The Sacred Valley of the Incas, otherwise known as Urubamba Valley (or El Valle Sagrado to us hispanohablantes) is the most beautiful and luscious green valley situated just a little way north of Cusco, Peru that you should all go and visit, like, yesterday.
Seriously, it’s bloody lush.
Often overlooked by travellers in favour of the more exciting parts of Peru, or used as nothing more than a 1-day stop-off point en route to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley has so much more to offer and is definitely deserving of a visit in its own right!
Things to do in the Sacred Valley at a Glance
Aside from those who make a quick 1-day visit to the Sacred Valley en route to Machu Picchu, a lot of other people think of the Sacred Valley as an “add-on” to their stay in Cusco, and opt to take guided full or half-day tours of the Valley.
While this is a great solution if you don’t have much time in Peru, whenever possible I would highly recommend you explore the Sacred Valley in your own time.
From ancient Inca ruins to adrenaline experiences and horseback rides through the mountains, there are so many fantastic things to do in the Sacred Valley all year round, that you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice.
Planning a trip to Peru? Check out some more of my Peru articles for more inspiration:
- The Ultimate 2 Weeks in Peru Itinerary
- 12 Top Things to do in Arequipa
- 10 Incredible Off the Beaten Track Places to Visit in Northern Peru
I actually lived in Peru for the summer of 2011, and even after spending more than a month there, living and working with the local people (who were the best, FYI), I didn’t experience anywhere near as much of the valley as I wanted to!
Along with my own experiences, I’ve enlisted the help of some fellow travel bloggers to give you the the lowdown on all of the best things to do in Sacred Valley.
Cultural things to do in the Sacred Valley
Known as the Inca Heartland, if you want to experience modern day life in Peru while simultaneously feeling like you’ve stepped back centuries in time, there’s no better place than the Sacred Valley. Here it seems you can’t cross the street without encountering some ancient ruin or another.Check out some of the best cultural things to do in the Sacred Valley:
by Warren from Sling Adventures
Sitting at 3,500m above sea level and about 50km from Cusco lies Moray. Moray is home to the unusual Inca ruin that is made up of an expansive stadium-like depression carved into the landscape to a depth of over 100m.
It is believed that Moray was dug to create a massive open-air greenhouse.
The temperature variance from the bottom to the top is about 15 degrees Celsius, and plants of a varying growing temperatures were grown and cultivated on the individual terraces.
Today it’s simply a sight to behold and to yet again marvel at the engineering expertise of the Incas. Visitors can climb to the bottom of the excavation following the stone stairs embedded into the walls of each terrace.
To reach Moray from either Cusco or the Sacred Valley, it’s easiest to take a local taxi and agree a price with a driver in advance. The roads twist and turn to reach Moray so it can be a nervous but definitely worthwhile adventure, and the end result is one of the highlights of Sacred Valley.
Entry to Moray is included in the Boleto Turistico (S/.130) and the Boleto Parcial III (S/.70).
2. Salinas de Maras
by Carly from Flight of the Educator
The Salinas de Maras is a naturally occurring salt repository located in the Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu.
The salt is deposited by a stream that runs through the surrounding area. Since its discovery, the Peruvians have turned this natural salt stream into a thriving salt farm! They divert the water into numerous terraces to harvest the salt, and it’s a community effort. When you’re visiting, you’re able to actually get down there and walk around as long as you stay on the path!
I actually tried some of the water that was flowing parallel to the path and can confirm… very salty! On the way back to the car park, there are several stalls that sell all sorts of salt and accouterments for cooking or relaxing!
The Salinas de Maras are typically visited alongside Maras as part of a day trip from Cusco, and entry to the salt mines is not included in the boleto turistico. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t cost more than 10-20 Soles to enter and experience one of the most popular things to do in the Sacred Valley for yourself.
Check out Carly’s post on things to do in Peru besides Machu Picchu for more Peru travel inspiration.
3. Pisac Ruins & Market
by Elisa of World in Paris
Pisac is one of the most interesting sites in the Sacred Valley, mainly for its Inca Ruins but also for its traditional market that take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Built by the Incas around the 15th century, the citadel of Inca Pisac was strategically located to defend the south entrance of Sacred Valley. It also controlled the route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rainforest.
