The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba Valley, is an incredible region steeped in history and natural beauty. Nestled in the Andean highlands of Peru, the valley is approximately 60 kilometers long. It is situated near the ancient Inca capital of Cusco and near the world-renowned archaeological site of Machu Picchu.
All information a traveler needs to know before visiting the Sacred Valley
For years and years, Peru has kept a special place in the hearts of adventure tourists. The Sacred Valley of the Incas was the middle of Tahuantinsuyo (Inca Empire), the most important recognized empire within the Western Hemisphere, spanning from Colombia and Ecuador, passing by Peru and Bolivia to the northern part of Argentina and Chile. Its capital is Cusco, which was referred to as the “navel of the world.”
Stretching for greater than 60 miles from east to west, the Sacred Valley encompasses many of the most stunning surroundings in all of Peru. There’s a lot of history, culture, and natural beauty to be discovered there that should rank on the record’s prime for any world traveler. Here is what you’ll want to know earlier than you go.
Traveling to the Sacred Valley of the Incas is an enriching experience that allows you to explore some of the most significant remnants of the Inca civilization.
Why Sacred Valley?
Called "Sacred" because it was of significant importance to the Inca Empire. The fertile lands of the valley were a major source of food for the highland cities, such as the ancient city of Cusco. The valley is also dotted with many sacred Inca sites and is aligned with celestial events that were deeply meaningful to the Inca civilization.
The Sacred Valley, or the Urubamba Valley, is located in the Andes of Peru, 15 km northeast of the Inca capital of Cusco and near the ancient city of Machu Picchu. It is in the present-day Peruvian region of Cusco.
The valley follows the course of the Urubamba River, also known as the Vilcanota River, towards the northwest for about 60 kilometers, between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination due to its numerous archaeological sites, vibrant traditional communities, and stunning Andean landscapes.
The Sacred Valley has a rich history that spans thousands of years. Located in the Andes of Peru, it was a crucial area of settlement for various cultures, culminating in the Inca civilization. Here's a brief look at the history of the Sacred Valley:
The Sacred Valley has been inhabited since prehistoric times due to its fertile land and favorable climate. Various cultures, such as the Killke and the Wari, left their mark on the valley with terraced fields and settlements.
The Inca civilization began to rise in the 13th century and eventually established their capital at nearby Cusco. They called the area the Sacred Valley because it was of significant importance to them. The valley's fertile soils were a major food source for the highland cities. The valley is also dotted with many sacred Inca sites.
The Inca developed sophisticated agricultural techniques, such as terracing and irrigation, to cultivate the land. They grew maize, a sacred plant, in the valley. Many significant Inca archaeological sites remain throughout the valley, including the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, which served as two main points along the Inca road system that linked the empire.
The Sacred Valley also had strategic importance. It provided a natural route to the jungle and served as a buffer zone, protecting Cusco from incursions of the Antis, the fierce jungle tribes.
Spanish Conquest and Colonial Period:
After the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, the Sacred Valley underwent significant changes. The Spanish built colonial towns, introduced new crops and livestock, and converted the indigenous population to Christianity. However, many Inca sites, traditions, and agricultural practices survived and are still visible today.
Today, the Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination. It draws visitors from around the world with its well-preserved archaeological sites, traditional Andean communities, and stunning natural beauty. The region's agricultural heritage also lives on, with local farmers growing maize and other crops in the terraced fields just as their ancestors did centuries ago.
Importance of the Sacred Valley in Peru
The Sacred Valley holds great significance in Cusco-Peru for several reasons:
The Sacred Valley was a crucial area for the Inca civilization. It was strategically situated between Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, and Machu Picchu, the iconic mountain-top citadel. The valley is dotted with numerous significant Inca ruins, including the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, key points on the Inca road system that linked the empire.
The valley's fertile land, nourished by the Urubamba River, provided an important source of food for the Inca Empire. The Inca developed innovative agricultural techniques, such as terracing and irrigation, to maximize the land's productivity. The valley was especially known for its maize, a sacred plant for the Incas.
The Sacred Valley continues to be a vital cultural center, with many residents maintaining traditional Andean ways of life. Markets in towns like Pisac and Chinchero are famous for their textiles and handicrafts, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Andean people.
Today, the Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination in Peru. Its well-preserved archaeological sites, traditional Andean communities, and stunning natural beauty attract visitors from around the world. It's a must-visit location for anyone interested in history, archaeology, or culture, and it serves as a starting point for the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.
