Last Updated on May 7, 2022 by Nellie Huang
High up in the Peruvian Andes lies the Sacred Valley, a dramatic area chocked full of rugged landscapes, speckled with ancient Inca ruins – including Machu Picchu – and rural villages rich in indigenous culture. Most travelers pass through this region on their way to Machu Picchu, but few stop and linger around to immerse in the Andean culture here.
Despite its proximity from the city of Cusco (27 miles or 43km to be exact), the Sacred Valley is the Peru that many dream of: where vicuñas roam free over lush green terraces, and Quechua ladies dressed in colorful traditional practice centuries-old traditions that pre-date the Inca civilization.
The Sacred Valley was the highlight of Peru for us, and we highly recommend spending some time here before heading to Machu Picchu. In this guide, I’m sharing the best things to do in Sacred Valley, a detailed itinerary, and where to stay.
Table of Contents
- Sacred Valley Peru Travel Guide
- Where is Sacred Valley Peru?
- Map of Sacred Valley Peru
- Current Peru Travel Restrictions
- How to Get to Sacred Valley Peru
- By Car
- By Public Transport
- By Taxi
- Sacred Valley: Great Spot to Acclimatize to the Altitude
- Best Time to Visit Sacred Valley Peru
- How Much Time to Explore the Sacred Valley?
- Sacred Valley Tours
- Boleto Turistico for the Sacred Valley
- Best Sacred Valley Hotels
- Budget: Wayras Hostal, Ollantaytambo
- Mid Range: Del Pilar Ollantaytambo
- Luxury: Tambo del Inka, Urubamba
- Ultra Luxury: Inkaterra Hacienda Urubumba
- Skylodge: Sleep in a Hanging Capsule
- Sacred Valley Itinerary
- Sacred Valley Day 1
- Get Up Close to Alpacas at Awana Kancha
- Wander around Pisac Market
- Explore Pisac Ruins
- Sacred Valley Day 2
- Visit Museo Inkariy
- Lunch at Parwa Community Restaurant
- Wander around Yucay
- Drink Craft Beer at the Sacred Valley Taproom
- Sacred Valley Day 3
- Marvel the UNESCO Maras Salt MINES
- Stop at Mountain View Experience
- Admire Moray Circular Terraces
- Wander around Chinchero
- Visit the Chinchero Market
- Stop at the Centro de Produccion Texil Illapa
- Sacred Valley Day 4
- Sacred Valley Day 5
- Take the Train to Machu Picchu
- Peru Rail or Inca Rail?
- Details about the Train to Machu Picchu
- Best Sacred Valley Restaurants
- Tierra Bistro Organico, Pisac
- Parwa Community Restaurant, Huchuy Qosqo
- Restaurante Willkamayo, Urubamba
- Quinua Restaurant, Ollantaytambo
- What to Pack for Sacred Valley
- Packing List for Machu Picchu
- Further Reading on Peru
- MY TOP TRAVEL RESOURCES
Sacred Valley Peru Travel Guide
Where is Sacred Valley Peru?
The Valley of the Sun is a 60-mile (100-km) long valley that extends from Pisac Town (20 kilometers from Cusco) to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The valley served as a transport corridor and played an important role in the Inca times (thus the abundance of Inca ruins found here). The Incas settled in the Sacred Valley due to the lower elevation, warmer temperatures, and fertile soil. They carved stone terraces, which remain intact and are still in use today.
I knew I would like Sacred Valley, but I didn’t expect it to the highlight of our Peru trip. Compared to Cusco and Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley is much less commercialised and the indigenous culture is truly well preserved here. The stunning mountainscape, rich heritage, and historical treasures made this area my favorite part of Peru.
Map of Sacred Valley Peru
Current Peru Travel Restrictions
All land and air borders to Peru are now open. All vaccinated travelers must show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travelers must provide valid negative COVID-19 test results, issued up to 48 hours before boarding. Children under 12 are exempted. Check the Peru government website for up-to-date info.
