Sacred Valley of the Incas
Sacred Valley of the Incas
- The Inca Valley connecting Cusco and Machu Picchu
- Some of the largest agricultural Inca projects as well as several important Inca sites can be found here
- Located at altitudes from 3,000m (9,800 ft) to 2,500m (8,200ft) above sea level
The Sacred Valley of the Incas or Valle Sagrado de los Incas in Spanish, was of undeniable importance to the Inca empire. Located at about 1 hour drive from the city of Cusco, the valley is home to some important towns in Inca times such as Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. Blessed with very fertile lands of the Urubamba River and an excellent climate, the valley allowed the Inca to generate many of the agricultural innovations they became so known for. These lands were so important that on the beginning of the valley (Pisac) as well as the end (Ollantaytambo) large Inca Fortresses were built to protect the valley from strangers. These two archaeological sites are still the two most important Inca ruins to visit in the Sacred Valley and make up for a great day in the Sacred Valley. Between these two there are dozens of smaller Inca sites such as Huchuy Qosqo, Chinchero, the circles of Moray and the Salt Mines of Maras – allowing you to easily extend your Sacred Valley tour to two days. After the conquest, the Spanish who also appreciated the mild climate and lower altitude here, established dozens of colonial haciendas. Several of these nowadays have been transformed into gourmet restaurants or amazing boutique hotels. Dotted with picturesque villages and drenched in the typical Andean culture, in the Sacred Valley you will also find some amazing local farmers and artisan markets that are more than worth the visit; Chinchero and Pisac market being most famous ones. As you can read, the Sacred Valley is so much more than just a stop between Cusco and Machu Picchu – it is a destination on its own.
THINGS TO DO
Sacred Valley History
The official name of the Sacred Valley is actually Urubamba or Vilcanota Valley, named after the river running through it. The name Sacred Valley was given by an Inca chronicler called Garcilazo de la Vega Inca referring to the importance of the valley for the Inca empire. Blessed with a fertile flood lands, good climate and on lower altitudes, the valley provided the ideal farming playground for the Incas. The valley became the epicenter of their agricultural production and place to elaborate new farming methods as well as architecture. The reason the Sacred Valley boasts several archaeological Inca sites of which Chinchero, Pisac and Ollantaytambo are the best known ones. Smaller sites include the circular terraces of Moray, the salt mines of Maras and the royal retreat of Huchuy Qosqo. Pisac was constructed around 1440AD with military, religious, and agricultural structures making it possible that it was also a defense fortress for the southern part of this valley formed by the Urubamba River. In the time of the Inca the town was probably named differently as the town of Pisac was not founded till the colonial times. The ruins of Ollantaytambo probably fulfilled the same purpose as the fortress of Pisac but on the opposite side of the valley. The construction of Ollantaytambo never was completed as the Spanish arrived in 1532AD when the site was in full construction. Proof of this can still be found by the ramp that still leads up to the western side of the ruins as well as the “sleeping stones” stones that were towed halfway but never put in place. The town of Ollantaytambo is quite unique as it is one of the few examples of original Inca Urban planning with the canals and the street plan still intact as well as many original Inca doorways. The beauty of this magical valley is that even though the century long Spanish occupation, the Sacred Valley and its people have managed to keep the direct links to their Inca heritage alive till the day of today.
Sacred Valley Geography
The Sacred Valley is located at about 35km (21mi) from the city of Cusco and can be accessed by two roads from Cusco. One to Pisac and one to Urubamba. Between Cusco and the valley there is a highland pampa around the Inca village of Chinchero at 3,800m (12,500ft) with on the other side of the valley the Vilcanota Mountain range with its snowcapped mountains. The Urubamba River (also called Vilcanota River) is a long river coming from the Puno region and running to the Amazon Rainforest. The part where it runs through the Urubamba valley from the town of Pisac to the town of Ollantaytambo is what nowadays is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the place known for its impressive archaeological sites, agricultural terraces and Inca ruins. The Sacred Valley is located at altitudes of 3,000m (9,800ft) in Pisac- to 2,500m (8,200ft) in Ollantaytambo and about 60km (37mi) Along the river there are dozens of small and larger villages. The largest are Pisac, Calca (capital), Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. The town of Ollantaytambo is the town that survived from the days it was part of the Inca empire. The villages are mostly found on the right bank of the river with the main bridges in Pisac and Urubamba. Flooding happens yearly and people anticipate this to fertilize the lands. Nevertheless, in some years flash floods due to increased rain in the higher lying areas can occur. As all this water runs through to Machu Picchu where it is called the Vilcanota River this means that the town of Aguas Calientes also knows some sporadic flooding.
Sacred Valley Weather
- Rainy season from November through April
- Dry season April through October
- Average Min / Max Rainy season 8ºC/46ºF – 22ºC/71ºF
- Average Min / Max Dry season 5ºC/41ºF – 23ºC/73ºF
- Most rain falls in January and February
- Typical rapid climate changes – common for mountainous regions
Sacred Valley Attractions
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, conveniently located close to the city of Cusco, offers a little bit of everything that one can look for when coming to Peru; Inca ruins, Andean culture, wildlife, outdoors, shopping and gastronomy. One could spend weeks exploring this beautiful region but as most people’s time is limited, the valley is mostly visited en route to Machu Picchu. Nevertheless we would recommend visiting at least some of the local villages, the Inca citadels and of course take in the views. If time allows outdoors activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, quad biking, wild water rafting, zip line or hiking would for sure add up to your vacation experience. Distances are not that large so the Ollantaytambo and Pisac ruins can easily be visited in a day trip. Visiting Maras, Moray and Chinchero would require another day ideally. Shopping can best be done at the weekly markets in these Andean villages. Pisac or the even more authentic market of Chinchero are probably the best options. The Pisac artisan market is open every day but most interesting on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. On these days the market also hosts the typical local farmers market during which the local farmers come down to the market to barter and sell their products. The Chinchero market is also an artisan as well as farmers market but is only open on Sunday’s. For outdoors activities there are many options such as hiking through the beautiful countryside, rafting on the Urubamba River. Multi Day or one day hikes visiting lesser known ruins or amazing mountain lakes and communities are also possible in the Sacred Valley. Other excursions such as visiting Maras & Moray on mountain or quad bike are also highly recommended. Finally the valley also cares of the foodies with some great local typical restaurants for some nutritious Andean grub or gourmet fine dining.