The Sacred Valley Peru Travel
Sacred Valley Peru: Sacred Valley boasts with mysteries, Incan history, an uncountable number of ruins, stone terraces, and the beautiful natural settings in the photogenic valley carved by Urubamba River – all of that catch travelers’ attention for decades.
What also put the Sacred Valley and Cusco on every traveler’s bucket list is the proximity to Peru’s iconic site, Machu Picchu, and also nearby trailheads of some of the most beautiful hikes in the world. If you’re planning on hiking the original path to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, or want to enjoy the spectacular views along just as beautiful Salkantay Trek, Cusco, and, by extension, Sacred Valley are the best places you can base yourself before and after treks.
No matter how much time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas you have, you can be sure that with our guide you won’t miss the best things which can be seen along 100 kilometers long stretch of the most famous Andean valley.
Tucked under the tawny skirts of formidable foothills, the beautiful Río Urubamba Valley, known as El Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley), is about 15km north of Cuzco as the condor flies, via a narrow road of hairpin turns. It’s worth exploring this peaceful, fetching corner of the Andes with attractive colonial towns and isolated weaving villages. Star attractions are the markets and the lofty Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, but it’s also packed with other Inca sites. Its myriad trekking routes are deservedly gaining in popularity. Adrenaline activities range from rafting to rock climbing.
Is Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley?
(CNN) — It’s not hard to see why the Incas called it the Sacred Valley. The 70-mile narrow strip of land, in the Peruvian Andes, that runs roughly from the old imperial capital of Cusco to the enigmatic citadel of Machu Picchu remains a place of eerie natural beauty.
Why is it called Sacred Valley Peru?
Sacred Valley Peru Tour
The city of Cusco is a major tourist hub for all travelers visiting Peru.
And here we encountered a problem which bothered us for the all-time we spent there. It is not unknown that Peru (as the most of South American countries) have an extensive problem with corruption. But this issue is particularly glaring here, in Cusco, a city where the income from tourism yearly comes up to millions of dollars, and we couldn’t stop wondering where all the money goes.
Definitely not into the infrastructure or into the cleaning of communal areas. It is probably naive, but we feel that money (and we are not talking about an insignificant amount) from tourism should be seen somewhere and that local communities should thrive on it.
Nevertheless, when we overlook this fact and start focusing on the brighter side – the history and architecture itself, we must admit that there is something about Cusco.
The city center of Cusco is full of churches, narrow alleys, and spacious plazas. The city is in UNESCO despite the fact that many buildings from Inca’s times were destroyed by Spaniards who arrived in the 16th century and built churches and houses in European and colonial style.
An interesting fact is, that constructions that remained left from Inca’s times survived several devastating earthquakes until today, while the new ones from the Spanish times had to be rebuilt over and over again.
Not only architecturally, but also historically is Cusco an extraordinary city. It was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th century – from this place the Inca ruled the vast empire and during this time Cusco also flourished – many notable constructions were built, and many legends from that time remain until today – one of those legends, for example, says that the city was planned in the shape of a puma, an Incan sacred animal.
One hundred kilometers long valley stretches from Pisac Ruins and Pisac Town (20 kilometers from Cusco) to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
At Inca’s times, the valley was not only an important area for constructing several checkpoints (nowadays ruins or archeological sites) and the main path from Cusco to Machu Picchu but thanks to friendly temperatures all year round, sustained source of water (from the Urubamba river) and two distinct seasons – wet and dry – the area was (and still is) perfect for agriculture.
Incas were people skilled in plant cultivation, and when traveling in the valley, you can notice agriculture terraces which, for us, are nice to look at, but local people still use them to grow crops.
Sacred Valley is easily accessible to visitors. You can use either public transport or sign up for one or multiple day tours in Cusco.
Here’s a list of places you shouldn’t miss on your way to explore Sacred Valley.
But first things first. You surely couldn’t think that a tourist attraction of such importance would be for free.
Technically, when entering the Sacred Valley, you don’t need to pay anything – you can travel freely in a car, by bus, or by train and experience the beauty of the country. But you must pay an entrance fee when visiting every single ruin in the valley and the price is pretty steep.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple sites, the best option is to buy an integral ticket. The ticket costs S/130, and it is valid for ten days and allows you to visit 16 sites (museums and ruins within Cusco and Sacred Valley).
In case you don’t have that much time or want to visit only a couple of sites, you can buy a partial ticket.