The ruins are quite interesting and, if you are traveling independently and speak Spanish, I would definitely recommend hiring a local guide in the village. Apart from the houses, the citadel also has military and religious structures as well as the agricultural terraces constructed by the Inca on the steep hillside, which are still in use today. The Inca created these terraces by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands, which explains how they were able to cultivate at higher altitudes.
Inca Pisac, together with Maras and Moray, is a popular day trip from Cusco and all the travel agencies propose the same tour with the same order Pisac – Maras – Moray, and same departure time. If you want to avoid the crowds, share a taxi for the day with up to 3 other people, and visit the three sites starting from Moray to Pisac. In doing this, you’re sure to have the Pisac ruins all to yourself!
Entry to the Pisac ruins is included in the Boleto Turistico (S/.130) and one of the boleto parciales (S/.70).
What is the Boleto Turistico?
The boleto turistico, otherwise known as the Cusco Tourist Ticket, is a “one size fits all” ticket that grants you access to 16 different tourist sites in and around Cusco. Currently the ticket costs S/. 130.00 (approx. £30/$40USD) and is valid for 10 days.If you only want to see a few of the sites, one of the boleto parciales (partial tickets) may be best for you. Entry to Moray and the Pisac Ruins are included in the Boleto Parcial III, which is valid for 2 days and costs S/. 70.00The boleto turistico cannot be purchased online. The only authorised points of sale are directly from the BTC Counter Central, the main Tourist Information Office in Cusco or any of the sites that are included in the ticket.Click here to find out more about the boleto turistico.
4. Chinchero Hand-Weaving Coop
by Becky from KidWorldCitizen
Chinchero is one of the districts in the Urubamba province, and is less than an hour away from Cusco, situated a little higher up in the mountains.
In this picturesque town there are multiple weaving coops. We visited Awana Llaqta Women’s Hand Weaving Cooperative, an impressive coop whose founder has presented at the United Nations in New York City. They showed us the entire process from the raw, baby alpaca wool to the completed blankets and other weavings.
The quality is outstanding!
The women start by preparing the threads, and dying them with insects, plants, flowers. It was fascinating to see the use of a special cactus parasite, which is the basis of the deep red seen in Peruvian weavings.
Then, the women showed us how they spin the thread to make it stronger, and finally how they do the traditional weaving. In fact, we saw many women spinning thread as they walked throughout the town running errands.
With the profits from the weaving, they are able to afford to send their children to school and their quality of life has definitely improved since the initiation of the coop
In Chinchero, it’s also worth visiting Incan ruins and the colonial church. There is a colourful market where you can buy all sorts of local crafts, though we preferred to buy our weavings directly from the women who were making them at the coop.
I highly recommend Chinchero as one of the best things to do in Sacred Valley for a peek into the traditional weaving process, and an opportunity to purchase from the women’s coop.
To get there, just hop on on a colectivo heading from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo, and make sure you ask the driver to stop at Chinchero.
by Claire from Tales of a Backpacker
Ollantaytambo makes a great day trip from Cusco or can be a stop-off point in between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo archaeological site is certainly worth a visit, as the magnificent construction known as Temple Hill towers over the town of Ollantaytambo in the valley below.
The last Inca, Manco Inca defeated a Spanish army here by flooding the planes beneath the temple, so Ollantaytambo is often referred to as a fortress.
Steep steps lead up to the remains of the temples, alongside which the Incas built large terraces where they planted quinoa and other crops, some of which are still in use.
As well as the archaeological site, take time to have a walk around the town, where the irrigation channels built by the Incas still bring fresh water throughout Ollantaytambo.
There is a market close to the Ollantaytambo ruins selling all sorts of handmade goods and souvenirs, and a chocolate museum where you can make your own chocolate or learn to cook traditional Peruvian food.
You can also arrange a visit to one of the local indigenous communities that live in the nearby villages.
Ollantaytambo is close to Moray and Maras salt mines, so you can easily combine a day trip to Ollantaytambo with those sites as well if you are short on time.
To get to Ollantaytambo there are regular shared taxis (collectivos) which run from Cusco to Ollantaytambo for about $4.50 USD per person, and trains from Cusco running to Machu Picchu also stop off at Ollantaytambo. Several companies run day tours here, or you could also arrange a taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo for around $55 USD if you prefer.
