The Sacred Valley in Peru is a region located 20km from the former Incan capital of Cusco. The valley was a key part in the Incan empire between 1000 AD and 1400 AD, mainly due to its rich agricultural benefits.
Incan ruins of different types are located throughout the valley and due to its lower altitude, it can be seen as an ideal location for people to stop off in order to acclimatize to Cusco’s overwhelming altitude.
This blog highlights the different Incan sites that we visited in the Sacred Valley during our day tour visit. A tour can be booked absolutely anywhere in Cusco, but we booked ours through ‘Gregory Tours’ located on Calle Triunfo, near to Paddy’s Irish Bar. We did the VIP Tour which cost 40 soles (~10 euro). This was a discounted price as we didn’t want the buffet lunch included!
Our tour started in the main plaza of Cusco at 6.30am, Plaza de Armas where a representative of our tour company walked us to the bus. It was mayhem, there were buses and people everywhere, swapping over and back, but we managed to find seats and set off.
The first stop was the small village of Chinchero, which we reached after 1 hour on the bus. Here we had to buy our “tourist pass” for the Sacred Valley. The ticket we chose was the Sacred Valley circuit ticket, which cost 75 soles (~20 euro). It is valid for two days – but the price is pretty steep!
After buying the tickets we walked through the small village to the ruins which had an amazing view of the valley. The ruins were thought to be the country residence of an Incan Emperor. You can marvel at the ruins, the church (and the contrast between the two) and the beautiful terraces below.
After a very short stay at the ruins, we hopped on the bus again for 2 minutes and were taken to a local weaving house. Here we were shown how traditional clothes are made and dyed. There was also the opportunity to purchase some handmade clothes afterward. Abit of a touristy layover.
Our next stop was the visually stunning ruins of Moray. Seeing pictures beforehand of Moray was one of our motivations for doing the tour (as it is quite remote) and it really lived up to expectation.
The ruins are shaped almost like an amphitheater and are believed to have served as a sort of agricultural “experiment” for the Incans. Due to their design, depth, and positioning (with regard to sun and wind); the difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the ruins is thought to be 15 degrees Celsius. As such the Incans could grow all sort’s of crops in the different sections due to the different microclimates. How amazing!
We got about 20 minutes at Moray, time to do a small wander around and take some pictures from different angles, although we couldn’t go down to the bottom. As is the norm with day tours like this, every tour bus arrived at the same time, so it was busy!
20 minutes after leaving Moray we made our way to the salt mines of Maras. First, we stopped in at a small shop where people had the chance to purchase some salt, before continuing on to the salt mines.
The bus journey in was astonishing; the mines themselves are very picturesque! Entry to the mines is not included in your tourist ticket, and cost’s 10 soles extra. The site contains a series of salt filled squares that fill the valley as far as the eye can see. You get to walk along and see some of the salt but the place was really busy when we were there. As our bus pulled off so did every other bus and you could see the site was empty. Very frustrating!
After Maras, we had our lunch. Unlike the rest of our group, we did not want the expensive buffet lunch included in the price of our tour and so we were dropped off at the town of Urubamba. Here we got lunch in a local restaurant for 7 soles and got collected again by the bus when they were finished.
Next, we arrived at the village of Ollantaytambo. After Cusco, this is probably the most tourist-oriented village in the region as there is also a train station that takes people to Machu Picchu from here. It is also commonly the starting off point for the famous Inca Trail.
Ollantaytambo was also important in Incan times and served as an administrative center. As such, it has some impressive ruins; most notably the Ollantaytambo Fortress that lies on the outskirts of the town.
It is this Fortress that we got to explore for 1 hour on the tour. Although extremely impressive, it was also absolutely thronged with people. I know, a common occurrence! You had no choice but to join the rafts of people scaling the impressive fortress to the top and back down again.
From the top of the terraces on the ruins of Ollantaytambo, you can see the old Incan storehouses across the valley. It is fascinating to see these building almost carved into the side of the rock. To be honest, I would love to return to Ollantaytambo someday and spend the night there to visit the ruins in peace.
The last stop on the VIP tour is the small village and ruins of Pisaq. The ruins, known as Inca Pisac, site on top of a hill at the entrance to the Sacred Valley. Due to it’s elevated position, researches believe that Pisaq served a strategic defensive role and protected the southern end of the Sacred Valley. There are agricultural terraces located at the site and they are even still in use today.
As you move along the ruins and reach the top you are treated to a fantastic panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Overall we had about an hour to explore the ruins and due to their large size, it didn’t feel quite as crowded and touristy as the other stops on the tour.
After the visit to the ruins, we made our way to the town of Pisaq. Pisaq town is famous for its market, which takes place every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. We were there on a Wednesday so did not experience the market, but we were taken to a touristy jewelry shop.
With that, the tour was over. We made our way back to Cusco and arrived just after 7 pm. Overall this is a good tour to get a snapshot of the Sacred Valley, but it is preferable to explore this region on your own. It will allow you more time at each of the stops (and there are many more stops than those mentioned above), and you can arrive at different times to every other tour bus and potentially even get the places to yourself!