Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
Km. 62 Carretera, Urubamba – Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley
Tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is a truly special place. A slightly warmer climate, the gentle presence of the Andes mountains, a sprinkling of ancient fortresses, and villages steeped in age-old traditions is what you’ll experience on a tour to the Inca heartland.
As the mid-way point between the ultra-popular destinations of Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is the perfect place to rest a while and book a night or two at a rustic resort. Here you can kayak or ride horseback by day, and enjoy the twinkling of a million stars under the night sky. Maybe it’s the lower elevation compared to Cusco, or the uplifting presence of giant peaks, or the easily conjured image of an Incan entourage tracing a path by the Urubamba River, but the Sacred Valley of the Incas is palpably special.
When you’re not delving into nature, you can learn fascinating Inca facts and dive into the Andean lifestyle. Spend some time learning about what role textiles are believed to have played in Andean culture, partake in a traditional earth oven meal or explore one of the many ruins dotting the Incan land. Through any of these experiences, you’ll have a chance to meet the local people (and the local llamas) of the traditional villages and open your eyes to a truly enchanting world.
The highland climate of the Sacred Valley has rather consistent temperatures throughout the year. Atop high mountain summits, like Salkantay, temperatures are cold enough to sustain snow year round. The climate is much more temperate far below on the valley floor where towns such as Pisac, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo reside.
Dry Season Vs. Rainy Season
Distinct to Peru’s Andean region, the Sacred Valley has a dry and rainy season.
Dry season is from April to October.
Rainy season is from November to March.
Dry season (April to October) is the high season for the Sacred Valley because days are usually sunny with little chance of rain. Nights get really chilly, so make sure to bring a warm jacket.
Rainy season (November to March) is when the region receives heavy rains, but not necessarily every day. During the mornings, it’s generally cloudy with light showers and afternoons and evenings can bring heavier rains. Don’t forget your rain gear! Average daytime temperatures are typically mild, but you’ll still need that warm jacket at night.
Peak travel season in the Sacred Valley coincides with the dry season: June, July, and August. During this time, the weather is usually sunny and conveniently coincides with the summer months for travelers coming from the northern hemisphere. Given the high demand for services and limited Machu Picchu train and entrance tickets, it’s best to plan your trip early to ensure specific date availability.
Low season coincides with the region’s rainy season: December, January, February and March. Rainfall and storms are unpredictable, so flight delays going in and out of Cusco are more common. However, there are perks to traveling during the low rainy season. Sites tend to be less crowded and the Sacred Valley mountainscapes are beautiful shades of green.
The history of the Sacred Valley weaves closely together with the Incan capital city of Cusco. The Inca Empire rose to power during the 14th century and expanded across ancient Peru and into Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Colombia. However, all trails led back to the Inca capital city of Cusco where the king resided. The surrounding fertile fields of the Sacred Valley served as the civilization’s breadbasket, yielding varieties of fresh grains, fruits and vegetables. Skilled Inca stonemasons also constructed religious temples and outposts in the valley, which today you can visit at archaeological sites in Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero.
Before the Inca, the Sacred Valley was home to the Wari Culture around 500 to 1100 AD approximately. The Inca started inhabiting the valley around the 12th century, with Manco Capac as the first Inca king. The Spanish Conquest of the valley began in 1531 when Francisco Pizarro arrived with 168 soldiers. In 1535 AD, Manco Inca organized a rebel force to try to overthrow Spanish rule, and led the Incas’ greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards in Ollantaytambo.
Despite some victories, in 1572 the last Inca king, Tupac Amaru I, was captured in Vilcabamba and taken to Cusco. Upon the orders of the Viceroy Francisco Toledo, Amaru was beheaded in the city’s main plaza in front of a crowd of thousands. During the 16th-18th centuries, Cusco became an economic node of the southern Andes as well as the frontline for the religious evangelization and acculturation of indigenous populations. During this time, many churches are erected in the Sacred Valley.
