Peru is home to some of the world’s most beautiful towns, archaeological sites, and landscapes. Undoubtedly, you’ve already heard of the magical lost city of Machu Picchu, but there’s so much more to explore in Peru.
You’ll find the Sacred Valley tucked between the city of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Many travelers often skip the Valley in their rush to visit Machu Picchu, but exploring the region is definitely worth a day or two.
Why Visit the Sacred Valley?
During the Incan Empire, the Sacred Valley was an important region best known for being the main path from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Because of the area’s two distinct seasons – as well as its proximity to the Urubamba River – the valley was a sustained water source that was ideal for growing crops and livestock.
Today, the Sacred Valley offers centuries-old Inca ruins, green terraces, picturesque colonial towns, and colorful markets. Perhaps the most popular attractions are the citadels of Ollantaytambo and Pisac, but this beautiful Andean region is also full of other stunning Incan sites, hiking routes, and adrenaline-inducing activities.
As the altitude in the Sacred Valley is lower than in Cusco, the area is a perfect destination for acclimatizing yourself before heading to Machu Picchu or along the ancient Inca Trail.
The Sacred Valley offers many beautiful spots for scenic photos.
Sacred Valley Tours
One of the best ways to explore the secrets of the Sacred Valley is by joining a small group tour. During our Best of Cusco’s Sacred Valley tour, you’ll get to experience a unique itinerary that includes the archaeological site of Moray, Pisac ruins and terraces, salt mines of Maras, and Ollantaytambo.
Apart from visiting these important sites, you’ll learn more about the Incas’ impactful history, as well as the region’s political, agricultural, and spiritual importance. Additionally, you’ll get to visit a local chicheria and taste authentic Incan beer!
Sacred Valley tour groups are led by experienced guides and kept between 2-8 people to allow a better, more personal experience. If you prefer, you can also book a private tour, which adapts to your needs and interests. Contact us to find out more!
Top 10 Things to do in the Sacred Valley
Exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley should be on any adventurer’s bucket list. Here are 10 of the best things to see and do in the Valley.
1. Visit the Pisac Market and Inca Ruins
The Pisac Market is famous for its souvenirs, locally-produced arts and crafts, and a wide array of items made from alpaca wool.
A 20-minute drive from the town itself, you’ll find the ancient Pisac ruins. The site lies atop a hill and is a spectacular archeological gem made up of several different sections and levels filled with tunnels, courtyards, and military and religious buildings.
There are various spots where you can find traditional weaving textiles in Cusco. It’s a great souvenir to take back home.
2. Go Weaving in the Sacred Valley
From hats and scarves to sweaters and bags, Peruvian colorful handicrafts are hard to miss. These traditional Peruvian products are woven using locally-sourced fabrics like sheep, alpaca, and vicuna.
While these products can be found at all local markets, the best way to explore the country’s arts and crafts culture is by visiting a weaving community.
A number of villages in the Sacred Valley continue to produce these items using traditional weaving methods. Weaving cooperatives are available in multiple places and are great educational experiences.
Travelers can participate in demonstrations held in local centers of towns such as Rumira Sondormayo, Huilloc, and Chinchero. Here, discover how local weavers produce wool from South American llamas and alpacas and use natural plants and insects to produce different colors.
3. Explore the Charms of Awanakancha
Unless you’re headed deep into the countryside, the best and easiest way to see Peruvian alpacas and llamas is at Awanakancha. Awanakancha is a charming camelid farm that’s dedicated to the animals and textiles produced from their wool.
Here, you’ll find alpacas, llamas, vicunas, and guanacos. There are several open enclosures and plenty of free grass stalks for visitors to feed the animals.
While you’re in Awanakancha, don’t forget to visit the onsite exhibits as well. There, you can see how wool is harvested, refined, and naturally dyed before being woven into fabrics. Native women will often demonstrate traditional weaving techniques using ancient looms.
Ollantaytambo is the last spot we visit during our Sacred Valley tour and offers fascinating ruins.
4. Stroll Through the Enchanting Village of Ollantaytambo
Situated at the northern end of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo (a former Inca administrative center) is a charming village with cobbled streets and quaint cafes.
The Ollantaytambo ruins are the town’s primary attraction, luring adventure seekers and archaeology enthusiasts with their intricate terraced fortifications. Among other mesmerizing archeological gems, you’ll find a well-preserved Inca temple and fortress.