It’s important to have travel insurance regardless of how long you’re traveling. Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
How to Get to Sacred Valley Peru
The main gateway to the Sacred Valley is Cusco, the capital city of the Inca civilization and a cradle of Latin American culture. Cusco is about an hour’s flight from Lima, Peru’s capital city (a bus takes 21 hours). The only international flight to Cusco leaves from Santiago de Chile.
Our flight from Lima to Cusco cost around US$150 return, but you can better deals if you’re traveling at shoulder season. Check for flights here.
From Cusco, there are several ways to get to the Sacred Valley. The easiest way is to rent a car. We hired a car for 5 days from Cusco Airport and found it an excellent way to explore the Sacred Valley. Our Cusco car rental cost around US$280, which was not cheap but gave us more freedom. We always book on Discover Cars, as they’ve consistently given us the best rates and service.
Yes driving in Peru requires some grit and the steep mountain roads of the Sacred Valley aren’t easy to navigate. But, if you’ve got experience driving abroad, it is doable and definitely makes for an adventure!
By Public Transport
If you speak Spanish, navigating the public transport isn’t too difficult. You just need time, as colectivos (shared taxi) can be unreliable and only leave when they’re full. Start by taking a colectivo from Cusco to Pisac town. Colectivos leave regularly from Calle Pavitos, located just off of Plaza de Armas, and cost about 10 soles per person ($2.50). From Pisac, you can take a colectivo to the other main sites in the valley, such as Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.
For those who don’t drive but prefer your own transport, Taxidatum is a useful service that allows you to make a private driver reservation online. Taxidatum can pick you up at the airport, hotel, or anywhere. They’ll wait for you as well as take you around the Sacred Valley. The trip between Cusco and Ollantaytambo cost roughly US$40.
Best Time to Visit Sacred Valley Peru
Sacred Valley is located at a lower altitude than Cusco, but it still lies around 8,000 feet (2,500m) above sea level. Be prepared for chilly evenings and extreme temperature differences between day and night.
The best time to visit the Sacred Valley is during the dry season, which runs from April to October. During this time, there is little rainfall and temperatures are milder, making it ideal for outdoor activities.
We’ve traveled Peru in April and July, and found the weather to be always sunny, warmish, and perfect on both times. Keep in mind that June to August is peak tourist season in Peru, so expect crowds and higher prices during these months. November to April is the rainy season, temperatures are warmer but wetter. Be sure to pack waterproof gear!
How Much Time to Explore the Sacred Valley?
We spent five days in the Sacred Valley, slowly taking our time to explore all the Inca sites and villages, before taking the train to Machu Picchu. Most people do a Sacred Valley day tour from Cusco, but I don’t recommend that as one day is just not enough to see and experience all of it.
The Sacred Valley stretches across a distance of 60 miles (100km) and it is littered with ancient sites, museums, artisanal centers, and farms worth visiting. You would want to take your time to explore and enjoy the Andean mountains.
Sacred Valley Tours
The most popular option is to book tours of the valley, which typically include transportation and guides to archaeological sites. It makes logistics easier and takes away the stress of navigating the roads yourself. However, you’ll be herded around in groups to sites that everyone goes. Exploring on your own will allow you to see the less-visited sites and wander around at your own pace.
Here’s a look at some popular Sacred Valley tours. Read further to decide which parts of Sacred Valley you’ll want to see most.
- Pisac, Moray, and Maras Day Trip
- Moray & Maras Quad Bike Tour
- Pisac & Ollantaytambo Day Tour
- Cusco: 2-Day Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu trip
Boleto Turistico for the Sacred Valley
To enter the various Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, you need to get a boleto turistico. It’s a single ticket which allows entry to the major sites in Sacred Valley, such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo ruins. However, it’s only valid for 2 days. Cost: 70 Soles or US$18.50 .
You can get the boleto turistico at any of the sites in the Sacred Valley, but note that ONLY CASH is accepted. It is not possible to buy an individual entry ticket for any single site included on the boleto turistico.
Circuit III Boleto Turistico: Valid for 2 days* and allows entry to these sites in Sacred Valley:
*It’s a challenge to visit all four sites above in 2 days! We had to buy two separate boletos turisticos as we wanted to take our time.
