Tucked into the serene Andes just between the city of Cusco and Inca citadel of Machu Picchu sits the breathtaking Sacred Valley of the Incas(also known as Rio Urubamba Valley). Shrouded in natural beauty and full of history, no trip to Peru is complete without at least a day of exploring some of the traditional villages and ancient ruins that rest along its slopes. With over a decade of experience in bringing travelers to see these incredible places, we’ve compiled our visitor’s favorites of where to go in the region so you can see the best of the Sacred Valley during your time in Peru. Read on for the best places to visit, stay, and why each one has a spot on our list
Ollantaytambo is considered the best surviving example of an Inca city, and is a great starting point for exploring the Sacred Valley. This town is home to two giant Inca ruins, and is also known as the place to which the Incas retreated once the Spanish took Cusco. For visitors, it’s also known as some of the most accessible ruins to visit, is part of the Cusco Tourist Ticket, and is on the way to jungle treks. A lot of the city’s original construction remains, and even the newer part of town represents a traditional way of life. As you walk through the Old Town you’ll see several original homes and a working water system constructed by the Incas, dating back over five hundred years. Ollantaytambo is one of the best places to visit in the Sacred Valley for it’s historical significance, accessibility, and is convenient for visiting on your way to Machu Picchu. (You can take the train directly from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.)
The main ruins of Ollantaytambo are of largely religious significance, yet play a crucial role in history as the defense structures from which the Incas defeated the Spanish in battle. The constructions were built in perfect alignment with the sun, and you’ll notice spectacular rays across the ruin walls- perfectly planned out. While it is possible to visit these ruins independently, you’ll want to make sure to be with a guide so you can learn about everything you’re looking at.
The other set of ruins here can be found on Pinkullyuna, a hill covered in Incan storehouses on a steep slope across from the main ruins. It’s a bit of a climb to reach, but well worth it- you’ll get a spectacular view of the town, Ollantaytambo ruins, and entire Sacred Valley. From below, Pinkullyuna is one of the most photogenic sets of ruins.
Sometimes a day trip in itself, Pisac is home to spectacular ruins of an Inca citadel and the most popular artisan market in all of Cusco (those looking to shop unique souvenirs can’t miss it). With so much to do, it deserved its own post: click here to read everything we love to do in Pisac.
Just an hour from Cusco, this stop can be its own day trip, or combined along a route of multiple Sacred Valley destinations.
Moray & Maras
Two separate sites right next to each other, Moray and Maras are some of the most unique spots to visit in the Sacred Valley (and every photographer’s dream).
Moray is a remarkable archaeological site. Set on a high plateau, it is a set of concentric farming terraces graduating from the largest at ground level getting progressively smaller as they narrow down into the ground. While its original purpose is unknown, it’s believed to have been used in Inca agricultural experiments- the temperature wildly differs from level to level.
Maras, a nearby town, is home to ancient salt mines (Salinas) which have been in use since pre-Inca times. Here you can learn about the process of producing salt, and see the incredibly beautiful formation this process creates (what we believe to be one of the most striking and beautiful sights in the Sacred Valley).
This small Andean village just two hours from Cusco sits high up on the windswept plains of the valley, with views of the Cordillera Vilcabamba and snow-capped peak of Salkantay towering on the horizon. In the main plaza of the town you’ll see important ancient Inca ruins that remain in use to this day, including a massive stone wall through the main plaza and agricultural terraces throughout the town.
Adobe homes line the streets, and locals continue to live and dress traditionally. If you’re able to come for Sunday mass, you can visit the stunning adobe colonial church covered in intricate floral and religious designs.
From here, you can access Lake Piuri in just a half an hour walk. This lake has long been a main water source in the region, and you can talk a beautiful walk around it in just under a couple of hours.
While it doesn’t house the historic Inca ruins of some other villages, Paucartambo is home to something else worth noting: the infamous Virgen del Carmen Festival. For a town that remains mostly calm the rest of the year, Paucartambo goes wild every July 16th for five days of fireworks, dancing and celebration, one of the biggest street parties in the country. While it attracts huge crowds, most are locals, making it an especially authentic experience for foreigners in the know.
Ready to go? If one (or all!) of these Sacred Valley destinations interests you, make sure to plan ahead so you can fit it best with your other plans! Most of these spots can easily be visited on a day tour from Cusco, or on the way to Machu Picchu, but you can save a lot of time if you plan strategically to see several at once. For the best deal, try to get a package tour combining all of your destinations– also a great guarantee you’ll have a knowledgeable guide the entire time!
For more information on current tour packages, travel deals or assistance from our travel specialists, you can easily contact us here. We want to make your trip to Peru unforgettable!
Have you been to the Sacred Valley of the Incas? Do you have a favorite destination that you think should have been included? Share it with us below- we love to use our traveler’s input!