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Peru’s Sacred Valley guide: Best things to do

  • 40 min read

Welcome to our Ultimate guide to the Sacred Valley in Peru!

The Sacred Valley is one of the most touristy places in Peru, and that’s for good reasons. In the heart of the Andean mountain, this fertile valley that once saw the apogee of the Incan civilization, hosts numerous ruins, typical Andean villages, and mesmerizing landscapes.

I have spent more than 4 weeks in the area and could have stayed longer. From the Sunday markets of Pisac and Chinchero to the dreamy Machu Picchu or lesser-known archaeological sites of Tipon or Pikillacta, the Sacred Valley offers a large choice of activities to keep you entertained, challenged, and excited!

The Sacred Valley defines the narrow stretch of land following the Urubamba River for more than 100 km. It crosses various landscapes, typical villages, and micro-climates, dropping by almost 1,000 meters as it spans from the town of Urcos (3,150 masl) to Agua Calientes (2,040 masl).

Despite being mostly visited for its World Wonder Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is growing in the heart of travellers looking to escape the crowds and immerse themselves in the traditional Peruvian lifestyle.

In this Peru’s Sacred Valley Guide, I have gathered all the best things to do and shared practical tips such as when to visit, where to stay and how to visit independently or with a tour.

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Maras Salt Pond

Things to Do in the Sacred Valley

Urcos & Qoyllur Urmana Lagoon

Urcos is a small village on the far east of the Sacred Valley. It’s the starting point of the Sacred Valley, but the town isn’t known and most tourists will only cross it as they head down to Puerto Maldonado, Arequipa or Puno.

Built on the side of the Urubamba River, the village is worth a visit for its Sunday market which is less touristy than Chinchero or Pisac’s. This means prices are lower and stalls are tailored to a local crowd with a large variety of local products and fewer souvenir stalls. The perfect place to get away from the crowds, look for more traditional and artisanal products and learn more about the day-to-day life in the Sacred Valley. For this, head to the Plaza de Armas!

Urcos is also an excellent escape to discover the impressive chapels of Santiago de Apostol de Urcos dating back to the 18th century as well as the Sanctuary of Canincunca near the Urcos lake or the Sistine Chapel of Andahuaylillas – about 8 km down the road.

Talking about the Urcos Lake, also known as Qoyllur Urmana in the local language, this is another attraction near Urcos that should pick your interest! From the story of its creation which involves the impossible love story between two local kids, and the myth about Inca Huascar throwing his heavy gold chain to protect it from the Spanish invasion led by Pizarro, this lagoon attracts many legends which proves its importance in the local History.

With good weather, the lagoon reflects the sky and the surrounding hills offer gorgeous views. It is the ideal opportunity for a relaxing walk with the lovely smell of the eucalyptus trees. If you decide to walk around the lake do not miss the Sanctuary of Canincunca which displays a beautiful golden altar, mural frescoes and a ceiling showcasing impressive woodwork – surprisingly still holding up…

Finally, you can hike up a small hill topped by a white statue of Christ and enjoy the view over the town, the lagoon and the valley! The hike is slightly steep but shouldn’t take more than an hour to return.

How to get to Urcos

Visit independently | Urcos is about 40 km east of Cusco. You can take any bus heading to Puerto Maldonado or Arequipa but it might be best to catch a local bus or collectivo to the Terminal Terrestre of Urcos near the stadium. You can also go to Andahuaylillas – visit the incredible Sistine Chapel – and either take a taxi. or a collectivo from the main road (PE-3S).

Train tracks pass through Urcos and link Cusco to Puno with “PeruRail Titicaca”, However, even if there is a train station in the town, it is impossible to buy train tickets online. I haven’t tried to purchase one directly in Cusco or Urcos, so I am not sure if it is possible to get to Urcos by train. If any of you try, would be awesome if you could let me know 😉

Take a tour | You can take a day tour from Cusco, to visit the churches of the colonial period. It will take you along the “Andean Baroque Route” to the temple of Andahuaylillas, Canincunca and San Juan Bautista de Huaro.

Where to stay in Urcos area

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Local shopping at the Pisac Market

Pisac market and ruins

Pisac is a quiet village mostly known for its “traditional market” and the gigantic Incan ruins perched on the surrounding hills. With its cobblestone streets and charming adobe houses, Pisac is the best example of an Andean village within the Sacred Valley. Head down on a market day (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) and you’ll get the opportunity to watch local families wearing their most colourful apparel as well as buying Peruvian souvenirs.