5. Explore the Small Town of Urubamba, Peru
Located northwest of Cusco, Urubamba is one of the most beautiful places in the Sacred Valley. Nestled next to the snow-covered Chicon mountain, this town often serves as a base for travelers visiting Machu Picchu.
With stunning views and great weather year round, Urubamba is a great destination for horseback riding, mountain biking, and canoeing enthusiasts.
The salt mines of Maras is the favourite spot in the Sacred Valle of most travelers. Make sure to get your unforgettable picture here.
6. Visit the Maras Salt Mines
Located inside a red-rock canyon, the salt mines of Maras are a can’t-miss. Comprised of more than 2,000 small salt wells (that have been a steady source of salt for the locals since the time of the Incas), the Maras salt mines appear in beautiful brown, white, red, and beige shades, depending on the angle and lighting,
Discover Maras salt in its pure form or mixed together with different herbs and sold as chocolate bars, bath salts, or cooking products by stores or small-scale local vendors.
7. Discover the Moray Ruins
With leveled terraces resembling an ancient Greek amphitheater, the Moray ruins are nothing short of spectacular. What’s really fascinating about this archaeological site, however, is that each level has its own microclimate and temperature.
Because of the difference in temperatures – as well as the orientation of the terraces in regards to the sun – the site is thought to have been used as an agricultural research center. The distinct microclimates allowed the Incas to test and adapt different crops.
Did you know that the difference of the highest and the lowest level of the circles can be up to 15°C (27°F)?
8. Meet the Locals
With thousands of years of history, Peru has a great wealth of traditions and cultures. Besides breathtaking landscapes and Incan ruins, the country is also known for its friendly locals. Having the opportunity to meet them will allow you to experience true Peruvian culture on an entirely different level.
A smile and a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way with Peruvians. Visiting small villages and local communities is another wonderful way to connect with the locals and experience traditional customs.
9. Try Peruvian Cuy
Not for the faint of heart, cuy – better known as a guinea pig – is a typical Peruvian delicacy. Cuy can be served roasted or fried and it’s been a staple for Peruvians for over 5,000 years.
In Peruvian culture, cuy is typically saved for special occasions such as birthdays and fiestas. With the rise of tourism, however, many restaurants now have cuy on the menu. The dish is typically served whole with potatoes or salsa on the side and is to be eaten with your hands.
10. Witness a Paso Horse Show
The Peruvian Paso (or Peruvian Horse) is a breed of horse known for its smooth ride. Originally from Spain, the Paso horse is now considered a Peruvian Cultural Heritage.
A Paso Horse show is a traditional dance (most commonly in Urubamba) where a woman dances alongside a Peruvian Paso. The show is a magnificent spectacle that you should definitely add to your travel itinerary.
Bonus tip: Get Adventurous!
Peru has a lot to offer to all adventure-seeking travelers. In the Sacred Valley, you can enjoy a number of incredible adrenaline-pumping activities.
Sleeping in the Skylodge is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. If you’re interested in spending a night here make sure to book in advance.
Sleeping in the Skylodge Adventure Suite
The Skylodge Adventure Suites is an innovative concept, offering small glass rooms dangling along the edge of a cliff. To access these rooms, you’ll have to climb 1000 feet (300 meters) or hike along an intrepid zipline trail.
Cycling through the Sacred Valley is an experience that’s hard to forget. If you’re looking for a more relaxed (but still scenic) ride, consider the mountain bike route starting from Pisac. The route has a fairly flat terrain, making it perfect for beginners and younger children
For the more adventurous travelers, consider the mountain bike route passing through Maras and Moray.
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is a soft adventure sport originating from Hawaii. In recent years, SUP has gained major popularity in a number of countries.
In Peru’s Sacred Valley, consider paddleboarding on picturesque lakes surrounding Cusco. This sport is easy to learn, takes half a day, and is an ideal family activity.
Horseback riding in Peru is one of the most beautiful ways to explore the natural wonders of the Sacred Valley. Depending on your desires and experience level, you can choose a short 2-hour ride or a longer 7-hour journey.
Visiting the Sacred Valley in Peru
Dazzling salt mines, looming ruins, stunning views, and authentic towns make the Sacred Valley an amazing destination for any type of traveler. So, if you’re visiting Peru, a tour of the Valley should definitely be on your to-do list.
Ready to plan your travel itinerary? Check out Exploor Peru’s blog for more useful tips and tricks when visiting the Cusco region!