The Sacred Valley of the Incas is nestled deep in the Andes of Peru and 1 hour from Cusco. This famous valley is a range of valleys, mountains, towns and rivers.
Situated between the ancient Inca capital of Cusco and Machu Picchu, a magnificently scenic valley range named the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Formed by the Urubamba River, dotted with attractive colonial towns and ancient Inca ruins, and only 35km from Cusco, the spectacular Sacred Valley was originally the heart of the vast Inca Empire during the 15th and 16th centuries.
For this reason, it was an important region for the Incas and served as an agricultural, spiritual and political center for them.
Although the Inca Empire has long fallen, the Sacred Valley still preserves much of its past; like the religious ceremonies, traditional dresses, veneration to Mother Earth and of course, the llamas and alpacas are everywhere.
Most people visit the Inca’s Sacred Valley as part of numerous organized full-day tours. The city of Cusco is clearly the biggest tourist destination in Peru where you’ll find many tour agencies offering the Sacred Valley tours. And every tour company seems to sell the same tour itinerary, however, others offer private tours with more stops and longer visits.
You should take note that the cheaper tour agencies usually put their customers together in the same bus. The bus tour is usually a mixture of different nationalities, so you expect to receive the explanation in English and Spanish. Again if you want to have the best sacred valley experience, you’ve better sign up with the right local tour company!
You can do this tour on your own but you won’t save much. The shared Sacred Valley service costs about (USD10.00) but the private sacred valley tours might cost over (USD70.00). With the classic sacred valley tour, you will have a bilingual tour guide and transport.
This is the traditional Sacred Valley excursion with stunning landscapes on the way to each attraction. Before getting the first destination, you stop at a viewpoint called Taray, which offers the best view of the impressive sacred valley.
The green bushes dot the brown mountains, whose sloping shape contrast to the blue sky. Small adobe houses laid in perfect shaped grids; as do agricultural fields of different colored crops. White clouds remain just above the mountains and provides a magical feeling.
Before going to this spot, there is also a chance to stop at a small town of Corao. You have few minutes at this place to visit the textile market with lots of colorful souvenir stalls. The principal attraction of this market is also the llamas and alpacas ready to pose for photos.
The colonial town of Pisac is known for its traditional market which has all types of hand-made alpaca textiles. This market is also considered the cheapest place to buy such souvenirs in the whole region of Cusco.
Local ladies in colorful dress walk around with llamas or alpacas, asking travelers for tips in exchange for a picture. This will be a good chance to capture the best typical image of Peru.
It’s clear that Peru’s main industry is mining, therefore, this town has many jewelry stores that seems to be a big modern city. However, this is a small town populated by local vendors and travelers.
For those looking to know about the Incas and their constructions Pisac market isn’t the place but the amazing archaeological site. The agricultural terraces and hilltop Inca buildings are just above the colonial town.
The Incas built a total of 276 level of agricultural terraces connected by an irrigation system and floating stone steps, all divided into different sectors: the higher levels were for the colder crops while the lower ones were for the warmer crops.
More attractive than the agriculture terraces was the residential group, now partially destroyed. Sit atop of a hill and demands a little hike to summit, it was constructed for the upper class society and provided vantage views of the surrounding valley and mountains. Today you can climb up the old stairways, it feels like going to heaven with views that are out of this planet.
The archaeological site of Pisac includes ceremonial temples, stone water aqueducts and also cemeteries with tombs built into the cliffs. The Incas were buried with their belongings, and when the Spaniards came, they looted the tombs, leaving behind these visible 1000 holes in the cliffs.
Your bus stops at Urubamba for a buffet lunch. And only lunch.
If yours it is not included in the tour, no problem, you can also order your meal at the same restaurant, but is more expensive. When you book your sacred valley tour you also need to add another (USD10) for your lunch in Urubamba unless you want to grab just snacks.
Urubamba and Calca are the largest towns in the Sacred Valley, situated along the road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, beside the Urubamba River.
Urubamba is one province of Cusco with a traditional farmer’s market that attracts hundreds of vendors and Andean villagers from rural communities every Wednesday. This city doesn’t offer any tourist attraction, however, you can find nice hotels and a mild weather.
Perhaps the most touristic village you will find. The town’s small square is full of colorful words on blackboards displaying a variety of menus of the day. Most scholars consider the place as the last living Inca village and offers a good environment to walk on the cobblestoned streets. This is where most travelers catch the train to Aguas Calientes for Machu Picchu.
Ollantaytambo also offers a specific group of ancient constructions that can be visited along with your guide. The total extent of which is a huge stone ornamental terrace that wrapped the impossibly steep hillsides. This stone platform provided flat ground to beautify the upper temples and prevent landslides during heavy rainfalls.
It’s time to climb up the steep stairway under the hot afternoon sun and stop whenever is possible to catch your breaths. At the top of a series of terraces, you will find the imposing unfinished Temple of the Sun, now in six giant pieces of rocks.
Ollantaytambo was built as a royal estate during the kingdom of Inca Pachacuti, where it flourished as an agricultural center. Later, this village served as a refuge for Manco Inca, who led the Inca resistance.
Based on historical accounts it was here that the Incas defeated the Spanish army and got some time to escape to Vilcabamba region. Since then this place has been continuously inhabited by Andean people.
The irrigation system was an example of the hydro-engineering genius of the Incas, bringing clean and fresh drinking water from the rivers to the farmlands and people.
From the top, you can see the ancient Inca quarry far across the valley over the Urubamba River. Today you can still see the Inca trail that was used to transport the stones used for the buildings in Ollantaytambo. It’s so incredible and imagine that thousands of workers could’ve achieved such work.
Nowadays there are still remaining questions and mysteries about the tools and techniques they used to cut the granite stones when there was nothing hard enough at that time.
Rocky Mountains with ancient granaries built into them surrounds the old Inca village. The large buildings are scattered on the hillsides which served to preserve the food, clothes, and weapons.
But that’s not all, the fascinating part comes when you see an image of the mountain opposite of the ruins, a face carved in the mountain which the Incas believed to be the mythical messenger of God Wiracocha.