The Sacred Valley of the Incas stands as a bridge between the renowned destinations of Cusco and Machu Picchu, offering a serene respite for travelers seeking a blend of nature and culture. Nestled amidst majestic peaks, this valley emanates a palpable aura of ancient history. Picture Incan processions tracing the path along the Urubamba River, and you’re transported to a world where the past intertwines with the present.
Weather: Seasons in the Valley
The climate in the Sacred Valley maintains a consistent demeanor throughout the year. High mountain peaks like Salkantay are shrouded in snow year-round, providing a striking contrast to the temperate climate of towns like Pisac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo on the valley floor.
Dry Season (April to October) During these months, expect regular sunshine and minimal chances of rainfall. Nighttime temperatures drop considerably, offering cool, crisp air for a tranquil slumber.
- Daytime Average: 68-72°F (20-22°C)
- Nighttime Average: 35-40°F (1.7-4.4°C)
Rainy Season (November to March) Mornings often greet you with cloudy skies and light showers, while afternoons and evenings might bring heavier rains. January and February tend to receive the most rainfall. Interestingly, nighttime temperatures are milder during this season.
- Daytime Average: 68-70°F (20-22°C)
- Nighttime Average: About 45°F (7.2°C)
Read: Best time to visit Cusco.
Best time to visit
The pinnacle of travel in the Sacred Valley converges with the dry season, particularly in June, July, and August. Not only does this period promise sunny weather, but it also aligns seamlessly with the summer months for visitors from the northern hemisphere. To secure specific dates and avoid any hiccups in Machu Picchu train and entrance ticket availability, early trip planning is paramount.
On the flip side, the low season embraces the region’s rainy season, spanning from December through March. While rain and storms may introduce an element of unpredictability, they gift you with uncrowded sites and a landscape adorned in vibrant shades of green.
Navigating the Terrain
Stretching between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley traces the course of the Urubamba River. Fertile soils and abundant water sources grace this region, nurturing a diverse array of life. Elevations oscillate between 9,000 ft (2,790 m) on the valley floor to 16,000 ft (5,000 m) and beyond at the loftiest summits. The slightly lower altitude compared to Cusco makes it an ideal locale for acclimatization.
A Glimpse into History
The annals of the Sacred Valley intertwine intricately with the saga of the Incan capital, Cusco. Rising to prominence in the 14th century, the Inca Empire spread its dominion across ancient Peru and beyond. The valley’s fecund fields served as the lifeblood of this civilization, yielding an abundant harvest of grains, fruits, and vegetables. Inca craftsmen also left their mark, erecting temples and outposts that now stand as archaeological marvels in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.
Before the Inca, the Wari Culture held sway over the valley from approximately 500 to 1100 AD. The Inca arrived in the 12th century, with Manco Capac reigning as the inaugural Inca king. The Spanish Conquest unfurled its tale in 1531, as Francisco Pizarro descended upon the valley with 168 soldiers. In 1535, Manco Inca led a resolute rebel force, culminating in the Incas’ crowning military triumph in Ollantaytambo.
Yet, victory remained elusive, and in 1572, the final Inca king, Tupac Amaru I, met his end in Vilcabamba, ushering in an era of Spanish dominance. Cusco evolved into a pivotal economic hub, propelling the religious conversion and cultural assimilation of indigenous communities. This period bore witness to the construction of many churches in the Sacred Valley.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham’s expedition unearthed the hidden gem of Machu Picchu, casting a global spotlight on this remote Andean realm. Fast forward to 1999, and PeruRail extended its services, facilitating access to Machu Picchu. In 2004, Potato Park emerged as a sanctuary for native potato species, a testament to the region’s rich biodiversity. Today, tourism thrives in the Sacred Valley, fueled by local initiatives to safeguard ancient Quechua traditions.
Things to do in Sacred Valley
Visit an Archaeological Site
The Sacred Valley unveils a trove of archaeological wonders and natural marvels. A quintessential tour beckons, guiding you to the most awe-inspiring ruins in the vicinity. The Pisac Archaeological Park enchants with ceremonial baths, residential quarters, and the sprawling Inca cemetery. Perched atop a mountain, it offers a panoramic view of the village and its terraced fields, where the Inca cultivated their crops. Ollantaytambo Fortress, a testament to Inca ingenuity, stands as one of the finest examples of Inca architecture and urban planning. It also holds the poignant legacy of the Incas’ valiant stand against the Spanish invaders.
