THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS

by MorganeChrlr
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TOP THINGS TO DO IN THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS

When you’re in Cusco, you won’t be able to miss all the agencies that sell tours to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. You’ll tell me ok, but what exactly is it? In Spanish Valle Sagrado de los Incas, it was a very important place for their religion, agriculture and administrative during the Inca Empire. This valley’s now composed of various impressive archaeological sites. As the sites aren’t next to each other, there are different ways to visit them. You can choose to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas with or without an agency, in one or two days. Personally, I visited the Sacred Valley of the Incas in one day, in collaboration with Peru Adventure Trek. Stay with me, a discount is waiting for you at the end of this article. 

WHAT TO VISIT IN THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS?

Before telling you about the excursion of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, there’s a logistical point that you must do the day before. Apart from paying for the excursion at the agency, you must go to the tourist information center to get the tourist ticket, in Spanish boleto turístico. This gives you access to different tourist sites. Without it, some places might not authorized you to enter. There’s a full or partial ticket, it’s up to you depending on the visits you plan to do the next few days.

As I told you, there are different possibilities to visit the sacred valley of the Incas. Personally, I chose to do it in one day, because I had only a couple of free days in Cusco between my different excursions, including the Ausangate and Salkantay treks.

The meeting point is at the Plaza Mayor de Cusco at 7 a.m. It’s the meeting point for many agencies. A person with the Peru Adventure Trek logo comes to see me directly in the square. There are different meeting points depending on people’s accommodation, so we pick up the group from different places in the city before leaving for the first visiting point, Chinchero.

CHINCHERO

After a good 45 minutes by car, we arrive at the Comunidad de Mujeres Andinas, the community of Andean women. Located in the center of Chinchero, at approximately 3,760 m above sea level, we enter the community to discover the exploitation of alpaca wool and the whole process around it. In the community, there are a few alpacas that we can approach. Then, divided into different groups according to the agencies, a woman explains us how wool is made from the animal until the final product. She also shows us how they dye with natural resources. The explanations were in English and Spanish. I found it very interesting to discover how they do it, even if I already had other explanations in Arequipa. Then the guide gives us time to buy some stuff in the community store. You only leave when your group of fifteen people has finished shopping.

We return to the minivan to go to our first archaeological site in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Centro Arqueológico de Chinchero. If you haven’t purchased your tourist ticket, you can do it at this entrance. But I advise you to buy it beforehand so you and your group can save time. We enter the archaeological site. It was previously an ancient Inca site important agriculturally, administratively and religiously. At the archaeological site we can see a colonial church built on an ancient Inca temple. There are also beautiful stepped terraces that we can admire, as well as a path dating back to the Incas. The archaeological site’s very beautiful! Although there are a lot of sellers, which, for me, takes away some of the charm of the place.

MORAY

After 35 minutes by car, we stop at the famous archaeological site of Moray. I must admit that I was looking forward to seeing these terraces built in a perfect circle. Moreover, the word Moray comes from Quechua which means circle. Make sense, right? Based at 3,500 meters above sea level, these terraces were mainly used for agriculture in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Historians and archaeologists believe that these terraces were experimental. What impressed me was the difference in temperature between the upper terraces and the lower ones. 15 degrees! It’s extraordinary to see these perfect circles on several floors! We only stay 40 minutes before leaving. If you take two days of excursion, it’s possible to stay longer at the archaeological site and have more explanations.