It costs S/70, but it is valid for only one day.
But here’s a trick that ‘someone’ smartly divided all sites into three circuits, so it means that if you want to visit two sites which are not in the same circuit, you must purchase either two tickets or buy the ten-days pass straight away.
BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN THE SACRED VALLEY
When exploring Sacred Valley, be prepared for one thing. You will see lots of ruins and terraces.
Although sometimes we can be a bit reserved about some sites and because we’ve already seen some nice ruins in Peru, massive stone-walled Kuelap or the largest pre-Columbian city in South America, Chanchan to name a few, we were worried that ruins in the Cusco area would leave us disappointed.
Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised.
PISAC RUINS & PISAC TOWN
One of our favorite archeological gems of Sacred Valley was Pisac Ruins.
The Inca ruins lie atop a hill above Pisac Town not only in one place, but parts of those ruins are scattered over the hill. Because of the atop position the main purpose of Pisac Ruins was to protect Cusco from possible attacks.
There are two ways how to visit Pisac Ruins, by car or hiking and if you have a half-day and you are reasonably fit, we strongly recommend the latter option.
There is a road leading directly to the archeological site’s entrance, so you can either take a tour from Cusco (tours usually combine several sites including Pisac and cost around $25 when booked in Cusco), take a taxi from Cusco, or arrive by minivan to Pisac and here take a cab to the gate.
What do we see as a disadvantage?
Because parts of ruins are all around the path leading to Pisac, you won’t be by no means able to see everything, only the most crowded part of the ruins.
Instead of traveling by car, we decided to hike from Pisac Town to Pisac Ruins.
The whole trail leads uphill, so it is a good way how to prepare yourself for other treks in the Andes. The distance from town to the highest point of ruins is 4 km, and it should take you about two hours one way. Of course, you can arrive at the entrance by car and walk only downhill. By hiking this trail, you will enjoy beautiful views, almost abandoned trek, and more ruins.
Sacred Valley Peru Weather
The Sacred Valley Peru is between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, parallel to the river Vilcanota. You can access it from the city of Cusco. It is composed of many rivers flowing down gullies and valleys, has numerous archaeological monuments and indigenous peoples.
During the tour, you will appreciate the towns of Pisac, Yucay, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. All these places has pre-Hispanic archaeological ruins that were built by different Incas and used as citadels or resting places. Ideal places to buy handmade goods.
This valley was appreciated by the Incas because of its special geographical and climatic qualities. It was one of the main production sites for the richness of their land and the place where it produces the best maize in Peru. All the Sacred Valley of the Incas is also a natural setting, where besides appreciating the archaeological wealth, is an ideal place to enjoy its rich flora and fauna, birdwatching, and adventure sports.
The diversity of microclimates allows the production of large numbers of various species of tall flowers that embellish their fields planted with a variety of potatoes, cereals, vegetables and fruit trees, and ornamental plants. In the area is common to find deer, chinchillas, viscacha, foxes, Andean pigeons, and lots of birds and beautiful hummingbirds. In the Vilcanota river can fish delicious salmon trout and rainbow, especially between the months of April to October. All villages are connected by a good road, facilitating his visit.
The varied and original scenery of snow-capped mountains, flowering meadows, and deep blue lakes with unique flora and fauna make the Valley the main base for adventure tourism in South America. The Urubamba River passes through Pisaq. In this area the river is not very powerful, sometimes reaches about 25 m wide and gentle though almost all the way, there are torrential sectors used by intrepid tourists for boating.
Pisac has located 32 km from Cusco, 2 972 meters above the sea level. It is located in the foothills Intihuatana has the best system of terraces made by the Incas in the Andes. Near the village stands the Archaeological Park of Pisac, Inca archaeological locations, constructions in polished stone, citadel, turrets, military fortresses, astronomical, etc. Stresses the Inca cemetery which is the largest in America. Every Thursday and Sunday takes place in the main square the “Indian market” the fair of crafts, outstanding beautiful ponchos, textile crafts, sweaters, bags, etc. and ceramic crafts, the queros (ceremonial glasses), necklaces, etc. Artisans and indigenous merchants of many towns attend this fair to stock and market their products.
Pisac is famous for its astronomical observatory. This is a town built on the indigenous remains by Viceroy Francisco Alvarez de Toledo. In Písaq you have the opportunity to attend a mass in Quechua among indigenous and various or regional mayors. Similarly, we can see how Incas agronomists resolved the problem of planting on the slopes of the hills.
