If you’ve already sifted through other blogs about day hikes and a perfect Sacred Valley tour from Cusco, you’ll know that most of them are just lists of popular tours you can take through the famous Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. At Apus Peru, we think a bit differently. Our aim is to provide genuinely useful information about the Sacred Valley for independent travelers seeking a truly different, off-the-beaten-track experience.
If you want something different in your Sacred Valley experience, then look no further. Here is your guide to a truly exceptional and unique day through one of the world’s most famous valleys!
First Things First: What is the Sacred Valley of the Incas?
Is a region that forms a direct path between the altiplano and the Amazonian region, that is to say, between the different worlds of the Andean cosmos; this is why the area has unique historical importance. It is also a circuit of villages and numerous rivers with stunning landscapes and a mystic past, but most of its history is still unknown. The Cusco region where the Incas constructed their empire is only a section of the Sacred Valley or Valle Sagrado.
The Urubamba River
The Sacred Valley extends throughout the Vilcanota-Urubamba river which is an important element to the ecosystem of the region.
Therefore, it is important to mention the Urubamba river which in its journey, connects two of the most sacred mountains, Ausangate mountain and Salkantay Peak.
It is precisely on the edge of the Salkantay where the Incas built the ceremonial citadel of Machu Picchu.
Why Was the Valley So Important for the Incas?
Since a long time ago, the Sacred Valley has been a privileged region for corn farming due to its favorable conditions. Also, it was a corridor to the cloudy jungle where also the habitants used to farm coca leaves. Actually, this is still one of the most productive activities in Machu Picchu surroundings.
Some of the ruins in the Sacred Valley, portray the skills of the Incas to combine the forms of the natural landscape with the ceremonial architecture made of stone.
Also, the Valley is important because, during Inca and pre-Inca period, most of the sites in the area served for ritual ceremonies due to the proximity and sight of the surrounded peaks.
Why are there so many fortresses in the Sacred Valley?
The Incas built fortresses along the Sacred Valley to guard the frontiers and prevent unexpected attacks by nomad tribes. Others believe that the aim of the design was to call reverential attention to neighbor ethnic groups such as the Chancas, who were the rivals of the Quechuas.
Why Should You Plan a Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco?
If you come to Cusco and look for a cultural immersion, the best way to do it is by taking a Sacred Valley tour. I will give some wonderful reasons for you to consider and dive into this mystical universe called El Valle Sagrado de los Incas.
Its majestic beauty
This Valley is a stunning landscape dotted with villages, ruins, and nature. Once your expedition to the Sacred Valley begins, you will be amazed by the impressive beauty of the locations. The colors of nature will fill your mind, the scents of the surroundings will activate your senses, and the Apus (Mountains) will talk to you not with words but through feelings.
Nowadays, six different towns are part of what we know as Valle Sagrado; These are Pisac, Chinchero, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Calca, and Yucay.
In most of these villages, the altitude is moderate. During the day, the temperature can reach 23° C ( 73.4°F) and at night can be 4° C (39.2°F). For the Incas, this kind of weather conditions made it easier to farm different agricultural products. For visitors, The Sacred Valley may be the perfect place to get used to the weather before going on a Machu Picchu tour.
Get a Glimpse of Indigenous Resistance and History
Four decades after the Spanish invasion, the history of the Sacred Valley remained attached to the resistance carried by rebel Incas. In 1536 a resistance leader, Manco Inca, set his troops to the town of Calca after an uprising against Spaniards in Cusco.
During your cultural immersion in Perú, you may hear some names such as Sayri Tupac, Titu Cusi y Tupac Amaru. These were some descendants of rebel leaders who kept the Inca resistance alive in the region. As an example, you may find it interesting that during the European invasion, the town of Ollantaytambo, was the only fortress where the Incas achieved to successfully resisted the attack by Spanish troops. According to some legends, the name of Ollantaytambo is after Ollanta, a general from the army of Pachacuti.
