Destination Sacred Valley
Tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley feels like a special place. A slightly warmer climate, the gentle presence of guardian 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. Browse our destination guide for essential facts, travel tips, and top attractions on a Sacred Valley tour.
Choose your Sacred Valley Tour
At A Glance
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, book a night or two at a rustic resort, kayak or ride horseback by day, and enjoy the twinkling of a million stars under the Andean 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. No matter where you come from, you’re likely to feel at home in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
The history of the Sacred Valley weaves closely together with that 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. But 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 stone masons also constructed religious temples and outposts in the Valley, which today you can visit at archaeological sites in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.
Pre-Inca Sacred Valley
500 to 1100 AD – The Wari culture thrives and expands its reach to the Sacred Valley.
The Wari built and inhabit Piquillacta (19 mi or 30 km east of Cusco). The complex was likely used as a fortress to gain control of new land outside the Wari Empire capital in Peru’s present day province of Huanta (Ayacucho).
The first shallow salt pans at Maras are also constructed by the Wari culture. During the exceeding reign of the Inca Empire, the salt pans were expanded further up the mountainside.
Inca Sacred Valley
12th century AD – Cusco begins to develop as a city-state, first co-existing with, and then gradually absorbing neighboring ethnic groups. Manco Capac is remember as the first Inca king.
During the next two centuries, hillside terraces are constructed by the Incas and filled with fertile soils for agricultural gain. Many of these terraces in the Sacred Valley are still used by farmers today. The circular terraces at Moray – dug into a high altitude plain of the Sacred Valley – are perhaps the most innovative example of Incan agricultural ingenuity. Experts believe Moray was used to experiment with different crops, testing to see which seeds grew the best at various altitudes.
14th and 15 century AD – Inca kings construct various outposts and religious centers throughout the Sacred Valley.
Pisac is a key Inca outpost connecting Cusco to the Sacred Valley.
*The hilltop Pisac complex was not likely inhabited by other pre-Inca civilizations. Its construction is estimated to date back no earlier than the early 14th century.
Pachacutec (the 9th Inca king) establishes Ollantaytambo as a religious, political and military complex. Ceremonial centers and terraces are built along the hillsides, and the residential sector of the city below.
Later, Inca Tupac Yupanqui (son of Pachacutec) constructed a getaway and religious center in Chinchero. Terraces are also built for farming and agricultural purposes.
1531 AD – Francisco Pizarro with 168 soldiers arrives on the shores of the Inca Empire, devises the capture of Atahualpa in Cajamarca, and then executes the Inca king, marking the formal end of the Inca Empire.
1533 AD – Pizarro arrives in Cusco and names Manco Inca as the new puppet king.
Colonial Sacred Valley
1535 AD – Manco Inca flees Cusco after suffering abuses at the hands of Spanish settlers. He organizes a rebel force to try to overthrow Spanish rule.
1537 AD – Ollantaytambo is the site of the Inca’s greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards. Manco Inca and his rebel troops defeat Hernando Pizarro (Francisco Pizarro’s brother) and his troops on horseback by flooding the valley below.
Spanish soldiers return to the Incas’ headquarters in Ollantaytambo and launch an attack. The Inca rebels are able to withstand the attack, but Manco Inca decides to retreat to jungle-based city of Vilcabamba for safety.
1572 AD – The last Inca king Tupac Amaru I is captured in Vilcabamba and taken to Cusco. Upon the orders of the Viceroy Francisco Toledo, Tupac Amaru is beheaded in the city’s main plaza in front of a crowd of thousands.
16th-18th centuries – Cusco becomes 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. Thick adobe walls of the Chinchero church are built in the 17th century upon the foundations of an existing Inca temple or place.
Learn more about the region’s Inca and colonial history through Peru’s independence on 28 July 1821. Check out a timeline of Cusco’s history.
1911 AD – Yale historian and professor Hiram Bingham arrives 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.
1952 – A French-American expedition reach the summit of Salkantay, the highest peak of the Willkapampa mountain range, for the first time.
1999 – PeruRail begins offering tourists train service to Machu Picchu.
October 2001 – Peru’s Ministry of Transport and Communication announces The Special Project Chinchero International Airport to meet infrastructure demands for growing tourism to the region. Commercial invest planning for the multi-million dollar project is currently unfolding.