In 1911, Yale historian and professor Hiram Bingham arrived at the ruins of Machu Picchu. National Geographic chronicles Bingham’s expedition and turns the world’s attention to this remote Andean region of Peru. In 1999 PeruRail began offering tourists train service to Machu Picchu. In 2004, Potato Park, or Parque de la Papa, was established to protect hundreds of native potato species and agrobiodiversity in the Sacred Valley region. Today, tourism in the Sacred Valley is on the rise, but local movements and projects are at work to help preserve ancient Quechua traditions.
The Sacred Valley is a wellspring of important archaeological sites and beautiful natural landscapes. A classic tour of the Sacred Valley takes you to some of the most impressive ruins in the area, including the Pisac Archaeological Park and the Ollantaytambo Fortress. The Pisac ruins consist of ceremonial baths, residential quarters and the largest Inca cemetery. They are stunning in that they are perched atop a mountain that overlooks the village and its sweeping terraces where the Inca grew their crops. Ollantaytambo Fortress is another magnificent site. It is one of the most sophisticated examples of Inca architecture and town planning, and the site of the Incas greatest defeat against the Spanish. Read more about Ollantaytambo and Pisac below.
The Maras Salt Pans and concentric terraces of Moray are two lesser visited examples of Incan ingenuity in the Sacred Valley. Though unrelated in purpose, the sites are near neighbors in a remote region that’s not served by public transportation. For this reason, Maras and Moray ruins are often bundled together on a Sacred Valley tour. Scholars believe the Moray terraces once served as an elaborate agricultural laboratory for the Inca; each terrace having a unique microclimate. Today, the mountainside salt pans at Maras, started by the Wari culture and expanded by the Inca, are owned and operated by local residents. You can get to this site by car, foot, bike or even horseback! Check with your travel advisor for options.
White water rafting in the Sacred Valley is an adrenaline-packed adventure! On a one-day trip, get picked up at your hotel and driven to the starting point along the river. Gentle parts of the river at the beginning of the journey builds to more fun rapids. After about two hours on the river, you’ll enjoy lunch and then be driven back to your hotel. Rafting trips run along different upper and lower sections of the Urubamba River. Rapids along these sections of the river vary from introductory to class II and III plus.
Stand up paddle boarding is a fun way to play on the water and get exercise. Enjoy a half day stand up paddle tour in the Sacred Valley to placid Lake Piuray near the town of Chinchero, about a one-hour drive from Cusco. It’s a great water sport for all ages and athletic abilities! To get started, your guide will demonstrate basic paddling techniques and fit you with the proper equipment. Then set out to paddle and explore along the lake shores while taking in the surrounding natural beauty. The tour includes photos and video!
In the Sacred Valley, halfway between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, exist a series of professionally operated zip lines that you can visit on a full day tour. Climb a series of steel ladders and cables – called Via Ferrata – up a steep rock face. At the summit, you reach the different zip lines ranging from 300 to 1500 ft (100 to 500 m) in length that you ride down.The Via Ferrata requires a lot of physical exertion, so folks who take part in the activity should be in good physical condition and had time to adjust to the altitude.
Want more adventure? Get your adrenaline pumping on a full-day ATV/Quad or motorcycle tour. While riding off-road in the Sacred Valley, you and your guide will make stops at key landmarks. Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses, sunblock and a jacket for the ride! Talk with your travel advisor about the best motor tour for you and your travel companions.
The Sacred Valley is a mountainous playground filled with world-class hiking trails. The classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is hands down the most sought after trek in Peru. But hiking in the Sacred Valley doesn’t have to be a multi day adventure. Day hikes in the region are great alternatives for travelers with limited time. There are day hikes that can take you to Pisac ruins, Ollantaytambo ruins or Huchuy Qosqo ruins. There are also hikes to natural splendors like Lake Humantay and Rainbow Mountain.
Sign up for a cultural workshop led by local artisans in wood carving, basket weaving or pottery. It’s a unique opportunity to meet the people who call the Sacred Valley home and learn about important regional traditions. Awamaki is one of the nonprofit social enterprises in the Sacred Valley that works with local communities to make a positive impact. The variety of workshops organized by Awamaki connects travelers to the community-based efforts to empower and put money back into the pockets of locals.
