Cusco

Sacred Valley of the Incas

About the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley of the Incas also known as “Valle Sagrado” starts outside of Cusco in the town of Pisac. It stretches from Pisac all the way to Ollantaytambo, nestled between Cusco and the Majestic Machu Picchu. The valley is formed by the Urubamba River also known as the Volcanota River. It’s flanked by two prominent mountain peaks, Sahuasiray (elevation: 5 818m/ 19 088ft) in Calca and Veronica Mountain (elevation: 5893m/ 19 334ft) in Ollantaytambo. This Valley was the center of Tahuantinsuyo, the largest known empire in the Western Hemisphere, spanning from Colombia and Ecuador, passing through Peru and Bolivia, to the northern part of the nations of Argentina and Chile; and its capital is the city of Cusco, which was known as the “navel of the world.” The sacred valley has always been an agricultural hub and still remains so. Its location and climate create the perfect spot for cultivation. The lower parts of the valley are warm and the top of the hills are cooler, creating the ideal spot to preserve the crops and they have a constant supply of water from the many streams that flow into the valley from melting ice from the surrounding mountain peaks.

Agriculture

The Sacred Valley has a moderate climate and fertile land, which is great for agriculture in the region. They produce maize, fruits and vegetables for exporting and self-consumption. This produce is usually sold in their many local markets, which are insanely cheap with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Incas cultivated potatoes, white corn, coca, fruits and vegetables, on terraces like those that can be seen decorating the mountain sides throughout the villages. Today the valley produces lucuma, peach, avocado, and one of the best corn varieties in the world.

Religion and Cosmology

But it was more than just an important agricultural center; The Urubamba River Valley, “Willcamayu” for the Incas, was one of the most important elements in the religious cosmology of the Incas. They believed that the flow of the Urubamba was closely linked to constellations and mountains, they also believed that it was the counterpart of the Milky Way on earth.

Tourism today

This region is the center of experiential tourism because of the many indigenous small towns you find along the way to Machu Picchu. You get to immerse yourself in their way of life and also visit long standing, ancient and historical Inca sites. It is regarded as the epicenter of adventure tourism, with different types of extreme sports to partake in. The best towns to visit include Chinchero, Pisac, Calca, Urubamba, Salinas, Moray and Ollantaytambo. Its the gateway to Machu Picchu, the most visited archeological site in the world.

Weather in the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is 2,800 m.s.n.m., 600 meters below Cusco, and enjoys one of the best climates in this region, daytime temperatures vary between 19 ° and 24 ° C. This advantageous climate made the Incas use it as their main center of agricultural production, experimentation and research. Nowadays, travelers use the valley to acclimatize themselves, before starting their tours from Cusco through to Machu Picchu. Without a doubt, it is one of the best ways to avoid altitude sickness.

Where is the Sacred Valley of the Incas?

The Urubamba river valley or “Sacred Valley of the Incas”, is located 15 km northeast of the city of Cusco and is reachable by a paved road. A trip by car to one of the nearest villages will take around 40 minutes. From there you can move to the other villages in the valley by local transport or you caan book a classic Sacred Valley Tour, which will take you to all the important parts of the valley.

Sacred valley map

The best Sacred Valley Tour itinerary inclusions.

Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour with Moray & the Salt Mines

The tour guide should pick you up at your hotel at 7:30am, with a private van and head towards the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Manos de la cominidada

Manos de la Comunidad has a variety of Camelids indigenous to Peru like the llama, alpaca, guanacos and the Vicuna that produces very fine wool and can only be shorn every three years. We visit this farm to pet, feed and take pictures with these animals. Also, in the center are local women dressed in local garments, weaving items using the wool from these animals. As you exit, you will encounter a museum and souvenir shop. The workers are always around to answer any questions, but you never feel pressurized to buy anything.

Pisac

Most agencies stop first at the Mirador of Taray, where you get your first view of the valley. This spectacular view of the Urubamba valley is laid out before you, with traditional farming communities in the valley floor and mountain peaks rising from the end of the valley. Keep reading to see the places you’ll want to visit!

You will visit the extensive and well preserved Pisac archaeological site which overlooks the green lush valley and is the entry point to the valley. The Sacred Valley was agriculturally important to the Incas and still plays a major role in the sustenance of the Cusco region. Evidence of this can be found at the site in the many food warehouse at the top of the hill, that were used for preservation because of the lower temperatures- The lower you go, you find carefully engineered large farming terraces, taking advantage of the different micro climates. Also, present is an intricate water irrigation sytem originating from the stream uphill and supplying all the terraces below using water channels. Adjacent to the site is the biggest Inca cemetry found so far, with thousands of opening decorating the montain side. It is said that if you visit these tombs, you can still find human skeletal remains.

Salt mines

The Salt Mine (Salineras), close to the colonial town of Maras, are Pre-Inca. Hundreds of saltpans decorate the hillside and have been used for salt extraction since before the Inca era. A natural spring at the top of the valley discharges a small stream of water heavily laden with salt, which is diverted into saltpans and evaporated to produce a salt that is of very high quality. This is one of the few places in the world where you can find naturally pink salt! The locals have full mining rights and all the salt sold on site belongs to the locals. It still supplies Peru with over 90% of its salt.A great place to grab another souvenir.