2004 – Potato Park, or Parque de la Papa, is established to protect hundreds of native potato species and agrobiodiversity in the Sacred Valley region. The 9000-hectare park near Pisac is administered by the Association of Communities of the Potato Park, comprised of five Quechua villages, and the Centro Internacional de la Papa.
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 train station in Ollantaytambo now serves as the Sacred Valley hub to Machu Picchu.
The Sacred Valley stretches between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, northwest of Cusco city. The Urubamba winds through this valley with fertile soils and an abundant water supply.
Elevations vary from 9,000 ft (2,790 m) on the valley floor to 16,000 ft (5,000 m) and above at the highest mountain summits. Nevado Veronica is the pyramid shaped mountain towering over Ollantaytambo at 19,100 ft (5,822 m).
Towns in the Sacred Valley reside at a lower elevation than Cusco (11,120 ft or 3,400 meters). The lower elevation of the valley helps minimize minor altitude sickness symptoms such as headache, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite. For this reason, some travelers may opt to stay at a hotel in Urubamba 9,420 ft (2,870 m) instead of staying in Cusco when they first arrive.
The Sacred Valley has two distinct seasons: dry and rainy.
Dry season (April to October) is 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.
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 a few Soles is common practice.
The ancient Inca archaeological site at Pisac (Tourist Ticket required) perched high above town is well worth the visit. To get there, you’ll have to make the steep walk (about 90 minutes), or short taxi ride, above Pisac. The site 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 defining the changing seasons.
Location: The town of Pisac is 20 mi (33 km) from Cusco.
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 Urubamba 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.
Location: The town of Urubamba is located 30 mi (48 km) from Cusco.
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.
The well preserved archaeological site at Ollantaytambo (Tourist Ticket required) 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 photographers 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.
Location: The town of Ollantaytambo is located 56 mi (90 km) northeast of Cusco.
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 a Tourist 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.
Maras & Moray
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 are often bundled together on a Sacred Valley tour.
Today, the mountainside salt pans at Maras are owned and operated by local residents. To mine the salt, the underground water flow of brine (a mixture of salt and water) which bubbles up in a natural spring is channeled to the man made shallow salt pools. When the salt water in each pool evaporates, the crystallized salt is extracted and sold. Maras is believed to have been constructed by the Wari civilization, but later utilized by the Incas who expanded production. Visitors on a tour of Maras (tickets available at entrance; not apart of the Tourist Ticket) witness the same process that has been practiced in the region for more than 500 years.
The Moray archaeological site (Tourist Ticket required) is located further down the road from Maras. Unique among Inca sites, Moray consists of a series of circular terraces dug into the earth like a huge amphitheater. Scholars believe these terraces once served as an elaborate agricultural laboratory; each terrace having a unique micro-climate with which the Incas could determine the optimal growing conditions for different crops. Climbing down the terraces to the lowest point, the temperature gets noticeably warmer! A walk around the Moray complex takes around an hour. On-site services are extremely limited, so bring water and snacks with you.
Location: Accessible along the road between Cusco and Urubamba, Moray is about 30 mi (48 km) from Cusco. Moray and Maras are separated by 7 mi (12 km).
The snowy peaks of Pitusira and Sahuasiray stand tall behind Calca, a small town located halfway between Pisac and Urubamba. Since Inca times, the fertile soils in the region have been tilled for the cultivation of corn and other important crops. Within walking distance of Calca – or a quicker bus ride – are the thermal baths of Machacancha.
To trekkers, Calca is most notably the place where groups doing the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu turn off the main road running through the Sacred Valley and continue their drive uphill towards Lares village (about 4.5 hours away). It’s customary for trekkers to take a dip in the local thermal hot springs before starting the multi-day hike.
Location: The town of Calca is located 31 mi (50 km) from Cusco.
Modernity mixes with tradition in the Sacred Valley. Lavish hotels, cafes with WiFi, and souvenir shops exist to meet the growing influx of tourism to the region. Yet ancient Quechua traditions remain strong sources of local pride and identity.
You’re likely to encounter the word Quechua while visiting Peru. The term Quechua encompasses many cultural elements of music, dance, dress, food, and language that are staples of Andean life.
The Quechua people are often said to be the direct descendants of the Incas. But this characterization is overly simplified. The Inca Empire thrived during the 14th century until the Spanish conquest in the mid-15th century. The history of the Quechua dates back before the reign of the Inca civilization, and it continued to evolve in multifaceted ways in the period after the fall of the Inca Empire and through the arrival of Spanish conquerors and settlers in the 16th century.
