Visiting the Sacred Valley through a tour operator in Peru or your home country can be a great way to get to know this spectacular valley rich in Inca ruins, agriculture, and magnificent views. In particular, several tourist agencies in Cusco will gladly help you plan an itinerary. Hiking tours: The Sacred Valley offers some of South America’s most beautiful and historic hikes.
Another savvy option is the archaeological tours in the Sacred Valley. These are the best for travelers who want to see as many amazingly preserved Inca ruins as possible throughout the valley.
In addition to buying tours of the Sacred Valley in Cusco, those more adventurous may have a good grasp of Spanish. You can base yourself in smaller towns like Pisac, Urubamba, or Ollantaytambo and get local tips and information on the best trips.
We can also organize bike tours. This mountainous region offers some excellent walks and allows travelers to experience the exhilaration of the cliff-side trails up close.
Pisac (32 km northeast of Cusco) is famous for its ancient and modern attractions. At the top of the mountainside, the ancient ruins representing a small Inca town with temples, palaces, solstice markers, baths, and water channels attract archaeologists worldwide. Its modern attraction is the weekly Sunday market, attracting travelers worldwide searching for bargains on indigenous textiles, souvenirs, and knitwear.
The Pisac market is a must-see for those visiting the Cusco region. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, the streets overflow with artisans selling their wares and tourists buying them.
Even if you must go to Pisac on a day other than the market, you’ll find many of the same things for sale in small shops around town. Sunday is the best day to visit as there is also a smaller local market. Villagers from miles around pack their llamas and donkeys early to arrive and set up stalls where they sell vegetables and other produce.
The preferred trade method was often bartering rather than buying and selling, a tradition dating back to the Incas. Even if you are not a buyer, the market is worth visiting. It’s a great place to take photos and people-watch. Many of the cafes around the market have second-floor balconies with good views.
The quality of the products is a bit sketchy. If you want to spend a lot of money on any item, you better find yourself in a good gallery in Cusco or Lima. But prices are low, and the market is a great place to pick up memorable souvenirs for friends back home.
Most of the products sold in the Pisac market are textiles, jewelry, carved gourds, pottery, felt hats, antiques (buyer beware), and sweaters. Bargaining is standard practice in the Pisac market.
There are no price tags; pay the agreed price with the seller—here are a few tips: Never make the first offer. Wait until the seller starts with a price. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a price you don’t like; You will see the same from another seller.
Another good tip is to buy many things at the same stall, even if they are not similar (pumpkins, sweaters, wall hangings, etc.). Sellers will often discount prices for that bulk purchase. Be aware of your location; Stalls located in the back regions of the market, away from where the Cusco tour buses unload their passengers, will often have better prices than stalls closer to bus stops and on strategic corners.
The Pisac market ends around three. If you’re staying in town, the end of the day is also a great time to hunt for bargains, as some vendors may be a little more willing to make a deal rather than pack up their wares for next time. Shopping in markets like Pisac can be a lot of fun if you relax and allow yourself to drive and deliver in a friendly manner.
Opened in 2003, Awana Kancha is an exciting project to visit just a 10-minute drive outside of Pisac at kilometer 23 of the Cusco-Pisac highway. There is an exhibition of different camelids, including llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas, all of which are very happy to be fed a continuous supply of long grass, which they will give you on arrival.
The project works with communities that employ traditional wool spinning and dyeing techniques, using natural materials and weaving traditional designs.
A large store sells these high-quality fabrics and displays the natural substances used to dye the yarn. Evenings are the best time to visit, as the community is often busy with morning tour groups.
The ruins of the Pisac fortress are among the most interesting in Peru. Today, historians and archaeologists believe that Pisac was an enclosure that served mainly as a line of defense against the anti-Indians, who occupied lands east of Cusco and were implacable enemies of the Incas.
The Pisac complex forms the composition of several different areas. Outside the walled enclosure is Kanchiracay, a small set of rough stone constructions.
This area probably served as a military garrison and may have sheltered local villagers in case of attack. There are also some ruins of aqueducts. The site could have been home to farmers who worked on the lower terraces. From Kanchiracay, the Inca Trail ascends the hill to a crossroads known as Antachaka.
There are four toilets in the corners, with water from the pipe. To the west, you’ll see the cemetery known as Tankanamarka, an important pre-conquest site that grave robbers have heavily looted. Inca believed that the dead could take their possessions to the next life. Therefore, treasures were often left in the tombs that the Spanish conquistadors soon realized and exploited.
Some estimates may have been as many as 10,000 graves at the site. The looters took everything and left only holes. Continuing the walk, you will cross the wall through Amaru Punku, the Gate of the Serpent, and enter Alto Pisac. The extraordinary skills of the Incas with stoneworking are on display here: notice how they cut this path through the rock and remember that they had no iron tools or explosives to help them dig.