To delve deeper into the history and majesty of Ollantaytambo and Pisac, continue reading below.
Maras & Moray Tour
Maras Salt Pans and the concentric terraces of Moray are hidden gems of Incan innovation within the Sacred Valley. Though distinct in purpose, they share proximity in this remote region. These sites are often bundled together in Sacred Valley tours, and scholars posit that Moray’s terraces once functioned as a sophisticated agricultural laboratory for the Inca, each terrace creating a unique microclimate. Maras boasts mountainside salt pans, a testament to ancient ingenuity, now operated by local residents. Whether by car, foot, bike, or horseback, you can reach this site and immerse yourself in its fascinating history.
White Water Rafting Tours
For those craving an adrenaline rush, white water rafting in the Sacred Valley offers an exhilarating adventure. Embark on a day-long journey, beginning with a hotel pickup and a drive to the river’s starting point. The river’s character evolves, transitioning from gentle stretches to thrilling rapids. After roughly two hours on the water, relish a well-deserved lunch before being chauffeured back to your accommodation. Various upper and lower sections of the Urubamba River offer rafting experiences, ranging from introductory to class II and III plus rapids.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand up paddle boarding presents a delightful blend of recreation and exercise on the water. Enjoy a half-day tour to the serene Lake Piuray near the town of Chinchero, a mere hour’s drive from Cusco. Suitable for all ages and fitness levels, this water sport invites you to explore the lake’s shores, surrounded by the breathtaking natural panorama. Your guide will provide expert instruction and equip you with the necessary gear, ensuring a memorable experience. This tour includes the capture of photos and video memories to cherish.
Zip Lining and Mountain Climbing
Nestled midway between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, a series of professionally operated zip lines promise an adrenaline-fueled adventure. Ascend the steep rock face through the Via Ferrata, a series of steel ladders and cables, to reach the summit. Here, you’ll find an array of zip lines varying in length from 300 to 1500 ft (100 to 500 m). The Via Ferrata necessitates physical prowess, making it ideal for those in good condition who have acclimatized to the altitude.
For the avid thrill-seeker, a full-day ATV/Quad or motorcycle tour awaits. Journey off-road in the Sacred Valley, pausing to explore key landmarks along the way. Don’t forget essentials like sunglasses, sunblock, and a jacket for the ride! Contact our travel experts for personalized recommendations on the ideal motor tour for you and your fellow adventurers.
Independent and Guided Hiking
The Sacred Valley is a playground for mountain enthusiasts, offering an array of world-class hiking trails. The iconic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu stands as the pinnacle of treks in Peru. Yet, for those with limited time, day hikes offer captivating alternatives. Traverse trails leading to Pisac ruins, Ollantaytambo ruins, or Huchuy Qosqo ruins. Alternatively, explore natural wonders like Lake Humantay and Rainbow Mountain.
Embracing Andean Artisans
Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of the Sacred Valley through a cultural workshop led by local artisans. Discover the intricate crafts of wood carving, basket weaving, or pottery, gaining insight into the traditions that define this region. Organizations like Awamaki collaborate with local communities, creating a positive impact through their workshops. Engage in these experiences to connect with the community’s efforts to empower and uplift the local populace.
Adorable Trek with Llamas
Embark on a 3-4 hour hike that not only treats you to breathtaking scenery but also unveils the vital role llamas play in daily life in the Andes. The Llama Pack Project, nestled just 15 minutes from the picturesque town of Urubamba, offers a unique opportunity to witness these charming creatures in action. As you ascend to find the perfect spot for the llamas to graze, relish a picnic against the backdrop of awe-inspiring mountain vistas. This leisurely 1-mile walking tour is an ideal option for families seeking both beauty and charm in their exploration.
In the Quechua tongue, “Pachamanca” translates to “earth cooking pot,” and it epitomizes traditional Andean cuisine. This culinary tour grants you a front-row seat to the meticulous preparation of this special dish, featuring an array of vegetables, meats, and potatoes lovingly wrapped in banana leaves. The crowning touch? The ingredients are nestled underground, cooked to perfection over hot stones. Following this fascinating process, savor your Pachamanca feast, a culinary experience that stands as a testament to the region’s rich heritage.