Entry to the Ollantaytambo Ruins is included in the Boleto Turistico and also the Boleto Parcial III
You can follow Clare (and check out her awesome photos!) on Instagram
6. Spend the day with the Misminay Tribe
by Kaila from Nylon Pink
If you have the opportunity to go glamping with the Misminay tribe, make sure you do it as it really can’t be missed!
It’s located in the Sacred Valley, just 90 minutes outside of Cusco. Sitting high at an elevation of a breathtaking 3700 metres, you get to breathe in clean, fresh air and enjoy the views.
This location is home to the Misminay Andean peoples, and they are unique in that they have preserved their way of life for centuries – and turned it into a business! You get to experience life as they do with this unique glamping experience. It’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in the Sacred Valley!
The tents are nothing short of rugged luxury. You get two large twin beds, cosy sheets, and cute Misminay textile crafts. There are power outlets, rugs, and even a heater in case you get cold. Remember that you’re up very, very high, so be sure to bring warm clothing for the night-time.
Your guides are Maria and Mario, and they’ve been working in the tourism industry for nearly two decades. Prior to working with Qhispikay, Mario was a professional chef.
Chef Mario is happy to teach a private cooking lesson, and you can taste the true flavor of Andean foods. All ingredients are locally sourced, and any other ingredients they can’t get from their own farm come from trade with neighbouring tribes.
After you eat, go take a hike and see the farm animals owned by the Misminay. They are allowed to roam freely, tended to by shepherds. Shepherding is a practice that allows the animals to thrive and produce for the community.
Another great thing you have to try is the chance to learn how to dye and weave the traditional Incan way. It is offered through Qhispikay, so ask about it! Maria is happy to show off her amazing textile collection, which features bright colours and charm in that they are handmade with care.
7. Hunt down all the quotes in Calca
One of the lesser visited towns in the Sacred Valley despite being known as the capital of the Sacred Valley, Calca is my Peruvian home. Situated about halfway between Pisac and Urubamba, not many people stop off here and for good reason… there’s not that much to do in Calca.
Still, it’s a beautiful town and spending a few hours here is one of the best ways to experience Sacred Valley life without the tourists.
Seriously, when I was living there I was like, the only non-Peruvian. There was just the one guesthouse back then, although I think a few more have popped up since then.
Aside from Calca’s pretty impressive puma statue, my favourite thing to do in Calca was go searching for quotes.
These placards are scattered seemingly randomly around the town, each one with a different inspirational (and occasionally nonsensical) quote.
I asked my host family how many there are, and why they’re there, and although they weren’t 100% sure my host mother said it was something to do with literacy and encouraging people to read.
During my time in Calca, I managed to photograph 9 of these signs, although saw at least 8 more! It’s a great little DIY Scavenger Hunt.
Adventurous things to do in the Sacred Valley
Back when I first stayed in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in 2011, it was definitely well known for its incredible Inca ruins and other cultural and archaeological sites, but not so much for its adventure sports.
These days, Peru’s Sacred Valley is an ever-emerging hub for all things adrenaline and adventure. So if you’re looking to give your mother a heart attack, check out some of the most intense and adventurous things to do in the Sacred Valley:
8. Fly through the skies on Peru’s longest zip line
So it’s not the longest zip line in the world as the website claims it to be (that accolade belongs to the UAE… of course) but the Eye of the Jaguar zip line is the longest zip line in Peru and can definitely take home the award for one of the most hair-raising things to do in the Sacred Valley.
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With Eye of the Jaguar you can go ziplining and on an ATV excursion for just $50 USD or alternatively you can book online with one of the many other companies offering zip lining in the Sacred Valley.
9. Hike to Huchuy Qosqo
What’s a trip to Peru without a hike, eh?
Huchuy Qosqo is an Incan archaeological ruin situated just above Lamay. It’s also one of the most popular day hikes in the Sacred Valley, and can be part of one of the shorter versions of the Inca Trail.
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Although it’s always recommended to use a tour guide when hiking in unfamiliar territory, the journey to Huchuy Qosqo (Little Cusco) is simple enough and can easily be done without a guide.
10. Go rafting on the Urubamba River
Who knew Peru was such a great white water rafting destination?!
As well as rafting on the Rio Chili in Arequipa , a great option for beginners to test the waters (pun intended!) is the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley.
