Anyone who has researched a trip to Peru or even heard of Peru will have come across the Sacred Valley, located 20km from the Incan capital of Cusco, this valley in the Andes is home to an array of archaeological and fascinating sites. There is a lot to see and do in this fairly small area and when researching for my trip I was finding it difficult to choose where to visit, how to get there and how long to spend there as I only had two weeks to explore the entirety of this amazing country, but knew I wanted to check out parts of the Sacred Valley before heading to Machu Picchu.
We finally decided on two days exploring the Sacred Valley, visiting four places along our way. I don’t think there is any right or wrong amount of time or route plan when it comes to the Sacred Valley, if I had the luxury of time and money I would have made sure I had seen every last bit of it.
So this is just my personal guide of one way you could spend 2 days in the Sacred Valley.
Day 1 – Chinchero, Moray and Salineras de Maras
Our base for exploring the Sacred Valley on the first day was of course Cusco, from here there are a number of ways for you to get into the Sacred Valley, buses, taxis, trains and tours. On our first day we decided to opt for a day tour with Get Your Guide. As we were stretched on time we thought fitting in as many places into one day would be our best option. There are loads of different tour options out there visiting a variety of sites, some of which you can continue your journey or be brought back to Cusco.
Our tour was to include transport with an English speaking guide that picked up within Cusco and visited Chinchero, Moray and Maras before returning to Cusco later that day. Depending on the time of year and the tour options they cost between £20 to £30 per person and do not include entry to the archaeological sites. For this you will need to purchase a Boleto Turistico which you may have already purchased whilst in Cusco. If you are planning on visiting a lot of sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley then it is definitely worth purchasing the full ticket which costs 130 Soles – the full list of places you can visit with this ticket can be found here. We did not visit any of the sites in Cusco so opted for the 2 day partial Boleto Turistico which would allow entry to Ollantaytambo, Pisaq, Chinchero and Moray for just 70 Soles. You will notice that Maras is not part of this ticket, entry to the Salineras de Maras costs 10 Soles.
We were picked up from the centre of Cusco at around 8am. I recommend picking up lunch and drinks to take with you from Cusco as they will be a lot cheaper than what you come across at the archaeological sites. Our tour was quite small, only around 12 people which is quite normal as most tour companies use the smaller mini buses so they can navigate the roads of Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
It was a short drive (less than an hour) to Chinchero which was our first stop of the day. Here we visited a local community to learn all about their ancient weaving techniques including how they collected and dyed the wool. We were given a brilliant demonstration by the local women who were also able to speak a bit of English. After the demonstration there was an opportunity to purchase some of the items they had made, jumpers, blankets, hats and plenty of other items were on offer. Everything looked amazing and if this is your first opportunity to buy some souvenirs then its a great place to do so.
We continued on our way to Moray and after another hour of driving arrived to what is quite a busy site, which is to be expected. We queued up to purchase our Boleto Turistico and then our guide gave us information about this amazing site. These circular terraces were purposefully dug into the landscape and are thought to have been used for farming as each terrace level has a different temperature suitable to growing a specific crop. This level of knowledge and construction just blew my mind, the Incan people some how discovered a way to grow a multitude of crops in one area. We were given some time to explore the site by ourselves and decided to take the walk around this amazing site as well as taking in the surrounding views as we were now well and truly within the Sacred Valley, and it was beautiful.
Our next stop was the small town of Maras where we were able to stop at a local shop for supplies and a shop selling salt where we were given a bit of the history behind the mining of salt before continuing on to Salineras de Maras. Entry to the site cost 10 Soles and again our tour guide explained the history of the site to us. Naturally occurring salty water runs through the site, this water is collected in pools which eventually evaporates out leaving salt crystals which can be dried and collected before the process starts all over again. We were given the opportunity to spend some time walking among the salt pools which were a variety of colours depending on what stage in the process they were at. I have never seen anything like this before and doubt I ever will again. This was again another incredible example of knowledge of the local landscape and salt was being produced on a massive scale here, a tradition which has continued since pre Incan times.
Once we had explored the site we got back in our mini bus and continued back to Cusco. A lot of time was needed to get to these three places and actually by doing a tour I think we made the most of our time, getting to see three sites without worrying about transport and timings. It is very easy to see Moray and Maras together although be aware that Salineras de Maras is located some distance from the town which is why I personally think a tour is the best way to see these two places.
Day 2 – Ollantaytambo
We knew that on our second day of exploring the Sacred Valley we were going to head to Ollantaytambo, not only because it was one of the bigger towns in the Sacred Valley but because we had our train to catch from Ollantaytambo Station to Aguas Calientes that evening. We did however leave it until the last minute to work out how we were going to get there, the original plan was to be adventurous and get one of the local buses from Cusco to Urubamba and then switch to a bus to Ollantaytambo. However, my friend who I was travelling with felt ill the night before and we decided to talk to the owner of the B&B we were staying at who helpfully organised a private taxi for us. Obviously this is not a very budget friendly way of travelling around the Sacred Valley, however it offered us safety, flexibility and the opportunity to stop if my friend got too sick. Our driver picked us up from where we were staying and was very friendly, the only down side being he couldn’t speak English. But not to worry, thanks to modern technology we were able to both use our phones to help translate into each others languages.
Our B&B owner had already told the driver where we wanted to go and had also been nice enough to ask him to stop a couple of times along the way to show us some amazing views where we could take some photos. Stops that you would not be able to make if using public transport. One of our stops was overlooking the town of Urubamba which looked like a great place to stop if you had chance.
We soon arrived in Ollantaytambo and was dropped off in the main square. This place was busier than Cusco, which is no surprise really as its not only home to a fantastic archaeological site but like us, many people use it as their last stop before heading to Machu Picchu. We took the short walk through the crowds to the entrance of the archaeological site where we were able to use our Boleto Turistico which we had bought on Day 1. We had no tour guide and walked around at our own leisure, which I often prefer when visiting sites like this. During the Incan period, Ollantaytambo was the Royal Estate of Emperor Pachacuti and extensive terracing and structures can still be seen today. It really is a remarkable site and we spent a good hour walking around and exploring. The view from the top terrace looking across modern day Ollantaytambo is also not to be missed!
After finishing at the site we headed back towards the main square, stopping at a series of market stalls just outside of the site where you could buy more souvenirs and then exploring the streets of Ollantaytambo. The town felt very similar to Cusco in terms of the narrow cobbled streets but had more of a rustic and authentic feel to it. We decided to stop and get ourselves a drink at Chunco, located on the corner of the main square this place was very different from the others in Ollantaytambo and is definitely worth a visit. We managed to get ourselves a seat on the balcony overlooking the square whilst enjoying a fresh juice and a tea. We should have stayed here for dinner but we thought we would take a look at what else was on offer and instead headed to the other side of the square to Pizzeria Quinua where we enjoyed an OK pizza. Most of the places in Ollantaytambo are overly touristy and all pretty much offer the same thing and we were happy to just grab a quick pizza before getting our train.
I really do wish we had had more time to explore the Sacred Valley, I would have liked to have visited the archaeological sites at Pisac and Chincheros and the markets in Pisac are meant to be incredible. We tried to do a good mix that didnt involve too much walking and climbing at altitude knowing that we were soon heading to Machu Picchu and did not want to be tired for that. Have you been to the Sacred Valley? Where did you stop off? Did you get to see everything you wanted to?