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Cuzco Sacred Valley

Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas


Cuzco - from Pisac to Ollantaytambo...

At some 2,800 meters above sea level the beautiful valley known as 'Vilcamayo' to the Incas, stretches out from the Inca citadels of Pisac to Ollantaytambo along the Urubamba / Vilcanota River or "Sacred River". Yucay was the name the Incas used to call this valley, one of the most fertile of Peru.

The Sacred Valley is located about 27 km (1 hour) to the Northeast of Cuzco. It is possible to get there by two asphalted roads. The first one is the most used leaving from Cuzco by Chinchero (28 km) to Urubamba (57 km). The second important road leaves from Cuzco to the northeast towards Pisac (33 km) going next to the Vilcanota River up to the village of Calca (50 km) exactly in the heart of the valley. The first route is the most used due to better road conditions.

Although the tourist infrastructure has grown meaningfully in the last years and today we offer a variety of accommodation and restaurant facilities, the valley has managed to preserve its natural enchanting peace. Its character of "sacred" has survived the pass of the time and that magic continues to seduce the visitors.

The Sacred Valley also holds two of the most important handicraft markets of Cuzco: Pisac and Chinchero.

...Andean Communities and Archaeological Sites

Just an hour’s drive from Cuzco, the Urubamba Valley, or Sacred Valley of the Incas, is a setting of picturesque communities, impressive terraces and many important archaeological sites.

Dominated by the imposing peaks of the Vilcanota mountain range, the valley has been the storehouse for agricultural products for the city of Cuzco since Inca times, and today is famous for being home to maize cobs with the largest kernels in the world. The valley includes the area between the Inca communities of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Its mild weather and particular geography make it ideal for outdoor sports enthusiasts to practice rafting, mountain bike-riding, hang-gliding and trekking.

At 2800 m.a.s.l. the climate is not so severe. As in any other place in our regions stretching along the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, climate has two seasons: rainy season and dry season. Rainy season is between November and April. The sky is often obscured by clouds and heavy rain may fall suddenly. But rainy season has its advantages as the hills are covered with thick grass and it is warm. During dry season the colors of the sky are brilliant but air is dry. Generally nights are cold and it can be freezing at dawn. The sky full of stars becomes a real show at this time of year.

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After visiting Cuzco and its nearby ruins...

After visiting Cuzco and its nearby attractions/archaeological sites such as of Sacsayhuaman, Kenko, Puca Pucara and the Inca baths at Tambomachay (see part 1 - The City of Cuzco), you may want to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

This valley was the ancient settlement of numerous pre-Inca tribes. Among them was the Huari culture (8th and 9th centuries). Around the year of 1200 AC, Manco Cápac, direct descendant of Wiracocha, the Sun God, resettled local tribes and founded a city at a nearby site, calling it Qosqo – “navel of the world” in the Quechua language.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas - the Main Sites

The following is intended to give you a handful of ideas about what to visit while in the Sacred Valley and around Cuzco, and depending on the tour chosen it may not reflect your actual itinerary.

At only 30 km to the south of Cuzco over a paved highway is Piquillacta, a pre-Inca citadel built by the Huaris in the eleventh century in a mysterious architectural style.

Pisaq is a just 33 km from Cuzco by a paved road. This small, pretty town has an old quarter, an archaeological site considered one of the most important in Cuzco (most people are not aware that Pisaq is bigger than Machu Picchu), and a modern quarter, dating from the colonial period. Here an ancestral indigenous market takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The ancient village of Urubamba (2871 masl, 76 km away from Cuzco via Pisac, or at 57 km via Chinchero), a former agricultural centre of the Incas, is a beautiful area with great fruit production. The village, with its bustling market, still retains its traditional Andean charm and sits in the outskirts of the majestic snowy mountain Chicón. Urubamba and the surrounding Sacred Valley area is famous for its incomparable landscape and breathtaking beauty that surrounds it.

The picturesque village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and its ruins are said to contain the most impressive Inca stonework anywhere in Peru. It is a typical Inca community located 21 km from Urubamba at 2,800 masl, named in honor of the chief Ollanta, who was famous for courting an Inca princess, daughter of Pachacutec. The village is overwhelmed by the great temple-fortress clinging to the sheer cliffs beside it. Ollantaytambo is located where the valley becomes narrow and the road can no longer climb. It was used as a fortress to defend Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas from the jungle tribes of the North.

Maras is a small community 40 kilometers from the city of Cuzco, on a turnoff from the road to the town of Urubamba. Its main attraction, apart from its church, that dates from the colonial period, are the salt mines located near the town which captivate sightseers and, in particular, photographers. A magnificent spectacle, this network of salt mines has been worked since pre-Inca times and is still in use today.

Moray (3,500 masl) lies just 7 km away from Maras, although the road to it is not always in good condition. This community is famous for its embedded amphitheater, formed by four circular terraces which seem to disappear into the interior of the puna, like an artificial crater.

An alternative way to see the Sacred Valley is to visit the ancient Andean town of Chinchero, with Sunday as the ideal time since it is marketplace day. If this option is chosen, a visit to the Maras salt mines can fit within the itinerary. Chinchero is only 28 km from Cuzco towards Yucay & Urubamba. Here lie the remains of what was the royal hacienda of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, as well as a beautiful colonial temple built on Inca foundations. Civil and religious structures as well as raised agricultural platforms make this a unique town.


click here to openMore about these sites


From here one can experience the contrast of the typical Spanish town of Andahuaylillas, whose church has been a refuge for true treasures of art and gold.


