Why travel to the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, spiritual heartland of the Incas, is a landscape of meandering rivers, precipitous peaks, and terraced valleys. From pre-Columbian times to the present, generations have inhabited this visually stunning environment and, in the present-day, Andean villages thrive among the ruins of a once-mighty civilization.
The Incas were convinced that they inhabited the center of the world. It was here that they willed their vast empire into existence and it was also here that they witnessed its spectacular end at the hands of plundering Spanish conquistadors. A Sacred Valley tour is the best way to gain insight into the place where Peru’s most fascinating historical legacy continues to unfold.
Topographically, the Sacred Valley is a stretch of agricultural fields and rocky gorges that follow the course of the Urubamba River, flowing past important sites such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Small villages and bustling towns dot the valleys, connected by ancient footpaths and modern roadways to Cusco and to Machu Picchu, the two most important sites in Inca history.
Creation myths place the Incas’ origins far from the Sacred Valley, near Puno in fact, where Manco Cápac was said to have emerged from Lake Titicaca. According to legend, this ruler led his small tribe on an epic journey that ended in the fertile Sacred Valley and he established the city of Cusco in the most strategic position.
The Sacred Valley’s geography also had a shaping influence on the Incas’ complex cosmological vision. Snow-capped Andean peaks, some of which soar to over 6,000 meters above sea level, were thought to host powerful spirits, known as apus, and religious devotion to the mountains was added to an existing reverence for the celestial gods: sun, moon, Venus, rainbow, and thunder.
The Sacred Valley today is home to a vibrant blend of cultures. In most town markets, transactions are still conducted in the ancient Quechua language, while Spanish influence is clearly visible in the architecture of colonial-era constructions. In recent decades, the seductive tranquility of the Sacred Valley has also charmed many travelers into staying and establishing homes and businesses in communities such as Urubamba and Yucay. The arrival of these outsiders-turned-locals marks the beginning of a new era in the history of this magical, ever-evolving place.
What to do in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is a treasure trove of historical attractions and living cultural traditions. Over thousands of years, a distinctive regional identity has taken form, shaped by waves of conquest and human migration. In the present day, the culture of the Sacred Valley continues to evolve as increasing numbers of Peruvians and foreigners travel here and sometimes decide to stay.
When you travel to the Sacred Valley, you’ll see the mix of old and new in every community. Bustling markets, magnificent ruins, and gorgeous surroundings are the principal features of these settlements. Travelers with extra time in their itinerary should try to spend at least one night in any of the Sacred Valley hotels, which range from small inns to luxurious resorts and spas.
Nestled amid the Sacred Valley communities are clues to a bygone age, the fingerprints of an empire that once used this valley as a base to dominate the entire Andean mountain range. Everywhere you go, you’ll see signs of the Incas’ former grandeur, from the world famous Machu Picchu to the outposts and temples at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero to the vast system of agricultural terraces that are still in use today. These impressive historical artifacts are evidence of the lasting ingenuity of the Incas.
Visit the town of Pisac, home to an extensive archaeological site and a famous market. Towering over the valley below, the Pisac ruins are spread over a mountain top and provide panoramic views of the elaborately-terraced hillsides. The site is thought to have had both spiritual and defensive functions. The modern-day town hosts the renowned Pisac Market, a highlight of Sacred Valley tours. Market days see the arrival of Andean highlanders from near and far who come to barter and sell their fruits, vegetables, and handcrafted wares. Tourists arrive in equal numbers to buy textiles, art, crafts, and silver jewelry.
Urubamba, the largest town in the Sacred Valley, is halfway between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. A great option for an overnight stay, Urubamba offers a wide range of accommodations and restaurants as well as proximity to major archaeological sites. One of these is Moray, located on a high plateau about 15 minutes from town. Moray comprises a huge complex of concentric circular agricultural terraces that descend down to 98 feet (30 meters) from the top rim. It is believed that Inca horticulturalists used this site to experiment with the effect of temperature differences on crop growth.