What Should I Look for in a Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco?
We know that it can get overwhelming going through all the tour options once you arrive in Peru. Sometimes it is hard to know which tour of the Sacred Valley is going to suit your needs best! These are some of the major factors to consider.
Variety of stops
Check how long is your tour, and how many stops does it include. If the one-day tours include many stops, you may be rushed to visit them without having enough time to enjoy and appreciate the different Sacred Valley sights.
Timing that stays away from the crowds
Timing is an important factor when avoiding crowds on the Sacred Valley day tours. And by the way, do not take it as an anti-social attitude. It’s just that there are lots of benefits to sidestepping big crowds. For instance, it can give you a more intimate and genuine travel experience. Besides, bear in mind that in all tourist areas, local authorities are promoting social distancing.
Private or group tour?
Group tours can be a great alternative for those who are on a tight budget, but it comes with limitations regarding schedule, stops, and mealtimes. By contrast, we think a Sacred Valley private tour from Cusco is the best way to travel. A private tour offers you the freedom to do as many things as you please! Also, when it comes to transportation, think about what you feel more comfortable with: Traveling on tourist buses and having the chance to know new people, or having your driver take you around at your own pace.
At Apus Peru, we pride ourselves on high-quality, customizable, and bespoke travel in Peru, which makes us experts in Sacred Valley Private tours. That means whether you are staying at a Sacred Valley hacienda, or a cosmopolitan city hotel in Cusco, we are able to tailor your Sacred Valley Private tour exactly to your needs.
By private tour, we mean that you will have a car and driver at your disposal, as well as a guide to explain what you are seeing. However, describing these roles as guide and driver don’t do them justice, we’d prefer to call them travel companion or fellow adventurers. We like to think that they are local people sharing their culture with visiting friends. So you can do a Sacred Valley tour that is as typical or custom as you like! As we say, it’s completely private, just you and your own group, in your own car.
Although the number of cases has dropped down in the country, and we are entering a new normal phase, authorities still apply strict protocols in tourist areas. So don’t be surprised if you are required to check your temperature and use sanitiser. In fact, drivers and guides must wear facemasks at all times. For tourists, it is mandatory to wear the facemask just in public areas. Read about what we’re doing to keep you safe while you tour Cusco.
Good transport – reputable drivers, good tires and regular maintenance
An important tip when using transportation services on a Sacred Valley tour is to hire a recommended driver or transport operator.
If you leave or lose your belongings (especially cameras, bags, or cellphones) in trusted transportation service, your beloved devices can be easily retrieved, but on the contrary, if you hire a random driver your items are gone forever. In addition, when you visit different tourist and archeological sites the last thing you want to do is to carry your backpacks with you, that’s why we recommend our trusted drivers who can keep safe your objects while you enjoy your tour of the Sacred Valley.
Finally, some travelers talk about the high speeds and reckless driving of the common driver of the street which is something to think about! Cheaper taxis normally drive much faster in order to get to their next fare.
Other Things to Ask Yourself When Planning Day Trips from Cusco
Are you preparing for the Inca trail?
There is no doubt that this trek may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as intense and demanding. But no worries, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to make it. Just make sure you are in good physical condition and for doing that, have an exercise plan before you leave home and acclimatise for a few days in the Sacred Valley. Alternatively consider our Pre Trek Acclimatization Tour 4D
Are you a foodie?
Here is where your taste will experience all kinds of flavors, textures, and aromas. The Sacred Valley and the whole Cusco region is famous not just for its history and tourism but also because of its many varieties of potato. Did you know that there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes that have been cultivated in Peru since Inca times? So, indulge yourself with a delightful plate of local food from Valle Sagrado.
Are you looking for a cultural immersion?
One of the best ways to be immersed in the local culture is by visiting the markets (Mercados). You will get a unique insight into a daily Inca life. Your eyes will be amazed by so many colors from exotic fruits and local vegetables which are farmed, produced and sold mostly by Mamitas or female farmers who portray the cultural traditions not just in their language but also in their typical clothes.