Increasingly popular amongst tourists who do not hesitate to call it the best “traditional market in South America”, the market was for me a bit of a letdown compared to the few others I had the chance to visit in Bolivia or Ecuador. Expect many souvenir stalls aimed at tourists instead of local products. If you are looking to stock up on souvenirs, Pisac market might be the best choice to save a few soles compared to the market in Cusco.

Although, if you quickly feel overwhelmed by crowds and narrow alleys, pass your way. You’re better off walking around the small streets of the village or heading straight up to the ruins. Although, there is a small area on the main square, where you can still buy local vegetables or grab delicious street food if you arrive before lunch is sold out!

Up the hill, the ruins of Pisac were a large Incan complex built to defend the rest of the Sacred Valley from any invaders coming from the East. Besides its military zone and a large agricultural sector, Pisac is well known for hosting one of the largest Inca cemeteries in Peru and has residential settlements surrounded by ceremonial baths. From the top of the site, the views over the little town of Pisac, the valley and the Andes Mountains are a beautiful reward.

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To get to the ruins, you can either, hike or get a taxi from the main road. If you decide to hike, walk through the market towards the left of the church of San Pedro Apostol and enter the small street leading to the archaeological Inca site entrance. Here you will either be asked to show your tourist ticket (Boleto Turistico) or purchase one – more information at the end of the article (here).

Note | This is a challenging walk if you are not acclimatized or fit enough as it is very steep.

How to get to Pisac

Visit independently | You can take a local bus (2.5 soles) from the bus terminal or a colectivo (10 soles) from Puputi Street in Cusco. Colectivos are much faster and less crowded.

You can easily end up having to stand for an hour if you take the bus to or from Cusco. If you come from another town, you will more than likely have to stop in Urubamba to change transportation.

Taxis are of course available at a higher fee (50 soles) and you can also rent a car for total freedom.

Take a tour | It is fairly easy to visit Pisac independently on a day trip from Cusco, but if you don’t plan on hiking and would prefer to fit in a few stops within the Sacred Valley, I would recommend taking a tour like this one which will also take you to Chinchero and Ollantaytambo.

Where to Stay in Pisac

BUGDET
– Intihuatana Hostel
– El Parche Rutero
– Wolf Totem Guesthouse

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Pisac Ruins
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Chinchero Ruins & weaving houses

Chinchero is located on a deserted plateau overlooking the snowy peaks of the Andes (such as the Salkantay!). This charming village is home to textile houses that offer tours to learn more about the weaving techniques used by local families to create colourful textiles. These traditional handwoven patterns represent tales and legends that have been transmitted from mothers to daughters for generations and are usually created from memory. The yarn is prepared from alpaca wool and naturally dyed with local products.

However, with the increasing amount of tourism in the region, chances are you will only find weaving houses dying with artificial colours and selling lesser detailed products. Nevertheless, I totally recommend visiting one of these small textile houses to learn about the process and listen to the weavers’ stories. Most are free, but the owners would hope for a purchase or even a tip, so be aware and conscious of this!

Chinchero is also quite known for its market but just like Pisac, you might find it a bit touristy or lacking authenticity. However, don’t get upset because another reason to visit Chinchero is for its Incan ruins. Only 10 10-minute walk from the main square, you will find Incan agricultural terraces (near the market and Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Natividad). Some are still in use by local farmers.

White Church Bell Tower at Plaza de Chinchero in Peru
White Church Bell Tower at Plaza de Chinchero in Peru – Photo by Alberto Capparelli

How to get to Chinchero

Visit independently | The local transportation to Chinchero is not as reliable as other routes within the Sacred Valley which is why not many tourists visit the town independently. Although it exists some solutions to get there and back on a one or two-day trip. Some collectivos driving from Cusco to Urubamba stop in Chinchero but you will need to confirm this with the driver. You can also take a bus from the main bus station but note that they aren’t frequent, so it might be best to get there as early as possible. To get back to Cusco, you can wait on the side of the road where you were dropped off, and wave to stop collectivos or buses.

There is a hiking route that goes from Maras to Chinchero but I haven’t done it and I couldn’t find any blogger sharing an itinerary online. However, if you are interested in hiking to or from Chinchero, you can hike up from Urquillos or head down there along a very well-preserved Incan road. The trail leaves/ arrives from/to the Chinchero Market. Ask a local to show you the way.