For many, the Sacred Valley holds spiritual importance. The Inca believed in a close connection with nature, and the valley, with its majestic mountains, flowing river, and fertile soil, was seen as a source of spiritual energy. Today, visitors often participate in traditional ceremonies and healing rituals that draw on this spiritual heritage.
Most Important Cities in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, also known as the Urubamba Valley, is located in the Andean highlands of Peru. It was the heartland of the Inca Empire and is a region rich in history and culture. Here are some of the most important cities and towns in the Sacred Valley:
The Pisac is mainly known as the door to the Sacred Valley and is located 33 kilometers from the city of Cusco. Pisac is the small yet most beautiful village on the top, where you will find diverse Inca ruins. Viceroy Toledo, a Spanish conquistador, founded this beautiful village of Sacred Valley.
The Pisac is world-famous for the artisan market. It has an "Indian Market," an excellent spot to pick up handcrafted jewelry, textiles, glass, and other unique objects. Pisac also has the Archeological Park; you can also visit there and see it full of history in bricks. Moreover, you can explore a military fortress and observatories. It also has the "biggest Inca cemetery "in South America, so you better save time and respect it.
This small town has a peaceful charm, known for its Inca palace and terraces.
Sometimes called the 'Pearl of the Vilcanota,' Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley. It's often used as a base for those exploring the region, thanks to its good range of accommodations and restaurants.
Ollantaytambo is one of the best places to visit in the sacred Valley, and it is located 97 kilometers northeast of the city of Cusco. It has the most original and the top-preserved Inca and pre-Inca ruins in all of Peru.
This town is also known as the "Living Inca City." It was a strong city with temples, defense walls, and urban and agricultural sectors during the Inca time. You can get to this village in approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes by car. You can also go to the hillside and hit the Inca fortress; it is truly a sight that will give you the most beautiful experience and takes your breath away. It is also an important archaeological place in Peru and South America.
This beautiful town, "Moray" of Sacred Valley, is 74 km from Cusco and plays a central role in Inca agricultural production. It is 1 of the Inca Empire's leading agricultural research centers. The most fantastic feature of Moray is that its terraces are constructed in concentric circles.
It was committed to experimentation and planting crops from various places. The completely different climates and altitudinal flooring range in temperature by roughly 20 ° C (from the primary to the final) have been constructed to create its potential to plant merchandise from the coast and jungle in colder climates and at an increased altitude.
To reach Salineras, you must hike down into the canyon from Maras or up from the street connecting Urubamba to Ollantaytambo. From Maras, stroll in the direction of the sting of the Valley. If you have trouble finding Salineras, you can ask a local and find the correct path to Salineras. Salineras is located at a 4k hike to the site from Maras.
The term "sal" is Spanish, which means salt, so Salineras are tarns through which saltwater flows and leaves salt crystals to be collected. Salineras are one of the four places where you can find pink salt.
Sacred Valley also has the village-like Chinchero, located 28 kilometers from the Cusco. In Chinchero, you will notice how locals extract, clear, and dye the alpaca hair and weave conventional handmade items. It is located at the highest altitude: 3,772 meters above sea level (12,375 ft). It also has an artisan market where you can still barter. Chinchero has a wonderful Seventeenth-century colonial church with canvases of the "Cuzqueña school."
Remember to respect the local communities and their customs when visiting, and consider hiring a local guide to learn more about the history and significance of these places.
Weather in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley in Peru experiences a subtropical highland climate with two distinct seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. Visitors should take necessary precautions to prevent altitude sickness, including staying hydrated and taking time to acclimatize.
Dry Season (April to October): This is typically the best time to visit the Sacred Valley. The weather is mostly dry, with clear, sunny days and cooler nights. Daytime temperatures can range from 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F), while at night, it can drop to around 0°C to 5°C (32°F to 41°F). This season includes the Peruvian winter, but the country's proximity to the equator does not get as cold as winter in more temperate zones.
Rainy Season (November to March): This is summer in the Sacred Valley and the rainy season. Rain showers are common, though they typically don't last all day. The temperatures during this season are relatively consistent, with daytime highs of around 18°C to 22°C (64°F to 72°F) and nighttime lows of about 7°C to 10°C (45°F to 50°F).
Sacred Valley in January
January is one of the rainiest months of the year in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Rains are expected almost daily; however, we can go nearly weeks without rain in some years.
The temperatures will vary from highs around 72°F (22°C) and lows around 41°F (5°C). Despite the rains, travelers will visit this amazing place during January as the landscape is greener, fresh corn season, and less crowded sites.