MARAS

Before arriving at the main point of interest of Maras, we stop at a small shop so they can explain us how they produce salt from the salt mines of Maras, but also their benefits. We taste 3 different types of salt. It’s super good and with an incredible quality! It’s possible to purchase different products in this store. This is also where the guide asks us for 10 PEN* to pay for the entrance to the salt flats of Maras, which isn’t included. We get back in the mini-van to go to the salt flats of Maras, Salinas de Maras. A little advice, sit on the right side of the car. The road comes from above, and at one point you’ll have a completely clear view of all the salt flats, in different shades of brown. A “wow” came out of my mouth when I saw it! That’s wonderful! I really didn’t expect how big the place was! We arrive at the entrance to the site where the guide also gives us explanations such as why there are salt flats in this place, right in the middle of the country and not next to the sea, how the community works to collect salt and sell it afterwards. I was really impressed by the beauty of this place! And they keep building it. You’ll see some people working there. We stay there for a good forty minutes. This is my favorite place of the morning tour! We go back to the car for around thirty minutes to have lunch. The group is divided in 2. I guess it depends on the price you got with your agency. The buffet I had was very good and very complete. There was even a little musical entertainment. Only drinks weren’t included. The place’s very big, and I could see that there were groups from different agencies. Fortunately in June there weren’t too many tourists yet. After a 50-minute lunch break, we hit the road again for our next destination in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

OLLANTAYTAMBO

After 25 minutes of driving, we arrive at the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, Parque Arqueológico Ollantaytambo. We drive through the city center which is super cute! I somewhat regretted not having had the opportunity to stay there, because I think it’s a village worth discovering! Guides say it’s truly an open-air museum. We visit the archaeological site where we climb several steps to stand on the high terraces. Here, the guide explains to us that they think it was the perfect place to stop halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The guide also shows us the different hypotheses that have been made to explain how the Inca sites were built. It’s certain that we ask ourselves the question how did they do it when we have in front of us immense blocks of stones that are as height as us. We go up to the temple of the sun to see the different foundations of the Inca ruins and the construction styles. We can also see another archaeological site on the opposite valley. We visited it for 1 hour and we didn’t see everything, it’s super big! And yet, the place wasn’t even finished because of the arrival of the Spanish. It’s amazing to see how much the Incas built in a short time. We get back in our mini-van to arrive at our last destination after an hour and a half by car.

PISAC

We arrive at the archaeological site of Pisac, Parque Arqueológico Pisac, a huge site! We can see stepped terraces everywhere around us, it’s incredible! It’s one of the most important sites in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The ruins on the hills are quite well preserved and we can walk around. But I see something I am not used to, the countless holes in the cliffs. The guide explains to us that it’s actually an old cemetery which has been looted. It’s one of the largest Inca cemeteries in the area. Arriving at the end of the day, there was almost no one at the archaeological site, a real pleasure because on all the other sites we visited, there were a lot of people. We were able to take full advantage of it and take a grand tour of this immense archaeological site. The beauty and immensity of this place are extraordinary! This is my favorite archaeological site of the day. We were able to stay there for 45 minutes before going to downtown Písac where he took us to a jewelry store. The owners explain to us the particularity of the stones of the region and how they make jewelry. It’s of course possible to make some purchases on site. Once the group has finished their tour, we return to downtown Cusco around 6:30 – 7 p.m.

CONCLUSION TO VISIT THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS WITH AN AGENCY

Firstly, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is unmissable for me. Each archaeological site is truly different, and each has its own story. Secondly, I really advise doing it with a guide. There are few explanations on site, and without a guide, it’s difficult to understand the importance of each place. And don’t hesitate to ask questions, sometimes the guide goes to the essentials because of the time available, but he knows the valley very well. The guide spoke Spanish and English well and gave us quite a few good explanations about each site we visited. In addition, the agency communicates well with its clients.

The negative point about the day trip is that it’s really quick… After thinking about it, I should have taken 2 days with the agency to be able to take my time on each archaeological site and have more detailed explanations. I had the impression of being rushed by time, and even if we ended up staying more than 30 minutes on the sites, it passed very quickly! But there you go, if you don’t have time, this allows you to see the important sites of the sacred valley of the Incas.

As you’ll have understood, I recommend visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas in 2 days if you have the time and the budget. It’s possible to do it independently, but keep in mind that there are very few explanations on site. So without guides, you won’t learn much if you don’t do research first. And not all sites are necessarily easily accessible. I had calculated value for money and in the end, it was still better to go with an agency to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Tourist ticket price: PEN 130*
Entrance fee to Salinas de Maras: PEN 10*
Price of the Sacred Valley of the Incas day trip with Peru Adventure Trek: US$ 65*. But I got you a special discount. Contact me on Instagram to have this tour at US$ 55.