Any trek in the Sacred Valley is bound to be beautiful, why not make it adorable as well? This is a 3-4 hour hike that opens your eyes to the role that llamas play in daily life in the Andes and what the Llama Pack Project is doing to help local families thrive. Start on a trail 15 minutes from the quaint town of Urubamba and stroll uphill to find a spot for the llamas to graze. Enjoy a picnic against an incredible mountain backdrop and then begin the descent. This walking tour covers 1 mile and is a perfect option for families.
In Quechua, Pachamanca means "earth cooking pot," and is the epitome of traditional cooking in the Andes. This culinary tour gives you a front row seat to how the ingredients of this special dish, featuring a variety of vegetables, meat, and potatoes wrapped in banana leaves, are prepared and then buried underground, cooked to perfection over hot stones. Afterwards, enjoy your Pachamanca feast. This is the most unique and special culinary experience you can have during your time in the Andes.
Join in a Pachamama Ceremony, or an “Offering to Mother Earth.” Among the Andean people, the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, is one of the most revered and honored deities. During this ceremony, a shaman from a local village prepares a “despacho” cloth with various items to offer the earth goddess – chief among them the sacred coca leaves. Participants sit in a semi-circle around the “altar” to make offerings as well and give thanks for the years’ abundance. This ceremony is an example of the traditional Andean idea of “ayni” or reciprocity with the mother earth to restore balance.
Pisac is known for its ruins and market. The road from Cusco to Pisac leads through a mountain pass and drops down into the Sacred Valley. Popular market days in Pisac make the town an obligatory stop. Every Sunday and Thursday, residents from the highland communities sell Andean crafts and freshly grown fruits and vegetables in the main plaza. Keep an eye out for handmade textiles made with natural dyes and one-of-a-kind artisanal pieces. Local tourist-oriented vendors display colorful sweaters and hats made of alpaca wool; silver and stone-embellished jewelry; and ceramic goods.
Even if you’re not in town on market day, the artisanal shops in and around the plaza, bordered by San Pedro Church, are open daily. Souvenir prices in Pisac tend to be slightly more expensive than shops in Cusco. Bargaining with merchants to lower the asking price of a few Soles is common practice.
The ancient Inca archaeological site at Pisac perched high above town is well worth the visit. To get there, you’ll have to make the steep walk (about 90 minutes) up through lush Inca terracing, or short taxi ride, above Pisac. The site is divided into various agricultural, military, religious, and urban areas built along a thin mountain ridge connected by stone steps and narrow dirt trails. Inca-constructed watch towers and water fountains complement the site’s fine masonry. The hand carved structure in the middle of the Temple of the Sun, or Intihuatana, is believed to be an important religious or astronomical tool used by the Inca; its angles define the changing seasons.
Ollantaytambo is a small town with very big attractions. Shortly after noon the town turns into a lively hub as the first travelers arrive. After visiting the Inca Fortress, browse the souvenir shops or relax at a local cafe and admire the Andean scenery surrounding you. There are some very unique and memorable things to do in Ollantaytambo.
The well preserved archaeological site at Ollantaytambo is built along the slopes of a narrow mountainside. Stone steps up a terraced-laced hillside lead to the impressive main complex. The panoramic views at the top are a photographer's dream!
The train station in Ollantaytambo is an important transit point for travelers taking the train to Machu Picchu. Since there’s not a direct road that goes all the way to the famous citadel, Ollantaytambo is quite literally the end of the road in the Sacred Valley.
Urubamba may not have ancient hillside ruins to boast, but the boutique and luxurious resort hotels located just outside of town entice many travelers. Staying overnight in the Urubamba valley is the perfect way to appreciate the beauty of the Sacred Valley at a slower pace. Enjoy top-notch services, spa amenities, and endless Andean vistas from your hotel room.
For a taste of the budding culinary scene in Urubamba, dine at top rated restaurants Q’anela or Paca Paca. The onsite restaurant at Hotel Casa Andina Private Collection in the Sacred Valley, Alma, is highly recommended.
Many travelers pass through Urubamba because it resides along the only road connecting key transport routes through the Sacred Valley. In fact, many Sacred Valley tours stop in town for lunch. If you have extra time, walk to the town plaza and then visit the indoor Urubamba Market just two blocks away.
