If you find yourself in Cusco, Peru awaiting a trek to Machu Picchu or wanting to visit the countryside, I highly recommend spending a day in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I didn’t have any clue what to expect before heading here besides the fact that we’d see a bunch of ruins. I was very much blown AWAY! The Incas were some cool peeps and I learned a lot about their history and culture. Plus the views were breathtaking!
A Day in the Sacred Valley of the Incas
How to Get to the Sacred Valley of the Incas
There are a lot of ways to get to the Sacred Valley, but we ended up taking a bus tour that we purchased within our hostel (Pariwana) and it was extremely easy! Other people opted for the taxi ride (a little more spendy, but less of a tourist trap) so they could stop where they wanted vs. going where the bus drives. I really enjoyed the bus tour we did, but beware, there is a lot of walking and hiking involved in the tours so if you’re hiking the Inca Trail the next day…like we did… you might want to take it a bit easier! 🙂
If you want to get up early and come back late, you can take the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu with Inca Rail. Note this does have a total travel time of six hours, three hours each way. It is recommended for those just looking to visit Machu Picchu for a little while, without taking a tour. The train station is right in Cusco too, making it convenient for tourists and travelers.
What you’ll see in the Sacred Valley
Each tour is a little bit different, but here’s what our tour day looked like.
Stop 1: Pisac
An amazing old village and fortress with different towns and rooms covering the entire landscape. Their tiered gardens are also incredible; you can walk all around them and through them.
If you are visiting on a Sunday, you can explore The Pisac Market. It is one of the most well-known markets in the Cusco region! You can purchase weavings, ponchos, hats, Andean instruments, alpaca products, and so much more.
The town of Pisac is a great place to start your Sacred Valley tour!
Stop 2: Urubama for lunch and an Inca Cola
The lunch we had was definitely a tourist trap, and they served us a buffet in Urubamba, but we didn’t mind because we got to try a lot of the local grub like Lomo Saltado, Chicha Morada (purple drink) and Inca Cola.
Stop 3: Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a current working village surrounded by Inca ruins. It was fascinating to see, and I wish we could have spent more time here. I highly recommend spending a night here if you can swing multiple days in the Sacred Valley. I highly recommend spending a night here if you can swing multiple days in the Sacred Valley.
If you do choose to spend the night here, check out Las Qolqas EcoResort Ollantaytambo. The lodge sits in a beautiful Andean botanical garden. The property offers a glamping-like experience where you can sleep in one of their large bungalows. They have full-size beds and private bathrooms too.
The ruins here are gorgeous and have some cool history surrounding them. I also loved all of the kids dressed in traditional garb! CUTE.
Stop 4: Chinchero (Sacred Valley Highlands)
The drive up to the highlands was amazing, and I was blown away by the views of the Andes. The people who lived up here were even more removed from current civilization and are some of the closest relatives to the Incas. Once again, the terraces blew my mind, and so did their perfectly groomed farms.
This whole trip lasted the entire day, and part of me wished I could have spent longer here. I was SUPER tired at the end of the day, though, so one was enough. The one thing I wish I got to see was the salt flats in Moray! The area in Moray has over 2000 pools. The salt flats consist of giant holes and balconies with irrigation canals that were built by the Incas. Oh, and you have to buy some of the pink salt before you leave, as it is one of the few areas in the world where you are allowed to do so. They used the salt flats as testing grounds for their agriculture.
Go there and take pics for me if you can 🙂
More things to Look Forward To in the Sacred Valley:
You’ll learn all about coca leaves and how to deal with altitude sickness
You’ll hear most of the locals speaking their main language in the Sacred Valley, Quechua. It’s been around since the Inca time!
You’ll get a chance to try Inca Cola (woahhhh it was interesting and SWEET)
You’ll learn how they weave all of their wonderful clothing and what they use to make the vibrant colors
You’ll get to hike up the different ruins and learn how the different Inca classes lived
They didn’t have wheels, so you’ll wonder the whole time how they built any of this stuff?!
You’ll mostly be amazed at all of the structures you see!!
You can visit the local markets in Cusco. The San Pedro market in Cusco is the most popular market, only ten minutes from downtown. You can grab lunch here and even buy souvenirs to take home. The San Blas is another great option with fruits, vegetables, and other delicious foods.
You’ll get to visit Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway to Machu Picchu. This town is known for its relaxing thermal baths.
You could visit Machu Picchu! This can be done as a day trip from Cusco or a four-day hike. Most people take a tour to visit the 15th-century masterpiece of the Inca empire.
You can take a day trip to the historic Sillustani Inca Cementary. This is where thousands of mummies were found, buried deep under the village of Tupac Amaru. It is known to be the largest Inca burial ground in history.
Hotels in Cusco
Want to turn your day trip into an overnight one? You definitely can as there are plenty of awesome hotels in Cusco! Here are my top three picks.
Hilton Garden Inn Cusco: If you want something familiar, stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Cusco. The hotel has a central location to everything, being only 2.4 miles from the city center and Sacsayhuaman, with Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport a 15-minute drive away.
Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel: If luxury is more your style, then look no further than Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel. This chic hotel offers a spa and restaurant, all in the beautiful building of a five-century-old mansion. A perfect way to spoil yourself in South America.
Selina Plaza de Armas Cusco: Want a more affordable option? Then spend your night at Selina Plaza de Armas Cusco. This lively hostel is set in a Colonial-style building right in the heart of Cusco. You can even take tours in Cusco and to famous archaeological sites with their local tour guides.
Best Restaurant in Cusco
Grab yourself some authentic Peruvian food during your day trip in Cusco or after your tour is over. Here are a few that were recommended to me.
Green Point Restaurants: This restaurant specializes in Vegan dishes, but you don’t have to be Vegan to enjoy them. Try the Pad Thai which is sautéed rice noodles served with oyster mushroom and oriental vegetables in their pad thai sauce. Or try something from their brunch menu! This includes the fluffy banana pancakes served with mango, strawberries, banana, blueberries, cinnamon, homemade fruit syrup, and melted chocolate.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen: This gem offers up some Peruvian cuisine with influences from the Costa Sierra and Selva. All dishes are made with organic products from their orchard in the Sacred Valley. Try their Ceviche de trucha which has fresh river trout cured in lime juice, scented with “limo” chili pepper, and garnished with sweet corn, onions, purple onions, lettuce, baked sweet potato, Andean caviar, and lupin beans. Yum!
Organika Restaurant: Enjoy this healthy restaurant with fresh food and colorful plates. Such as the Purple Cabbage Soup appetizer has Homemade cream of purple cabbage with wine in slow cooking accompanied by Andean seed crisines. Follow that with the Quinotto Organika, which is a variety of quinoa, tender vegetables, zucchini, grilled bell pepper, broccoli, pumpkin, Andean cheese, and Parmesan cheese with a touch of yellow pepper, Andean beans puree, and garden sprouts. A delicious menu that you truly cannot pass up!
Have you traveled to the Sacred Valley before? Anything I missed?
Welcome to the Traveling Spud! I’m Katie, a 30 something from Idaho who quit her marketing job in San Francisco, California to travel the world for a year. After a trip around the world, my heart chose Idaho. I'm addicted to outdoor adventures, photography, and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zones and cross experiences off of their bucket lists. Let's explore together! Read more here.