Last Updated on October 3, 2022 by admin
The Sacred Valley of the Inca, also known as the Urubamba Valley, is one of the top tourist destinations in Peru. This narrow valley extends nearly 70 miles, beginning in the small town of Pisac and eventually reaching the famous citadel of Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley contains numerous Inca ruins, plenty of ancient terraces carved into the hillsides, and several charming towns. The natural beauty of the valley has an almost mystical feel. In this guide, we’ll share the best things to see in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
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About the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is located in the Peruvian Andes. The valley was created slowly over time by the Urubamba River that flows through it. The valley is long and narrow, wedged in between steep mountains and hills.
Many indigenous groups have lived in the Sacred Valley over the years. There’s evidence that the Chanapata people lived in the area starting around 800 BC. The Qotacalla people inhabited the region from 500 to 900 AD. Then, the Killke people lived in the valley from 900 AD until the Inca Empire took over in the 15th century.
The Sacred Valley is known for its rich soil and agriculture. The Inca were drawn to the valley for its lower altitude and warmer temperatures. It was the perfect location to grow maize, which was a major staple in the Inca’s diet.
The most famous site in the Sacred Valley is Machu Picchu, but there are many more places that are also worthy of a visit!
|Planning a trip to Peru? See our guide to planning the best Peru itinerary!|
How to Get to the Sacred Valley
If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll first need to fly to the city of Cusco. We recommend staying in Cusco at least for several days. Cusco is a convenient gateway city to exploring the Sacred Valley. Most of the places mentioned in this guide are easily reachable as day trips from Cusco. (Plus there’s lots to see and do in Cusco too! See our complete guide to Cusco here.)
We traveled around the Sacred Valley by hiring a private driver. Our hotel arranged the car for us and made sure that we had a reputable driver. Our driver was kind and professional, and it wasn’t too expensive.
There are also buses and colectivos (shared taxis) that travel to many of the destinations in this guide. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, the colectivos are even more affordable. It can be a bit more of a bumpy ride (figuratively and literally), and might just add to the adventure!
What to Pack for a Visit to the Sacred Valley
- Phone Charger Power Bank: Make sure that your phone battery doesn’t lose its charge while you’re out exploring. We always carry a charged power bank with us, so that we can charge our phone on the go. We use our phones heavily for navigation, communication, and photos, so we don’t want our phone to die while we’re out and about.
- Filtered Water Bottle: You won’t have to worry about water quality when you bring a water bottle with its own filter. (Bring it with you to restaurants or while you’re out hiking.)
- Hiking Shoes: You’ll probably want to do some hiking while you’re in the Sacred Valley. If you’re planning on hiking, be sure to bring your hiking boots. I’ve used the Columbia brand for years, and my boots have held up super well. (I’ve linked them here for women, and here for men.)
- Day Pack: Bring a day backpack with you so that you can pack all of your souvenirs, extra clothing layers, and snacks.
- Rain Coat: This packable rain coat easily fits into a backpack. You never know when it will rain, so it’s good to be prepared! (Linked here for women, and linked here for men.)
(Click on any of the above images for current pricing and shipping information.)
Best Things to Do in the Sacred Valley
Exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu is a travel memory you will treasure forever. Located high atop a mountain in the Sacred Valley, clouds constantly roll through the streets of this ancient city. Machu Picchu is Peru’s most popular tourist destination and it’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It’s believed that the city was used as a sacred site for Incan leaders during the height of their empire under emperor Pachacuti. Historians believe that the city was abandoned only 100 years after its construction.
