The spectacular Sacred Valley lies along the banks of the winding Urubamba River around 10 miles north of Cuzco. It’s fertile land fed by the river led to it being a major agricultural centre for the Incas.
While farming has tapered off somewhat in modern times, today the Sacred Valley is a hotspot for those looking for adventure or to discover the history of one of South America’s most prolific and advanced civilizations.
It’s unthinkable to visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu without swinging by the Sacred Valley, even if it’s just to take photos of the meandering river, rural Peruvian life or the condors which circle on the morning thermals above the valley.
Here’s our list of the top things to do during a visit to the Sacred Valley.
Amble around Pisac Market
One of the Sacred Valley’s most charming attractions is Pisac Market. Every day, locals from the valley descend on the small town, which was founded by the Spanish conquistador Viceroy Toledo, to sell their colourful wares and handicrafts.
Whether you’re looking for a last-minute souvenir or stocking up on warm llama-hair clothing for your journey into the Andes, you won’t want to miss swinging by one of Peru’s most enchanting markets. Pro tip: though it opens every day, try visiting on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays when the market is at it’s best and biggest.
Clamber up Ollantaytambo
This tiny Inca town lies in the heart of the Sacred Valley not far from Pisac and is often combined with a visit to the market. It’s a peaceful place filled with winding cobbled streets, white-washed Spanish townhouses and friendly locals.
However, the main reason to visit town is the spectacular Incan ruins that tumble down the valley cliff face. It was supposedly the royal residence of Emperor Pachacuti and other than Machu Picchu, these are, arguably, the most well-preserved Inca ruins. Plus, they’re a much more accessible than Machu Picchu.
Go on an adrenaline-inducing white-water rafting trip
If you’re feeling brave, consider donning your gear and safety helmet to hit the white-water rapids, some of the best in South America. There’s nothing quite as adrenaline inducing as hurtling down through Grade III rapids.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any rafting experience, the safety-conscience guides will look after you during the tour. You can even opt for one of the gentler rapids, great if you’re bringing the kids along for the ride.
Take it all in from above
While the views of the Sacred Valley from ground level are good, nothing compares to looking down over the winding rivers and steep valleys from a paraglide. Flights take off in good weather year-round and take you on a thrilling ride on the valley’s thermals.
You won’t be going alone. The experienced paragliders will be doing all the operating during the tandem flight leaving you to take in the views and nab some snaps. Just be sure to get that Instagram-worthy selfie!
Spend a night in the Skylodge
Talking of heights, if you’ve got a head for them, don’t miss spending a night at the Skylodge. Arguably one of the most unique hotels in the world, you’ll be staying in one of 3 Perspex pods attached to one of the valley’s cliff sides.
To reach you pod, you must first climb more than half a kilometre of iron rungs. Inside your transparent pod, you’ll find a comfortable space with a double bed and a toilet, both of which have fabulous views down over the valley. Your guide will bring you dinner and wine and, in the morning, you’ll drop back down to earth on zip lines.
Check out Moray and Maras
If you’re interested in Incan history, another must-do in the Sacred Valley is Moray, a circular terraced site which has kept scientists and historians baffled for decades. While no one can be quite sure, many believe it to be a nursery for cultivating crops.
Then there’s Maras which is famous for its salt-producing terraces which have been in continual use since the Incan times. It was here that salt was created from evaporation and sent out for use across the empire.
Lace up your boots to go hiking
If none of the above appeal, bring your walking boots to go rambling along the magnificent trails which range from gentle day hikes to more challenging multi-day treks. If you’ve got some trekking experience, you can head off on your own. Alternatively, join one of the daily guided hikes with expert local leaders.
Just remember to remember to bring your camera because you’re not going to want to miss catching snaps of the bread basket of the Incas.
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