City: Cusco // Category: Sacred Valley // Reading time: 8 min
Cusco is one of the most visited cities not only in Peru but in all of South America. Apart from the rainbow mountains, the Humantay Lake and the famous Machu Picchu, another very popular place - and I’d go as far as saying it’s a “must visit”- is the Sacred Valley. What most of our travelers love is that you will get to know many different sites in a rather short period of time.
“I went on Exploor's Sacred Valley tour with two friends, and we had a fantastic time. Carlos was our guide, and he could not have been better. He gave us a lot of information about the sites and about Peru; he took photos of us; and he generally helped us have a great time. We loved the four sites that were included in the tour- as far as I'm concerned, these are must-see attractions. In general, I highly recommend the Sacred Valley and this tour company- they were fantastic. This was our favorite tour during our entire time in Peru” - Hannah Schoen (23.03.2019)
A traveler standing in front of the archaeological site Moray.
In just one day, you will explore and learn more about Pisac, Moray, the salt mines of Maras and Ollantaytambo. Apart from that, this tour is the perfect fit for you when you have just arrived in Cusco and you need to get acclimated in order to avoid the altitude sickness. Why? Because Cusco’s elevation is 3400 m whereas the Sacred Valley is around 500 m lower.
In this post, we focus on the different sites of our Sacred Valley day tour and on everything you need to know about it.
What is the Sacred Valley?
The famous Sacred Valley is a beautiful natural valley that is over 60 km (37,2 miles) long and runs from Pisac (close to Cusco) up to Ollantaytambo. It was not only the center of the ancient Inca civilization, but it was also a special place for the Incas due to its fertile land, the appropriate climate and the diverse natural resources. Apart from that, the strategic position allowed the Incas to spot enemies from far away.
The ancient terraces in Pisac with a view of the valley.
Nowadays, many of the communities in the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley in Spanish) still live up to ancient traditions, such as spiritual ceremonies, traditional dresses and the language (Quechua) which is connected to Pacha Mama (Mother earth) in all aspects of everyday life. It offers a lot of different options to visit ancient ruins, to do short hikes or just to relax for a while in a stress-free environment.
Now that you know the importance of this place, let’s check out what our tour of the Sacred Valley looks like.
What sites will you visit during our Sacred Valley Tour?
At around 6:30 am, we will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco. Together with 2-8 other travelers (group tour), you will head towards the different sites of the Sacred Valley. You will be back at your hotel in Cusco at around 6:15 - 6:30 pm or we can also drop you off at the Ollantaytambo train station so you can take the train to Aguas Calientes in the afternoon or at night.
During the day tour, you will visit the Pisac ruins, the archaeological terraces of Moray, the salt mines of Maras and the Ollantaytambo ruins. You need the Cusco tourist ticket (S/ 70 per person) to visit the sites mentioned and also the entrance ticket for the Maras salt mines (S/ 10). Let’s take a closer look at each one.
The first stop of our Sacred Valley tour will be Pisac. It’s famous for its artisanal market on Sunday, but there will be smaller markets on Tuesday or Thursday. You can buy some souvenirs, ponchos or other textiles here. However, we don't visit the market anymore as it has become quite touristy. No reason to worry as you can also find similar things at the San Pedro market in Cusco or artisanal shops in the city center, such as at Makipi.
Apart from the market, you will visit the Pisac terraces and the ancient ruins, which are on top of the mountain. From here, you have an amazing view over the entire valley. The Incas used this strategic position in order to spot their attacking enemies from far away and to prepare for the fight accordingly.
Another close-up view of the Pisac terraces.
The next unique place that we visit is the fantastic agricultural terraces of Moray. The terraces are not just amazing to look at (they look like a Roman amphitheater), but the actual usage of the terraces is even more astonishing. The Incas were highly sophisticated agricultural engineers and they constructed each circle on a different elevation. Therefore, the temperature varies the lower you go (up to 15°C) between the top parts and the bottom parts of the terraces. This allowed the Incas to plant different crops on each level and to test various plants on each elevation and see what grows best.
The perfectly shaped circles at Moray are astonishing.