Sacred Valley in February
Locals called this month the "Crazy February," fewer rainy days are expected than in January; however, rains are heavier this month, as is the heart of the rainy season.
The temperatures will vary from highs around 71°F (21°C) and lows around 43°F (6°C). The most famous Treks, such as the Inca Trail and Salkantay trek, are closed during February, but Machu Picchu is still open. Therefore, few visitors are expected this month which is an excellent option for those who would love solitude. The Sacred Valley landscapes are a beautiful green color.
Sacred Valley in March
The "Drunk March" is called this way since we will see the sun; however, the weather can change in minutes and start raining again.
March starts with the opening of the Inca Trail and the most famous Treks. The Sacred Valley also starts changing from green to yellow as we enter the harvesting season.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 71°F (21°C) and lows around 39°F (4°C), and the number of visitors will start to increase during this month.
Sacred Valley in April
April's Shoulder season is one of the best months to hike to Machu Picchu and visit Cusco. This month is the transition between the rainy and dry seasons. It is expected to have less rain than in previous months and away from the cold weather of the dry season.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 72°F (22°C) and lows around 38°F (3°C). This is because Sacred Valley will start getting more travelers worldwide; harvesting seasons begin in the maize fields.
Sacred Valley in May
May is officially the start of the Dry Season. However, the weather in the Andes is unpredictable, and rains can occur at any time.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 71°F (21°C) and lows around 37°F (2.7°C). The mountain landscape is still green, and the farming lands are getting grey as the wheat and barley farming season starts.
Sacred Valley in June
During June, little rain is expected; this month is one of the driest, together with July. This is a perfect month to hike in the mountains to Machu Picchu.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 72°F (22°C) and lows around 34°F (1.6°C). The landscape starts turning yellow in the mountains and farming lands. Most Inca Sites ad local markets are full of visitors during this month.
Sacred Valley in July
July is the heart of the dry season, and almost no rain is expected, but you must b always be prepared for all kinds of weather, even in July.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 74°F (23°C) and lows around 32°F (0°C). The Inca sites and local markets will get lots of travelers. Mountains start to get the yellow and grey color of the dry season. The farming season for corn starts.
Sacred Valley in August
In August, tourism in Peru reaches its highest number; thousands of travelers will arrive in Cusco and visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 75°F (24°C) and lows around 32°F (0°C). Places in Sacred Valley will be crowded; the days are sunny with windy afternoons.
Sacred Valley in September
September is expected to have the rains back; most farmers will wait to rain for their crops this month.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 75°F (24°C) and lows around 39°F (4°C). The number of visitors to tourist places will be reduced this month, the nights will become cooler, and the landscaping will start getting green from the new crops.
Sacred Valley in October
The shoulder season is between the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. Rains are seen more often announcing the return of the wet season. This is a perfect month to visit Peru, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 78°F (25°C) and lows around 40°F (5°C). There are few visitors to all Inca sites, and the long lines for trains, Machu Picchu, and buses are over. The lush green landscapes of the Sacred Valley are back.
Sacred Valley in November
November is the beginning of the rainy season. However, hiking to Machu Picchu and visiting the Sacred Valley is still a good season.
The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 69°F (20°C) and lows around 43°F (6°C). Few visitors will arrive in Cusco, which makes an excellent month to enjoy the beautiful places in the Sacred Valley.
Sacred Valley in December
At the end of the year, the number of travelers will increase. The Sacred Valley tours are available daily, and the fresh corn season starts in the Sacred Valley. The temperatures in the Sacred Valley will vary from highs around 69°F (20°C) and lows around 44°F (7°C).
Best hotels in the Sacred Valley
Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado
This luxury hotel in Urubamba offers beautiful gardens, a tranquil spa, and a restaurant serving Peruvian cuisine. The rooms are designed to resemble authentic Andean village houses.
Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
Set on 100 acres of land nestled in the heart of the Sacred Valley, and this hotel offers a unique experience with traditional design, lush gardens, and breathtaking views of the Andes.
Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa:
Located in Urubamba, this resort is one of the most luxurious in the region. It features a private train station to Machu Picchu, a high-end spa, and a restaurant serving Peruvian dishes with a modern twist.
Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa
In Urubamba, this hotel offers individual casitas (small houses) scattered across the property. The hotel also has a renowned spa and a top-notch restaurant.
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness
Built on a 17th-century colonial hacienda, this hotel features a museum, a library, a spa, and a movie theater.
El Albergue Ollantaytambo:
Although more modest than others on this list, El Albergue offers a charming, rustic experience in the heart of Ollantaytambo. It's located by the train station, making it a convenient choice for those heading to Machu Picchu.
