If you’re not doing the Inca Trail, there is an alternative, quicker way for you to see the highlights of the Sacred Valley. Taxis from Ollantaytambo, Cusco, and Pisac offer roundtrip tours of the Sacred Valley for as low as 160 soles per car (that’s roughly US$49). The tours can be between 3 to 5 hours, depending on how long you spend at each stop. There are plenty of taxi drivers you can talk to on the streets of Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Pisac that can take you on this tour. Your hotel can also find a driver for you. We even found a driver in Cusco who drove all the way to Ollantaytambo to pick us up and drive us back to Cusco, doing the Sacred Valley along the way! If you like to avoid mass organized tours like us, and are limited on time, this is a fantastic way to explore the Sacred Valley.
Here’s our film exploring the Sacred Valley to give you a visual representation of the following highlights:
Top tip: Try to combine a tour of the Sacred Valley with getting to Ollantaytambo.
While Peru Rail and Inca Rail will also get you from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, a great way to explore the area would be to take the train from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo, and take a taxi from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco (assuming that you are flying out of Cusco). This taxi ride can then be used to explore the Sacred Valley. We strongly recommend visiting beautiful Ollantaytambo (known as Ollanta to the locals), to explore its majestic ruins and see an are outside of Cusco and Machu Picchu in the region. Taxis from Ollanta to Cusco can easily be arranged with your hotel, or by wandering out to the streets the day before, or the day you wish to travel.
Don’t speak Spanish?
Don’t worry – we don’t either and we survived. It is much easier if you do speak the language to organize these things, but it’s also possible to make yourself understood in English by using key words that the taxi drivers would understand like “Sacred Valley, tour, to Cusco, Salineras de Maras, Chinchero” etc. Drivers in the area are used to doing the tour. That being said, it may also be useful (and easier) to get your hotel to talk to your driver if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.
What is the Sacred Valley?
The Sacred Valley is a region in the Andean highlands that stretches roughly across 60 kilometers, encompassing Cusco, Pisac, Calca, Chinchero, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo, all the way to the Machu Picchu citadel. It formed the heart of the Incan Empire.
Where to go
Before you get in the taxi, you should confirm with your driver which stops you’d like to make, and that the payment discussed would be for the entire car, and not per person (if you are more than one person traveling). Here are the usual highlights to visit:
If you’re trying to decide which ruins to visit in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, the Ollantaytambo fortress ruins (as well as Sacsayhuaman) should top the list. Serving as the last stronghold of the Inca Manco Yupanqui, who led the Incan resistance at the time, these ruins stand tall in Ollanta, offering beautiful views over the town. We strongly recommend you spend a night in Ollantaytambo if you can, and visit the ruins early in the morning, at 7 or 8am to avoid the tourist buses that start coming in around 9am.
We also recommend you go off the beaten path and head to the old Incan palace ruins, which are rarely visited, on the outskirts of town. An easy 15 minute walk, you’ll probably have these ruins all to yourself. It’s also a great location to enjoy beautiful views over the farmlands and mountains that surround Ollantaytambo. You can also take a walk to an old Incan bridge nearby.
Follow Av. Estudiante to get to the ruins.
If you decide to stay in Ollantaytambo, we recommend staying at Ccapac Inka Ollanta Boutique Hotel. They offer a comfortable stay with a lovely breakfast for your time in Ollantaytambo.
This site was used for agricultural purposes by the Incas. The area consists of a series of co-centric circles, with each basin having a slightly different climate to the next: studies have found variations of up to 5 degrees Celsius between the different depressions. It is thought that the Incas experimented with the optimal conditions to grow different plants within these sites.
Entrance to Moray itself costs 70 soles. It is included in the 130 soles Boleto Turistico if you’ve already purchased it. We recommend getting the Boleto Turistico if you’re thinking of exploring the Sacred Valley.
Salineras de Maras
This is a stunning sight to behold. Nestled within the mountains are these gorgeous salt mines, maintained by the Maras municipality. You can see the mines at different levels of evaporation, leaving the salt to be collected over time. This process has been practiced at this site for over 500 years.
You will drive through the small town of Maras as you make your way back from or to the Salineras. Note the simple way of life of the people, and the difference from more tourist-centric cities such as Cusco.
This town houses a colorful market and is the home of Peruvian weaving, made evident in the small “communities” it has, with 15 families or more living in a compound, creating and selling their products within their walls. Geared towards travelers, they provide explanations of how they use the wool of llamas to create their clothed goods.
Pisac is another popular stop on the Sacred Valley, with its ruins offering stunning views over the Quitamayo gorge. You can drive up to these ruins and enjoy the view if you’re not already “ruined out.” Note that guides for these different ruins are usually around at the entrances, and it may be helpful to pay the small fee to have them explain the details of their histories to your from a local perspective. Entrance to the Pisac ruins are included in the Boleto Turistico.
A highlight of this tour of the Sacred Valley is not only the towns you will stop at, but the gorgeous fields of maize and the rugged mountains that you will pass along your drive. Most drivers like Marco will stop along the way for photo opportunities (and to just take it all in!) but if not, don’t be afraid to ask to stop when you’d like to take a moment to enjoy the view.
We are happy to pass on the phone number of Marco to those who are looking to organize a trip of the Sacred Valley. Please email us at acoupleonabudget.com and we will send it over to you! A knowledge of Spanish is expected to converse over the phone.
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