Day to day business at towns throughout the Sacred Valley is often conducted in Spanish. But listen carefully and you’ll also hear the Quechua language spoken by many locals. In fact, important festivals like Inti Raymi in Cusco, a major attraction showcasing the region’s indigenous heritage, is conducted from start to finish in the Quechua language.
Apart from Spanish, English in the Sacred Valley is the main language for tourism. Some agencies also have tours in German, French, Chinese, etc. upon request.
The vibrant traditional clothes worn in the Andes pulls from a mixture of pre-Spanish and Spanish colonial styles. In touristic towns, like Pisac and Ollantaytambo, some women and children wear this clothing and in exchange for a few soles they will pose for a photo. But in many rural regions of the Sacred Valley, traditional dress is still very much a part of daily life.
Llama, alpaca and sheep wool is spun, dyed, and woven into clothing worn by locals and beautiful Andean textiles. The intricate patterns and designs woven into each peice communicate symbols and myths that are locally important.
Ponchos and wool hats with earflaps, or chullos as they’re referred to as in Peru, are distinctive pieces of traditional men’s clothing. Women often wear bright hats adorned with elaborate designs, sometimes circular or more square in shape, and multilayered skirts called polleras.
The spiritual beliefs of the Quechua people are deeply rooted in Inca mythology. For millennia, they have honored the interconnection between them and the natural world that sustains them. Annual celebrations, such as the pilgrimage called Qoyllur Riti on Ausangate Mountain, honor their beliefs.
In the Sacred Valley, the highest mountain peaks are considered sacred by the Quechua people and believed to be the dwelling places of powerful spirits called apus. Salkantay, known as Apu Sallqantay in Quechua, is the towering peak hikers pass along their journey to Machu Picchu (Salkantay Trek). Today locals continue to make offerings of food, drink, and coca leaves to Apu Salkantay, asking for protection and permission to cross its mountain pass under the watchful gaze of its icy summit.
Food & Drink
Fertile soils and an abundant water supply have shaped a longstanding agrarian way of life in the Sacred Valley. Locally grown produce is sold at markets in Pisac and Chinchero. Keep your eyes out for an enormous variety of potatoes – specialists have counted around 4,000!
For local flavor, try grilled, roasted or deep fried cuy (guinea pig). Then sip on a glass of chicha morada, a local beverage made from Peru’s unique purple corn, various fruits, and spiced to perfection with cinnamon and cloves.
Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for exceptional service. Of course, the amount of tip you leave is at your own discretion. Here are some tipping recommendations.
Tour Guides & Trekking Staff
Half Day Tour: 10-30 Soles per person
Full Day Tour: 20-60 Soles per person
*The tip ranges represent a total amount that varies on the number of people in your tour and can be divided amongst everyone.
Restaurants & Bars: At a nice, sit-down restaurant it is customary to tip about 10 percent of the total. Smaller, locally owned establishments do not always expect a tip, but that doesn’t mean you cannot leave a few Soles for good service. At a bar or lounge, tipping a 1 Sole coin per beverage is a good rule of thumb.
Taxi Drivers do not expect to be tipped.
Water Rafting Tours
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 drive 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. First timers and kids can do class II to III rapids. Talk with your travel advisor about the best option for you and your travel companions. Full day and overnight rafting tours available.
Zip Lining and Mountain Climbing
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.
Private and group zip lining and mountain climbing tours include transportation to/from your hotel. 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.
Mountain Biking Tours
The trails blazing through the Sacred Valley define biking bliss. Groups ride through the countryside, past rarely seen villages, and stop at amazing historical Inca sites along the way.
One of the most popular biking routes is to Maras and Moray. It’s a one-hour drive from your hotel in Cusco to the starting point at Chinchero in the Sacred Valley. From there, your biking guide will lead you and other riders along a dirt path to the circular terraces of Moray and down the valley to explore the ancient Maras Salt Mines still used today. The adventure continues downhill on a singletrack to your final destination.
Biking tours in the Sacred Valley have uphill sections, so be prepared for the effort. Talk with your travel advisor about the best biking trail for you. Bike tours include equipment (suspension bike, helmet, gloves); an English-speaking guide; a picnic lunch; and transportation to/from Cusco.
