Sacred Valley Secrets
Updated: Aug 10
Valle Sagrade – or the Sacred Valley - lies about 15 km north of Cusco – the number one visited city in Peru. Thousands of tourist come to Cusco every day, attracted by the famous world wonder Machu Picchu and many decides to spend few days by exploring all the other Incas sites, Sacred valley has to offer.
Guest Blogger: Tereza Letalova, Czick on the Road
The pink granite temple in Pisac
A multitude of agencies offer fast exploring tours to Sacred Valley, trying to jam as much as possible into one day and rushing you through each place towards the another one. If you don’t have much time to spare, go for it, it is a great way how to see the most important sights in one day. However, if time is not an issue for you, follow our advices and rather go exploring the Sacred Valley on your own, absorbing the atmosphere and enjoying the wonderful nature of local people.
How to get to the Sacred Valley
Colectivos, the small minibuses offering public transport, run to the cities of Sacred Valley several times a day. You will find most of them in the street and it takes approximately one hour to get there. Simply come to this street and you will from far distance here people screaming destination where they are going.
Your Sacred Valley Travel Itinerary
My advice would be to start in a picturesque town Pisac, spend one afternoon by exploring the city and its market full of handcrafted items, then enjoy a nice dinner in one of the splendid local restaurants. Pisac also offers myriads of nice hotels and B&Bs to spend night at.
Next day buy the two day ticket for Sacred Valley ruins and first visit the ancient Inkas city in Pisac, then head towards Ollantaytambo in the afternoon to see the huge fortress there (Note, its only opened till 5 p.m.). The next day, ask about morning collectivos to Urubamba and from Urubamba take taxi to Moray, the visit there shouldn’t take more than one hour, then continue to Chinchero, where you can easily spend the whole day. From Chinchero, you have two options – catch a colectivo back to Cusco or return to Ollantaytambo to explore more Inkas ruins which are free of admission.
#1 Pisac ruins with a pink Sun temple
Pisac is a place of all the spiritually enlightened expats and also a huge Inca’s ruins. The city has really a lot to offer and the ruins are just a cherry on the top. Though it is stated that 2h are more than enough to walk from top to the bottom of the site, we needed more than 3 hours and still haven’t seen it all.
The upper part with urban area and Inca’s cemetery burst with tourists, which usually, and luckily, don’t make it further then to the first view point. But after this viewpoint the real treasure is hiding – after another hill and a narrow tunnel is a sun temple made of pink granite, a spectacular architecture jewel we could enjoy almost only for ourselves.
Further on the way from the temple to the city of Pisac are another few ruins and views worth the trouble and steep descent. We got more historical information about Pisac from this article! Admission: 130 sole for a 10-days ticket, including 9 other sites and 4 museums in Cusco or 70 sole for 2-days ticket including 3 more archaeological sites in Sacred Valley.
The fortress in Ollantaytabo
#2 Ollantaytambo, the place of the great battle
Ollantaytambo is a small village located on the way to Machu Picchu – which kind of makes it mostly a transfer station. Here is also one of the train stations to Machu Picchu, so this city is very touristic. The ruins in Ollantaytambo are quite popular, consisting of a temple and a fortress. One remarkable thing in this place are 4 huge stones, each of 50t weight, which are making a wall of the temple.
Ollantaytambo is a place of a great battle between the last Inca Manco and the Spanish invadors, one of the few, which Inca’s won. Though not for long, Spaniards returned with greater army and Manco Inca was forced to escape to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba.
That is why the temple was left unfinished and the reason why there are so many rocks on the way to the quarry – they call them piedras cansadas - tired stones. We have followed this article for more info about Ollantaytambo ruins! Admission: 130 sole for a 10-days ticket, including 9 other sites and 4 museums in Cusco or 70 sole for 2-days ticket including 3 more archaeological sites in Sacred Valley.
The agriculture terraces in Moray
#3 Moray, the Inca’s agriculture laboratory
What to Europeans looks like amphitheatre is actually a laboratory for plants. Moray is quite fascinating place with circular terraces, which are now believed to be Inca’s laboratory, though the real meaning cannot be certain.
Each step of the terrace has a different temperature, from top to bottom it’s up to 15°C difference and scientist suppose, that Inca’s were testing here the best temperature for growing various plants. Though on pictures this place looks big, it’s not worth to spend more than 1,5h here. We have followed this article to get more info about Moray. Admission: 130 sole for a 10-days ticket, including 9 other sites and 4 museums in Cusco or 70 sole for 2-days ticket including 3 more archaeological sites in Sacred Valley.