Take a tour | Most tourists visit Chinchero as part of a day tour including Pisac and Ollantaytambo like this one but you can also mix it with a visit to Maras and Moray such as this tour.

Where to Stay in Chinchero

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Maras Salt Ponds

Salt Ponds of Maras

The Salt Ponds of Maras also called salt mines – or Salineras de Maras in Spanish – are the only touristic sites in the Sacred Valley that aren’t Incan or Wari ruins. On the southern side of the river, between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, the ponds are found at the centre of a beautiful red canyon where they have been used to collect the salt from an underground water source rich in iodine since pre-Inca times.

More than 500 years later, they are still in use, and today it is a cooperative gathering of local families that run the site. The number of ponds (and the size) is attributed proportionally to the size of the family harvesting the salt.

When the terraced ponds are gradually filled with water, each pond takes a different colour depending on its depth and level of evaporation which creates a patchwork from white to pink and brown. This colourful intricated system pops out against the stunning red tint of the canyon and in the snowy high peaks of the Andes in the background.

For the past few years, the Salineras de Maras have become a sensation on social media driving thousands of tourists each month to visit the place. Until June 2019, it was possible to walk on salt paths along the ponds and watch the families working.

However, the entrance to the harvest area isn’t accessible to the public anymore to avoid pollution (and littering) as well as disturbance of the workers. The Salt Ponds of Maras are still open, but can only be appreciated from the main viewpoint.

The site is open all year long but the best season to watch the family extract the salt is outside the rainy season when the weather allows the water within the ponds to evaporate.

Note | The entrance isn’t included in the Boleto Turistico. It will cost 10 soles (€3) to enter from either the main entrance – for cars, taxis and buses – or the back entrance only accessible on foot from media-luna.

Tips | There is a small market at the main entrance where you can buy the pink salt locally made. This is the cheapest place to buy it in Peru and you can be sure all the money will go to the cooperative. The salt comes in small 50g bags – a great gift that can easily be carried around in your backpack!

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How to get to the Salt ponds of Maras

Visit independently | The Salineras de Maras can’t be reached directly from Cusco with local transportation as there is no local bus to the main entrance. However, you can take a collectivo from Ollantaytambo, Urubamba or Cusco and ask to be dropped off at the junction with “Media Luna”: From this place, you will be required to walk a gentle hill for about 30 min.

This is our favourite way as you can get a completely different angle from the place. You can also hike down from Maras village. To learn more about how to visit Maras independently check out this post filled with great info about how to hike the sacred valley on your own.

Take a tour | It exists a lot of half-day or full-day tours from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. This one seems to be the best one if you wish to book online, but if you are looking for something different do not hesitate to take this Quad (ATV) tour to Maras and Moray!

Where to stay near Maras and Moray

BUDGET
– Tika Wasi

MID-RANGE
Eco Aldea

LUXURY
Villas de Maras

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Moray

Agricultural terraces of Moray

The archaeological site of Moray is located in a remote area of the Sacred Valley about 1-hour from Cusco. These aren’t the type of ruins you would think of as Inca vestiges. They aren’t, indeed, the usual building ruins you’ll see around Peru, but agricultural terraces the Inca used to experiment with.

Moray is an atypical construction consisting of 4 concentric bowl-shaped dug off the ground and split into multiple circular and elliptic terraces. The purpose of these terraces is still uncertain but the main theory is that they used to be an agricultural laboratory – a place Incas would experiment on growing crops depending on different environmental conditions.

In fact, one of the most striking features archaeologists have uncovered is the temperature difference between the top and the bottom parts of the terraces. This incredible discrepancy – up to 15°c difference – had an important effect on crops, which Incas had apparently identified and were experimenting with, in Moray.

Thanks to these different “micro-climates” created within each bowl, the Incas could grow and do some research on the many potatoes and maize varieties depending on the temperature and water supply.

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This is an incredible and unique site to visit. The visit starts from the top of the bowls where you get a beautiful aerial view of the terraces. You then are allowed to enter the site through a path to get a better sense of the dimensions and the work necessary to build and maintain the terraces. The site gets busy from 9:30 when tour buses start to arrive. We would recommend coming before that time or later on during the day – at sunset the light is incredible!

Note | It is not allowed to walk at the centre of the main bowl anymore. Respect the signs for security reasons. The site of Moray is included in the Full Touristic Ticket or Circuit #3 of the Partial one. Therefore it is impossible to buy a single entrance to the site.

