Where To Go And What To See in Peru’s Sacred Valley
When you begin researching a trip to Peru, one of the first destinations you see is 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 Peru’s Sacred Valley and exactly how you can visit them all on a day trip. Enjoy!
What is Peru’s 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. If you had an aerial view, you could see that the Sacred Valley begins in Cusco and stretches all the way to Machu Picchu.
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 in Peru’s Sacred Valley?
The main attractions in Peru’s Sacred Valley are four Incan ruins: Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Maras Moray, and Pisac. A fifth popular destination 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 to Peru’s Sacred Valley?
The easiest 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 as little as a day in advance.
Sacred Valley tours begin around 7 a.m. and finished around 7 p.m, so prepare yourself for a jam-packed day.
- First, you’ll begin with a 45 minute drive to the Chinchero ruins.
- Next, it is another 30 minute drive to the salt mines.
- Then a 45 minute drive to the Maras Moray ruins.
- Afterward, we drove an hour more to Ollantaytambo where we visited the ruins and ate lunch.
- Finally, it was a 1.5 hour 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.
Still, 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 salineras and Maras Moray ruins 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 to Visit Peru’s Sacred Valley?
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.
Don’t book your Sacred Valley tour online! You’ll will pay crazy high prices. It is a much better idea to wait and buy the tour in an agency in Cusco after you arrive. And no, they won’t sell out. Daniel and I booked one day in advance for a weekend trip in high-season and had no problem getting a seat.
My Tip: There are many different Sacred Valley tours, and some don’t include any of the ruins! Make sure you check with the guide before you buy it to ensure that all of the ruins in this article are on the itinerary.
On top of the tour price, you will also need to buy the Cusco tourist ticket (boleto turistico) 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 additional 10 soles / $3 usd to enter.
If you’re going to be in Cusco for longer, you can also look into buying a 10-day tourist ticket that has more ruins on it as well, including Sacsayhuaman and the Tipon and Piquillacta ruins to visit on another day trip.
Now that you have the basics down, learn a little more about the sites you will be visiting in Peru’s Sacred Valley…
The Chinchero Ruins
Chinchero is the first stop on Peru’s Sacred Valley tour.
The site contains some Incan ruins and terraces, but the main attraction is the old colonial church that 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 the moment I stepped inside 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 in this important piece of history.
Salineras – The Ancient Salt Mines
The salineras were 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, five 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 Maras Moray Ruins
The Maras Moray ruins are are the third stop on the trip.
These unique ruins look like something from an alien universe. After years of research, scientists and archaeologists 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!
The Ollantaytambo Ruins
The Ollantaytambo ruins sit just outside the town of, you guessed it, Ollantaytambo. They sit 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 Picchu from destruction and ensuring Ollantaytambo was as far into the Sacred Valley that the Spanish every moved.
The Pisac Ruins
The final ruin on Peru’s Sacred Valley tour lies high in the mountains above the town of Pisac. They are also my favorite ruins on the tourist ticket, and a must-visit when you’re in Peru’s Sacred Valley because they are isolated from the real world with stunning views of the Pisac valley.
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 visit the Pisac Ruins without a guided tour and see them on a separate day trip from Cusco.
All in all, the Sacred Valley tour was long but I learned a lot. 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, a tour of Peru’s Sacred Valley should definitely be on your to-do list!
PS Wondering what else you should plan on your trip to Cusco? Along with Peru’s Sacred Valley, the surreal experience of hiking at Mount Vinicunca, Peru’s Rainbow Mountain and the rewarding 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu both should not be missed!
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