Life in Chinchero generally moves at a slow pace. But on Sunday the town hums with activity during its popular local market. Vendors sell locally grown produce, artisan goods, and most notably, handwoven blankets, ponchos, belts, and rugs. Andean weaving has been practiced in the Sacred Valley for generations, but no town celebrates this centuries-old tradition more so than Chinchero.
Entrance to the main plaza and the Inca ruins at Chinchero requires an admission ticket. To one side of the plaza, Inca stone structures and agricultural terraces sweep down the hillside. On a clear day you can see Apu Salkantay, a famed Inca peak, off in the distance. A white 16th century church built on the stone foundation of a once Incan structure boasts tall ceilings and beautifully painted walls.
Chinchero is far less touristy than Pisac and Ollantaytambo. But it looks like this may soon change. To meet the growing demand of people visiting Machu Picchu, the construction of a new airport in the Sacred Valley near Chinchero is underway.
There is lodging in the Sacred Valley for every traveler’s preference, from small inns and economic hotels all the way up to 5-star luxury. A major perk to staying overnight, beyond the obvious natural beauty, is that you’re closer to the region’s famed markets in Pisac and Ollantaytambo, hilltop ruins, and loads of adventure sports, which cuts down on transport time to/from Cusco. Here are our preferred top pick hotels in the Sacred Valley.
Km. 62 Carretera, Urubamba – Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley
5to Paradero Yanahuara, Sacred Valley
5to paradero Yanahura, Urubamba, Sacred Valley
The renowned flavors and diversity of Peruvian cuisine extend to restaurants in the Sacred Valley. Travelers with free time between tours can enjoy a delicious meal for lunch or dinner. Breakfast is usually included with a hotel stay. The following are a few of the great restaurants we recommend in the tourist frequented towns of Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Pisac.
Alma is located directly in the Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel near Urubamba. The restaurant blends modern with Andean styles and is spacious.
5to Paradero (5th stop) Yanahuara, Urubamba, Sacred Valley | website
Freshly baked pizza, handmade kinds of pasta, and Instagram worthy chocolate desserts are the specialties of Antica Osteria.
Avenida Federico Zamallosa (no number), Pisac | website
Chuncho means “native” and wild in the Quechua language. The restaurant’s name alludes to the fresh, native ingredients used to prepare its menu of typical cuisine from the Sacred Valley region.
Plaza of Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley | website
Mil is chef Virgilio Martinez’s most bold gastronomic concept to date. The award-winning restaurant overlooks the archaeological site of Moray and offers a tasting menu that reflects the crop diversity that can grow in high altitude ecosystems.
Moray Archaeological Site (About 12 miles or 23 kilometers from Urubamba) | website
Great choice for light bites, box-lunches, or economical “menu del dia” options. Selections for many dietary restrictions like vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free available.
Avenida Ventiderio, Ollantaytambo Peru | website
Machu Picchu, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Puno & Lake Titicaca
8 Days / from $1699
Traveling to the Cusco and Sacred Valley region in the high season (June, July, August) requires months of advanced planning because services fill up quickly. Trip logistics include airfare, hotel reservations, tours, and train tickets and entrance tickets if you go to Machu Picchu. Limited permits for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can book up sometimes 4 months in advance. Note that the Inca Trail is closed each February for maintenance.
Altitude sickness is a common health concern for travelers planning a trip to the Sacred Valley region. Most visitors will only experience minor symptoms (shortness of breath, headache, nausea) as a result of the elevation. Take it easy the first couple days while you acclimatize and don’t overexert yourself. Towns in the Sacred Valley are actually lower in elevation than Cusco, so some travelers actually plan to spend their first few nights in the valley to reduce the onset of altitude sickness symptoms.