How to get to Moray terraces

Visit Independently | There are no direct ways to get to the Moray agricultural site. You can take a bus/shuttle from Cusco to the junction with Maras road and hire a taxi to Moray from there. The drivers usually offer a “special price” for both Maras and Moray sites, but it can get quite pricey even if you are a bargaining master in Spanish.

Some tuk-tuks offer the trip, but the best is still to take a tour or if you have time, to hike! If the latter appeals to you, here is my guide to hike from the Salt Mines of Maras.

Take a tour | The site of Moray is not easy to visit on your own except if you are willing to pay for a taxi or go on a hike. Therefore, most visitors go through a tour company. You can either book directly from Cusco or get your ticket online. This tour is most recommended if you prefer to book your tour online. You can also go on a quad expedition or even cycle!

Peru - hiking Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo View terrasses
Ollantaytambo Ruins

Ollantaytambo ruins

Located in the far northwest of the Sacred Valley, only a couple of hours’ drive from Cusco, Ollantaytambo is the last step to Machu Picchu for those taking the train or hiking the Inca trail. But the village is more than just a gateway to the famous Incan citadel. With its large stone terraces stacked up alongside the hills and dominated by a ceremonial centre, the archaeological site of the Ollantaytambo ruins is one of the best testimonies of the Incan architectural work.

Built during the 15th century it served as a royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti and had an important defensive role during the Spanish conquest as it was the only place to push away – at least for a little while – the invader forces.

Nowadays, Ollantaytambo is quite popular with tourists and guided tours that stop by the ruins before or after their trip to Machu Picchu. However, it would be a shame to miss this place for this only reason. To avoid the crowd, most backpackers or independent travellers prefer to spend a night or two in the village and enter the ruins as early or late as possible when the horde of tourist buses haven’t arrived or are long gone.

From my experience, taking a morning collectivo to Ollantaytambo from Cusco was perfectly fine. I entered the ruins around 9 am and there weren’t many people around. Depending on the season, the crowd could be inexistent or overwhelming.

The entrance to Ollantaytambo ruins is included in the Full touristic ticket (Boleto Turistico and the Partial ticket – circuit #3). There is no single entry possible. To learn more about how the entrance to Cusco’s museums and archaeological sites works and where to buy it, read this dedicated article.

Note | I would recommend hiring a guide to visit the ruins and learn more about the site, the temple of the sun and other stonework. A guided tour – along the Red Trail – should take about 1 hour. If you can stay a bit longer, visit the right side of the ruins – blue trail – that aren’t often part of the guided tour but offer the best views over terraces, the valley and the surrounding hills. The blue trail will take you to the far side and down to the gardens where you will find water irrigation channels, fountains and ceremonial baths.

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How to get to Ollantaytambo

Visit independently |

  • Take a collectivo from Calle Pavitos. The ride costs 10 soles per person and lasts 2 hours. There are collectivos all day but they will only leave when full, so it is best to go as early as possible since the locals usually travel in the morning.
  • You can also hire a taxi but that can cost a lot even if you have good negotiating skills. If you insist on taking a taxi, partner up with friends and hire the taxi for the day to combine Ollantaytambo visit with the rest of the places you want to see within the Sacred Valley.
  • There is a direct bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo run by Real Inka. The trip is a lot longer and less frequent than by collectivo but a little bit cheaper. You can also take a bus to Urubamba bus terminal and change there, though that can easily take a whole morning to only save a few euros/dollars.
  • The train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) stops at Ollantaytambo’s train station to pick up travellers. However, it is currently impossible to buy tickets for Cusco to Ollantaytambo only.

Take a tour | Most tours to Ollantaytambo include a couple of other sites within the Sacred Valley. We would recommend this one that includes Pisac and Chinchero.

Inca Stone Terraces at the Tipon Archaeological Site, Cusco, Peru
Inca Stone Terraces at the Tipon Archaeological Site, Cusco, Peru – Photo by Luciano Rossitti Quevedo

Other lesser-known ruins in the Sacred Valley

PIKILLACTA | On the way to Urcos from Pisac, only 25 min walk off the main road lay the ruins of Pikillacta. This is probably one of the biggest ruins you will have the chance to see in Peru since it used to accommodate more than 30.000 people! And trust me, if I say you will be the only visitor… This ancient site isn’t an Incan ruin but a city built by the Wari civilisation that lived in the region from 500 to 1000 AD – long before the Inca but at the same time as the Tiwanaku people in Bolivia! You can take any collectivo heading to Urcos or Andahuaylillas, and ask to be dropped off at the corner with Pikillacta (Spanish: “a la esquina con el accesso a Pikillacta“) – Cost: Entrance included in the Full Touristic Ticket or the Partial ticket Circuit #2.

