The Sacred Valley of the Quechuan people (commonly called Incas) is a massive valley that runs through the Cusco region of Peru. It is sometimes called the Urubamba Valley after the Urubamba River (meaning Sacred River) that runs through the floor of the valley. This priceless historic and cultural area is where thousands to crop species were created and perfected by the Quechuan and Pre-Quechuan peoples over the centuries. A tour of the Sacred Valley will educate you about the many different structures built by these early civilizations and will help you understand the reasons they were built and the valuable contributions they made to our food supply even to this day.
My Mom and I took a lengthy trip to Peru recently and spent the majority of our time in the Sacred Valley and I will share some of my experiences and recommendations with you here.
If you’re going to use a travel agency in Peru, use Peru Trip Advisors they are quite simply amazing! They took care of every detail for us and their service throughout the country exceeded my expectations each and every day. I can recommend this company without reservation. Simply be very clear on what you want, the type of experience you are hoping to have and let them do their thing, they’re phenomenal.
Before we get started there are a couple of things you are going to need to know so that you are prepared:
- Be sure to book all of your tours, trains, flights etc. well in advance. Peru is busy these days.
- Use a tour guide. Peru has too much you won’t understand and you’ll miss out on great things.
- Peru is extremely safe for tourists and travelers. Decades ago the country experienced a lot of violence but no longer.
- It is still customary for almost every hotel to have armed guards at the door. They mostly help with luggage.
- All of Peru has tap water that you should not drink and plenty of bottled water is available everywhere you go.
- Restroom signs ask you to throw used toilet paper into trash cans beside toilets as the sewage systems are not the best. Do what you want.
- It is not irregular to have shower water with a brownish tint but is quite safe to wash with. Don’t drink it.
- Wi-Fi will be spotty no matter where you are. It’ll be okay in most places but not great in the Sacred Valley.
- Do whatever you need to do to deal with the altitude. Best solution is to be in good physical shape.
- All of the above are the case regardless of what type of lodging you select.
- Read this: 2 Weeks in Peru – Everything You Need to Know for a Perfect Trip.
You are probably going to be flying into Cusco City from some other area like Lima or Santiago, Chile or somewhere nearby. Cusco airport is small and awesome! It’s easy in, easy out and you’ll love it. The planes are very well cared for, the customer service is excellent and you’ll spend minimal time worrying about getting through the airport so you can be on your way.
A bus or van/shuttle is the best way to travel through the Sacred Valley on any of your daily tours and you will be taking a train to get to Machu Picchu unless you prefer a helicopter (that’s a joke). The train is really the only way to get into the city of Aqua Caliente with one exception – hiking the Inca Trail. Taxis can be legal or illegal. You can tell them apart primarily because a legal taxi will have a yellow stripe horizontally along the top of the license plate. You should never take an illegal taxi. The Sacred Valley is a safe place. Fly, take a train, a bus, a hotel or tour shuttle or walk, that’s all you’ll need to do.
In Cusco City we stayed in a great hotel called, El Mercado Tunqui and it was exceptional in every way. It provided us with clean, quiet rooms, exceptional breakfasts and unmatched service. The staff were friendly and eager to assist in any way and allowed you all the personal space you needed to relax and enjoy Cusco on your terms. This hotel was just about three blocks from Plaza De Armas, the main historic square in Cusco which made it the perfect location for us.
Further into the Sacred Valley, we stayed at a really nice place called Casa Andina Private Collection Valle Sagrado. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere but offered a really relaxing atmosphere and was right off the main road running through the Sacred Valley. The room rates were great, the food was awesome and after a day of hiking hundreds of vertical feet over ancient ruins and old trails, it was a quiet sanctuary to relax and sleep. If partying or meeting a ton of fun people is your goal, this probably isn’t the place for you but I really enjoyed it and got some of my best rest here.
Once we arrived in Aqua Caliente (Machu Picchu City), we stayed right on the main road at Casa del Sol Machu Picchu which, once again, was amazing! It sat overlooking a branch of the Urubamba River called Rio Vilcanota which runs by the base of the mountain below Machu Picchu. The bar is adequate and is almost always empty to order whatever you like. The food menu was superb and we had some of the best food here. If the mosquitoes aren’t swarming around too much, you can open the window to your room and go to sleep to the sound of the river rushing by below you.
There are nine (9) tours in the Sacred Valley that I recommend and a map is at the bottom of this list. Here they are:
Cusco City Tour – This is a very cool tour that tells you all about the Incan architecture, Spanish conquest of the area and how the Incan people (remember they are really called Quechuan) were masters of astrology, agriculture, architecture and many other life sciences. You’ll go inside the massive cathedral and the ruins of the ancient palace of the Inca and you’ll learn the secrets of how the Incans constructed earthquake-proof buildings. You’ll travel up the mountain and see the massive fortifications that once protected the city and see the Quechuan’s magnificent architectural craftsmanship first hand. Definitely a cool tour.
