The Sacred Valley of the Incas sits high in Peru’s Andean highlands, right between the city of Cusco and the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. Previously at the heart of the Inca Empire, this stretch of rich farmland, lush foothills, and significant Inca ruins deserves a spot on the itinerary of every traveler to Peru.
With unique destinations such as the salt mines of Maras to the hillside village on Chinchero to the bustling market of Pisac, the Sacred Valley remains the cultural gem of the country with countless things to do. If you plan to make a visit (and you should!), read on for the best things to do in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Wondering what to do in the Sacred Valley? Considered the best surviving example of an Inca city, a visit to the impressive ruins of Ollantaytambo is a great starting point for exploring the region. Here you’ll find two giant sets of Inca ruins, as well as original construction within the town itself. Take a walk through the Old Town where you’ll see original homes and a working water system constructed by the Incas – all dating back over 500 years. Included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket, Ollantaytambo is conveniently located along the route of several jungle treks to Machu Picchu, as well as being home to one of the stations with the train directly to Machu Picchu.
Offering enough to do to be a day trip in itself, Pisac (also known as Pisaq) hosts vast ruins and one of the most popular things to do in all of Cusco: visiting (and haggling at) the Pisac Artisan Market. Now occurring every day of the week, the Pisac market is the best place to buy all of your Cusco souvenirs from the artisans who craft the items themselves. Don’t miss the hilltop Inca citadel in Pisac – those who want to train for a Machu Picchu trek will love the half-day hike up to it! Those wanting a more relaxing experience can easily arrange a car to visit them.
Two of the most photogenic sites in Cusco, a visit to the ruins of Moray and Maras is something everyone should do in the Sacred Valley. Moray is an incredible archaeological site, easily recognizable for its concentric farming terraces that get progressively smaller as they go deeper into the earth. Its original purpose is uncertain, but many believe it was used in Inca agricultural experiments. Despite only being several feet apart, each level exists at drastically different temperatures (perfect for simulating various climates).
The nearby town of Maras is home to ancient salt mines that have been in use since pre-Inca times. The Salinas de Maras are an impressive site, their stark white squares contrasting the earthy dirt of the Sacred Valley. Here you can learn about the process of producing salt, as well as witness the local families who continue to live off this land.
For those wanting to really stray from the well-worn tourist path, a visit to Chinchero will do the trick. One of the lesser-known things to see in the Sacred Valley, this tiny Andean village sits high up on the windswept plains with striking views of the Cordillera Vilcabamaba and snowy Salkantay peak. This is a great place to try your hand at weaving under the expert guidance of the local women who have honed their craft for centuries.
The main plaza also hosts important Inca ruins that remain in use to this day, flanked by traditional adobe homes lining the streets. Locals here continue to live and dress traditionally, and hold a beautiful Sunday mass in the exquisite colonial-style church. A short 30-minute walk from the city center will take you to the serene Lake Piuri – a beautiful sight and main water source in the region.
Even further off the beaten path, you’ll find the Andean village of Paucartambo. It doesn’t offer notable Inca ruins like many of the other villages, but it has its own draw: the infamous Virgen del Carmen Festival. Every July 16th, this shuttered-up little town erupts in festivities with five days of fireworks, dancing, and celebration throughout the tiny streets. One of the biggest street festivals in the country, the Virgen del Carmen festival is known amongst Peruvians as one of the best things to do in the Sacred Valley. Luckily, not many tourists have gotten wind of it yet! For a lively and very Peruvian experience, make sure you visit Paucartambo during this festival.
From ancient ruins to living culture in the Sacred Valley’s Andean villages, you won’t be short on spectacular things to do in the Sacred Valley. And that’s not including the many sights within the city of Cusco itself or Machu Picchu! Make sure to allow at least a couple of days to explore these spots to fully understand the history and legacy of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Contact us for more information about touring the Sacred Valley.
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