Horseback Riding Tours
Saddle up for a high-altitude ride through beautiful Andean scenery. Two types of horses are used for riding tours in the region. The Andean Pony, traditionally used for transporting products, is a good option for folks with limited or no horseback riding experience. The Peruvian Paso Fino horse is a taller, more agile breed.
Many horseback riding tours start around Urubamba. A popular route leads uphill and across high plains to the circular terraces of Moray (Tourist Ticket required for entry) where you have time to explore with your guide.
Independent and Guided Hiking
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. In Pisac, opt out of the taxi ride to the mountaintop Inca ruins and climb to the summit instead. The intermediate hike goes up a series of steep stone steps and uphill sections. Reaching the top can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on your physical condition. Ollantaytambo also has hillside ruins reachable only on foot, though athletic types may not consider it a proper hike because it’s a short climb to the top.
Get off the beaten trail in the Sacred Valley and hike to Huchuy Qosqo, Inca ruins perched on the hills overlooking the Sacred Valley. This moderate trek can be done independently, or as a 1 or 2-day guided tour.
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.
Up-close & Cultural – visiting Andean artisans
Sign up for a cultural workshop led by local artisans in Peruvian cooking, 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 weaving workshops, language classes, homestays, and volunteer opportunities organized by Awamaki connects travelers to the community-based efforts to empower and put money back into the pockets of locals. If you’re passing through Ollantaytambo en route to Machu Picchu, visit Amamaki’s fair trade store and buy one of the beautiful Andean products handmade by locals.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand up paddle boarding is a fun way to play on the water and get exercise. The sport has gained popularity in North America and has arrived to the Peruvian Andes!
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 (board & paddle, wetsuit & booties, and life vest). Then set out to paddle and explore along the lake shores while taking in the surrounding natural beauty. The tour includes photos and video!
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.
Ollantaytambo-based hotels are a great option for travelers heading to Machu Picchu. Here travelers are just a few blocks from the train station, or as is the case of the small boutique inn, El Albergue, just next door. Urubamba is a quiet alternative from Cusco, known for its elegant resorts boasting breathtaking properties – the perfect spot to really unwind and disconnect. Smaller towns, like Pisac and Chinchero, have limited overnight options.
Our expert team reviews the properties, services, and amenities of hotels throughout Peru. Here are our preferred top pick hotels in the Sacred Valley.
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel
Built on a 17th century colonial hacienda, along the tranquil banks of the Vilcanota River, the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness is the picture-perfect place for a countryside retreat. The hotel showcases a fusion of minimalist and colonial style rooms and buildings, all surrounded by sweeping views of the breathtakingly beautiful Sacred Valley.
Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado
5to Paradero Yanahuara, Sacred Valley
A prominent member of the Casa Andina chain, the Premium Collection is a luxurious hotel, comfortably nestled in the heart of the Sacred Valley only 10 minutes from the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Combining relaxation in its luxurious spa with sports activities such as bike riding or hiking, this excellent and all-encompassing hotel has something to suit everyone’s taste. 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.
Ollantaytambo Train Station
Neighboring the Ollantaytambo train station, this quaint bed & breakfast is nicely located an hour 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 1923, making it the first hotel to open in the area.
Patacalle 722, Ollantaytambo
Clean and comfortable rooms at a price that won’t break the bank is what you get at Hostal Iskay. To top it off, this utterly charming 7-room inn provides peace and quiet, flowering gardens, and stunning views of the Sacred Valley’s most famous fortress ruins. Its location on a typical stone-lined Inca street creates a feeling of total immersion in a glorious past, while interaction with locals in traditional dress reminds of you that Andean culture remains vibrantly present. Enjoy a buffet breakfast in the morning, use the complimentary wireless Internet to keep connected, and be sure to ask the friendly staff for tips about Ollantaytambo’s hidden treasures.
See all Sacred Valley Hotels
Where To Eat
The renowned flavors and diversity of Peruvian cuisine extends 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.
