The Sacred Valley is the place to visit apart from Machu Picchu when you’re in Cusco. It was an important region during the Inca empire with respect to politics as well as agriculture.
There are many day trips from Cusco to the valley with the most popular options doing all the below-mentioned sites in one day or visiting Chinchero, Ollantaytambo and Pisac and then Moray and Maras another day.
My friend Janine and I decided to do all in one day as we only had this one day together in Cusco and wanted to see Ollantaytambo as well as the salt flats in Maras.
After giving you some information about the different sites and sharing my photos with you, I’ll tell you how the day trip went and what I’d recommend you to do when you want to visit the valley.
The first place we visited after getting out of Cusco was Chinchero. A village with cobble-stoned streets, small alleyways a square and a church – a typical village. There is a crafts and weavings market later during the day, we didn’t get to see because we came so early.
This village didn’t get much of my attention, it was nice, in the mountains, but a place I forgot again very quickly. Our tour then stopped in a shop nearby where they showed us how local people produce wool in different colors with the help of natural products.
The drive from one place to the other was always spectacular. You’re in the middle of nowhere with snowy mountains around you and scenic views. So, don’t nap during the drives, you’ll miss out!
After visiting the village we got to see something which can be described as an amphitheater created into a hill. Or (that was my first thought after seeing the Nasca Lines earlier in my trip) something that looks like a mysterious symbol in the ground created by aliens.
But it is none of these things. Moray is a circle terracing system used for agriculture. Here, the Incas were experimenting with different crops as each terrace or each ring provided a different climate.
Due to its location in the middle of the mountains, the Sacred Valley has been an important region for agriculture until today. So, these rings are more than just a cool photo subject. If you want to learn more about agricultural terraces in the Sacred Valley and Peru, read this short article on Rediscovermachupicchu.com: The Ancient Inca Agricultural Terraces Still Function Today.
After seeing some photos of Maras, I was 100% sure that I was going to visit it while being in Cusco. We were driving through a landscape of fields and mountains around us when we suddenly turned around the corner and saw the bright salt mines below us at the base of the mountains.
These salt mines were used since the Inca times with a very simple technique. They trap water in small squared until it dries out. As soon as there is no or almost no water left, they get the salt crystals out by hand.
This technique and the salt mines itself are still used today but not to the same extent as in earlier times.
The most famous site of the Sacred Valley is probably Ollantaytambo which we visited after lunch. Ollantaytambo consists of various fortresses built into a hill and huge terraces. It was the administrative center of the Incas.
When you climb the terraces, you can see small houses built into the mountain in front of you. Those are storehouses which were built to make the movement of the crops easier.
Another important place within this site is the Temple of the Sun which should serve as a calendar for the Incas with the help of the sun’s position. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, this temple has never been completed.
Ollantaytambo is also a stop during the train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the city at the base of Machu Picchu). So if you are going to visit the sites independently, you could connect Ollantaytambo with your visit to Machu Picchu.
Our last stop of the day was Pisac. Another site of Incan ruins, fortresses and agricultural terracing. The best thing about this site in my opinion was the panoramic view of the valley below you. To get the best view, head up to the citadel.
Pisac is a large site, so if you want to see it properly and not just rush through it, you should give yourself at least two days for all of these sites and go on your own terms.
If you go independently, don’t miss to visit the town of Pisac which hosts the largest market in the valley.
Sacred Valley as a day tour?
Honestly, if I could choose again, I would not have taken this tour. I made a bad experience, not because of the tour company or the places we visited but due to the number of visited places.
I didn’t realize beforehand that it’s a pure rush through all these places. Our guide was constantly running around telling us that we have to be quick and our bus will leave in five minutes. If we’re not back in time, we will have five minutes less in the next place.
I don’t blame her, it’s her job and she has to bring us to all these places in one day and Pisac closes early. But honestly, if it’s just rushing around without any time to really look at a place, don’t offer such a tour. Everyone was just stressed out and didn’t want to hurry anymore.
That is why my recommendation is to not take the tour during which you visit the whole valley in one day. It’s just too much.
If you are on your own and don’t want to rent a car and don’t have much time, at least do it in two days. There is a tour for Chinchero, Ollantaytambo and Pisac and one for Moray and Maras. I cannot speak out of experience but I just assume that you will have more time during these tours. (If you’ve done it, please share your experience in the comment section below.)
How I’d visit the Sacred Valley next time
But the absolute best way to do it and what I’d do if I get the chance to be in Cusco in the future, I would rent a car, visit Moray and Maras in one day, maybe go to Chinchero to check out the market in the afternoon, then sleep in Ollantaytambo or Urubamba (which is nearby). I would visit Ollantaytambo first thing in the morning on the next day and then visit the fortress in Pisac and the market in town before heading back to Cusco.
This way, you can decide how much time you want to wander around the ruins and have some time in the villages itself as well. If you want to learn more about the sites, you can still hire a guide at the entrances.
Have you visited the Sacred Valley? Did you go independently or by tour? Please share your experience!
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