Best Sacred Valley Hotels
Sacred Valley is a big area, so where’s the best town to base yourself at? I suggest choosing a base and exploring the valley from there (the furthest points are at most 1.5-hour drive away).
Ollantaytambo is the most popular town in the Sacred Valley; almost every traveler in Peru will pass through as the trains to Machu Picchu leave from here. For that same reason, we chose to base ourselves here. Urubamba is another popular town to stay in as it’s home to the best hotels in Sacred Valley. I personally don’t think the town is attractive, but it enjoys a central location in the valley.
Budget: Wayras Hostal, Ollantaytambo
Wayras Hostal has an excellent location next to the Ollantaytambo train station. We chose to stay here for a night as we had an early morning train to Machu Picchu to catch. The triple rooms are comfortable, with thick duvets and the sound of the river outside the window. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Del Pilar Ollantaytambo
We stayed at this countryside hotel (pictured) for most of our time in the Sacred Valley. The hotel’s location (a 20-minute drive from Ollantaymbo) may be inconvenient for those without a car, but we loved being surrounded by the mountains. The hotel has quality furnishings, an excellent recreation room with boardgames and pool table, as well as mountain bikes that you can use for free! Check rates here.
Luxury: Tambo del Inka, Urubamba
One of the best hotels in Sacred Valley is Tambo del Inka, which sits right along the Urubamba River and has a private train station to Machu Picchu. This gorgeous property is laid out on a sprawling green area, and gives the perfect rustic luxury experience. Check rates here.
Ultra Luxury: Inkaterra Hacienda Urubumba
Easily the most luxurious hotel in Sacred Valley, Inkaterra Hacienda has a privileged location overlooking Urumbamba. Housed in a massive hacienda surrounded by mountains, this resort serves up the finest accommodation in the area. Perfect for honeymooners and those looking to splurge. Check rates here.
Sacred Valley Itinerary
You can probably tell by now that there are many things to do in Sacred Valley. I’m sharing the details of our Sacred Valley itinerary that covers the best spots in the area. This itinerary can easily be extended to 5 days if you want to take things slow, or even 6 days if you want to include long hikes.
Sacred Valley Day 1
Get Up Close to Alpacas at Awana Kancha
Leaving Cusco behind, drive 30 minutes to the Awana Kancha, an educational farm and living museum of the Andes. The farm is home to four species of the native camelid family: alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunãs. These long-necked creatures have historically roamed the Andes and provided clothing, fuel and companionship as domesticated animals for over 5,000 years.
Feeding these cheeky creatures is a lot of fun, and their inquisitive nature makes meeting them an enjoyable experience. Just be careful about saliva and spitting! Don’t miss out on Awana Kancha’s fascinating exhibits on Peruvian textiles’ manufacturing and making. Entry is free, but donations are much appreciated!
Wander around Pisac Market
After meeting the animals, continue driving for an hour to reach Pisac, one of the main towns in Sacred Valley. Make a stop at its bustling market, where Peruvians from all over the valley come to trade their goods.
The market sells everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to live chickens and cuy (guinea pigs). Grab some empanadas for a quick lunch or sit down for a dieta de pollo (chicken noodle soup). You can also find traditional clothing, hand-crafted jewelry and other souvenirs. It’s a great place to interact with the Quechua community and get a feel for rural life in Sacred Valley.
Explore Pisac Ruins
Pisac ruins are among Peru’s most extensive archeological sites, and said to be bigger than Machu Picchu. Located on the long crest of a 3000m high mountain overlooking the Southern end of the Sacred Valley, , the Pisac ruins offer spectacular views of the valley.
The sheer size and location of the site suggests that Pisac was an important defence against any potential invasion of Cusco. One of the main sites here is Inti Punku, or the ‘Sun Gate’. From here, you get a stunning view of the valley below and the entire site. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here.
Stay the night in Pisac town or Urubamba (a 30-minute drive away). Check out my hotel suggestions above.