Are you traveling with children or older people that might tire more easily?
If so, bear in mind that not all tourist spots in Sacred Valley are suitable for small children and senior citizens. For instance, ruins in Ollantaytambo or Pisac demand a good physical condition because of the many steps you will have to ascend.
Why is the Sacred Valley a Great Place to Acclimatise?
If you are going to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, or one of the other spectacular hikes like the Salkantay trek, then you should be well acclimatized. The minimum time to acclimate is 2 days but honestly, if you can spend 3 or even 4 days the trek will be so much easier on your body! Some of the most beautiful Cusco day hikes are found in the Sacred Valley.
Just a reminder: In Cusco, the altitude is about 3,399 m (11,152 ft) above sea level. Since the Sacred Valley is located at about 2,900 m (9,514 ft), it would be a good idea to stay in a hotel in this area. This way, it will be much easier to acclimatize to the higher altitude gradually.
The Sacred Valley and its colorful markets
While you are at Sacred Valley, hit the road and go to Pisac, which is located in the Cusco region at an altitude of 2972 m.a.s.l. Once you are there, make sure you pay a visit to the local artisan market, where you can get a glimpse of local culture.
The Pisac Market is one of the most famous markets in the Cusco region. Here you can interact with local communities who come down from surrounding Andean towns to sell different wares such as blankets, textiles, handicrafts, pottery, and even food. If you want to support local communities, you can do it by buying their products at a fair price. Although there are some ATMs, would be better to have some cash with you.
The best days to visit the Pisac market are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays when a traditional fair takes place.
Rafting on the Urubamba River
If you want to acclimatize but also enjoy an adrenaline-packed adventure, rafting in the Rio Urubamba will be the best option. This river runs from the high Andean ranges (south-east) near of Puno border down through the Valle Sagrado, passing Machu Picchu and then into the Jungle of Perú. Rafting trips run in different upper and lower sections of the Urubamba River. Rapids along these sections of the river range from introductory to class II and III plus.
Kayaking on Lake Huaypo
Are you looking for more peaceful water activities? Ok, we feel you!
Why not try kayak? When you make your way to the charming Huaypo lake, you will experience not the power of nature but its true beauty. Besides, there is a big chance of doing bird watching and also observing anglers in their daily routine.
The Most Popular Sacred Valley Tours from Cusco
Our Cusco Sacred Valley tours are the perfect opportunity to connect with Incan history. The Classic Cusco day trip covers some of the key Incan sites in the region, including Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero! It is important to keep in mind that these day trips from Cusco follow two basic routes:
- Ccorao / Pisaq ruins/ Pisaq market/ Ollantaytambo ruins/ Chinchero ruins – you might get a visit to the Inca Museum or Awanacancha if you are lucky. This is an exceptionally long day and seeing 3 major Inca ruins, plus a lot of tourist markets can be quite overwhelming! On the other hand, you will get to see everything in one day!
- Chinchero / Maras & Moray / Ollantaytambo / Pisaq ruins / Pisaq market – Travel to Chinchero market and then Chinchero church and ruins, followed by a visit to ‘out of this world’ Moray and the Instagram “must” Incan salt mines at Salineras. Then it’s onto Ollantaytambo, followed by the Pisaq ruins and Pisaq market before heading back to Cusco. This tour might be slightly less touristed as you are going in reverse compared to many of the tour groups.
Both these standard tours of the Sacred Valley will offer a buffet lunch in the Sacred Valley, usually included in the price of the tour.
For more details or to book, click here: Classic Sacred Valley Tour
Maras & Moray
Follow this link to check out our most popular sacred valley tour, the Maras Salineras & Moray one-day tour. Whether you are a professional or just a passionate photographer, this trip will offer you the perfect context to capture the majestic essence of the amphitheaters at Moray and the fascinating Cusco salt flats “salineras” at Maras. Get your camera or smartphone ready and wonder with unique sights after an easy hike through the Sacred Valley over pretty farmlands.