Sacred Valley Peru Elevation
Sacsayhuaman is at 3,490 meters, is a very important archaeological site because it has many buildings in limestone which is one of the hardest rocks. Sacsayhuaman covers an area of 3,093 hectares. The valley is surrounded by mountains Ausangate, Pachatusan, and Cinca Mountains, and is bathed by the river Tullumayo. This area has a beautiful landscape, abundant flora and fauna, among which stand out the llamas and hawks. The area where is the fortress is the head of the sacred animal. Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui, the ninth Inca, redesigned the city and gave it a form of puma lying. What catches the attention is the three stone walls that suggest the figure of the fortress. There are figures designed in stones and rocks, entrances to underground tunnels, amphitheaters, and ritual constructions, probably related to the worship of water. This site played a major role in Incan ritual activities. This is where the annual festival takes of the Inti Raymi takes place, which performance the Inca ritual of worship to God Sun or Inti. People villager moves with colorful costumes and dances. Visitors come from around the world who book their places well in advance.
Sacsayhuaman Is an archaeological site, consists of two sites: the Great, located at the foot of the road leading from Sacsayhuaman to Pisac, and Small, which is 350 meters west of the former, on the hillside. This shrine is located on what is now known as the Socorro hill and covers an area of slightly more than 3,500 square meters. At the time of the Inca Empire was another center dedicated to the rite and is of particular interest as its semi-circular amphitheater and underground galleries.
It is known for its canals and waterfalls that show the progress of the Inca architects and hydraulic engineers. Tambomachay was considered a center of worship and homage to water. It consists of a series of aqueducts, canals, and several waterfalls that run through the rocks. The surprising thing is that of the main waterfall, the Incas created two secondary cascades, which are exactly the same. That is, if you place two empty bottles, one in each cascade, the two are filled simultaneously.
The importance of this town is originated by salt extraction, since the time of the Incas was very important for the mineral, in colonial times continued its importance, is demonstrated by the large installed Jesuit community in the area, today you can see the beautifully carved doorways in houses that belonged to the priests. Was a crop experimentation center used by the Incas for acclimatization of products brought from other areas. At present this district keeps pre-Hispanic, colonial, and republican attractive, highlighting people in the colonial doorways with coats of nobles and caciques from the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Maras Salt Pools is an impressive complex of salt exploitation, located in the area known Qoripujio, a distance of approximately 4 km, compared to the town of Maras. It has salt mines, which were already exploited since Inca times as a means of economic exchange and securities. From Maras can go to visit the salt mines by a bridle path, where it is common to find mules that carry the sacks of salt extracted from natural salt.
The Sacred Valley Peru
Anyone who has traveled to Machu Picchu would have probably visited the Sacred Valley. A valley is often a good place for tourists to begin their Machu Picchu adventure as the altitude is not as high as it is on the Inca Trail or at Cusco.
Standing at 3,400 meters, landing in Cusco often brings on altitude sickness and a popular way for tourists to avoid this and acclimatize properly to the altitude is to descend down into the Sacred Valley for a day where the altitude is much lower (average 2,400m).
Located just 15km north of the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas was formed by the Urubamba River that cuts through the valley.
Tucked away amidst formidable foothills, the valley is home to a number of isolated villages and colonial towns.
In ancient times, the surrounding hills acted almost like a buffer against the violent Andean jungle tribes that would often raid the highlands.
Although there is evidence to suggest the valley was inhabited as far back as the Stone Age, it was only farmed by the Incas.
In fact, even today the valley is an important agricultural area, and many forms of crops are still grown there and supplied to Cusco.
Because of its naturally rich soil, many Inca people settled in the valley and started producing maize on a large scale. The number of archaeological Inca remains still visible today attest to this fact.
Star attractions in the Sacred Valley include the Pisac Market and the lofty Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, however, the valley is filled with other Inca sites that are well worth visiting.
Tourists usually visit the Sacred Valley as part of an organized tour. A standard tour will stop at Pisac Market before getting lunch in Urubamba.
The afternoon will usually be taken up with a visit to the ancient fortress of Ollantaytambo and a quick stop at the Quechua village of Chinchero before returning to Cusco. Depending on your operator, you may also visit the ruins at Pisac.
Most operators will charge in the region of US$20 for the whole trip, however, this does not include meals and site entry fees.