Where to Go in the Sacred Valley of Peru
If you’re going to Peru to see Machu Picchu and are looking for other things to do while you’re there, you definitely don’t want to miss the Sacred Valley. Here are the 4 best places to visit in the Sacred Valley. You can do this itinerary in 2 days as day trips from Cusco, or you can stay in the Sacred Valley itself.
Day 1 — Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Pisac was one of the most important cities in the Incan empire. It’s known today for the ancient ruins that sit high on a hilltop above steep terraces. Among the ruins are a citadel, temples, and stone structure thought to have been a sundial. The panoramic views of the valley below are breathtaking. In the modern city of Pisac there’s a vibrant handcrafts market in the main square.
Pisac is a short drive from Cusco, about 1 hour. You can do Pisac & Ollantaytambo as a day trip from Cusco, but I highly recommend staying in Ollantaytambo for 2 nights to visit the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is a super charming village surrounded by mountains and ancient Inca ruins.
Keep reading below for where to stay in Ollantaytambo. This was honestly one of my favorite places we stayed in Peru!
From Cusco, you can hire a taxi for the day to take you to visit Pisac and drop you off in Ollantaytambo for around 200 soles ($60 USD). You’ll need to negotiate for that price.
You’ll need a ticket to enter all 4 sites mentioned in this post. When you get to Pisac, you can buy a 2-day combo ticket for 3 of the 4 sites for 70 sols. For the 4th site you’ll need to buy a separate ticket when you get there.
For the best views, have your taxi drop you off at the ruins in Pisac. You’ll spend about 1 hour exploring the ruins, then you can hike down to the modern city and the market.
Just before you go up to the ruins, you’ll see a small wooden sign that says “To Pisac”. The trail goes to the left of the ruins.
Bring snacks, sunscreen, and water!!! I had a big breakfast that morning in Cusco, but by the time we started the hike it’d been over 3 hours since breakfast and I was STARVING. I almost skipped the hike, because I was so hungry and just wanted to get to the town and EAT. I’m SO glad I didn’t skip the hike, but I would’ve been so much happier if I’d had a little snack before starting!
It will take about 1 hour to hike down. The beginning is a bit steep, but don’t let that deter you — it evens out and gets much easier very quickly. It’s an easy hike, downhill the entire way. The views are absolutely incredible, totally worth the hike!! You’ll see ruins that most others don’t, and you’ll have them all to yourself.
The trail ends right at the market. The market is huge and actually very nice. Plan to spend some time wandering through the market. We saw markets everywhere we went in Bolivia and Peru and they all have the exact same things: sweaters, blankets, hats, scarves, and other handmand items made out of baby alpaca wool. They even all have the exact same designs. But the quality of the items here were the best we’d seen. At first I thought, “Yawn, just another market” but I was actually super impressed! Wait to buy your souvenirs here.
As you know, by this time I was starving, but we were running behind schedule and I just wanted to grab something quickly we could eat in the car on the way to Ollantaytambo.
Right at the end of the market there’s a cafe called the Blue Llama. I got a chicken teriyaki sandwich and a mango smoothie with ice cream (basically a mango milkshake with fresh mango). SO GOOD! After a big hike that mango milkshake was amazing. I am still dreaming about it! The prices were a bit expensive for Peru, but it was super good, and exactly what I was looking for. We took the sandwich to go and ate it on the way to Ollantaytambo. It’s about 1.5 hours from Pisac to Ollantaytambo.
We had our taxi driver drop us off at our hotel here. We dropped off our luggage and walked to the ruins, the Ollantaytambo Sanctuary. If you’re doing this as a day trip, just have you driver take you straight to the ruins and wait for you there. It will take about 1 hour to visit the ruins.
You can enter with the combo ticket you purchased at Pisac. Be sure to hang on to this ticket! You’ll need it for one more site the next day.
At all the archeological sites you’ll visit, when you first enter, you’ll be greeted by someone offering to be your guide. This is optional, so don’t be afraid to say “no thank you” and keep walking, but it might be a good idea if you want to know more about the history of the places you’re visiting. Totally up to you!
Ollantaytambo was an ancient Incan city with a fortress, royal estate, steep terraces, sun temple, water temple, and ceremonial grounds.
We chose to stay in Ollantaytambo because we were going to Machu Picchu next, and the trains to Machu Picchu depart from Ollantaytambo.
It’s also the most common starting point for the famous 4-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu.
If you have time in Ollantaytambo, definitely also do the Pinkuylluna hike. We didn’t have time to do it the first day, but you can do it the next morning. The lighting will be better in the morning anyway. If you are visiting Ollantaytambo as a day trip, you might not have time for this hike, unless you ask your driver to take you to Ollantaytambo first.
That actually might not be such a bad idea if you’re visiting as a day trip — everyone goes to Pisac and then Ollantaytambo, so Pisac is more crowded in the morning and Ollantaytambo is more crowded in the afternoon. If you went in reverse order, Ollantaytambo and then Pisac, you could miss some of the crowds.
Pinkuylluna is a short hike, although steep. You can be to the main ruins pictured above in 20-30 minutes. You can keep going up for about 10-15 more minutes to some smaller ruins if you want.
The views of Ollantaytambo on the hike are amazing!
Day 2 — Maras and Moray
Salineras de Maras
For our second day in the Sacred Valley, we arranged a taxi from our hotel in Ollantaytambo. The price was 200 soles ($60 USD) for around 6 hours. We started at the Salineras de Maras. You’ll need a separate ticket to visit this site. These ancient salt terraces of the Incas are still in use by the local community today. Each family owns and maintains their own individual pond.
TIP: The Cusqueño brand Maras salted chocolate you can buy in the gift shop is SO SO good! Don’t leave Maras without buying one!
Next we visited the archeological site of Moray. This is the final site where you will use your 2-day combo ticket.
Moray is known for its very unusual circular Inca ruins.
These circular terraces were an agricultural experiment for the Incas. They grew corn, potatoes, and medicinal plants here.
The depth, design, and orientation of the terraces with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 60 degrees F between the top and the bottom. The largest terrace is 98 feet deep.
Where to Stay
Ollantaytambo is a super charming town along the Urubamba river in the Peruvian countryside, with mountains and ancient ruins all around. There’s even a covered bridge over the river.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, I highly recommend staying 2 nights in Ollantaytambo to explore the Sacred Valley. You can definitely visit all the sites mentioned as day trips from Cusco, but obviously you’ll be much closer in Ollantaytambo.
And if you’re going to Machu Picchu, the train departs from Ollantaytambo. You can walk to the train station from your hotel. You can also store your luggage at the hotel — you can only bring a backpack with you on the train to Machu Picchu.
We stayed at the Apu Lodge in Ollantaytambo. I LOVED our hotel! Look at this gorgeous room!!
The bed and pillows are super comfy and the water pressure in the shower is AMAZING. The staff is super friendly and helpful. They had great advice for where to go, what to do, and what to see!
The Apu Lodge is on a quiet, narrow, cobblestone, pedestrian street. As soon as you step into the beautiful courtyard you’re greeted by sweet, fresh summery flowers.
You’re literally right at the base of the ruins! We had such a wonderful stay at the Apu Lodge in Ollantaytambo. It was so nice to get out of the city for a few days and fall asleep to the sounds of the river at night.
After our second day in the Sacred Valley, we left first thing the next morning for Machu Picchu.
The Sacred Valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and honestly pictures just can’t do it justice. I made this video to show you the breathtaking, sweeping views everywhere you look. Watch the video above to see just how incredible the Sacred Valley really is.