Click here for more details or to book: Maras & Moray
Cusco Day Hikes
If you are spending time in the Sacred Valley in preparation for your Inca Trail trek – or one of the alternative treks – it is highly recommended to at least do a little bit of hiking. Your legs will get a bit of a workout while your lungs can feel what it is like to hike in the high mountain air. One of the best ways to do a short hike is to combine it with your Sacred Valley tour. Not only will you get off the busy tourist path, but you will get insight into daily life in this fascinating agricultural area.
Good Sacred Valley tours for acclimatization for your Inca trail trek include:
This trek is an extraordinary opportunity for acclimatization and appreciation of nature and culture. Enjoy the most with your visit to the market and ruins of Chinchero. Then, a moderate walk down will take you through farmland to the legendary Sacred Valley of the Incas.
In addition, Descending to the Sacred Valley allows you to catch a glimpse into the daily life of farmers when you walk through their typical chakras (farms), where the scenery is striking and charming.
For details or to book, click here: Descending the Sacred Valley
Are you looking for a taste of the “real” Peru? Then, this day trip is perfect for you! Leave behind the typical tourist circuits and join this off-the-beaten-path, where you can time travel from pre-Incan civilizations to contemporary Andean life in the highlands, to the ultra-modern brewpub!
The name Ñaupa Iglesia relates to a ceremonial Incan site you can visit after a hike through the beautiful countryside in our custom-designed Sacred Valley tour. Besides, you can get a glimpse into ancestral life in the Inkariy Museum.
Get all the details here: Naupa Iglesia Cusco Day Trip
A long, long time ago, the Incas transported stones from the quarry to the village using this same path that you will follow. Along your way, you can appreciate how the cut stones remain in the quarry. Plus on our Inca Quarry trail, you can hike to Inti Punku (Sun Gate – no, not that one) while you enjoy a remarkable views of Mt. Veronica.
For more details or to book, click here: Cachicata Inca Quarry trail
Cultural Immersion Sacred Valley Tours from Cusco
Are you looking for Cusco adventures that are a little different? As a trekking specialist, some of these are Cusco day hikes; others are some of the best cultural activities in Peru you will find! We offer authentic Cultural immersion in Peru, whether it’s during our innovative hikes to little-known Incan Ruins around Cusco, quirky markets, or collaborating on a textile project with indigenous women in a remote community. We believe that immersion travel is about getting your hands dirty and a smile on your face!
There is a lot of opportunity for going slow and immersing yourself in the wonderful culture of the Sacred Valley with our unique and innovative tours. Don’t forget, if you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, we would be delighted to develop your own.
On this unique experience, you will explore the culture, food, and traditions of everyday rural Peruvian life. Be part of workshops offered by community members who have received training in presentations and are specialists in their area.
This is one of the ways, you can leave a positive impact on the site. When you participate in this project you are not just promoting the local economy but also are helping to change lives and preserve cultural heritage.
Get all the details here: Chichubamba Hands-On Cultural Tour
A benefit of traveling to sites as Sacred Valley is the chance to be immersed in local culture and learn from other lifestyles. On this exceptional trip, you will explore Peruvian weaving while you move through mind-blowing landscapes from the Incan countryside.
But what if you want to experience this cultural immersion on two wheels? So, get a bike, hit the road, and enjoy the adventure of this Sacred Valley tour!
More details here: Pisac Ruins & Peruvian Weaving Tour
Inca Traditions (includes a lovely Sacred Valley hike)
The Inca Traditions hiking tour is an excellent way to slowly acclimatize before a trek. Our custom-designed excursion takes you through the Sacred Valley and offers you a glimpse into traditional life in a remote Quechua village called Rumira Sondormayo. We also hike through beautiful countryside and stop to visit a little-touristed Incan site along the way.