The salt mines gives you a taste of an age-old tradition, that has not changed for many generations.  The people in this community have been harvesting salt for many years. It’s a rich custom and tradition that has passed saltpans from one generation to the next. This has been their main source of income and they have exclusive rights to these mines. Salineras is one of the very few salt mines left in the world to have not switched to more modern techniques. The communal company of Maras (cooparative) packages and distributes the salt and splits the profits with the families according to the number of saltpans they own. A great place to grab another souvenir.

Moray

Moray, was an experimental farming site built in the form of an ampitheater with different temperature at each level which grows different types of crops. It is sometimes refered to as the ¨Greenhouse of the Incas¨ becuase it functioned the same way a modern greenhouse would function. These levels of terraces were carved before the Incas took control of the Sacred Valley and then used by the Incas to research optimal growing conditions for their crops. The Incas brought in different soil samples from other regions, to optimise their research. The locals were still using it for growing their crops, until the 1970s when it was preserved and protected for tourism

Ollantaytambo

Finally, we drive to Ollantaytambo to explore this quaint Inca village and the amazing Inca Ruins on the hilltop above. These ruins is where the Incas fought their last battle with the Spanish conquerous, before they had to retreat and flee into the dense jungle. Most of the structures were unfortunately incomplete. There is a section with a number of bolders that were carved, but didnt make it to their destination. Another possibility, is that the battle was so intense, it caused a lot of damage to this massive Inca site. Still standing is the incredible architecture of the Sun Temple, admire the water fountains, the Incahuatana and the impressive storehouses. It is believed the site initially belonged to Aymaru clan, before being taken over by the Incas and its stands as the last and best fought battle between the Incas and the Spanish. The Incas one this battle, but becuase their numbers were so depleted they fleed towards the dense jungle. Most tours end here and from the top of the site, you can watch the sunset over the town and the calming river on your right.

Ollantaytambo holds many annual festivals, check online if there is anything coming up during your stay. Its a great tourist hub, with an assortment of restaurants and accomodation establishments for all budgets. Its the gateway to the Inca Trail or the train to Machu Picchu. Once the daily crowds disperse, you are left with a peaceful town, with many indigenous locals, that still call this small town home.

Additional towns

Chinchero

Chinchero is a small rural town between Urubamba and Cusco. It sits at an elevation of 3 762m/ 12 343ft. The language predominantly spoken is Quechua (82%), however most locals are bilingual speaking both Quechua and Spanish. An international airport is currently under construction, with its estimated completion date in 2026 (if you believe anything any government has to say). This airport is meant to serve the millions of tourists that flock in every year heading for Machu Picchu.

There are many fun, engaging and unique things to do in town. Firstly, their Sunday market is a great alternative to the more famous market in Pisac. It tends to be more authentic and is usually less crowded. Every weekend the streets (not that many: it’s a small town) are full of celebrations, from weddings and local concerts, playing music like Huayna. The atmosphere makes you want to dance, clap along to the beat and just let go. You can also learn to weave. The complementary warp-face weaving technique has been practiced by the locals for centuries. The locals will teach you how they make the thread from Alpaca wool, to dyeing the fabric and finally to making the beautiful, colorful and traditional garments, the ladies and gentlemen are spotting around town. Just 3.5km out of town is Puiray Lagoon, where you can try your hand at paddle boarding.  The lagoon is serene, with very little tourists around.

The most famous thing about Chinchero is the adobe colonial church found in the main plaza. This church was built upon the foundations of an Inca temple in the early 17th Century.  The ceiling and walls are beautifully decorated with floral prints and religious ornaments. Some might say this church is a representation of how the Spanish managed to conquer the religious beliefs of the Incas, converting the main religion to Christianity. They open every Sunday for Mass free of charge. 

Recommended Tour to Chinchero: Tour To Chinchero, Moray And Salt Mines Half Day

Urubamba

Urubamba is the largest town in the sacred valley. It’s a commercial center and is frequented by locals from all over the Valley for their necessities. Its central to most tours and treks around the Sacred Valley. Whether you are heading to Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Lares Trek or Machu Pucchu, Urubamba is an ideal place stop for food because of its size and location. It has many restaurants with International and local fusion.

Overview

Highlights of a Sacred Valley Tour

  • The spectacular viewpoint of the Sacred Valley (Mirador of Taray)
  • The extensive Pisac Inca ruins, which have many impressive examples of Inca architecture
  • A quick stop in Urubamba for lunch
  • The Moray Archeological site where you can learn about Incan agricultural experimentation
  • The famous Pre-Inca Salt Mines of Maras where naturally salty spring water is gathered in the same way it has been for hundreds of years
  • The magnificent archeological site of Ollantaytambo and amazing views of the valley

Please Note

  • Not all tour operators offer the same itinerary and quality of service.  Please see below for recommended tour operators. 
  • I did mine with Sam Travel Peru and I think they offered a great product at a fair price.
  • Read the itineray carefully before choosing an operator and making payment.