Sacred Valley Day 2
Visit Museo Inkariy
Start your morning with a visit of Museo Inkariy in the town of Calca. This new museum is one of the best that we’ve visited in Peru: it shows the fascinating pre-Colombian civilizations that came before the Inca.
You learn about each civilization, including the Inca, through key artifacts, musical instruments, tools, and even life-sized figures of its people. Great for both adults and kids! Entry: 35 Soles or US$9.
Lunch at Parwa Community Restaurant
The Parwa Community Restaurant is located in Huchuy Qosqo, a tiny hamlet of 70 families around a 20-minute drive away. Because of the village’s isolated position and lack of basic services, many inhabitants struggle to get by.
The restaurant, run by the Huchuy Qosqo Association, uses all of its earnings to support community development efforts. The food comes from local farmers, which helps to develop the local economy. Employees at the restaurant get training, a salary every month, health insurance and retirement benefits. The food is authentic and delicious, and you know your money is going to a good cause!
Wander around Yucay
After lunch, drive towards Urubamba, the biggest town in the Sacred Valley. The bustling town is not overly attractive, as it’s mainly a transport hub. Skip the town and head straight to the small farming town of Yucay. This is home to the archaeological site, Palacio de Sayritupac. The palace belonged to the last Inca king, Sayri Tupac 1350-1558.
Scholars believe it was used as an Inca astronomy center aid with the changing seasons and agriculture. You can still spot mural paintings in the niches, a clay oven that was used by the Incas to finish pottery, and the representation of an Andean Cross (or Chakana).
Drink Craft Beer at the Sacred Valley Taproom
Beer lovers, don’t miss the Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado taproom, located midway between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Founded in 2014, the Sacred Valley brewery has won numerous awards and produces some of the best craft beer in Peru.
Our favorite was the Be Kind, a traditional pale ale. Alberto also really liked the Olas de Maras, a sour beer with hints of salt from Maras and the aguaymanto fruit.
Stay the night in Urubamba or Ollantaytambo. Hotel suggestions are above.
Sacred Valley Day 3
Marvel the UNESCO Maras Salt MINES
It’s steep drive from Urubamba up to the Maras salt mines, but the journey is undoubtedly some of the most breath-taking scenery in Peru. Salineras de Maras is a collection of about 3,000 small pools that sit on the slopes of the mountains. I remember first hearing about these salt mines from a documentary, Añay Kachi (highly worth watching!).
The indigenous communities have been harvesting salt from the springs here by hand for over 600 years, prior to the Inca times. After many years of struggle and unfair working conditions, the salt workers became owners of the salt mine, creating a cooperative. Today they proudly own and operate the salt business and the salt mines are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can still see the salt workers hard at work today, but it’s no longer allowed to walk free around the salt pools. Entry: 35 Soles or US$9.
Stop at Mountain View Experience
As you leave Maras behind, you’ll spot the gorgeous glamping huts of Mountain View Experience. Here, A-framed wooden huts stand precariously on the meadow, with wild vicunas roaming around you. One of the huts even come with an outdoor hot tub! We didn’t stay here as it was out of the way, but we wish we did! It’s gloriously in the middle of the mountains and the location is just spectacular.
Admire Moray Circular Terraces
Right next to Maras is the intriguing Moray archaeological site, where you’ll find circular terraces or “muyus” built on mountaintops. Constructed by the Incas, these circumscribed circles were designed to create microclimates. Scientists believe that this was a kind of agricultural laboratory. The site resembles an amphitheater and has been immaculately preserved.
Wander around Chinchero
A 40-minute zigzagging drive up the mountains is the picturesque town of Chinchero, located at 12,460 feet (3,800m) above sea level, even higher than Cusco! The old town is perched on steep hill slopes, so every step is an upward ascent. If you start walking away from the village, you’ll find the Inca terraces.
This town was the country resort of Inti Tupac, the son of famous Inca king, Pachacutec. He ordered the construction of these agricultural terraces, which are still in use today. The soil in Chincero is actually the most fertile in the whole Sacred Valley, and many local produce like quinoa and potatoes are grown here.