Our excursion through the Sacred Valley of the Incas includes a visit to the town of Pisaq, its famous market, its traditional streets, and its artisans. From here you may want to visit the Inca citadel located on the peak of the mountain.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a colorful and eclectic crafts fair includes the best of the region in textiles, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry and other surprises. But the Sunday market attracts thousands of visitors and people from remote communities, dressed in colorful, traditional attire. Here vendors sell their produce to one another and their crafts to you. Every Sunday there is the procession of the Varayocs, or mayors (i.e. native authorities of the surrounding indigenous communities), who, at around 9:30 am, go to church to attend the traditional Mass held in Quechua.

The citadel of Pisaq is located on the peaks of a chain of mountains that offer a panoramic view of the Sacred Valley. It is comprised of a complex of temples, dwelling areas, agricultural terraces, towers, ramparts, an astronomical observatories, all built by the Incas. This site provides a unique opportunity to walk over Inca roads for between two and five kilometers, and visit ancient fortresses.

Following Pisaq, we swing through the towns of Lamay, Coya and Calca before stopping for lunch in a pleasant country restaurant in Urubamba or a picnic lunch at the banks of the legendary Urubamba River.


Many travellers enjoy participating in various adventure sports around Urubamba, including canoeing, hiking, mountain biking and horse riding (not included in our base programs – ask us for options).

If you chose to, the excursion continues to Ollantaytambo, the only Inca city still inhabited. We visit the town, its sanctuaries and main temple, and the fortifications, before returning to Cuzco. The whole excursion lasts 10 hours and covers approximately 200 km.


One of Ollantaytambo's best-preserved areas, known as Hanan Huacaypata lies north of the main square and contains 15 estates built with elegantly crafted stone walls. Ollantaytambo also features an extensive archaeological site located on the imposing hillside overlooking the town, containing structures such as the Temple of the Sun, and the Mañacaray or Royal Hall, the Incahuatana and the Baños de la Princesa. It also has hotels, restaurants and horses and mountain bikes for hire. A branch road leading from Ollantaytambo to the Málaga mountain pass (4,200 masl), goes through towns such as picturesque Huílloc, home to the renowned wayruros (porters).

Maras Salt Mines

Salt is extracted from mines which have been in use since pre-Columbian times. The extraction method employed involves using an ancient drying process, whereby salt-water, flowing from an underground stream, is left in the sun in thousands of wells until it has evaporated, leaving behind only the salt, which is then ready to be sold or exchanged for provisions. During the summer months (April - October) the shimmering spectacle offered by the pools is incomparable.


Evidence seems to suggest that Moray was an important center of Inca agricultural research on crops, which was carried out on different sized plots located at various altitudes (some of which were at more than 100 m underground). The Andean terraces, built on retaining walls filled with fertile soil and watered via a complex irrigation system, offer up more than 250 different types of vegetables and cereals, such as corn, quinoa and kiwicha.

This archaeological site is both beautiful and impressive. The circular agricultural terraces create micro-climates allowing various crops to be grown. One of the nicest ways to reach Moray is by Peruvian Paso-style horseback riding. Riders travel across the hilltops above the awe-inspiring Sacred Valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes in the distance.


The main attraction of Chinchero is its Sunday market, which was originally dedicated to the barter of products by the people of the valley and the upper areas. Nowadays, the market is a real hub of activity, vibrant with color and movement which fascinates tourists with its range of handicrafts and textiles made in true pre-Columbian style.

Here the Inca tradition of ritual labor is still in effect! The background for this incredible anachronism is full of exceptional contrasts in scenery. A short hour walk from here takes us to the community of Pichingoto.

Following a picnic lunch at the banks of the legendary Urubamba River, we continue on to Ollantaytambo, 68 km from Cuzco, for a visit to the ancient temple, the sanctuaries, and the agricultural terraces and granaries. This excursion takes nine hours and covers some 160 kilometers of partially paved highway.



From Cuzco to Machu Picchu

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click here to openThe Inca Dynasty

(Approximate dates of assuming the throne)

  1. Manco Cápac: 1200 AC, Founder of Cuzco and of the Hurin Cuzco dynasty (natives of the lower part of Cuzco).

  2. Sinchi Roca, son of Manco Cápac: 1230.

  3. Lloque Yupanki, first son of Sinchi Roca: 1260.

  4. Mayta Kapac: 1300.

  5. Kapac Yupanki. 1320, the last monarch of the Hurin Cuzco dynasty.

  6. Inca Roca: 1350. With Inca Roca the Hanan Cuzco dynasty begins (natives of the upper part of the city). He is the first monarch to use the title Inca.

  7. Yawar Huaca: 1380.

  8. Wiracocha Inca: 1410. Born as Hatun Topa Inca, but an apparition of the God Wiracocha moves him to take this name. He initiates the expansionist period of the empire, arriving as far as Tucuman in what is today Argentina.

  9. Pachakuti: 1438. His rule presided over the construction of Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco.

  10. Tupac Yupanki: 1471. He advances as far as Quito and builds the temples on the Islands of the Sun and Moon on Lake Titicaca.

  11. Huayna Kapac: 1493. He completes the conquest of what is today Ecuador. During his reign, the Spaniards arrive at the coasts of the empire.



Cuzco is located to the north west of Lake Titicaca.

Cuzco is located to the north west of Lake Titicaca

Through our intimate, small-group tours and private expeditions in this area you will be able to visit sites most tourists, even seasoned travelers, never find.

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La Paz & Lake Titicaca
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Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / La Paz
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Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / La Paz
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You may also check other Special Interest Travel and unusual tours or expeditions around Bolivia, including:

• La Paz, Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca
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• Colonial Cities of Sucre and Potosí
• Central, Inter-Andean Valleys of Cochabamba
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