“Pachamama” – Mother Earth is worshipped by Peruvians. 5 minutes in the Sacred Valley, and you can see why...
The Sacred Valley is the stretch of the Andes that lies between Cusco and Machu Picchu – a stretch of villages and ruins, and picture perfect panoramas as you drive through mountains, quinoa, potato, and corn fields, agricultural terraces and beautiful Inca ruins. During our recent trip to Peru, we spent a day exploring this gorgeous valley, and highly recommend you spend some time there.
How to get there
We planned to spend a day in the Sacred Valley while we were spending a few days in Cusco acclimatizing for our Machu Picchu hike. There are plenty of tour buses that do day tours of the Valley, but we opted for a private taxi instead so we would have the flexibility of choosing where we wanted to go, time spent, and not just rushing from one place to another. The taxi for 3 of us was in fact about the same price as the bus tour would have cost. Additionally, there are plenty of multi-day tours offered, which would be a great option too.
Where we went:
1. Inca Pisac - We started with the Pisac archaeological site – the Inca ruins lie at the top of the hill, with Pisac town at the base. The agricultural terraces constructed by the Incas are still in use today!
2. Pisac market – The colorful market, although a bit touristy is definitely worth a visit. You can find colorful Peruvian fabrics, jewelry, knick knacks, and souvenirs. The vendors at the market are really friendly too – and I found that they were not pushy at all!
3. Maras salt ponds – There are over 3000 salt ponds in Maras, and the Pre-Incan ponds are still used to produce salt. This was one of my favorite stops – the salt ponds are stunning in white! Definitely a must-stop for a walk through the different sections, each of which belong to a local family.
4. Moray – This is one of the most visually stunning ruins. The agricultural terraces of Moray are shaped like a womb, and bring together the key Incan beliefs of nature, science, and spirituality. What adds to the mystery is that no one knows for sure why this site was constructed with the unusual concentric circular pattern. Another must-stop.
5. Chinchero– This high mountain village is famous for its weaving and dying techniques. Be warned though, this is at an even higher altitude than Cusco, and there is a bit of a steep climb to reach the top! As you climb though, there are lots of quaint back streets and textile shops, with the market, a beautiful church, and the vast ruins at the top. Don’t think twice about the climb – the views up there are beyond spectacular.
Although it sounds like a long day, the magnificent views all around are a true reward, and the people you meet all around are so friendly and happy. We had planned only a day to experience the Sacred Valley, but I highly recommend a couple of days at least, to really take it all in. (The traditional bus tours go to all the above places plus a few more - not sure how they do it all!)
My Top Tips for the Sacred Valley:
1. Don’t try to rush and fit it all in a day. You are better off picking only a couple of places and relish the surroundings.
2. I highly recommend getting a private tour if possible so you can take things at your own pace.
3. Cost: Most sites are covered with “Boleto Turistico” (tourist ticket) which you can buy at the first stop. There are various options with this ticket if you are only doing a subset of sites (like us), so depending on what you are interested in covering, you can get the appropriate “partial boleto”.
4. Carry a day pack for stuff you buy, and also water.
5. Make sure to have money and change for tips (if you wish), souvenirs, and water.
6. Hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are absolutely necessary – the sun is HARSH at those high altitudes.
7. Dress in layers and carry and rain jacket/poncho– the region can experience all seasons in one day, so it’s best to be prepared.
8. Sample the variety of Peruvian fruits and fruit juices – granadilla (passion fruit), mango, cherimoya (custard apple), lucuma (eggfruit) were some favorites. Fruits here are so tasty and luscious!
9. Most importantly, DO NOT FORGET YOUR CAMERA. Trust me.
It’s safe to say that NO trip to Peru is complete without experiencing the Sacred Valley.