Visit the Chinchero Market
Try to time your visit to coincide with market day, on Tuesday, Thursday, and especially Sunday. The Chinchero market is less commercial than its counterpart in Pisac, and is well worth visiting! Traditionally dressed locals from the hills descend for the produce market on Sunday, a fascinating opportunity to see actual bartering.
*Don’t mistake this for the artisanal market in Chinchero ruins. The Chichero Market is down the road and is more of a fresh produce market. It’s a lot more authentic and untouristy.
Stop at the Centro de Produccion Texil Illapa
On your way back down, stop at the Illapa Artisanal Center to learn about the weaving practices in Chinchero. The locals, dressed in traditional attire, will demonstrate how alpaca wool is spun and dyed to create their lovely textiles. They were so kind to offer us coca tea for the altitude, and talk to us about the differences between the local communities. Entry is free, but a purchase or tips is appreciated.
Stay in Urubamba (a 30-minute drive) or Ollantaytambo (1-hour drive) for the evening.
Sacred Valley Day 4
Wander around Ollantaytambo Old Town
We’ve left the best for the last: Ollantaytambo may be the gateway city to Machu Picchu, but it deserves to be a destination on its own. The village’s old town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings, that you can easily spend days getting lost in.
Walking the town’s ancient alleyways is like stepping back in time. Start at Plaza de Armas, the main square flanked by tourist-centric restaurants selling pizza, pasta, burgers, and alpaca steaks. Duck into one of the side-streets and you’ll find much more authentic eats, shops, art galleries and even yoga studios.
Hike up the Ollantaytambo Ruins
Perched on the hilltops of the town, the Ollantaytambo fortress is a showcase of amazing Incan stonework. During the Spanish conquest of Peru, it was used as a fortress by the Inca resistance. In fact, the Inca repelled the Spanish army from this location. Sadly, the Spaniards returned with greater forces later and forced the Inca to withdraw to Vilcabamba.
The most prominent features are the Temple Hill and the Temple of the Sun, with their massive stones stacked at perfect angles. These huge rocks still bear ancient carvings in relief. The complex also includes a stepped terrace, known as the Princess Baths, where ritual bathing took place.
See the Ollantaytambo Market
Lying at the foot of the Ollantaytambo ruins is the outdoor Ollantaytambo market. It’s more of a souvenir market these days, jam-packed with handicrafts and souvenirs of every shape and size. Prices here are higher than in Cusco. You can also spot “Inca emperors” here who are dressed up for photos.
Stay in Ollantaytambo tonight as trains to Machu Picchu leave from here!
Sacred Valley Day 5
Prepare for an Adventure in Machu Picchu
Did you think I’d write a guide to the Sacred Valley, without including Machu Picchu? Actually, Machu Picchu is the main reason why you’re interested in coming to the Sacred Valley in the first place, right?
A trip to Peru is not complete without a visit to Machu Picchu, but visiting Machu Picchu is not as easy as it used to be. To preserve the archaeological site, the Peruvian government has now put a limit to the number of daily visitors. Visitors must book an entrance time in advance, and there’s a limited number of tickets for available for each time slot.
I recommend booking your tickets at least a month in advance – especially if you’d like to do any hikes within Machu Picchu itself. But which hike to choose and which timeslot? Read my guide on how to get to Machu Picchu.
Take the Train to Machu Picchu
The train journey from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Pueblo (also known as Aguas Calientes) is perhaps one of the best train journeys in the world. You’ll whizz alongside the raging Urubamba River, stare up steep canyons, and gaze upon snow-peaked mountains, while retracing Hiram Bingham’s footsteps into the lost city of the Incas.
Ollantaytambo is the closest town to Machu Picchu Pueblo (there’s no road access) and there are regular train departures on both Peru Rail and Inca Rail. They use the same tracks and serve the same stations, and ticket prices are approximately the same.
Be sure to buy your tickets in advance online to get the best price and departure times for your trip. The Vistadome and 360° trains have huge glass windows and are worth the splurge (from US$65 each way). If you don’t mind missing out on the scenery, night trains are much cheaper (at around US$25 each way).