RUMICOLCA | This small site is located near Pikillacta – on the main road between Urcos and Pisac – and seems to have been inhabited by the Wary and Inca people. Although, the archaeologists aren’t exactly sure about the initial use for this construction. According to a local legend, this site is a Wari aqueduct built to supply the town of Pikillacta with fresh water. Some say it could be the entrance Gate to the Wari region that was turned into an aqueduct by the Incas later on. Cost: no entrance fee.

TIPON | Just like Moray, Tipon is thought to be an agricultural site used for crop experimentations. With its well-preserved water supply system and 12 terraces, it is thought the Incas were experimenting in Tipon with the effects of diverse irrigation techniques. The water is still running through the site, which makes it an excellent reason to visit. To get there, you will need to take a collectivo on Calle Belén or Callé de la Cultura and walk for 2 km from Tipon village to the ruins. It should take about 45 mins to get to the entrance as it climbs a bit. Cost | included in the full tourist ticket or Partial ticket Circuit #2.

Take a tour | To make it easier and see these 3 sites in one day – join this tour from Cusco for less than €20 (entrance fees not included).

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Machu Picchu

It will be quite hard to keep the suspense regarding this last place to visit in the Sacred Valley…Worldwide famous, Machu Picchu is the star of the Cusco region. With more than 2.500 visitors per day, the Incan citadel is the main tourist attraction in Peru.

For those lucky enough to visit Machu Picchu, the intention is to leave with a beautiful shot of the Inca’s glorious city from the main viewpoints. Yet, Machu Picchu is not just about its photogenic scenery. Visiting the city of gold, which the Spanish colonists never found, is also about the journey required to get there. Even if for the past decade, the infrastructure to reach the valley has considerably improved and become globally accessible, Machu Picchu remains remote, and despite the thousands of daily tourists visiting the ruins, it has managed to keep its secrets.

It’s no surprise that instead of hopping off of the plane and rushing to Machu Picchu, a large proportion of the visitors decide to build up the excitement by hiking through tropical forests and highlands for a week prior to reaching Machu Picchu. Whether you choose the Inca Trail or one of its alternatives, such as the Salkantay Trek, hiking to Machu Picchu is like a pilgrimage, with the entrance to the citadel being the reward!

How to get to Machu Picchu

Visit independently | There are a lot of different ways to get to Machu Picchu independently whether you prefer hiking, taking the bus or the train. In this dedicated article, you will find all the different ways to get to Machu Picchu on your own.

Take a tour | You’ll have plenty of choices here, from taking the train from Cusco to hiking, the Salkantay, Choquequirao or Jungle trek.

Where to stay in Aguas Calientes

BUGDET
– Vista Machu Picchu
– Eco Machu Pichhu hotel
Supertramp Hostel

MID-RANGE
Inti Punku El Tambo
Mantu Boutique
Eco Hacienda Roman

LUXURY
Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel
Inkaterra Machu Picchu
Belmond Sanctuary Lodge

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Sacsayhuaman ruins

Hiking the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley and its treasures aren’t the most accessible places in Peru. While a lot of villages and ruins can be reached with public transportation or as part of a tour, few places remain remote enough to only be accessible on foot. Hiking within the Sacred Valley is an excellent way to get away from the crowds and take the time to truly enjoy its unique landscapes.

There are a lot of trails around the region thanks to the many roads and paths the Incas built. However, with an erratic landscape and a high altitude, hiking the Sacred Valley can be challenging. While a few trails can be walked for a couple of hours, others will take you on a multi-day journey across lush forests, desertic plateaus, snowy peaks or farming lands.

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Hiking near Cusco will, therefore, require some time and patience. There aren’t many maps out there as the info is usually shared by word-of-mouth. And even if you find an itinerary on location apps such as maps.me it is often complicated to find details about the condition of the trail, as well as if there are places to stay or eat along the way. This is one of the reasons why, most hikers in Peru will take part in one of the most famous treks near Cusco such as the Salkantay, Ausangate or Choquequirao treks. You will find in this article more details about the best multi-day hikes near Cusco.

