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.”

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 fresh fruits and vegetables.The Incas cultivated potatoes, white corn, coca, fruits and vegetables, on terraces like those that can be seen in many valley villages specially designed for this purpose. 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, is reached 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.

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. 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!

Pisac

Your first visit will be the archaeological site of Pisac, where you can see an immense Inca cemetery with more than 2000 tombs. You will learn about the incredible farming terraces carved into the mountain. Your guide should spend about 1.5  hours with you here, exploring the ancient Inca city. These ruins are quite extensive and you will see many examples of original Inca architecture.

The next stop should be to the colorful market of Pisac, which you can visit for about 20 minutes. Then you drive to Urumbamba for lunch where you have the option of a buffet restaurant of delicious Peruvian food, or other nearby restaurants. Most agencies do not include lunch in the price.

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!

Moray

The stunning Inca site of Moray is also known as “The Greenhouses of the Incas.” Different levels of terraces are carved into a huge bowl, part of which was further excavated by the Incas. The terraces have varied microclimates depending on how deep into the bowl they are placed. It is believed they were used by the Incas to research the optimal conditions for their crops and to make new hybrids of staple foods so that they could be grown at higher altitudes.

Ollantaytambo

We finish our tour in Ollantaytambo, exploring the archeological site for about 1 hour. You will learn about the incredible architecture of the Sun Temple, admire the water fountains, the Incahuatana and the impressive storehouses.  Finally, you will return to Cusco. Quality agencies will give you door to door service, dropping you at your hotel around 6:30pm.

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
  • The colorful local market of Pisac, where you can see local people who are keeping their traditional culture alive
  • 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

A scenic 10 m drive from Ollantaytambo, follow the river and the train tracks to the Veronica View Hotel. 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/