Details about the Train to Machu Picchu
- TIME: The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes takes around 1.5 hours and the journey back takes 2 hours.
- COST: Vistadome trains start from US$65/way. The cheapest trains on Peru Rail start from US$25/way; Inca Rail from US$40/way.
- WHERE: Trains leave from the station at the end of Avenida Ferrocarril in Ollantaytambo, a 10-minute walk from Plaza de Armas.
- STAY: Book a hotel right next to the train station so it’s an easy hop to the train. We stayed at Wayras Hostal just steps from the station.
- TIP: Book a morning train to Machu Picchu and just one entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, so you can spend the whole day in the site. I recommend staying at least 1 night in Machu Picchu Pueblo just to relax and enjoy the hot springs in town.
Best Sacred Valley Restaurants
Don’t expect to have Michelin starred meals in this rural part of Peru, but there’s no shortage of wholesome, affordable home-cooked meals. Most restaurants serve a menu del dia during the day, which usually includes a soup as a first dish, meat with rice and salad as a main course (choose from beef steak, trout or chicken), and a lemonade. Great value for money!
Tierra Bistro Organico, Pisac
This sunny cafe serves up the freshest ceviche and great vegetarian menú, plus homemade pasta, and house-made pizzas. We were really surprised to find such healthy, international food in small town Pisac. Read reviews here.
Parwa Community Restaurant, Huchuy Qosqo
A good stopping point near Museo Inkariy, the Parwa Community Restaurant uses all of its earnings to support community development efforts. It’s a simple farm-to-table restaurant that serves delicious local dishes made with organic, local produce. Read reviews here.
Restaurante Willkamayo, Urubamba
We stumbled upon this quaint country restaurant in Urubamba and loved the lush gardens and view of the surrounding mountains. It was a glorious place to just lay on the grass and kick back! They serve authentic, Peruvian home-cooked food at great prices. Try the trout and chicharron de pollo!
Quinua Restaurant, Ollantaytambo
Overlooking the main square of Ollantaytambo, Quinua may look just like the other tourist traps in town, drawing in legions of backpackers. But it actually serves up pretty decent pizzas, pastas, and alpaca steaks. Read reviews here.
What to Pack for Sacred Valley
As you’ll be hiking and walking around ancient sites in Sacred Valley, having a good pair of hiking boots is important. The walking paths are made of stone and can be very slippery when wet.
Bring a small daypack for your camera, water bottle and snacks. But note that large backpacks are not allowed into Machu Picchu. If your bag is larger than 15.7 inches x 13.7 inches x 7.9 inches (40 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm) it won’t be allowed in. Only reusable water bottles are allowed (not plastic ones)!
Regardless of when you visit, the daytime and evening temperatures differ a lot in the Sacred Valley. Make sure to bring layers; you’d want to wear a fleece and jacket in the morning, and peel them off by noon. The sun can be strong in the afternoon, so a hat and sunscreen are essential.
Packing List for Machu Picchu
- Small day pack
- Hiking boots
- Waterproof jacket
- Quick-dry t-shirt
- Fleece Base
- Convertible Pants
- Reusable water bottle
- SPF 70 Sunscreen
- Mosquito repellent with DEET
- Sun hat that covers the neck
- Diamox for altitude sickness
- Dramamine for motion sickness
- Waterproof backpack cover
Further Reading on Peru
Are you ready to travel Sacred Valley, Peru? Hope you found my Sacred Valley travel guide useful! Which part are you most looking forward to? Drop me a comment below if you’ve got questions!
Looking for more tips to plan your trip to Peru? Take a look at some of our other posts:
- How to Get to Machu Picchu
- 18 Fun Things to do in Cusco, Peru
- Peru with Kids: How to Plan A Peru Family Adventure
- My Complete 2-Week Peru Itinerary
- How to Visit Huacachina Oasis in Peru
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you can book something through my links, I’ll get a small % of commission, AT NOT EXTRA COST TO YOU.
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