Transport Around the Sacred Valley
The majority of tours to the Sacred Valley include transport to/from your hotel. For independent exploration, you can take a local bus (the most economic way) or hire a taxi (more convenient and time efficient). The railway also runs between Cusco (Poroy Train) to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and then onto Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
Luggage Restrictions for Train to Machu Picchu
If you’re taking the train to Machu Picchu or doing a multi-day trek, then you’ll likely need to store your heavy luggage (aka the items you don’t need) for this leg of the trip. Each train passenger is permitted one bag or backpack weighing up to 11lbs (5kg). Fortunately, all of our recommended hotels in the Sacred Valley and Cusco provide free luggage storage for their guests.
What’s included on a full day tour to the Sacred Valley?
A typical day tour begins with a morning visit to Pisac with your guide and time to explore the local town market. Then it’s off to Urubamba where you’ll eat lunch (not included) before continuing your drive through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo and visit its impressive hillside Inca Fortress. Many Sacred Valley tours begin and end in Cusco, but transport to/from your hotel in the Sacred Valley can also be arranged. Group and private Sacred Valley tours are available. The benefit of doing a private tour is that your guide will lead you through attractions at your own pace and according to your own interests.
What is a tourist ticket? What sites in the Sacred Valley can I use it for?
A tourist ticket (or boleto turistico as it’s called in Spanish) is an official paper document which gives you access to a variety of museums and Inca ruins in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley. The popular Full Ticket is valid for 10 days and includes entry to 16 attractions, including the archaeological ruins in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Chinchero in the Sacred Valley. Note that a tourist ticket does not include entry to the Maras Salt Mines or Machu Picchu.
What is the Sacred Valley known for?
This lush valley is known for its stunning mountainscapes and roaring rivers. There is a sprinkling of ruins throughout the valley from Inca times and even earlier. Travelers like to come here to explore the ruins, stay at a riverside resort, or participate in a hike, rafting tour, ziplining experience or cultural activity.
Is the Sacred Valley worth visiting?
Definitely. You have to pass through the Sacred Valley to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco anyway, so it is absolutely worth it to explore since you’ll already be there. There are some incredible ruins in the Sacred Valley, like in Ollantaytambo and Pisac. There are great adventure experiences like ziplining, rafting and hiking. Also, cultural experiences like cooking classes or pachamama ceremonies. Some of the best sites in Peru are in the valley. Even if it’s just to relax, enjoy the beauty and acclimate at a Sacred Valley resort, it is worth visiting.
How far is the Sacred Valley from Cusco?
It depends where you are going in the Sacred Valley.
How far is Sacred Valley from Machu Picchu?
1 hour and 50 minutes via train departing from Ollantaytambo station.
How much time should I spend in Sacred Valley?
We recommend having a full day or two full days in the Sacred Valley. While one full day is enough for standard touring – typically people, especially nature lovers, love their hotel so much that they usually wish they had more time to just relax and just enjoy the surroundings. For people who prefer cities, one day touring the valley is enough.
How much should I tip my guides and porters?
Tips are a great way to show your appreciation to your guide (and porters if you do a trek). For a half day tour (10-30 Soles per person) and full day tour (20-60 Soles per person) is a recommended tipping range. The tip ranges represent a total amount that varies on the number of people in your tour and can be divided amongst everyone. Of course, the amount of tip you leave is at your own discretion.
Similar tipping guidelines apply when tipping your trekking guide, porters, and camp team. For each day, we recommend tipping 20-60 Soles per trekker per each day of the hike. And again, what you decide to leave as a tip is up to you. It’s common for hikers to put their tips together on the last night of your trek and give them to the guide. Your guide will then distribute that money between the trekking crew.
How do I get to Machu Picchu from the Sacred Valley?
The train route to Machu Picchu begins in Cusco (Poroy Station) and stops at the Ollantaytambo station, in Sacred Valley, and continues onto Machu Picchu. From Ollantaytambo, it’s about a 2-hour train ride to Machu Picchu. Another train station in Urubamba is an exclusive stop at the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado operated by PeruRail.
What is altitude sickness? Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
Altitude sickness is caused by rapid change in elevation without the adequate time for acclimatization. Most travelers only experience minor problems with the altitude. Shortness of breath is to be expected and headache, nausea, and loss of appetite are common symptoms.
To minimize or avoid symptoms:
The variety of Sacred Valley restaurants have expanded and diversified, and so has our list of the region’s must-try options.