many therapeutic properties are attributed. The water is at a temperature of around 40°C, and is clear and odourless.
Visit the south of the Sacred Valley
Tourism in the Sacred Valley is almost exclusively concentrated between Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero, Maras and Moray, more or less in that order.
It must be said that travelers often have little time to devote to the Sacred Valley – Often considered just a step between Cusco and Machu Picchu – since it is normal to prefer to concentrate on the main attractions.
But if you prefer to discover less touristy places or if you have a little more time, you should know that some agencies offer a tour that brings together 3 destinations outside the traditional circuits in the south of the Sacred Valley: Tipón, Pikillacta and Andahuaylillas.
Best for Meditation: Yoga and Relaxation
It is undeniable that the Sacred Valley has a very particular energy.
Is it because of its enveloping golden light, or because of its high mountains?
I don’t know, but it is a recurring comment among those who visit the region, and therefore it is not surprising that many spiritual retreat centers have opened their doors in the region, offering yoga, meditation, etc. And is that, what better place to reconnect with oneself and with nature?
Know the cradle of Gold or the sister of Machu Picchu
From Chuqi K’iraw , the cradle of gold in Quechua, Choquequirao is an Inca city located at more than 3 thousand meters of altitude. The site has a structure very similar to that of Machu Picchu, but smaller.
Its great advantage is that it is much less frequented than this one, because it is only accessible on foot, after a walk of at least 4 days. It’s a real adventure!
There is also a longer itinerary that combines Choquequirao with Machu Picchu.
You can do it with or without a guide, but don’t forget to get a map of the trek in Cusco.
Take walks in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is a huge playground for all fans of outdoor activities, and trekking is one of the best activities to do in the Sacred Valley.
In addition to the treks to Huchuy Qosqo and Choquequirao, the best-known treks are certainly those that go to Machu Picchu:
Take a hike to the Humantay Lake
The Humantay lagoon is a small aquatic settlement with an intense emerald blue color, sheltered by several mountains, located at the foot of the glacier that bears the same name.
To get there from Cusco, you have to go to the town of Mollepata (2 hours), then to the community of Soraypampa (1 hour), to the starting point of the walk. Getting to the lagoon will take you approximately two hours uphill.
It is a relatively short walk, but offers a magnificent panorama, perfect for taking impressive photographs.
Getting to Humantay without an agency: Take a bus from Cusco ( Arcopata ) to Mollepata (15 soles, 2 hrs), then take a taxi to Soraypampa (20 soles). To enter the Humantay lagoon you will pay 20 soles. I recommend organizing your return trip with the same taxi that took you.
Peruvian Chocolate and a tasting
This is, of course, the favorite activity to do in the Sacred Valley with children.
The Chocomuseum It has a small exhibition and an introductory tour to the world of cocoa, in addition to offering chocolate workshops lasting approximately 2 hours.
Without a doubt, it is an excellent activity to do with the little ones, who will have fun making their own chocolate bar with different cocoa beans, as well as being able to enjoy the delicious tastings.
But since I myself am living proof that adults can also be delighted with this activity.
And for those who want to take a little more of this experience home, there is also a shop with countless chocolate products, many of which are made with local ingredients, definitely a great souvenir.
How long can I visit the Sacred Valley?
Before starting: in order to establish the best itinerary in the Sacred Valley, I recommend you decide where you will sleep, before heading to Machu Picchu, Cusco or Ollantaytambo? Trust me, this will save you a lot of unnecessary trips!
It’s easy to stay there for several days, even a whole week, because it’s a great place to take a really good break and breathe.
But since most travelers have little time to visit the Sacred Valley, here are my suggestions so you don’t miss a thing and make the most of your time, whether you decide to spend a day or two in the Sacred Valley:
Visit the Sacred Valley in 1 day
If you only have one day in the Sacred Valley, you are going to have to make some decisions, but here is the way to make the most of a full day.
Start in Pisac to visit its typical market and its archaeological sites
Continue to Chinchero to discover its textile art and stroll through the beautiful town
Head towards Ollantaytambo, there you can have lunch before visiting the ruins, you could even spend the night before heading to Machu Picchu the next day.
If you sleep in Cusco, pass through Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero, on your way back to Cusco.
Visit the Sacred Valley in 2 days
If you have two days to visit the Sacred Valley, I advise you to take a little more time to enjoy the impressive landscapes of the region, because you will see how, here, the road is as interesting as the destination.
Also, in two days you can easily include the Inca ruins around Cusco (Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay), which are on the way to Pisac.
On the first day, visit the ruins around Cusco in the morning.
At noon, discover Pisac, its archaeological zones, and its Andean market.
The second day begins with a visit to Chinchero, to appreciate a textile demonstration and visit its craft market.
Now head towards the terraces of Moray and the salt flats of Maras
In the afternoon, finish your tour in the town of Ollantaytambo. In my opinion, the ideal is to sleep there to make the most of it, as there are many more things to see besides the official ruins.
Visit the Sacred Valley with a travel agency
If you don’t have much time, your best option is to take a tour of the Sacred Valley, with an agency, to be able to see everything you want without worrying about transportation. Here are the two tours that I recommend
Other ways to visit the Sacred Valley:
Bus: there are several departures a day to Pisac and Urubamba, the ticket costs around 4 soles, and it is a good way to save money, but in my experience, it is too long, because you have to wait until the bus is sufficiently full to start the trip, in addition, they are usually very old and without maintenance. But, for less than 5 soles, you can’t expect much more!
Collective: for me, this is the best way to get around! Because it involves shared cars or vans. They leave from Puputi or Pavitos street in Cusco. You also have to wait for the car to fill up, but this is never a long time as they are considerably smaller than a bus. The price is still very affordable and the vehicles are in much better condition.
Taxis: this is probably the most convenient method because it stops wherever you want, waits for you as long as you need, etc., even many drivers who know the region well end up becoming impromptu guides. If this is the option you choose, I ask you, please! Don’t take a street taxi. Ask your hotel or hostel to get a reliable taxi that offers you good service. It is important that you always set the price and conditions in advance (if you will have to wait somewhere and for how long), before getting into the taxi.