Ollantaytambo is one of the Sacred Valley’s most unique attractions. Built as a royal estate for the emperor Inca Pachacutec, this original Inca city has been inhabited since the mid-1400s. Narrow streets are lined on either side with magnificent examples of Inca walls. The Ollantaytambo ruins provide jaw-dropping views of the valley. And during the June festivals, the Plaza de Armas is filled with costumed dancers and delighted onlookers. All of these are great reasons to embark on an Ollantaytambo tour.
Meanwhile, adventure seekers will find countless activities in the mountains and rivers. The Sacred Valley is renowned as one of the hottest trekking spots in Peru and in the world, with options for short day hikes or long multi-day treks. Ancient routes crisscross the valleys, most of which lead to important archaeological sites, snaking over perilous mountain passes and across vistas that are simply stunning.
When to visit Sacred Valley
You can visit the Sacred Valley region at any time of year. April to October is the dry season in Peru, with hot days and cold nights. In June and July, nighttime temperatures hover just above freezing. April and May are perhaps the best month for scenery, when the countryside is exceptionally lush after the rainy season and the views and weather are superb.
The rainy season lasts from November to April, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in January and February. Mornings are cloudy with light showers and afternoons and evenings can bring heavier rains. Average daytime temperatures are typically mild, but you’ll need a fleece or warm sweater at night.
The Cusco and Sacred Valley tours were great with knowledgeable guides who were proud of their heritage. Dad and I enjoyed the hike into Machu Picchu.
Emmett and Ray Doherty (Texas, USA) traveled to the Sacred Valley in September 2010
We had a wonderful time in Peru. Every aspect of the trip was above our expectations. Not to mention the breathtaking scenery and the amazing accomplishments of the Incas. We are grateful to you and your company for a well organized trip.
Stephen Mende (California) traveled to the Sacred Valley in August 2010
Rony was our guide for both our day trip in Cuzco and the tour of the Sacred Valley. A bright, knowledgeable guy whose English was excellent, he took a shine to our 9 year old. In 2 days the girls received a history lesson that outstripped anything they could have received in a classroom (us, too).
Matt Conway (Vermont, USA) traveled to the Sacred Valley in August 2010
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Top Pick Sacred Valley Hotel
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel 5*
Built on the grounds of a seventeenth century colonial hacienda, along the tranquil banks of the Vilcanota River, the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel is the picture-perfect place for a countryside retreat. The hotel showcases a fusion of minimalist interior designs and colonial style buildings, all surrounded by sweeping views of the breathtakingly beautiful Sacred Valley.
Restaurant Room Service Internet Laundry Service Parking Baby Sitter Gift Shop Spa
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel Photos & Info »
Casa Andina Private Collection Valle Sagrado 4*
5to Paradero, Yanahuara
A prominent member of the Casa Andina hotel chain, the Private Collection is a luxurious Sacred Valley hotel, comfortably nestled in the heart of the valley only 10 minutes from the ruins of Ollantaytambo. This excellent Sacred Valley hotel encompasses a range of amenities to suit all tastes and combines relaxation in its luxurious spa facilities with sports activities such as bike riding or hiking. The hotel also features a delicious restaurant, playgrounds, a jewelry store and an on-site observatory allowing guests to admire the beautiful star-filled Andean sky.
Restaurant Room Service Laundry Service Parking Spa Gym Baby Sitter
Casa Andina Private Collection Valle Sagrado Photos & Info »
El Albergue Bed & Breakfast 3*
Adjacent to the Ollantaytambo train station, this quaint bed & breakfast is nicely located at the midpoint between Cusco and Machu Picchu, making it the perfect place to rest before visiting the mountaintop ruins, the historic city of Cusco, or the surrounding Sacred Valley attractions. This hotel originally started operating in 1925 and was the first hotel to open in the area. A 10-minute walk takes guests to the main plaza of Ollantaytambo, an original Inca city definitely worth exploring.
Restaurant Internet Laundry Service
El Albergue Bed & Breakfast Photos & Info »
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