Paca Paca is a cozy restaurant adorned with handicrafts made by local artisans and high wooden ceilings. Start your meal with a soup, salad or fresh spring rolls appetizer. Then move onto the main course. The restaurant’s varied menu offers traditional Peruvian dishes, thin crust pizzas baked in an adobe oven, and pasta options. Address: Av. Mariscal Castilla #640, Urubamba
Located only two blocks from the main plaza of Urubamba, Q’anela specializes in traditional Peruvian cuisine such as lomo saltado and fusion dishes such as aji de gallina lasagna. Enjoy your delicious meal and the views of the lush green garden and courtyard. The friendly staff prides themselves in offering high quality service. Address: Jr.Grau 654. Urubamba
The Alma Restaurant is an extension of the Hotel Casa Andina Private Collection in the Sacred Valley just outside of Urubamba town. The spacious restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows perfect for taking in the beautiful Andean views as you eat. Order from a wide range of traditional Peruvian and international dishes. Address: 5to Paradero Yanahuara
Ollantaytambo Restaurants & Cafes
Puka Rumi is a great restaurant open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu combines a mixture of international flavors, from vegetarian burritos and fajitas served with toppings so you can build them anyway you like to pizzas, salads, and soups. Enjoy a drink on the restaurant’s open-air terrace. Address: Calle Principal (w/o number)
Eat with a good conscious at Hearts Cafe. All profits support the ongoing work of Living Hearts,the cafe’s sister organization dedicated to empowering the region’s Andean communities. Stop by for freshly brewed coffee and breakfast in the morning. For lunch, enjoy the daily menu or order from the varied menu offering chicken, fish or vegetarian dishes. Address: Avenida Ventiderio; http://www.livingheartperu.org/lhhearts
If you’re at the Ollantaytambo train station in transit to/from Machu Picchu, then you’ll see Cafe Mayu. It’s located right on the train platform. Order coffee or tea and an on-the-go snack (cookie, brownie or sandwich). Cafe Mayu is run by Albergue Hotel, and if you have time, you can have a sit-down meal at the hotel’s restaurant whose entrance is just next door to the cafe . Address: Ollantaytambo Train Station; http://www.elalbergue.com/en/restaurant-cafe-ollantaytambo-hotel
Pisac Restaurants & Cafes
Cuchara de Palo Restaurant means “wooden spoon” in Spanish, referencing the common cooking utensil used in many local kitchens. The menu has traditional Peruvian cuisine and novo-Andean dishes, including some vegetarian options, and are made with locally grown produce. Cuchara de Palo is located on the first floor of the Pisac Inn which borders the Pisac main plaza. Address: Main Plaza of Pisac; http://cucharadepalorestaurant.com/
Cafe Mullu is another popular eatery on the plaza. The menu is stacked with Asian-fusion and traditional Andean dishes. For a quick snack, try the specialty empanadas baked at Horno Colonial San Francisco (Avenida Federico Zamalloa, Pisac)
Sacred Valley weather
The highland climate of the Sacred Valley experiences 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. During these months, sunshine is regular with a minimal chance of rainfall. At night, temperatures drop significantly.
Daytime Average: 68-72 F
Nighttime Average: 35-40 F
Rainy season is from November to March. Cloudy mornings with light showers are typical and afternoons and evenings can bring heavier rains. January and February usually receive the most rainfall. On average, nighttime temperatures are warmer in the rainy season, colder in the dry season.
Daytime Average: 68-70F
Nighttime Average: About 45F
When is the best time to visit the Sacred Valley?
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.
Altitude sickness is a common health concern for travelers planning a trip to the Sacred Valley region. Most visitors will only experiences 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 some travelers actually plan to spend their first few nights in the Valley to reduce the onset of altitude sickness symptoms.
Don’t drink the tap water in the Sacred Valley, or anywhere in Peru for that matter. Buy bottled water to drink and use when brushing your teeth. On a multiday hike, your trekking team will supply purified water that’s safe to drink.
The Sacred Valley is tourist friendly and most travelers will enjoy an incident-free trip. Avoid opportunist pickpockets by keeping a close eye on your personal belongings in crowded areas. Carry your valuables in a traveler’s wallet around your neck or waist under your clothing for safe keeping. When possible, leave jewelry, excess cash and your passport (carry around a paper copy instead) in the safety box at your hotel.
How to get around
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 Machu Picchu.
Peruvian currency (often called Soles) is used to pay for taxi rides, small purchases, and tips for guides and porters. It’s a good to carry around small bills and coins in the Sacred Valley because market vendors and small stores may not have adequate change to break a larger notes.
Alert your bank about your Peru travel plans before you leave and inquire what foreign transaction fees (if any) apply to your bankcard. You’re more apt to get better exchange rates in Cusco than in small Sacred Valley towns. There are ATMs in Pisac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo that dispense both US dollars and local currency.