Alto Pisac is the most important and impressive section of the ruins because most of the complex’s religious and ceremonial structures are located there, and the stonework is incredible. There are several temples in Alto Pisac. Unfortunately, today, it is not known which temples corresponded to which deity.
An exception is the impressive Temple of the Sun, an oval building built directly into the rock. The Inca astronomers could follow the Sun’s and the stars’ movements from the top of the building. There is also an altar that may have been used to sacrifice animals for divination purposes.
Unfortunately, thieves recently ripped out some of the Temple of the Sun’s decorative stonework. There is also a series of restored baths in Alto Pisac. The last area of the Pisac ruins is the residential area known as Pisaqa, from which the ruin complex takes its name. It is a series of terraces and stone constructions. Some archaeologists believe that these were homes for the elite. From here starts a path that can take back to the town of Pisac.
In the middle of the Sacred Valley, Urubamba is an attractive little town, making it a good base for traveling around the area, exploring the countryside, and visiting Inca ruins. Urubamba tends to go unnoticed more than other towns in the region, which makes it a more peaceful place to relax for a few days.
The pleasant palm-lined Plaza de Armas has a small fountain in the center. The city has many services, hotels, and restaurants and is close to Cusco, approximately one hour away.
There are excellent opportunities to walk around the city, especially in Moray, a town compacted by Inca terraces carved into the hillsides. Alternatively, nearby Salinas is an exciting stop with its Inca salt flats, still in production, following an ancient tradition.
The same buses that depart from Cusco to Pisac will also take you to Urubamba and the next town north, Ollantaytambo. The starting point is on Avenida Ferrocarril, several blocks from the Plaza de Armas in Urubamba. Many cheap motorcycle taxis can take you to your hotel or hostel. Departures and arrivals are continuous from this morning until tonight. Taxis are also an option, and if you have enough travel companions, the split cost is roughly equal to what you’d pay on a bus.
It’s one thing to visit the Sacred Valley, but how about touring it on a mountain bike, pushing up and through its slopes for the ride of a lifetime? Sacred Valley Mountain bike tour guides rent bikes and gear for half-day, one-day, and two-day trips through some of the world’s best scenery, occasionally stopping to appreciate sites like the Inca Fortress of Ollantaytambo.
Or better yet, traversing some of the same downhill trails the Inca used in competitive events to train young warriors for battle. The tour guides know the local geography and the bikes, and all cycles are thoroughly inspected before use.
Located a few kilometers east of Urubamba, Yucay is a quiet town with attractive colonial houses and the restored colonial church of Santiago Apóstol. Inside the church, you will find exquisite oil paintings and fine altars.
The main square is divided by a large grassy yard held by football matches. Facing Plaza Manco II is the adobe palace of Sayri Tupac, who settled here after arriving from Vilcabamba in 1588.
Extensive Inca terraces near the city’s slopes are perfect for an afternoon excursion. Aside from the hotels clustered around the central plaza, there are few services in Yucay. One of Cusco’s best-kept secrets is also located near Yucay. Huayoccari Hacienda Restaurant is an elegant converted farmhouse perched on a hill overlooking the Sacred Valley, two kilometers from Yucay.
Moray is an exciting archaeological site about 38 kilometers (45 min) from Cusco. Discovered in 1932, Moray is a series of three circular terraced depressions that, at first glance, appear to be a theater or coliseum.
The terraces are finely done and have held up very well over time. He does believe that the Inca terraces were a kind of agricultural laboratory, as each Inca terrace represents a different microclimate suitable for various crops and plants. The locals have started calling it the “Inca Laboratory.”
The site is very serene and located amid much natural beauty. The otherworldly appearance of the terraces and circles has earned Moray a reputation as a mystical hotspot.
The site is well worth visiting for ruin enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone interested in a low-key but beautiful visit to a part of the Sacred Valley that not all tourists see. The closest town is the small town of Maras, easily accessible by bus from Urubamba. Moray is about 9 kilometers (6 miles) away from Maras. There is a small entrance fee to see Moray. It’s close to Salinas; you can easily combine them on a good day trip.
For centuries, Andean natives living in the highlands made their salt by diverting saltwater hot springs into thousands of small pools and pans, which then dried. More than 5,000 salt pans are still used, creating a mosaic of white rectangles on the hillside. The pools fill every three days, and a few centimeters of solid salt will have accumulated after a month. It is then shredded and transported in sacks. Each Salina can produce about 150 kilos of salt per month.
Nearby, a small mill processes the salt. Iodine is added, and the salt is graded and sold. The sight of many terraced salt pools cascading down the steep mountainside will leave an impression.
The only downside to visiting Salinas is that modern tourism has discovered this timeless traditional practice, and sometimes tour groups are on the site. However, it is worth a visit. If you like hiking, you can get there in about 45 minutes from Urubamba or Cusco.
Be sure to bring some water; it can get hot around Salinas. The closest town to Salinas is the small Pichingoto, a small scenic spot carved out of the mountain. It is close enough to Moray to combine the two in one day.