To this very day, not joining my friends on their rafting adventure during my first trip to Peru in 2011 is one of my biggest Peru-related regrets (alongside eating cow heart).
A full-day tour will take you through the basics of rafting through Class 2 and 3 rapids.
That means it’s intense enough to make it one of the most exciting things to do in Sacred Valley but not quite makes you want to hurl your breakfast level of terror, if you get me?
11. Horseback riding tour through the Sacred Valley and beyond
by Sam from Honest Explorer
There are many different horseback tours available in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, ranging from half day to 4 days and suitable for all levels.
The tours will take you around the rolling hills with mountain views that really are incredible.
I took a 3-hour tour and we went over beautiful countryside, explored caves and some small Inca ruins. Seeing the Inca landscape from horseback is one of the most unique things to do in the Sacred Valley, and very enjoyable!
All tours are easily booked with either your accommodation or tour shops in town, and they can pick you up from your hostel or meet you somewhere in town. Either way, it’s pretty easy to arrange!
The tour was very picturesque, and it was nice to experience a different way to explore Cusco & the Sacred Valley. Groups are usually pretty small, and I was just with another couple.
As well as the tour being fun, it was great to have a bit of a canter after not being on a horse for years! The tour companies will cater to different experience levels so there’s something for everyone.
You can find more of Sam’s writing over at Honest Explorer, a site inspiring solo female travel.
12. ATV Tour
by Cathy from RoarLoud
Peru is a destination with something for everyone: great dining, cultural experiences, wildlife, beach trips and numerous outdoor adventures.
Adventure is our favourite. From Cusco, we booked an ATV tour that brought us through the Sacred Valley countryside to scenic vistas.
The tour was perfect to help us acclimatise before we started trekking in Peru. While we zoomed down roads, any altitude issues I was having were left in the dust.
The best part of this tour is we booked right in Cusco, left in the afternoon and were back at our hotel for dinner time.
You can follow along with Cathy’s adventures on Instagram
13. Touch the stars at Peru’s Skylodge Adventure Suites
You know those really crazy accommodation options that are basically just tents perched at the edge of a 25,000 ft cliff?
Well, Peru has one!
So it’s not quite 25,000 ft up but I imagine when you’re sleeping in nothing more than an oversized tin can suspended 400 metres off the ground, it feels a lot higher!
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Located just outside of Ollantaytambo, if you’re looking for one of the most unique places to stay in Peru, you have to check out Skylodge Adventure Suites! This is the one lodging in Peru that I really, really wanted to visit, but at £350 a night it’s a little out of my budget.
Still, I imagine the views alone would be worth every penny!
At around £350 per night it’s a little pricey but I imagine totally worth the money.
Click here to book your stay at Skylodge Adventure Suites (not an affiliate link, I just think if you can then by gum you should!)
Where to stay in the Sacred Valley
Now that you’re convinced there’s enough things to do in the Sacred Valley to make you want to spend more than a day there, you may be wondering where to stay.
The good news is that the Sacred Valley is small enough that you can get from one side to the other in just an hour or two. The bad news is that doesn’t really help you when deciding where to stay, does it?
The most popular and picturesque town to stay in is definitely Ollantaytambo.
Mama Simona is a great budget option in Ollantaytambo, with a lovely garden and hammocks (plus a fantastic first aid kit if you happen to fall out of the hammock and graze your elbow…). If you’re looking for something a little flashier, check out Sol Natura Hotel.
If you’d prefer your stay in the Sacred Valley to be closer to Cusco, Pisac is where you’ll want to make your base.
The best budget accommodation in Pisac is Hospedaje Samana Wasi Pisac, which is centrally located and very close to the Blue Llama Cafe, which serves up the best breakfast and pancakes in all of Pisac!
Another popular choice in terms of where to stay in the Sacred Valley is Urubamba. Now, I don’t know why, but Urubamba is full to bursting with more up-market accommodations like the Taypikala Deluxe Valle Sagrado. Even so, it still has some of the old backpacker favourites like a Flying Dog Hostel and Gringo Bill’s.
Whether you’re already planning a trip to Peru and are wondering if there are enough things to do in the Sacred Valley to warrant a visit, or you’re already set on visiting but aren’t sure how long to spend there, I hope these suggestions come in handy!
As always, let me know in the comments if I missed anything!
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