Finally, I have created one itinerary to hike between Maras and Moray. This was one of my favourite hikes in South America and I can only recommend it! The itinerary shared in this post, includes how to visit Ollantaytambo, Pisac and do the hike on a 2-day trip from Cusco! I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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Best activities in the Sacred Valley

Raft on the Urubamba River

Rafting on the Urubamba River is an exhilarating experience that offers both adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts the opportunity to engage with the breathtaking landscape of the Sacred Valley in Peru. This river, also known as the Vilcanota River in certain stretches, holds a special place in Andean culture, historically revered by the Incas and named after the sacred deity Urubamba, symbolizing its importance and sanctity.

The Urubamba River winds its way through a variety of landscapes, from the rugged Andean mountains to lush, verdant valleys, providing a dynamic backdrop for the rafting journey. The river’s flow varies depending on the section and the season, catering to a wide range of rafting experiences, from gentle floats suitable for families and beginners to challenging rapids that thrill even the most seasoned adventurers.

The rafting excursions typically begin with a safety briefing and an introduction to paddling techniques. Guides are skilled professionals who are not only adept at navigating the river’s challenges but are also knowledgeable about the area’s history, flora, and fauna, enhancing the rafting experience with insightful commentary.

You can book your rafting experience directly online. This river rafting tour is highly reviewed with pick-up from Cusco!

Quad Bike Tour of Moray & Maras!

This Quad Bike Tour of Moray and Maras offers a thrilling and unconventional way to explore two of the Sacred Valley’s most fascinating sites. This adventure combines the thrill of quad biking (ATV riding) with the cultural and historical richness of the Andes, providing participants with an unforgettable experience.

The quad bikes are user-friendly and designed to handle the rugged terrain of the Sacred Valley, making them suitable for adventurers of all skill levels.

If you have been considering hiking around Maras and Moray but don’t have the time, this Quad bike Tour is a great alternative. It is ideal for adventure seekers looking to explore the beauty and history of the Sacred Valley in a unique and exhilarating way.

Via Ferrata and Sky Lodge Zipline

For those who don’t have vertigo and are looking for some adrenaline during their time in the Sacred Valley, do not look further! This unique experience combines the thrilling ascent of a via Ferrata with the exhilarating rush of ziplining across the valley.

Starting with a scenic drive from Cusco, this tour invites you to ascend 300 meters up a rock cliff via a via ferrata, offering an exhilarating and safe climbing experience that doesn’t require any previous climbing skills. You will have the best views of the Valley behind you, that’s for sure! After a nice lunch at the unique hanging Skylodge hotel, you’ll be flying across the valley on six circuit zip lines! How incredible, I wish it existed when I visited the Sacred Valley.

If you are also interested in sleeping under the stars on the side of a cliff, you can book a bubble suite in the Skylodge. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, though not for those travelling on a budget. The night in the bubble include the via ferrata and zip-lining since it is the only way to get there and come back down.

Tandem Paragliding

If you haven’t had enough adrenaline with the above experience, why not checking out Tamdem Paragliding above the Sacred Valley?

This thrilling adventure offers you the chance to glide through the air, riding the thermals above the breathtaking landscapes of one of Peru’s most sacred and beautiful regions. There’s no prior experience necessary, as you’ll be securely strapped in with a professional pilot who will handle the controls, allowing you to soak in the panoramic views and the exhilarating feeling of freedom.

Ideal for thrill-seekers and anyone looking to experience the Sacred Valley from a new perspective, the Cusco Tandem Paragliding tour is an unforgettable way to witness the beauty of this ancient landscape.

More activities idea around the Sacred Valley

For those in search of adrenaline-pumping adventures, the Sacred Valley is one of the best destinations in Peru! What would you prefer? Paragliding over the Andes, Biking to Machu Picchu, Rafting the Urubamba river, Ziplining above the jungle, joining a Via-Ferrata 300, Bungee-jumping from one of the high spots in South America, driving an ATV across farming lands or sleeping at 300m above the floor?

Here is a selection of the funkiest activities to do near Cusco!!

When to visit the Sacred Valley

It is best to visit the Sacred Valley from April to October to avoid the rainy season during the austral summer (from November to March). Although June, July and August are highly touristic with accommodations often booked well in advance and tours a lot more pricey, you are better off heading to Cusco before or after the peak season. April:/May or September/October are probably the best time to visit the Sacred Valley.

Note | These months correspond to the austral winter which means the nights can be cold, especially at altitude. If you plan on hiking or camping on your own, remember to bring warm clothes and good equipment. Snow may fall on high-altitude trails! You’ll find a useful packing list to travel around South America here.