Located at the northeastern end of the Sacred Valley, about 97 km from Cusco, this small town is a cultural haven worth visiting. Snow-capped peaks on both sides surround Ollantaytambo and boasts spectacular views of the Andean landscape and ancient Inca ruins.
The town offers several hotels and restaurants, and an overnight stay in the city is recommended to ensure you arrive at the ruins early, before the crowds. For a unique experience, get up early and watch the sunrise over the mountains.
Because the landscape around Ollantaytambo is some of the most remarkable in the region, it’s a great place to wander as you explore the nearby ruins and other landmarks of the Inca Empire. Of the marks left by the Incas, some of the most intriguing are the Inca terraces, or agricultural terraces, which adorn both sides of the enormous gorge surrounding the city.
With its adobe brick walls covered in blooming bougainvillea and perfectly carved canals that continue to carry water from the mountains, the city itself is a testament to the engineering and architectural genius of the Incas.
Take a walk through the characteristic grid of streets. You will be surprised by the site of the locals who linger at the doors of the old Inca residential Canchas, once inhabited by several families during the fifteenth century.
As you wander through the city, you may want to stop by El Museo Catcco, which has displays of textiles and archaeological artifacts recovered from local ruins.
If you get lost, follow the Ollantaytambo Heritage Trail, marked with blue plaques highlighting the city’s most important historical sites. Further on from the central plaza, towards the outskirts of the town, there are several charming Inca ruins. The massive fortress, perched between steep stone terraces carved into the hillside, is perhaps the biggest attraction.
Representing one of the most impressive architectural examples of the Inca Empire, the fortress held off the Spanish during an attack in 1537. However, despite its imposing façade, the building was probably originally intended as a temple for worship and astronomical observation instead of military purposes.
You will find another interesting site between the fortress temple and the town next to the Patacancha River, the Baño de la Ñusta.
This ancient ruin made of gray granite was once used for ceremonial baths and offered great views of ancient granaries built by the Incas. If you have a keen eye, you can also make out the face of an Inca carved into the cliffs that rise above the valley. Ollantaytambo can be reached from Cusco by train. You can also leave from here for Machu Picchu: the train has seven daily departures.
The most popular way to visit Ollantaytambo is with a travel agency on a day trip from Cusco. Tour operators usually combine a stop in Ollantaytambo with several other towns, such as Chinchero de Pisac. The day tour is the most enjoyable way to explore Ollantaytambo. You are at your leisure and on your own time going alone without a guided tour.
Ollantaytambo by TRAIN
Ollantaytambo is the midpoint of the trains that run between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (the landing point for Machu Picchu and the last stop on the train). Although it is tempting to stop in Ollantaytambo on the way or back from Aguas Calientes, it can be expensive if done solely by train, as fares to and from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes are the same as from Cusco.
While it is possible to reach Ollantaytambo by road, Aguas Calientes can only be reached by train. Therefore, travel between Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo requires train travel.
The train station in Ollantaytambo is about 1,200 meters from the town proper, and the road is currently undergoing heavy construction, so be prepared to walk most of the distance. Nine trains, offering a variety of classes and fares, stop at Ollantaytambo from Cusco each morning before continuing to Aguas Calientes.
It is possible to disembark at Ollantaytambo from a morning train and board any train en route to Aguas Calientes. Although many trains return to Cusco from Aguas Calientes every day, only three trains return to Cusco stop in Ollantaytambo, so make sure you book your ticket correctly if you plan to descend Ollantaytambo from Aguas Calientes.
Trains leave Ollantaytambo for Cusco every day between 5 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Schedules and exact times are subject to change.
The Sacred Valley lets you get your adrenaline fixed on the way to the ruins. Leave the tour bus behind, go mountain biking to the Moray ruins, or take a ride over the 14,400-foot Abra Malaga pass.
Hike to the ruins of Choquequirao (a trip also known as “the other Inca Trail”) or whitewater rafting in the Apurimac Canyon. Ollantaytambo is an ideal starting point for outdoor adventures throughout the valley, whether you are interested in half-day, full-day, or multi-day trips. However, all package tours require a minimum of two people with a group of three or more.
Full-day mountain bike trips are excellent for multi-day hikes and bike combos. For an outdoor adventure on a smaller scale, book with Kondor Path Tours.
Almost all visitors to Ollantaytambo pass through Manay Raqay, as it is the only entrance to the fortress and is a designated stop on the Heritage Trail.
The unique feature of the Inca Plaza (apart from the looming defense) is the element of water, a powerful water channel flowing openly across the court from the ruins just above the valley.
With so many tourists strolling through Manay Raqay to enter the fort, tourism officials have made the most of the wide-open space to erect several market stalls.
There’s more shopping available from afar than you’ll find, as stalls are sparsely occupied, and those open for business sell the same collection of books, jewelry, bags, and canes. However, the square is the most shopping you’ll find in one place, and it’s a great place to pick up a book on your way to the fortress.