To be fair, I think we all know my love for Peru well enough these days.
After all, over a year after I visited the country, I’m still writing articles about this incredible land – such is the love I have for this place and such was the epicness of the time I spent there.
Yes turns out, when you spend almost 3 months in a country, and adventure across as much of it as I did, you see and experience quite a lot… and therefore have a lot to write about!
But, can you believe, I’m now nearing the end of my Peru series, and after 15 or so articles, I’m delighted to finally be touching on one of my favourite spots in this country.
And that spot is the Sacred Valley – an area where I actually spent most of the last weeks I was in the country, and which made it even harder to leave!
But leave I finally did and now I can bring you these, my top 6 places to visit in Peru’s Sacred Valley…
- The 8 Best Sacred Valley Tours in Peru
- How Much Does a Trip to Peru Cost?
- What Should I Wear in Peru?
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What and Where is the Sacred Valley?
Located in the south of Peru, the Sacred Valley is an area in the Andes, not far from the city of Cusco – just 20km north at its closest point.
Also known as Urubamba Valley, the Sacred Valley was absorbed into the Inca Empire around 1000AD.
Covering several historic towns, tons of important Inca ruins and some beautiful Andean landscapes still full of traditional culture and communities, the Sacred Valley is an important tourism destination with travellers spending everything from a few hours to a few months there!
Several short tours, most of which leave Cusco, allow visitors to experience some of the Sacred Valley’s best sights in just a day.
Otherwise, multi-day tours take visitors to more sights, towns and ruins over longer periods of time and allow for a deeper experience of this wonderful part of Peru.
If you don’t feel like taking a tour however, or you really want to take your time and absorb the cultural and historical splendour of this region, then you can also travel it independently staying several nights (or longer) in as many towns as you like.
If you’re travelling this region in this way (as I did), then you’ll probably want to base yourself in either Ollantaytambo or Pisac for the longest periods. Book your bus travel to the Sacred Valley and beyond here.
Read on to learn why…
Ollantaytambo is one of the most popular tourist towns in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Boasting some fantastic ruins, it is also close to the Incan sights of both Maras and Moray and, as such, is a regular hit on many Sacred Valley tours and a popular overnight spot for many travelling deeper into the region afterwards.
Ollantaytambo is also close to Machu Picchu and many visitors head here on their way to the Sacred Valley’s most famous attraction.
But not let’s not move on too fast (and let’s make sure you don’t miss out on the ruins of Ollantaytambo either) because these really are fantastic examples of former Incan civilisations.
Located just a short walk from the centre of Ollantaytambo, entrance to the ruins here is part of the Cusco Tourism Ticket and it’s easy to spend a whole afternoon strolling this giant structure learning more about the civilisation that build them, as well as admiring the Andean views from the top.
After a few hours wandering around the ruins, don’t miss the souvenir market near the entrance, or the opportunity to explore the lovely town and its charming central square too.
There’s more ruins on the hill opposite the main ruin site as well – and these are a nice place to hike to and are free to visit.
There’s also loads of delicious places to eat and drink in Ollantaytambo and when it comes to spending the night here, look no further than Mama Simona Hostel – with both private and dorm rooms set around a beautiful garden, this is definitely the spot to stay.
After your time in Ollantaytambo (and 1 day and night is usually enough to explore the town, ruins and views here), you can either
- Head back to Cusco on a public bus or via a shared taxi (15 soles)
- Head onto to Pisac on a public bus via Urubamba
- Continue on to Machu Picchu via the train
- Take a taxi or tour to Maras and Moray
Wherever you head onto, just don’t miss Ollantaytambo – it’s absolutely one of the best places to visit in the Sacred Valley and actually, the ruins here make my list of the top things to do in Peru.
40km north of Cusco and often part of day tours that leave from the city to explore the Sacred Valley quickly, Maras is definitely one of the top spots in this part of Peru.
While there is a town at Maras, most people come for the incredible evaporated salt mines instead, where local people extricate this precious mineral from the multiple ponds that etch a patchwork design into the landscape.
The salt-evaporation ponds, of which there are over 5,000 that have been in use since the Inca times, are well worth seeing.
You can view them from an observation area, and snap the scenic surrounds, easily in an hour.
Entrance costs 10 Soles.
As such, it’s worth noting Maras is really just a short trip and if you’re visiting, I’d either make it part of day trip and then spend the night in Ollantaytambo or Pisac – in fact, Maras makes a good stop if you’re moving between them too.
Also a good stop between Ollantaytambo and Pisac in the Sacred Valley is Moray.
An incredible Incan sight, which appears to point towards the innovative, progressive, and experimental farming techniques of the Incas, Moray looks a bit like a huge amphitheatre.
Again Moray is a short stop – usually part of a day trip or a journey elsewhere in the Sacred Valley – but it’s well worth an hour to stroll above and around this impressive structure and to marvel at the sophisticated nature of Incan civilisation.