WHERE TO SLEEP IN CUSCO?

PIRWA BACKPACKERS COLONIAL
Plaza San Francisco, 360, Cusco City Center,
Cusc 01 Cusco, Peru
Price: PEN  50* / night / person in a mixed dormitory with around ten beds.
Click here to book a night.  

A good hostel in the city center. A very good value for money. A quiet hostel, perfect if you want to spend some time alone. The kitchen is small, but there are restaurants and a market not far away.

THE PRACTICAL MAP OF THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS

HOW MANY DAYS TO VISIT THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS?

As I mentioned above, it’s possible to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas in different ways. I did it in one day, but found it too quick, I would recommend doing it in 2 days to have time to visit each archaeological site.

If you have just arrived in Cusco, allow 2 to 3 days of acclimatization. Indeed, Cusco being located at around 3,400 m above sea level, if you aren’t used to it, it’s always good to take your time in the first few days to see how your body reacts, and adapt accordingly. This will also allow you to quietly organize the various excursions you want to do on site.

WHAT ARE THE BEST MONTHS TO VISIT THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS?

The best months to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas is between April and October. Daytime temperatures are pleasant and there are few rainy days. Since the archaeological sites are all outdoors, I think you might want to avoid visiting them completely soaked. Also, if you can, try to avoid July and August. Because even if the weather conditions are very good, there are a lot of tourists.

Table Example
JANUARY There may be rainy days half the time. Temperatures are cool, but during the day it can rise a few degrees.
FEBRUARY The weather is similar to January. On the other hand, it’s a month when there are few tourists at the archaeological sites.
MARCH Still a few days of rain, but it’s decreasing. The temperatures are a little more pleasant.
APRIL It’s the end of the rainy season. Good conditions for visiting the sacred valley of the Incas.
MAY The ideal month, because there are few tourists and the days are sunny with pleasant temperatures.
JUNE It’s the start of the dry season with many sunny days.
JULY A popular month for tourism. Lots of sunny days and pleasant temperatures for visiting, although the evenings and the mornings remain fresh.
AUGUST Weather conditions are similar to July. A month when there can also be a lot of people.
SEPTEMBER Still during the dry season, there are much fewer tourists.
OCTOBER The dry season ends with a few more rainy days. But the temperatures still remain pleasant.
NOVEMBER The rainy season arrives with slightly cooler temperatures.
DECEMBER The sites are little frequented by tourists, but you might have several days of rain because it’s the start of the rainy season.

WHAT’S THE BUDGET TO VISIT THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS?

The budget mentioned below is a backpackers budget with some money spent on excursions. Here’s an example of the budget to plan for visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas:

  • Accommodation: plan one night before and one night after the excursion in a hostel. On average plan around PEN 50* per night.
  • Food: lunch is included, you just have to plan for the morning and evening. It all depends on what you do. If you eat in a local cheap restaurant, budget around 10 PEN* otherwise it can go up to PEN 60*.
  • Transport: if you sleep at the hostel that I recommended, there’s no need to plan transport, the meeting point is in the city center.
  • Activities: you’ll need to allow US$ 65* for the one-day excursion with the Peru Adventure Trek agency, and PEN 10* for the Maras salt flats. If you contact me on Instagram, you will have a discount of US$ 10. Don’t forget to buy the tourist ticket at the tourist information center for PEN 130*.
  • Others: always plan a little extra if you want to buy souvenirs or other things on site. Around 50 PEN*.

To visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas, not counting the acclimatization days in Cusco, plan a budget of around 450 PEN*.

MY TIPS TO VISIT THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS

  • Take an agency or a private tour to make traveling easier and have explanations about each archaeological site.
  • If you can, do the Sacred Valley in 2 days so you can fully enjoy each place.
  • Plan to take the tourist ticket in the center of Cusco to save time during the tour.

*Prices updated in July 2023.

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