Explora Valle Sagrado:
This luxury hotel offers all-inclusive packages with accommodation, meals, beverages, and explorations of the valley. It's an ideal option for those seeking an immersive travel experience.
Casa Andina Hacienda:
Located in the village of Yanahuara, the hotel has an excellent location to enjoy a quiet rest before or after the long trip to Machu Picchu.
Tierra Viva Valle Sagrado:
Located in the Village of Yanahuara, with reasonable prices and good locations. Perfect for staying before traveling to the Inca Trail or Machu Picchu
San Agustin Recoleta:
Located in Urubamba province, the hotel is a monastery built in the 17th century.
Sonesta Posada del Inca:
Located in the town of Yucay, just 20 minutes from Urubamba, another 18th-century monastery.
De Pilar Hotel:
It is located in the village of Chilca, 30 minutes from the Ollantaytambo district. This hotel is perfect if you start the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu the next day.
The first hanging lodge in the world, perfect for those who love adrenaline and adventure.
Sacred Valley FAQs
Where is the Sacred Valley?
The Sacred Valley is located in Peru's Andean highlands. It begins just 20 kilometers or so from the city of Cusco and stretches roughly 60 kilometers to the town of Ollantaytambo.
Why is it called the Sacred Valley?
The Sacred Valley was a significant area in the Inca Empire, rich with agricultural, spiritual, and political significance. The Urubamba River that flows through it was considered sacred, and the valley's fertile lands were a major source of food for the empire.
What is the best time to visit the Sacred Valley?
The best time to visit is during the dry season, from April to October. The weather is typically dry and clear during these months, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities.
What are the main attractions in the Sacred Valley?
The main attractions include the Inca ruins at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. Other attractions include the Maras salt mines, the Moray agricultural terraces, local markets, and beautiful Andean landscapes. Many visitors also use the Sacred Valley as a base for visiting Machu Picchu.
How To Get To Sacred Valley From Cusco?
You need a car from Cusco via Pisaq, Chinchero, or Huaroncondo. You need to choose one of the routes depending on where you want to go.
- If you visit Pisaq, Calca, Lamay, or Haran, you must travel from Cusco via Pisaq.
- If you travel to Urubamba, Yucay, or Ollantaytambo, you can take a shorter route through Chinchero.
- If you are traveling to Ollantaytambo or are going to take the Train to Machu Picchu, the fastest way to arrive is via Huarcondo, following the train route. This route is closed during January and February due to the heavy rains.
Do I need to worry about altitude sickness?
The Sacred Valley is at a high altitude, with Cusco sitting at around 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level and other towns in the valley at slightly lower altitudes. Altitude sickness can be a concern, so taking it easy for the first few days to acclimatize, stay hydrated, and eat light meals is recommended.
Do people speak English in the Sacred Valley?
While the official languages in Peru are Spanish and Quechua, English is commonly spoken in major tourist areas like the Sacred Valley. However, it's always appreciated when visitors learn a few basic phrases in the local language.
What is the local cuisine like?
Peruvian cuisine is diverse and highly regarded. In the Sacred Valley, you'll find dishes featuring local ingredients like corn, potatoes, quinoa, and alpaca. Guinea pig (cuy) is also a traditional dish in the region. Fresh trout from the Urubamba River is another popular dish.
Can I hike the Inca Trail from the Sacred Valley?
Yes, the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu starts near the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. The trek typically takes four days and three nights, and a guide must accompany you. Permits are required and are limited, so you should book well in advance.
Is it safe to travel in the Sacred Valley?
Generally, the Sacred Valley is considered safe for tourists, but it's important to take common-sense precautions like anywhere. Be aware of your surroundings, don't flash expensive items, and be cautious with food and water to avoid illness.
Is Sacred Valley Worth Visiting?
The Sacred Valley is a must-see place in Cusco. You need to take a day or 3 days to explore these beautiful Inca Sites and local markets.
How To Get from Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu?
This is a great idea if you plan to visit The Sacred Valley of the Incas and then take the train to Machu Picchu. You must arrive in Ollantaytambo and go to the train station to board the trains to Aguas Calientes town (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo)
How Many Days should I spend in Cusco and Sacred Valley?
Before going to Machu Picchu, whether on a hiking tour or by train, we recommend 1 day in Cusco and 1 day exploring the Sacred Valley. This time will also help you adapt to the altitude as you rest for the big trip to Machu Picchu.
How High Is Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley has an average altitude of 3000 meters or 9842 feet.