Peru’s Sacred Valley – Where To Go and What To See
If you’re researching a trip to Peru, you’ve probably heard about Peru’s Sacred Valley. You know you should add it to your to do list, but what exactly is it? How much time do you need to see it? How do you get there, what should you visit, and how much will it cost? This article will break down the main attractions in the Sacred Valley and exactly how you can visit them all on a day trip. Enjoy!
What is the Sacred Valley?
Peru’s Sacred Valley is the area in the Andes Mountains that contained the most important cities in the Incan Empire. Because of this, many sacred Incan ruins lie scattered along the valley today. They Sacred Valley begins in Cusco and stretches all the way to Machu Pichu. The ruins and Incan sites in the valley are differing distances from Cusco, ranging from about 45 minutes to a two hour drive away.
What Should I Visit?
The main attractions in Peru’s Sacred Valley are four Incan ruins. Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Maras Moray, and Pisac. A fifth popular destination, that I recommend visiting , is the salineras, or salt mines, which are close by the other ruins and can be fit into a day trip with them.
How Do I Get There?
The easiest, and I think only, way to see Peru’s Sacred Valley is to do a tour. The tours can be bought from any of the tour agencies scattered throughout Cusco and can be scheduled up to a day in advance. The tours begin around 7 a.m. and finished around 7 p.m. It’s a packed day for sure, but worth it. The tour begins in Cusco with a 45 minute drive to Chinchero. Next, it is another 30 minutes drive to the salt mines, and then 45 minutes more to the Maras Moray ruins. Afterwards, we drove an hour more to Ollantaytambo where we visited the ruins and ate lunch, and finally it was an hour ad a half drive to the Pisac ruins, the final stop. The tour ends with a quick visit to the silver market in town and then a 45 minute drive back to Cusco.
While you can visit Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero on your own with a taxi driver, bus, or collectivo, the salineras and Maras Moray ruins are much more remote and seemed to only be visited by large tour buses. If you don’t want to pay for the tour or prefer to do the sites spread out across several days instead of in one big group, then I would suggest either crossing the salinera and Maras Moray off your list, or hiring a local taxi for a set price to drive you to both, and return back to Cusco. All in all, though, the group one day tour provides the best price option. Which leads me to my next question…
How Much Does It Cost?
The tour to visit all of the ruins, plus the salt mines, in one day costs about 60 to 70 soles per person, or $20 to $23 usd. This includes all transportation and a large and filling buffet lunch. I have a hard time imagining you could do it much cheaper on your own on buses or with taxis, and I don’t think it would be worth all the extra effort. On top of the tour price, you will also need to buy the Cusco tourist ticket for entrance into the ruins. This ticket costs 70 soles / $23 usd and is valid for 2 days. It grants access to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Maras Moray and Chinchero. You can buy this at the first stop on the tour and do not need to get it in advance. The salineras are not included on the tourist ticket and cost an addition 10 soles / $3 usd.
Now that you have the basics down, learn a little more about the sites you will be visiting…
Chinchero is the first stop on Peru’s Sacred Valley tour. It contains some Incan ruins and terraces. The main attraction is the old colonial church, which was built by the Spanish conquistadores in the 1500s. They ransacked the town and destroyed the Incan temple of the sun. Over it, they built a Catholic church which is still standing today. My favorite part of the site was stepping into the church. Every inch of the walls and roof are painted with ancient murals, and the exposed beams and altar show their age. An air of heaviness and mystery can definitely be felt once you step inside this piece of history.
My favorite stop on the tour. The ancient Incan salt mines have been used since the 6th century. A river flows through a volcano and when it comes out on the other side, the water consists of 80% salt. The Incans built these pools to evaporate the water and collect and sell the salt. Today, 5,000 of the pools remain, 5 each for the 1,000 resident families of the nearby town of Maras. We went to a small market afterwards where we could buy salt and other products from the community.
The third stop on the trip. These unique ruins look like something from an alien universe. After years of research, they have finally determined that these strange areas were used as… greenhouses. The Incans built down into the ground to create micro climates on each terrace. The lowest terraces were warm and wet, and they used them to grow and adapt jungle products. The middle terraces were used for their usual harvests, like corn and potatoes, and the uppermost, coldest, and driest terraces grew medicinal herbs. Super interesting!
Ollantaytambo sits just outside the town of, you guessed it, Ollantaytambo. The ruins lie in the intersection of three valleys, and were used as a military checkpoint by the Incas. When the Spanish Conquistadores came, the Inca trail form Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichu was completely destroyed by the Incas, protecting Machu Pichu from destruction and ensuring Ollantaytambo was as far into the sacred valley that the Spanish every moved.
The final ruin on Peru’s Sacred Valley tour lies high in the mountains above the town of Pisac. Daniel and I ended our tour in Ollantaytambo because we had already visited Pisac separately. If you want to cut your tour short, you can see Pisac on your own as well on a separate day trip from Cusco. Read more here.
All in all, the Sacred Valley tour was long, but extremely beautiful and interesting. The views of the mountains and rivers we saw just while driving to our destinations on the bus were stunning, not to mention the ruins themselves. If you visit Cusco, Peru’s Sacred Valley tour should definitely be on your list!
All my love,
Have you been to the Sacred Valley? Share your tips and must see sites below!