You can, of course, visit Peru and the Sacred Valley during the wet season. but be aware the Inca trail is closed every year in February and the train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is often not running from January to April for maintenance issues because of the strong rainfalls. Buses are usually put in place instead and the train to Machu Picchu can be taken from Ollantaytambo directly. Just make sure to do some research ahead, if you plan a trip to the region during these months.

Temperatures near Cusco

temperature cusco graph

Rainfalls near Cusco

rainfalls cusco graph

How to visit the Sacred Valley

Only a 1-hour flight from the Peruvian capital Lima, Cusco with a population of almost 350 000 people, is the main town near the Sacred Valley and of course one of the most famous Contemporary Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu. It is not surprising that in 2018 the city attracted more than 3 million visitors.

Cusco is mostly used as a base to visit the many exceptional Incan sites located about 1 hour away from the town or to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime hike in the Andes. such as the Salkantay or the Ausangate Trek. The city is the best place to book a tour but thanks to a large network of local buses and collectivos around the region, it is not mandatory to base yourself there.

In fact, more and more tourists decide to base themselves outside of Cusco, bringing the little villages such as Pisac, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba under the light of international tourism. One of the main reasons is the altitude. Within the valley, the altitude is a lot lower than in Cusco which allows tourists to acclimatize faster with lesser effects!

Cusco is at 3,400 meters above sea level, which can impact newly arrived travellers with unpleasant symptoms such as headaches and dizziness. If it’s the case, make sure to drink a lot of water to not get dehydrated and to take it easy the first few days. If you are concerned about altitude sickness, head to the valley’s villages which are located on average at 2800 masl. Once acclimatized, you’ll be able to enjoy Cusco a lot more and even reach higher elevations to see places such as Rainbow Mountain!

For those interested in buying souvenirs or materials such as hiking gear or travel equipment, Cusco will be one of the best places after Lima and Arequipa. And for those looking to meet people and party, it has a vibrant and festive nightlife with many party hostels, bars, restaurants and clubs.

Note | Staying outside Cusco is actually not that hard. You will easily find a place to stay as the accommodation infrastructure is quite developed.

Near Urubamba, you will find a lot of resorts or luxury hotels where most organised tours stay but for those on a budget or travelling independently, it is possible to find small but lovely hostels and homestays such as hostal or hospedaje.

Peru - Pisac N1
The town of Pisac | View from the Pisac ruins

ancient Inca ruins in the sacred valley

The Sacred Valley is worldwide famous for the incredible lost city of the Inca: Machu Picchu. The site that attracts more than 2 million visitors each year is however not the only Incan beauty there is to see around Cusco.

The Sacred Valley is, a fertile region where the Incans have long lived and prospered, building agricultural terraces but also military bases, citadels and villages. The entire region is dotted by ruins. From the large terraces of Ollantaytambo to the Incan checkpoint perched on the hillside of Pisac, the lesser-known Pikillacta ruins and Tipon, there are plenty of Incan vestiges and archaeological sites to learn about the Incan lifestyle and history.

Machu Picchu is, of course, the cherry on the cake and deserves a visit, but do not focus your visit around it exclusively. Accessing some other ruins will give you the chance to see incredible landscapes, stay in little local villages and also discover the Peruvian countryside from a different angle.

Tips| Hiking for a day or more might be required for some of the ruins in the Sacred Valley. The Incan civilisation is well known for mastering construction in remote places, in order to remain hidden from invaders. After all, the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu! Check out my dedicated articles to Hiking in the Sacred Valley and the Best hikes near Cusco.

Although, for those who aren’t feeling fit enough for multiple-day hikes in altitude or don’t have enough time, a few ruins are still easily accessible by taxis and local transportation. In the below presentation of all the things to see and do in the Sacred Valley, I mention how to get to each site independently or with a tour.

How to get to the Sacred Valley

First of all, you will need to get to Cusco in the centre of Peru. You can fly to Cusco directly or take a bus to the town from any large town in Peru such as Puno, Arequipa, Nasca or Lima.

Bus and Collectivos

From Cusco, the Sacred Valley is easily reached by local buses, as well as collectivo – usually 10-seater shuttles – trains or taxis. Fees for public transport aren’t too expensive but drivers might add a couple of soles to the normal price just because you are a tourist. Ask one of the locals waiting for the bus/collectivo near you, how much the ride is. Prepare the exact amount and if told differently as you board, remind the driver what the real price is… Buses are really cheap – about 2 soles (€0.30) but expect to pay a little bit more for a Collectivo – 10 soles (€3) – these are generally a lot faster and safer. The collectivos only leave when full.