Over a millions visitors travel to Machu Picchu every year. You can either take the train to Aguas Calientes and then take a bus up to the entrance, or you can hike the Inca Trail and arrive to the citadel just as the Inca did hundreds of years ago! It’s also worth booking a ticket to hike Huayna Picchu, the peak located just behind the main citadel.
|Read all about our experience hiking to Machu Picchu here!|
One of our favorite day trips from Cusco was visiting the town of Pisac. Pisac is known as the “City of Towers” because there are over 20 Inca towers on the mountainside looking over the village. There are two primary things to see in Pisac: the artisan market and the Inca ruins. The people of the town maintain many Peruvian traditions and are often traditionally dressed. The Inca ruins are located high atop the hill beside the town. You can either drive up to the entrance or you can hike up the hill. We chose to hike up to see the ruins, and the views of the Sacred Valley from the top were incredible. One of my favorite parts of our entire trip to Peru was seeing the Sacred Valley from that hike.
|For more information, check out our full guide on Pisac!|
“Streets of Ollantaytambo” by D-Stanley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The town of Ollantaytambo is located about an hour and a half to the northwest of Cusco. For those who seek to visit Machu Picchu, going to Ollantaytambo is a must because the train to Machu Picchu departs from Ollantaytambo. We recommend that you spend a full day in Ollantaytambo to see the Inca ruins there. The Inca had a sophisticated military fortress that was meant to protect Inca nobility.
Stay in a Vertical Sky Luxury Suite
For a once in a lifetime experience, check out Vertical Sky Luxury Suites. You’ll be able to stay in a sky capsule or dome for unbeatable views of the Sacred Valley!
Moray is an Inca archaeological site located about 28 miles to the northwest of Cusco. The site is famous for its circular terraces which were used for agricultural experiments. The Inca would plant seeds at different levels and see which provided ideal conditions for a variety of crops. The wide temperature differences between the terraces created distinct micro climates. We visited Moray and thought it was a worthwhile visit!
|Read all about our trip to Moray here.|
Salineras de Maras (Salt Mines of Maras)
We visited the Salineras de Maras the same day we visited Moray. (They’re located just 30 minutes east of Moray.) There are over 4,500 salt ponds at Maras! The method that they use to cultivate salt is the same as was used during pre-Inca times. Each family tends to a plot, and there is a communal system for directing the water through the many salt ponds. Once the water evaporates, workers cultivate the salt that was left behind. Because of its cultural importance, Salineras de Maras is currently on the tentative list for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are typically three layers of salt by the end of cultivation process. The top layer is pink in color, and it’s the highest-quality salt. This pink Peruvian salt is typically used for gourmet cooking, and it’s pink in color due to the level of potassium and other minerals it contains. The layer beneath the pink layer is white, and is often called bulk salt. Bulk salt is often used for cooking purposes as well. The bottom layer is brown in color, and is typically used for agricultural purposes. Each salt flat can produce hundreds of pounds of salt per month!
|More information about the Salt Mines of Maras is linked here.|
“Huchuy Qosqo – wonderful and peaceful ruins at ~3700masl” by sucram21 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A little north of Cusco is Huchuy Qosqo, which means “Little Cusco.” The site served as a royal estate for the Inca emperor Viracocha in the 15th century. There are several notable ruins at the site, including a great hall (kallanka) that is over 100 feet long.
If you are up for a hike, you can travel to see the Perolniyoc Waterfall in the Sacred Valley. In addition to seeing the waterfall, there are also Inca ruins along the route. The hike is 4.2 miles long roundtrip, with almost 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Trail information is linked here.
Huaypo is a pretty lagoon that is a popular place for kayaking and paddle-boarding.
Try Some Chicha
Chicha is a local corn beer that is made from maize. While in the Sacred Valley, be sure to try a glass!
The town at the base of Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes. Most people only pass through Aguas Calientes on their way through to Machu Picchu, but there’s several things you can do in the town itself. If you have time in your itinerary, be sure to visit the hot springs that gave the town its name. (Aguas Calientes means hot waters in Spanish.)
Cocalmayo Hot Springs
After visiting Machu Picchu, you can take a separate journey to visit the Cocalmayo Hot Springs. The waters are supposedly more clear than the hot springs in Aguas Calientes. More information about Cocalmayo is linked here.
The town of Urubamba is centrally located to Moray and Maras. It’s a great place to stop for a meal and to explore the small town.