Among the Andean people, the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, reigns as one of the most revered deities. In a Pachamama Ceremony, a shaman from a local village assembles a “despacho” cloth, an intricate offering to the earth goddess. Chief among the offerings are the sacred coca leaves, tendered with reverence. Participants encircle the altar, expressing gratitude and making their own offerings for the year’s bounty. This ceremony embodies the traditional Andean concept of “ayni,” a reciprocal relationship with Mother Earth to restore harmony and balance.
Enchanting Sacred Valley Villages
1. Pisac: Market Day Marvels
Pisac, renowned for its ruins and vibrant market, beckons with a road that winds through a mountain pass, revealing the captivating panorama of the Sacred Valley. Sundays and Thursdays mark market days, transforming the town into a bustling hub of activity. Local residents from highland communities converge in the main plaza, offering a cornucopia of Andean crafts and freshly harvested produce.
2. Ollantaytambo: Living History Preserved
Ollantaytambo, though modest in size, resonates with an enduring legacy. Shortly after noon, the town awakens to the arrival of the first travelers. The cobbled streets and colonial facades evoke a sense of stepping back in time. At every corner, echoes of the past linger, harmoniously blending with the vibrant pulse of the present.
3. Chinchero: Textile Traditions
Nestled amidst the Andean highlands, Chinchero is a living testament to traditional Andean textile craftsmanship. The town’s main square comes alive with locals engaged in intricate weaving techniques. Vibrant fabrics, dyed with natural pigments, adorn the market stalls. A visit to Chinchero offers a glimpse into the ancient art of textile production and a chance to acquire unique, handmade creations.
4. Maras: Salt Pans and Timeless Traditions
Maras, a quaint town perched on a high plateau, is synonymous with its remarkable salt pans. This intricate system of terraced pools, meticulously harvested by local residents, has been a part of Maras’s legacy for generations. A visit to Maras allows you to witness this age-old tradition and explore the town’s rich cultural heritage.
5. Urubamba: The Heart of the Valley
As the central hub of the Sacred Valley, Urubamba offers a blend of natural beauty and modern conveniences. Nestled alongside the winding Urubamba River, this town serves as a gateway to the valley’s diverse attractions. Quaint eateries, artisan shops, and stunning views of the surrounding mountains make Urubamba a charming destination in its own right.
6. Yucay: Tranquility in Nature’s Embrace
Yucay, a serene village in the Sacred Valley, offers a tranquil escape amidst picturesque landscapes. Surrounded by lush greenery and the soothing sound of flowing water, Yucay invites visitors to unwind and connect with nature. This idyllic retreat is an ideal base for exploring nearby attractions while immersing oneself in the valley’s peaceful ambiance.
7. Calca: Gateway to Mountain Adventures
Calca, nestled at the foothills of the Andes, provides a gateway to high-altitude adventures. This charming village offers access to scenic hiking trails, ancient ruins, and vibrant markets. Calca’s welcoming atmosphere and proximity to natural wonders make it a preferred destination for outdoor enthusiasts and culture seekers alike.
8. Huayllabamba: Gateway to the Inca Trail
Situated at the start of the renowned Inca Trail, Huayllabamba is a small village brimming with historical significance. Travelers embarking on the iconic trek to Machu Picchu often begin their journey here. The village exudes a sense of anticipation and camaraderie among fellow trekkers, creating a unique atmosphere of adventure.
9. Huarocondo: Rural Charms and Agricultural Heritage
Huarocondo, a hidden gem in the Sacred Valley, offers a glimpse into traditional Andean agriculture. The village is known for its fertile fields and the cultivation of indigenous crops. Visitors have the opportunity to witness local farming practices and gain insight into the vital role agriculture plays in the region’s heritage.
10. Yucay: Orchards and Scenic Beauty
Yucay, nestled amidst orchards and surrounded by the majestic Andes, is a haven of natural beauty. The village is renowned for its lush gardens, where fruit trees flourish in abundance. Strolling through Yucay’s orchards offers a sensory experience, with the fragrance of blossoms and the sight of vibrant produce against the backdrop of towering peaks.
1. Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa
- Nestled in the verdant hills of Urubamba, this luxurious lodge combines rustic charm with modern comforts. With stunning gardens, a renowned spa, and impeccable service, Sol y Luna offers a tranquil escape in the heart of the Sacred Valley.
2. Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
- Set amidst sprawling farmland and picturesque landscapes, Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba exudes a sense of understated luxury. With spacious villas, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a commitment to sustainable practices, it offers an immersive experience in Andean culture and nature.
3. Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa
- This lavish resort in Urubamba seamlessly blends contemporary elegance with indigenous influences. Boasting an exquisite spa, gourmet dining, and direct access to the Urubamba River, Tambo del Inka offers a refined retreat for discerning travelers.
4. Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel & Villas
- Located in the heart of the Sacred Valley, this charming hotel combines modern amenities with a warm, Andean-inspired ambiance. Surrounded by lush gardens and offering breathtaking views, Casa Andina provides a comfortable and inviting stay.
5. Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado
- Perched along the banks of the Urubamba River, this enchanting hotel offers a blend of luxury and tranquility. With elegantly appointed rooms, a riverside spa, and gourmet dining, Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado provides an idyllic retreat in the Sacred Valley.
6. Explora Valle Sagrado
- Embracing the spirit of adventure, Explora Valle Sagrado offers a unique approach to exploring the Sacred Valley. With a focus on guided explorations and immersive experiences, this lodge invites guests to discover the rich culture and natural wonders of the region.
7. Hotel Pakaritampu
- Situated in the charming town of Ollantaytambo, Hotel Pakaritampu provides a cozy and convenient base for exploring the Sacred Valley. The hotel’s welcoming atmosphere, comfortable rooms, and proximity to historical sites make it an excellent choice for travelers.
8. Tierra Viva Valle Sagrado Urubamba
- This boutique hotel in Urubamba offers a perfect blend of comfort and authenticity. With well-appointed rooms, a serene garden, and a focus on local experiences, Tierra Viva provides a genuine Andean hospitality experience.
9. El Albergue Ollantaytambo
- Combining rustic charm with modern amenities, El Albergue in Ollantaytambo offers a unique lodging experience. Set against a backdrop of lush gardens and overlooking the railway to Machu Picchu, this hotel provides a picturesque retreat.
10. Casa Andina Standard Sacred Valley
- Located in the heart of the Sacred Valley, Casa Andina Standard offers comfortable accommodation in a tranquil setting. With well-appointed rooms and a serene garden, it provides a peaceful retreat after a day of exploration.
Want to stay in Sacred Valley?
Best Restaurants in Sacred Valley
1. El Huacatay
- Located in Urubamba, El Huacatay offers a delectable blend of traditional Peruvian flavors with a modern twist. With an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, this restaurant provides a culinary journey through the Andean palate.
- In the heart of Cusco, Cicciolina is a culinary gem known for its innovative dishes and inviting ambiance. The menu showcases a fusion of international and Peruvian cuisine, creating a delightful culinary experience.
3. Qunuq Restaurant at Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
- Qunuq, nestled within Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba, offers a farm-to-table dining experience. With an emphasis on organic, locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant provides a taste of the Sacred Valley’s rich culinary heritage.
- Situated in the heart of the Sacred Valley, Wayra at Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa offers a unique dining experience amidst breathtaking gardens. The menu features a fusion of Andean and international cuisine, accompanied by live music and traditional dance performances.
5. Tunupa Restaurante
- Located in Pisac, Tunupa Restaurante showcases the vibrant flavors of Peruvian cuisine. With a focus on using fresh, local ingredients, the restaurant offers a diverse menu in a charming setting.
6. Alma Restaurant at Tambo del Inka
- Alma Restaurant, part of Tambo del Inka, presents a culinary journey that celebrates the diverse flavors of Peru. With a menu inspired by traditional Andean ingredients, diners can savor an array of delectable dishes in a refined setting.
7. Café Mayu
- Nestled in Ollantaytambo, Café Mayu offers a cozy atmosphere and a menu filled with locally sourced, organic ingredients. From hearty breakfasts to flavorful dinners, this restaurant provides a taste of the Sacred Valley’s culinary treasures.
- Located in Cusco’s San Blas neighborhood, Pachapapa offers a cozy and inviting ambiance. The menu features a range of Andean dishes prepared with care, providing a taste of traditional Peruvian flavors.
9. Cicciolina Valles Sagrado
- Bringing the culinary excellence of Cusco to the Sacred Valley, Cicciolina Valles Sagrado offers a diverse menu in a charming setting. With a focus on using local ingredients, this restaurant delivers a memorable dining experience.
10. Green’s Organic
- Situated in Urubamba, Green’s Organic is a haven for health-conscious diners. The menu features a selection of organic, plant-based dishes crafted with care, providing a nourishing and flavorful dining experience.