Note | It is possible to visit the Sacred Valley on your own but always keep in mind transport in Peru can take time despite the good network system and frequency. Don’t be in a rush and don’t try to fit too much in a day.
You might want to allow 3 to 4 days to really experience the Sacred Valley. Buses and collectivos are frequent throughout the day to and from Cusco but also from one village to another. You might have to change bus in Urubamba as it is one of the main transport hubs within the Sacred Valley.

Taxis and tours

You can also hire a taxi to drive you around or take a day tour from Cusco. Count at least $20-30 for a taxi and a bit more for a tour.

Train

The train from Cusco that goes to Machu Picchu also stops in Ollantaytambo. Although while in theory, you can hop off in Ollantaytambo to start your visit of the Sacred Valley, online train tickets on Peru Rail and Inca Rail, from Cusco to Ollantaytambo don’t seem to be an option anymore.

However, you can buy a ticket from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Despite being quite pricey, it is one of the most beautiful ways to admire the landscapes of the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu. Most organised tours will let you stop in Ollantaytambo on the way back from Aguas Calientes. This is a good option to visit the rest of the ruins, instead of heading back to Cusco. To read more about the best ways to get to Machu Picchu, click here.

Hiking

Another great way to visit the Sacred Valley is to hike. In this article, you will find all the details and itinerary to hike the Sacred Valley here.

Take a tour

As the Sacred Valley become more touristy and known to visitors, local tour companies are starting to offer guided day trips from Cusco. This Sacred Valley Tour is about 10-12 hours long and will take you to: Moray, Maras, Picac; Ollantaytambo and Chinchero! Check availability below:

Sacred Valley Boleto Turistico

The Boleto Turistico is the primary pass in Cusco, granting entry to nearly all archaeological sites, museums, and several sites in the Sacred Valley itself. Valid for 10 days from the first site visited, this ticket is split in 3 circuits covering the access to 16 locations.

  • Circuit 1: The Sacsayhuaman ParkThe Cusco Ruins
    Sites Included: Sacsayhuaman – Qènqo – Tambomachay – Puka Pukara
  • Circuit 2: City of Cusco & south side of the Sacred Valley
    Sites Included: Qoricancha Site Museum – Regional Historical Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art – Monument to the Inca Pachacutec – Museum of the Popular arts – Native Art Center Qosqo – Archeological site of Tipon and Pikilacta (new!)
  • Circuit 3: The Sacred Valley
    Sites Included: Pisac – Ollantaytambo – Chinchero – Moray

Unfortunately, Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, Maras Salt Mines, and Rainbow Mountain are not included in the Boleto Turistico. For more details about the Sacred Valley Boleto Turistico, make sure to read our dedicated article here.

sacred valley peru FAQ

Pin this Peru’s Sacred Valley guide!

 Right in the heart of the Andean mountain chain, this fertile valley that once saw the apogee of the Incan civilisation, hosts numerous ruins, typical Andean villages and mesmerising landscapes
#peru #sacredvalley
 Right in the heart of the Andean mountain chain, this fertile valley that once saw the apogee of the Incan civilisation, hosts numerous ruins, typical Andean villages and mesmerising landscapes
#peru #sacredvalley

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Jenny

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen – Owner, writer & photographer – has lived for the past 10 years across Oceania and Ireland while also travelling long-term in Latin America, North America and Europe. She has visited more than 60 countries and set foot on every continent in the world!

>> Favourite countries: New Zealand, Bolivia, Iceland.
>> Wishlist: Svalbard, Japan, Botswana, Alaska.
>> Philosophy: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

Jen is a coffee nerd, passionate about photographywildlife and outdoor activities. Her organisation and curiosity make her a great travel companion always looking for DIY and off-the-grid adventures. For more info, check out the About page.

If you’ve found this travel guide useful and want to say Thank You, you can now buy me a virtual coffee!

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Beth
4 years ago

What an excellent guide do prepare for a trip near Cusco! so many recommendations I had not seen anywhere else. Thank you so much for sharing these tips

John
2 years ago

Thank you so much for this guide. This is a goldmine for our trip to Cusco (fingers crossed, flights aren’t cancelled).

Shelly
2 years ago

Beautiful post and so many great tips, thanks!

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