The town of Chinchero is located about halfway between Cusco and Maras. There are Inca ruins at Chinchero that were from the palace of the Emperor Túpac Yupanqui. In addition to seeing the Inca ruins, the town is also the center of weaving. At the Interpretation Center of Andean Textiles, you’ll be able to see live weaving demonstrations.
Where to Stay in Cusco
We stayed in Cusco and then completed all our day trips from there until we were ready to take the train to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. Here’s a few recommendations for hotels in Cusco:
Luxury | Inkaterra La Casona
Address: Next to the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, Plaza, Nazarenas 211, Cusco 08002, Peru
The Inkaterra La Casona is conveniently located adjacent to the Plaza de Armas. It was the first boutique hotel in Cusco, and it’s located within a colonial house from the 16th century. The 11 suites are located around a courtyard and have chimneys, heated floors, and extra-large bathtubs. Many also have balconettes overlooking the courtyard. You can book your hotel reservation here.
Upscale | Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection
Address: Santo Domingo 259, Cusco 08002, Peru
The Palacio del Inka is a 5-star hotel located steps away from Qoricancha. The hotel is located in a mansion that is over 500 years old. The hotel is home to an on-site restaurant called Inti Raymi, as well as the Andes Spirit Spa mentioned earlier in this post. You can book your hotel reservation here.
Budget | Dragonfly Hostels Cusco
For a full list of accommodations available in Cusco, click here to view over 1,500 options.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Sacred Valley known for?
The Sacred Valley is known for its numerous Inca archaeological sites and stunning beauty. The Inca relied on this region or produce their agricultural crops. Because of the valley’s lower altitude, the temperatures were warmer and made for ideal growing conditions.
Why do they call it the Sacred Valley?
The region was named the Sacred Valley because the land was some of the best of the entire Inca empire. The soil was rich and supplied the Inca with their agricultural needs.
What is the history of the Sacred Valley?
Many indigenous groups have lived in the Sacred Valley over the years. There’s evidence that the Chanapata people lived in the area starting around 800 BC. The Qotacalla people inhabited the region from 500 to 900 AD. Then, the Killke people lived in the valley from 900 AD until the Inca Empire took over in the 15th century. The valley supplied the Inca with much of their agricultural crops.
Is the Sacred Valley worth visiting?
The Sacred Valley is definitely worth visiting. If you’re traveling all the way to Peru to see Machu Picchu, be sure to spend a couple of days exploring the Sacred Valley. There are several archaeological sites that rival Machu Picchu, yet are much less crowded. (For example, check out Ollantaytambo on your way to Machu Picchu!) We also really enjoyed seeing Pisac, Moray, and the Salt Mines of Maras.
How much time do you need at the Sacred Valley?
We recommend that you spend at least 4 days in the Sacred Valley. You’ll need two days (at least) to see Pisac, Moray, Maras, and Ollantaytambo. We recommend that you spend at least 2 days at Machu Picchu, even if you’re not hiking the Inca Trail. We personally saw Machu Picchu once in the afternoon, and then returned again the next morning. It was nice being able to see Machu Picchu under different weather conditions and to see everything we wanted to see there. Additionally, we recommend spending a couple of days in Cusco, which is slightly outside the Sacred Valley. Ideally, you’ll have at least a week to explore this region.
Visiting the Sacred Valley was one of my favorite travel memories. I hope this post was helpful as you plan your own trip to the Sacred Valley!
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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in the following posts:
- The Best Peru Itinerary
- 23 Things to Do in Cusco, Peru
- Complete Guide to Moray and Maras
- Complete Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- 33 Things to Do in Lima, Peru
- Cristo Blanco: The Best View of Cusco
- Overview of Amazon River Luxury Cruises
- Sacsayhuaman: The Inca’s Largest Archaeological Site
- Our Full Guide to Visiting the Amazon Rainforest (Iquitos, Peru)
- 10 Things to Do in Aguas Calientes, Peru
- Our Experience Hiking Huayna Picchu and the Stairs of Death
- Pisac, Peru: A visit to the Inca Ruins and the Artisan Market
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.
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