Difference between group service and private service

Group Service

  • Small groups up to 10 people, subject to availability and all the booking need to be done at least 48 hours in advance.
  • The Price includes ONLY the guide and transportation, meals and entrances are not included.
  • Some companies do take groups of up to 16 people. They charge less, but will include less stops and no personalized attention at all. If you are unfortunate enough to be at the back of the group, you won´t hear a word.

Private Service

  • Private service price is based on the number of people. Private service means, ONLY your party will be on the tour, no stragglers allowed . It will be completely private with your own guide, chauffeur and private van No other person will be added to your tour.
  • The Price includes ONLY the guide and transportation, meals and entrances are not included. 

What to see in the Sacred Valley of the Incas?


Known by the Incas as Willcamayu, the beautiful valley extends from the town of Pisac to Ollantaytambo, along the Urubamba river. The ancient Inca settlements in these cities are presented as checkpoints, before entering the “Inca Trail” that leads to the sacred city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. They are simply amazing, each one more impressive than the one before.

NOTE:

To enter into these tourist sites and attractions you need the boleto turistico.

The adventure in the Sacred Valley of the Incas


The Sacred Valley has become in recent years, one of the best places to practice outdoor and extreme sports. You can go cycling, hiking, climbing, paragliding, rafting and many other extreme sports. If you are a person who enjoys adventure, the outdoors and extreme sports, than you cannot miss this opportunity in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

The cultural tour of the Sacred Valley

The tour of the sacred valley will take you on a markedly traditional route, you will meet Quechua-speaking residents, with typical costumes, working their fields in an artisanal way. You will pass through villages built in the colonial period, through ancient Inca settlements. You will tour markets, temples and city squares that will take you back to how life was like hundreds of years ago. However, to tour the main archaeological remains of the Sacred Valley, you will need to buy the tourist ticket of Cusco.

What is the Boleto Turistico?

Normally to enter tourist sites and attractions, you would expect to simply turn up and pay your entrance fee on the day, right? Well, that’s no longer the case for some of the biggest archaeological and museum attractions in Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Instead, the boleto turistico is a single ticket which has to be purchased in advance to allow entry to various sites, such as Sacsaywaman, the Pisac and Ollantaytambo ruins. It is not possible to visit or enter these sites without a valid boleto turistico, and it is not possible to buy an individual entry ticket for any single site which is included on the boleto turistico.

Hotel in Ollantaytambo

If you looking for a peaceful night sleep, away from crowds, surrounded by traditional homes and amazing views, try Veronica View Hotel. It´s a scenic 10 m drive from Ollantaytambo, along the way, watch across the river for the original terraces from Incan times! Arriving at the hotel, you will be greeted amid gardens of native flowers and orchids. Take in the stunning sight of the Veronica Mountain, covered with glaciers year-round. After you settle into your room, walk through the gardens to the pool and restaurant area. There is a steam sauna, dry sauna, spa, heated swimming pool and restaurant at your feet.

Recommended  Tour Operators for the Sacred Valley

SAM Travel Peru

SAM Travel Peru (10 years in business) is a highly professional tour & trekking company that focuses on treks and tours for all age travelers, making sure everyone has the best possible tour experience. A key feature offered by SAM Travel is small group
sizes and personalized service. They never exceed ten trekkers per group, unlike many operators who will happily reach the maximum group limit of 16 or more people. They work with each group to personalize their tour if needed. One size does not fit all. What’s more, the company’s Peruvian owner, Saul Alvarez, has been working along the Inca Trail since the age of 18, as a porter and later as a guide. He understands trekking better than most and the needs of the hiker. Please check all of its great reviews on TripAdvisor.
Website: https://www.samtravelperu.com/

Orange Nation Peru

For a while, this relatively new start-up company has been on my list of Inca Trail tour operators to consider. The company focuses on quality treks and tours for those that are budget conscious. The company tour guides, porters and cooks have shares in the company, and earn a fair amount for their level of contributions. When you choose this company, you make a direct impact to all the lives of the people that make your adventure memorable. The company has also has plenty of excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. Definitely, one to consider.
Website: https://www.orange-nation.com

Spider Travel Peru

SPIDER TRAVEL PERU is a new innovative professional adventure travel company and Inca Trail Operator that offers unparalleled experiences to unknown and untouched wilderness areas. Spider has adventure treks that are carefully designed to cater to all of the possible options its clients might desire. Its passions are sharing the incredible landscapes of the Andes and the history and culture of the Inca people! Make sure you consider its many options!
Website: https://www.spidertravelperu.com/

Glamping Peru Treks

Glamping Peru Treks creates treks and tours that offer unsurpassed luxury and comfort while hiking off the beaten track. All accommodations, food, and services are of the highest quality and standards. If you are looking for something upscale and luxurious
while trekking or touring, this is the absolute best option for you. Do not be afraid to work with their service operators to create your dream personalized luxury trek or tour. The company group size averages 2 to 4 people, not exceeding 8 people. If you love your privacy, be sure to ask for a private tour.
Website: https://www.glampingperutreks.com/