Definitely one of the best places to visit in the Sacred Valley, the entrance to this site is also included in the Cusco Tourism Ticket.
Next up, it’s the town of Chinchero, which is yet another of the top spots to visit in the Sacred Valley thanks to its great set of ruins and famous market, as well as its beautiful setting and colonial church.
Again, you can combine this with a trip to Maras and Moray as part of an extended day tour, or visit here separately on a Sunday to visit the incredible market that happens here and the action around the church at the top of the village.
The whole town seems to come to life on this day, with many locals coming from other nearby towns and villages to shop and socialise.
Public buses from Cusco stop at Chinchero enroute to either Ollantaytambo or Urubamba, and you just need to walk up the hill to reach the market and then continue for the church.
The ruins can be found beyond the church and entrance to them is included as part of the Cusco Tourist Ticket.
And now we come to the town where I spent the most time in the Sacred Valley and definitely one of top places to visit there – Pisac, a must on any top Peru itinerary.
Home to some incredible ruins, epic hiking, sweeping valley views, a strong local community and a growing alternative traveller scene, this is definitely the sort of place you plan to come for a day or 2 and end up spending a week+ at.
My time in this town was so enjoyable largely due to the great hostel I discovered here – Wolf Totem – where the yoga deck, sauna and stunning private chalets with epic valley views, sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go.
Plus I discovered, through the staff here, all the amazing hikes around the area I could do and well… I was sucked in!
You absolutely need to put Pisac on your list and can easily come here via public bus from Cusco for the day to explore the ruins, which are included in your Cusco Tourist Ticket.
Or come and stay – you’ll find it hard to leave I promise!
#6 Machu Picchu
And finally, the best well-known place in the Sacred Valley and one you absolutely can’t miss during your time in Peru full stop, is the UNESCO-listed, world wonder that is Machu Picchu.
There’s so much to say about this site, as well as so much information to discuss about the different ways to get to and see this Inca site, that it’s best you check out the separate article I wrote about this absolute icon.
Covering all the different hiking, bus riding and training options, as well as where to stay, how to get tickets and how to stick your budget, it’s chock full of information you shouldn’t miss out on.
So check out my complete guide to visiting Machu Picchu here.
When to Visit Peru?
Travel seasons in Peru are often a little complicated, purely because of the diversity of this country’s topography.
When it’s summer on the coast, for example, it’s rainy in the mountains, and when it’s cooler in the jungle, it’s freezing along the Pacific.
As such, you’re always going to be rolling the dice a little when you travel Peru, especially with global warming messing everything around too.
Generally speaking however, the months of November through February are known as summer here, which means very hot temperatures on the coast and wet weather in the highlands and jungle.
Conversely, the months of June through August are known loosely as winter in Peru. This is when it’s cold on the coast, but dry in the mountains and jungle!
As such, the high season for travellers in Peru tends to be June through August – a) because this coincides with the northern hemisphere summer holidays and b) because most people come to Peru for the mountains.
That said, this time of year is also the coldest and the most crowded, so it’s not all plain sailing!
As such, I’d suggest the shoulders seasons of April and May or September and October as the best times to visit Peru.
This is when the weather is good across most parts of the country and the crowds and prices, lower!
Indeed, trying to combine the best of both worlds i.e. spring on the coast and dry season in the mountains, I visited Peru in September and October, and actually found it ideal in terms of tourist numbers, crowds and prices.
Learn more in this post I wrote all about the best time to visit Peru.
Travel Insurance for Peru
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5 Packing Essentials for Peru
#1 Good Camera – I would never even think of travelling to Peru without a camera good enough to capture the amazing landscape and people of this country. Both my Sony A6000 and GoPro Hero were perfect for the job!
#2 Waterproof / Windproof Jackets – With so much of this country situated high in the Andes, taking a waterproof and windproof jacket is essential if you’re going to be hiking or sightseeing in the mountains. I highly recommend the North Face Venture 2 for the job.
#3 Hiking Boots – You can’t come to Peru and not do some trekking, so make sure you come prepared with some good, supportive hiking boots… I’ve never worn mine so much in my life! These Keen Targhee II’s are the perfect solution.
#4 Day Pack – Also for the hiking and sightseeing, a good daypack to carry water, snacks, camera, hat, gloves and other clothing layers, is key in Peru! This one from Ospreyis my pick.
#5 Travel Scarf – And finally, I’ve just discovered the amazing travel wraps from Sholdit and am so happy I took mine to Peru. Acting both as a scarf to keep you warm and a place to store your valuables while you’re out and about, this great invention is perfect for travel across South America.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
And there it is folks, my list of the top 6 places to visit in the Sacred Valley.
I hope I’ve convinced you to visit this amazing part of Peru and also helped you plan your time and journey there – I know it can be a bit confusing!
If you still have any more questions however, then don’t hesitate to drop them into the comments below and I’ll get back to you…