Stretching along the Vilcanota River, also called Urubamba, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks capped with snow all year long. The river’s name comes from Aymara word Willkanuta, which means ´House of the Sun;´ in Quechua it is called Willkamayu meaning the Sacred River – both original Andean Languages. The Sacred Valley once was an important agricultural, spiritual, and political center for the Inca Empire. Today, due to its lower altitude and warmer climate compared to Cusco, it’s a much sought after destination to relax and acclimatize. The landscape is especially beautiful at its greenest during or after the rainy season.
Culture and History
You can see the main spots in the Sacred Valley easily in one day leaving Cusco after 8:00am, and returning after 6:00pm. Or, take your time and follow your two-day 70-soles Boleto Turístico*, which is a multi-entrance ticket to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Chinchero. Maras Salt mines have a separate entrance fee of 10 soles.
In Pisac take a taxi up to the archeological site to see the biggest Inca cemetery on the continent. From there walk down following a piece of the Inca Trail to the Main Plaza and the famous market place where beautifully executed Andean crafts are sold. On Sundays local people come to trade their goods. They engage in the Inca custom of trueque – an exchange of different items mainly agricultural products without using money. Have a lunch in Mullu restaurant right on the main square.
Or continue following the Vilcanota River to Urubamba instead and have a buffet lunch in Muña Restaurant. From Urubamba’s Plazade Armas you can appreciate the sounding landscape with mountains like the snow-capped Sawasiray and Chicon. If you find the right angle on the Main Square you will manage to take a photo with both the palm trees and the snowy peaks.
The next stop is the unmissable Ollantaytambo. Despite the wifis and espresso machines it will feel like a visit to 16th century, as the streets, houses, and the archeological site – a military fortress strategically placed between two mountains, temples, and baths – remain very much the same since then. It is a small colorful Quechua-speaking town, where ancestral customs are still alive. A 7-minute walk from the Main Square there is the train station from whish trains for Aguas Calientes or as it becomes more and more known as Machu Picchu Pueblo leave. Aguas Calientes is situated right below the Machu Picchu UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend a night in Tunupa Lodge (3 mins from the train station on Avenida Ferrocaril). They have a pleasant garden to rest after your trip, a restaurant, and a pair of tourist buy apo prednisone friendly alpacas expecting a baby.
From Ollantaytambo you can easily take a taxi to visit Moray and Maras. Moray is the ancient open-air laboratory – the extensive circular terraces, where the Incas experimented with different types of soils and altitudes, in order to see in which environment a given plant would prosper and produce the most to ensure abundant crops for their Empire. Maras if world-famous for its salt mines that have been harvested for hundreds of years.
If your plan is to return back to Cusco from Ollantaytambo instead of going directly to Machu Picchu, make a short stop in Chinchero. It is a lovely pueblo full of history and also a great place to learn about Andean weaving techniques from dying and spinning to the patterns. The typical dress worn by the local women – white shirts embroidered with blue plant ornaments, red jackets, black skirts, and uniquely shaped hats belong among the most beautiful in the region. Here you can buy your woven souvenir directly from the producer and even know their name. Try: ¿Iman sutiyki? [ee·mahn soo·tee·kee?] to aks.
Located on Km 22 of the road from Cusco to Pisac there is the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary. It is a center that rescues indigenous animals from illegal traders and mistreating owners. You can see pumas and other Andean cats, llamas, alpacas and vicuñas, parrots, and more. Special attention is dedicated to condors endangered by extinction due to illegal hunting. Condor feathers are often sold as souvenirs. The Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary also helps breed condors in captivity, to release them into the wild.
Adventure in the Sacred Valley
Via Ferrata & Zipline – Via Ferrata is a combination of iron ladder like steps built into a rock, a hanging bridge and a rappel. Zipline, a system of inclined suspended cables, promises a flying-like journey over the Valley. These adventure activities do not require previous experience.
If you are looking for a greater adrenalin boost spend a night in one of the craziest hotels in the world – the Sky Lodge. Passing Urumaba there are three transparent capsule-like rooms fixed to the rock about 300 meters above the road. This extraordinary, yet comfortable accomodation will bring you closer to the dazzling stars of the southern sky.
Arkana Festival – an unexpected live open-air eclectic music event in the Sacred Valley located only two kilometers away from Ollantaytambo. DJs from different countries play a variety of psychedelic and electronic genres.
* There is also the 10-day Boleto Turístico for 130 soles that covers 16 entrances to sites and museums in Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Tell us your experience in the Sacred Valley.