Find out more here: Inca Traditions Cultural Immersion
Other Things to Do in the Sacred Valley!
I hear you say: what? There is more to do in the Sacred Valley? Yes, that’s right from Rafting down the Urubamba to riding along the mountain ridges on Peruvian Paso horses, there is a lot to do in the Sacred Valley. For thrill-seekers there are paragliding options – or you could do the Via Ferrata.
Thirsty? Try a Local Beer
The best place to enjoy a local beer in Sacred Valley is the Cerveceria del Valle. In this charming place, you can chill for a while, tune in with the vibe and enjoy the variety of pints made of fresh products from all over the Cusco region.
This original spot offers a tasting room (or taproom) that is open to the public from Friday to Sunday in the afternoons or by special arrangement. Our friends from Cerveceria del Valle also contribute to local development and sustainability. On the last Saturday of every month, the brewery gets people together for crowdfunding to support a rotating list of local charities and non-profits.
Do you have more time? Spend the Night!
So you want to stay more than one day in the Sacred Valley? We highly recommend sleeping in the valley for those looking for luxury 5-star accommodation; some of the very best options in the region are found in the Sacred Valley. Our personal favorites are Sol y Luna in Urubamba which offers two restaurants and a well-equipped spa, and the Hacienda Inkaterra at Urubamba where following the earth to table concept, travelers can harvest their own aliments in an organic chakra (ranch).
Can I Combine My Sacred Valley Tour with a visit to Machu Picchu?
Of course, you can!
At Apus Peru, We offer tours to Machu Picchu to fill your needs. In fact, we take the time to customize your experience tailored to your needs, interests, or location. For short periods, there are quick day trips but also if you are looking for a more relaxed experience, the two-day train journey will be ideal for you.
These are the Machu Picchu tours that can be added to your Sacred Valley experience.
Best Time to Visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas
For a unique experience in Sacred Valley, I recommend coming during the Peru rainy season. Yes, you are reading right. But let me explain why do we consider the rainy season the best time to visit Valle Sagrado.
First of all, the rainy season in Peru lasts from about November through March, and this is when the landscapes of the valley will be green and flooded with flowers.
Regarding weather and temperature, the nighttime temperature is warmer during the rainy season than during the dry season. That means you will enjoy your evenings, whether you decide to rest or just to stare at the stars.
In addition, during the low season, there are perks to visit and you will have a more direct experience because these spots are usually less crowded.
But wait! Check this article for even more reasons why rainy season is the best time to visit Cusco & the Sacred Valley.
What is the Cusco Tourist Ticket, and Why Do I Need One?
Also known as BTG (boleto turistico general), the boleto turistico or tourist ticket is a personal document that allows you access to different sites in the Cusco region, such as archeologic monuments, museums, and historic spots which are part of the cultural heritage of the country.
There are two main reasons why this tourist ticket is so important:
First of all, if you plan to visit different sites in a short period of time, this ticket would be a good deal. The entrance is valid for up to 12 days and gives you access to a variety of tourist spots. (It is cheaper than buying individual entrance fees).
Secondly, when purchasing this ticket, you are contributing to the culture of the nation. All income generated during tourist visits are managed to carry out projects oriented to the conservation and preservation of the cultural heritage in the Cusco region. Read more about the Boleto Turistico here.
Final Thoughts on Planning the Best Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco
For all the reasons described before, the Sacred Valley is a must-see destination during your stay in Perú. Explore these ancient villages, beautiful towns full of culture and tradition. The Sacred Valley Peru will remain in your memories for a long, long time. We highly recommend a Sacred Valley private tour from Cusco as the best way to have an unbelievable experience!
As we always recommend, Leave no trace. At the same time, you are having fun and exploring these amazing places, there are certain actions you can do to promote sustainability on your travels.
Start preparing your trip here and get ready to begin your adventure!