The colonial church in Chinchero
#4 Chinchero, the place of pink rainbow rocks
For me Chinchero is one of the most beautiful places in Sacred Valley. Beside the fact, that it’s not that touristic, it also combines colonial architecture, with Inca’s ruins and natural wonders.
The Colonial church at the Plaza was built on an Inca palace, which is believed to be the birth place of Inca Tupac Tupanquai and it was a fresh change after visiting so many Inca’s ruins. For more historical information about Chinchero, we followed this article! But for me, the real treat were the natural wonders at the right side and bottom end of the archaeological site. Wonderful pink rocks with mysterious carved steps and other shapes makes you wonder, what was their original meaning. At the very bottom is also a beginning of short Inca trail which leads to a wonderful waterfall. Admission: 130 sole for a 10-days ticket, including 9 other sites and 4 museums in Cusco or 70 sole for 2-days ticket including 3 more archaeological sites in Sacred Valley.
The peculiar pink rocks with geometrical carvings at Chinchero
#5 Cachicata, the Incas Quarry near Ollantaytambo
If you can spare few more days, return to Ollantaytambo and reserve your train ticket to Machu Picchu from here, taking few more days to explore the area.
One of the place you can visit is Cachicata or Inca Quarry, a site close to the city at 3500 m. It is believed to be a place where Inca’s where mining stones for the great temple in the city. And also during the hike up, you can see many nicely carved huge pieces of stone, which never made it on their place – probably due to the attack of the Spanish army. To get to Cachicata we needed roughly 2 hours. The place is not marked, but we knew right away we were there – a huge amount of stones, small and big, were lying everywhere. Some were piled in nice rows, some were just scattered around, which made us wonder if this is how the Inka’s left it, or some modern human was playing with the composition.
Close to the quarry are also some house ruins – my theory is that those were serving as an accommodation for workers in the quarry. Admission: Free
Inka’s stone work at the quarry
#6 Inti Punku, the breathtaking Sun Gate
Continuing further from Cachicata, we came to Inti Punku – a Sun gate. It takes another 1,5 h to get there and due to the higher altitude (3900 m) this hike is quite difficult.
We came here later in the afternoon, hoping for the clouds to tear apart and show us the majestic Salkantay and Veronica snow peaks behind the gate. Though the weather was much better, we didn’t get lucky enough and saw only clouds, but even the cloudy view was very spectacular. From Inti Punku you can see nicely all 3 sides of the Valley. There is also a road continuing towards a peak above the gate, which was most of the day hidden in a fog and could be quite interesting to explore – next time we will start sooner and go to check that misty peak.
Up at the Sun gate is quite windy, so even if it’s sunny, don’t forget to take a wind stopper, hat and gloves. Read more about our hike to Cachicata and Inti Punku here! Admission: Free
View at Inti Punku, remains of the sun temple
#7 Saywa, the sun-pillars of Incas
If hiking is what you came here for and still have one more day to spare, I highly recommend visiting the amandoned ruins of Saywa. It is an archaeological site on one of the hills above Urubamba. It is not very well know and we have discovered it by accident during one evening walk near our Airbnb place.
If you like abandoned places with character like we do, then Saywa is a must see place for you. To get on the top of this 3800m high mountain, we needed 2,5 hours.
On the top were waiting for us 2 stone pillars, used by Incas for astronomical purposes, and beautiful view on sunset. Read more about how to get to Saywa and its meaning here! Admission: Free
No more time after seeing Machu Picchu? Choose wisely your one day visit
If you are in time pressure and cannot afford more than 1-day visit in Sacred Valley, I highly recommend to visit Pisac and Chinchero. Rather than with tourist buses, try it on your own. You can take morning bus from Cusco to Pisac and then on the way back in the afternoon stop in Chinchero. You won’t regret it, because these places are definitely worth longer visit than 1 hour – and that’s what you would get with the tour agencies. What do you think, are you ready to explore these fascinating places?
Guest Blogger Tereza Letalova from Czechia travel and blog together with her friend Primož on Czick on the Road. Tereza is a World traveler and adventurer, a mounain girl, curios about vegan diet and keen on getting new tattoos she's also a port and fitness enthusiast. Follow her on Czick on the Road and on Instagram.