As you can see, Moray is more than just an old Incan ruin - it's a marvel of the ancient science and technology which helped the Incas develop a sustainable food production across the different landscapes and climates in the Andean mountains.
Salt Mines of Maras
Another highlight is the salt mines of Maras, the next stop during our Sacred Valley tour. The salt evaporation ponds in Maras (Maras is the name of the city) have been in use since pre-Inca times by evaporating salt water from a water stream under the earth. This process has been performed over 500 years.
View of the Maras salt mines.
At the end of the guided tour you can buy different kinds of salts, which are great for cooking. As mentioned above, the entrance fee to visit the Maras salt mines is S/ 10 ($3).
Lunch in Urubamba
Of course you have to fuel up your batteries during a day full of amazing sites. That’s why we will stop in Urubamba to enjoy a delicious buffet with different Peruvian dishes. Once we’re done, we will continue driving along the Urubamba river until reaching Ollantaytambo.
The lunch buffet in Urubamba includes a large variety of appetisers, main dishes and deserts.
The last place to be visited during the Sacred Valley day tour are the Ollantaytambo ruins. The famous Inca emperor Pachacutec conquered Ollantaytambo around the mid-15th century. The town Ollantaytambo as well as the nearby region were his personal estate. After his conquest, the emperor rebuilt the town and undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley. Therefore, the terraces were farmed.
Ollantaytambo is one of the best preserved Inca towns in Peru. Many of the sites you will see there were built in the Inca time and are a combination out of stone and adobe (a kind of mud with straw bricks).
Be prepared for more Inca terraces which are wrapped around the hillsides. Also, you will learn more about the hydro-engineering that distributes the water from one river across different paths and provides the locals with clean drinking water.
Ollantaytambo is the last city before heading to Aguas Calientes in order to see the famous Machu Picchu. With our Sacred Valley tour, you can decide whether you want to stay in Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Calientes in the afternoon/at night or whether you want to return to Cusco with your guide.
Recommendations for the Sacred Valley tour:
- Bring the following things with you: a large bottle of water, sunscreen and sunglasses, some snacks, a rain cape and adequate clothes according to the weather.
- Do not forget your camera for taking memorable pictures.
- Make sure to take cash with you, so you can pay the entrance to Maras (S/ 10) and the Cusco tourist ticket (S/ 70).
- Apart from the entrance tickets, it’s also useful in case you would like to buy souvenirs at one of the sites.
View of the mighty Ollantaytambo ruins when entering.
What is the best time to visit Cusco’s Sacred Valley?
Generally, you can visit the Sacred Valley the entire year as all of the sites are open to the public year round. However, consider that the rain season in Cusco lasts from November to March. Therefore, the best time to visit these amazing places is from April - October.
What differentiates our Sacred Valley tour?
- No large groups! If you choose our group tour there will be just 2-8 other travelers (group tour). If you prefer a more private option, you can also choose our private tour (just for you and the people traveling with you).
- You will visit Pisac, Moray, Maras and Ollantaytambo, whereas many others only include 3 sites or Chincheros, which is nice as well but very touristy.
- During our Sacred Valley day tour you will spend at least 1 hour at each site, without having a guide that rushes you from one site to the next one. Many other companies stay only 30 minutes at the sites and move on pretty quickly.
- We offer you the option to take the train to Aguas Calientes at the end of the tour instead of having to drive back to Cusco. This way you can spend the night in Aguas Calientes and be one of the first ones visiting Machu Picchu on the next day.
The Sacred Valley tour in Cusco is one of the most interesting and diverse tours you can do in the land of the Incas. Visiting Pisac, Moray, the salt mines of Maras and Ollantaytambo is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the history of the ancient Incas and to discover the beautiful Andean landscape close to Cusco. If you are looking forward to that, our Sacred Valley tour is the right choice for you! Especially if you plan on getting used to Cusco’s altitude or if you would like to take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
In the end it depends on your travel plans and your available time, but the Sacred Valley tour should definitely be on your list when you are in Peru. Have you done the Sacred Valley tour in Peru before and if so, how did you like it? We'd be happy to hear about your experience in the comments.