The weather in the Sacred Valley changes quickly, so bring a lot of layers to be prepared. Pack t-shirts and add warmth with long-sleeve clothing and a fleece jacket. Lightweight pants and comfortable hiking boots with good traction are ideal for walking up to and around the Inca archaeological complexes. Don’t forget your hat, glasses, and sunblock for sun protection.
For daily excursions, bring a daypack with snug straps to carry your water, camera, and other personal belongings.
During the rainy season months, pack a waterproof jacket or a travel-size umbrella. Plastic ponchos are also available to buy in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
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 those legs of the trip. Each train passenger is permitted one bag or backpack weighing up to 11lbs (5kg). Fortunately, many Sacred Valley hotels provide free luggage storage for their guests.
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.
Do I need a visa to travel to Peru?
With few exceptions, people do not need to apply for a tourist visa to enter Peru. But you must have your original passport with at least 6 months validity. Travelers can stay in Peru for a maximum 183 days on a tourist visa. Upon arrival, an immigration officer will stamp your passport and give you a separate tourist card called a Tarjeta Andina de Migracion (TAM for short). Keep your TAM card in a safe place because you’ll need it to exit Peru.
What vaccinations do I need for Peru?
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date before traveling to Peru. You do not need to show proof of a specific immunization to enter Peru. A yellow fever vaccine is recommended for travel to the Peruvian Amazon, but is not required, if you travel there before or after your trip to Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Should I always carry my passport with me?
There are times when you absolutely need your original passport, like at the airport or to enter Machu Picchu with your ticket. But for most day tours and independent exploration, leave your passport locked in your hotel room safe with other valuables. You may keep a paper copy of your passport information in your daypack just in case.
Sacred Valley Travel
What’s included on a typical 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 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 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.
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 all professional trekking team.
What’s the weather like?
The Sacred Valley has two seasons: dry and rainy. During the dry season, it’s often sunny, but temperatures really drop at night. In the rainy season, cloud covered skies are the norm and rainfall ranges from light showers to heavy downpours. It’s best to have an umbrella or poncho with since storms (while it’s rare they all day) are very unpredictable.
To/from Machu Picchu from the Sacred Valley
Railway service to Machu Picchu is operated by PeruRail and Inca Rail. 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 for guests of the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado operated by PeruRail.
Trekking is the other option for getting to Machu Picchu. The traditional Inca Trail (4-day and 2-day) leads all the way to the Sun Gate entrance to Machu Picchu. Popular alternative treks are the Salkantay, Lares and Choquequirao trails.
There is NO Bus to Car service to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu resides atop a hill in a very remote region of the Sacred Valley on the cusp of the jungle. Travelers cannot ride a bus or rent a car to get all the way to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to the famous Inca ruins. To get to Machu Picchu, you must ride the train or trek there.
Health and Safety
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. Severe reactions to the altitude are rare and hard to predict.It’s best to refrain from strenuous activity for the first couple of days you’re at high altitude. Eat light meals and drink a lot of water. Drinking coca tea is a local remedy for easing minor altitude sickness symptoms. Some hotels offer supplemental oxygen directly into your room to aid with sleeping. Diamox is a prescription drug from the US and works well for altitude sickness. Over-the-counter remedies, such as Sorochi and Grovol, can be purchased at a pharmacy in Peru.
What happens if I get sick?
In case of serious illness, contact your tour operator or hotel staff immediately to refer you to a clinic staffed by English-speaking doctors. Latin America For Less travelers can call the emergency number given to them at the beginning of their trip.
Is the Sacred Valley safe?
While traveling in the Sacred Valley, you’re likely to enjoy an incident-free trip. Few travelers ever feel threatened. But like any touristy region, petty theft does occur. Simple precautions can help avoid becoming a target.
- Don’t carry excessive amounts of money. When possible, leave your important travel documents, bank cards, and cash you won’t need in your hotel room’s safety deposit box.
- Keep your smart phones, camera, and other electronic devices in your hand at all times or safely tucked away in your daypack.
- Don’t wear flashy or expensive jewelry.
- Use common sense, be aware of your environment and trust your instincts.
Should I get travel insurance?
Our team wholeheartedly recommends every person get travel insurance. There is always a risk, however small, that something might not go as expected, from a flight delay or lost luggage to injury. Ask about the free travel insurance offered by Latin America For Less.