About Sacred Valley
Tracing an astoundingly beautiful course from Cusco to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley encompasses the heartland of the ancient Inca Empire with the historic citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo standing guard over the opposite edges of this steep-sided river valley. Agriculturally exploited by the Incas, the fertile alluvial plain is fed by the Urubamba River, which passes the ancient villages of Calca and Yucay on its journey downstream to the Amazon. With dramatic Inca ruins, stunning mountain scenery and traditional Andean villages, the Sacred Valley has plenty to entice travellers.Read More
Of all the ruins in Peru, Pisac and Ollantaytambo are perhaps the most evocative. Spectacularly stood on a mountain spur, the fortress of Pisac towers over the colonial village and affords magnificent panoramas across the valley. Centuries-old terraces are lined with rock-cut water ducts and steps and the Templo del Sol can rival anything at Machu Picchu. Constructed around a protrusion of volcanic rock, the temple is believed to have been used to calculate the changing of the season. Further north, the incredible ruins of Ollantaytambo are defended by giant, steep terraces with several stone storehouses built on the surrounding hills. Hemmed in by snow-capped mountains, Ollantaytambo is an awe-inspiring sight and one of the few existing examples of an Inca grid system.
Retaining a traditional Andean charm, the villages of Calca and Yucay line the road between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The village of Calca is popular for the thermal baths located beneath the suspended glaciers of Mt. Sahuasiray. Late September and early October are a great time to visit when the village comes alive with local fiestas. Yucay is home to the exquisite stone walls of a ruined Inca palace with a number of Inca terraces nearby.
Sacred Valley Tours
Here are some popular itineraries that include a visit to Sacred Valley. Alternatively, if you would like to include a visit to Sacred Valley on a bespoke touring itinerary to Peru, take a look at our tailor-made holiday planning section.
Best sites to visit in Sacred Valley
OllantaytamboView on map
The attractive town of Ollantaytambo is a firm favourite in the Sacred Valley thanks to its imposing Inca fortress and dramatic mountain backdrop. Originally built by the Incas as an administrative centre, today's Ollantaytambo sits on the foundations of the 15th century town and demonstrates the clever grid system used by the Incas in their town planning. Steep terraces scale the side of a mountain to form what is known as Temple Hill, a section of town dedicated to ceremonial and religious practices though it is commonly referred to as the Fortress, most likely due to the fact that it was the last Inca stronghold in the face of the conquering Spaniards.
PisacView on map
Home to a colourful Sunday market and impressive Inca ruins, Pisac features predominantly on any visit to the Sacred Valley. Each week villagers from across the region gather in the picturesque town to buy and sell local produce and goods, an event that proves popular with travellers. During the rest of the week the artisan market of Pisac is one of the best shopping destinations in Peru. Pisac is also famous for the ruined Inca citadel, which sits atop a hill at the entrance to a canyon and features dramatic agricultural terraces, rock-cut water ducts, and the precisely-built stone walls of the Temple of the Sun.
MorayView on map
Set on a high plateau at an altitude of 3,500 metres, the Inca ruins of the Moray archaeological site are some of the most distinctive and visually stunning in all of Peru. Resembling an amphitheatre with concentric circular terraces carved into the earth, the site is believed to have been used by the Incas to experiment with the effects of temperature and climatic conditions on their crops. The deepest terrace measures 30 metres and this means that the temperature changes by 15 degrees centigrade between the different levels of terraces. One of the three terraced bowels at Moray has been planted with crops to provide an insight into their original use.
MarasView on map
Built into the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain, the salt evaporation ponds of Maras are a spectacular sight to behold with thousands of uneven-shaped ponds creating a patchwork of texture and colour created by trace minerals with hues of pink, green and brown. The salt pans date back to the pre-Inca period with a complex system of channels feeding salty water from a nearby spring into the terraced ponds. In the ponds the water then evaporates under the sun to leave behind dazzling salt rocks that are harvested and sold at markets to this day with local families continuing the ancient practice.
ChincheroView on map
The Andean village of Chinchero perfectly illustrates why the Sacred Valley is such an alluring destination with a lively market, colourful indigenous character, attractive colonial architecture and striking Inca ruins. Located on windswept plains north of Cuzco, the village maintains a very traditional appearance with adobe brick houses and the unassuming white-wash Spanish church, which contains within it beautiful, though decaying, paintings and frescoes. Extensive terraces and a massive stone wall with ten trapezoidal niches are all that remain of the original Inca village at Chinchero.
Transport links in Sacred Valley
By RoadView on map
The towns and larger villages of the Sacred Valley are well-connected by winding mountainside roads with Pisac, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo easily reached from Cuzco. One of the main roads in the region follows the course of the Rio Vilcanota and whatever your itinerary, you're guaranteed a scenic journey surrounded by Andean peaks. Tours of the Sacred Valley are undertaken by mini-van, which enables touring groups to arrive right at the entrance to the larger Inca sites.
Railway ServicesView on map
A railway line connects Cuzco with Machu Picchu following a route through the Sacred Valley and the town of Ollantaytambo. PeruRail operate three different trains between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, ranging in standard from comfortable panoramic carriages to super-deluxe with plenty of inclusions. Along with Inca Rail, PeruRail also offer daily trains between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, perfect for those starting their excursion to the lost citadel from the Sacred Valley.
Best Time to Visit the Sacred Valley
For the nicest weather, visit the Sacred Valley during the dry season, which falls between the months of June and September. The region, and much else of Peru, experiences minimal rainfall at this time with clear, sunny skies and pleasant daytime temperatures though it can get bitterly cold at night. A number of colourful festivals are held by the Andean communities of the Sacred Valley throughout the year so there are reasons to visit during the wet season including the February-held Carnival and the Virgen de Natividad procession that takes place in Chinchero every September.