1. Classic Inca Trail Expedition
- Embark on the iconic 4-day Inca Trail trek, tracing the footsteps of ancient civilizations to the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu. This package includes expert guides, comfortable accommodations, and a profound journey through history and nature.
2. Sacred Valley Explorer
- Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of the Sacred Valley with this comprehensive tour. Explore archaeological sites, vibrant markets, and charming villages while enjoying comfortable accommodations and expert guidance.
3. Andean Adventure: Hiking and Cultural Immersion
- This adventure combines exhilarating hikes with cultural experiences in the heart of the Andes. Explore ancient ruins, partake in traditional workshops, and trek through breathtaking landscapes. Expert guides and comfortable lodgings enhance the journey.
4. Culinary Expedition: Flavors of the Andes
- Delight in a gastronomic journey through the Sacred Valley, sampling the diverse flavors of Peruvian cuisine. This package includes visits to local markets, hands-on cooking classes, and indulgent dining experiences.
5. Llama Trek and Rural Homestay
- Experience the charm of the Sacred Valley up close with a llama trek and immersive homestay. Witness the daily life of local communities, participate in agricultural activities, and forge a deeper connection with the Andean way of life.
6. Artisanal Workshops and Textile Traditions
- Dive into the world of Andean craftsmanship with this hands-on experience. Participate in cultural workshops led by local artisans, creating your own unique souvenirs while gaining insight into ancient traditions.
7. High-Altitude Adventures: Mountain Climbing and Zip Lining
- For adrenaline enthusiasts, this package offers thrilling mountain climbing and zip lining experiences. Conquer towering peaks and soar above breathtaking landscapes, all while enjoying comfortable accommodations and expert guidance.
8. Spiritual Retreat and Pachamama Ceremony
- Embark on a spiritual journey in the Sacred Valley, participating in a Pachamama Ceremony to honor Mother Earth. This package includes guided meditations, ceremonies led by local shamans, and serene accommodations.
9. Andean Wellness and Spa Retreat
- Rejuvenate your body and soul with a wellness retreat in the heart of the Andes. Indulge in spa treatments, practice yoga amidst stunning landscapes, and experience holistic well-being in tranquil surroundings.
10. Family Adventure: Kid-Friendly Explorations
- Create lasting memories with a family-friendly adventure in the Sacred Valley. This package offers a blend of age-appropriate activities, cultural experiences, and comfortable accommodations designed to captivate young explorers.
Essential Travel Tips for Exploring the Sacred Valley
1. Altitude Acclimatization
- Given the high altitude of the Sacred Valley, it’s crucial to acclimate gradually. Spend a day or two in Cusco before venturing into the valley to allow your body to adjust.
2. Weather Preparedness
- The climate can be unpredictable. Pack layers for varying temperatures, and include rain gear, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season.
3. Hydration and Sun Protection
- Stay hydrated, especially at higher altitudes. Additionally, pack sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to protect against the strong Andean sun.
4. Cultural Respect
- Respect local customs and traditions. Ask for permission before taking photos of people, and be mindful of sacred sites and artifacts.
5. Currency and Payment
- Have a mix of local currency (Peruvian Sol) and small denominations for purchases in markets and smaller establishments. Credit cards are widely accepted in larger towns.
6. Travel Insurance
- Consider comprehensive travel insurance to cover any unexpected situations, such as flight delays, medical emergencies, or trip cancellations.
7. Local Cuisine
- Don’t miss the opportunity to savor authentic Peruvian dishes. Sample local specialties like ceviche, alpaca, and quinoa-based dishes for a true culinary experience.
8. Guided Tours
- Engage with knowledgeable local guides for a deeper understanding of the region’s history, culture, and natural wonders. Their insights enhance the overall experience.
9. Appropriate Attire
- Dress in layers and wear comfortable, sturdy shoes for exploration. Additionally, consider packing clothing suitable for a range of activities, from hiking to dining out.
10. Travel Flexibility
- While it’s beneficial to have a planned itinerary, be open to unexpected discoveries and opportunities for spontaneous exploration. Some of the most memorable experiences come from unexpected moments.
In the heart of the Andes, the Sacred Valley unfolds, offering a tapestry of history, nature, and culture. From ancient ruins to vibrant markets, this enchanting region beckons explorers to uncover its secrets and embrace its beauty.