Tip: If a random person runs up to you and takes your photo, let them. They know the tour routes and will show up at the end of the tour with a great photograph of you with a lot of the best sights from the tour and you can have that for just a few soles. Nuevo Sol is the Peruvian monetary unit and is currently at this exchange rate.
Pisac – This is a treasure and the sheer size of this agricultural complex will blow your mind. Your photos of this place are going to make all of your friends so jealous, it’s simply breathtaking! No words can do this tour justice, just take it, learn about the area and why it was constructed.
Tip: Take a hat and buy plenty of water. Pisac is high and the sun beats down on you and coupled with the altitude you dehydrate quickly. Luckily the natives sell hats and water right there at the entrance.
Calca – This is a great little town with medicinal springs and a major agricultural complex of the Quechuan people. This is a very cool place to shop for things and interact with locals, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Tip: The locals sell factory made items all throughout the Sacred Valley. Read my blog article called: 2 Weeks in Peru – Everything You Need to Know for a Perfect Trip!
Chincheros – The Quechuan know this place as the birthplace of the rainbow. There are some great ruins and a colonial church there as well as a museum to explain everything. It’s all very well done.
Urubamba – Yes it’s the name of the river, but it’s also a town. Not a lot goes on here, but there are some interesting ruins, a cool little Peruvian market and a lot of local festivals where you can see native dancing rituals and interact with people from rural Peru which is a real treat.
Tip: Many of these tours only take 1-2 hours so it is quite easy to see 3 or 4 of these in a single day.
Moray and Maras – I put these together because they’re so close together and are commonly seen on the same day.
Moray is an ancient agricultural complex where the Quechuan studied plants and developed various types of maize (corn) and potato primarily. Up to 60% of our modern food originated in the Andes and the Quechuans are largely responsible for that. They developed over 150 types of corn and over 3,000 types of potato as well as thousands of other foods we still eat to this day. Moray is considered an epicenter of their study of these plants and how they grew. This complex may range by as many as 15 degrees from top to bottom which provided the Quechuans with many micro-climates in the Moray complex where they could analyze how specific plants grew under various conditions in order to optimize their harvests.
Maras is a major salt evaporation pond complex that has been in use since pre-Incan times. The water springs right out of the mountain and the man made ponds capture the salty water as the sun heats it until it evaporates leaving a very pure form of Andean salt. This entire complex can be seen in less than one hour but is definitely worth the visit. Taking a sip out of the salty mountain spring will change your life and I warn you, you have never tasted anything that salty before so be careful.
Ollantaytambo – This little town is home to a massive well-preserved fortress that takes up the entire side of the mountain. It’s so huge and impressive you’ll want to climb all the way to the top. Your tour guide will educate you about all the architectural differences of the various buildings and why they vary in building design and structure. The town is quaint and cute and has a couple little bars where you can grab a drink and cool off after the steep climb up all those steps.
Tip: Take an External Battery with you. All of these magnificent places will have you taking so many photos and videos your batteries are sure to need some quick juice from time-to-time.
Machu Picchu – The ultimate prize of the Peruvian Andes lays on top of a gigantic mountain overlooking the beautiful river below. The mist from the river rises thousands of feet to the sky and sets a perfect scene among the thick green walls of the mountains that surround the ruins. Machu Picchu is a wonderful place and while the bus ride from the town of Aqua Caliente below is the best way to get there, you can hike to the ruins from the bottom. I am assuming this would take at least 6 hours of steep climbing as the steps cut through the jungle that covers the mountain. We took the bus and it was great. It drops you off right in front of the gate and you’re into the complex within minutes. I highly recommend getting there first thing in the morning so the place is empty and you have it all to yourself.
It costs a bit extra, you have to get a pass in advance and only about 200 people per day are permitted to go, but if you can, be sure to hike Wayna Picchu, the mountain that rises above Machu Picchu. Should you consider Wayna Picchu too much of a hike, you can actually access the most famous view overlooking the ruins with about a ten (10) minute hike over the back of the complex. It’s very simple to reach and the photos of the entire Machu Picchu complex and the Wayna Picchu mountain are amazing from there.
Tip: Remember to get your passport stamped with the Machu Picchu stamp. When I was there, it’s right inside the entrance gate on a table where you stamp your passport yourself. Pretty cool!
There are my recommendations for a wonderful trip into the Sacred Valley of Peru. There are certainly many other options for lodging and tours, but these are what I would consider to be guaranteed high-quality experiences. I hope you take the opportunity to visit this magnificent corner of the world and will share your adventure with me.
Please connect with me on my social media pages! Just click an image!