sacred valley peru

Sacred Valley, Peru: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide

At the heart of the former Incan Empire, the Sacred Valley of Peru is littered with enough unique ruins, important landmarks, and natural wonders to engage travelers for weeks. Most famously home to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is a bucket list destination well worth a visit, far exceeding most travelers’ greatest expectations.

In this ultimate guide to the Sacred Valley, we share the best things to do in the Sacred Valley, where to stay to get the most out of your trip, and the can’t-miss destinations worth traveling for. Let’s get started planning your dream trip to one of Peru’s most scenic regions!

things to do in the sacred valley

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Sacred Valley, Peru

Located high in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, the Sacred Valley – also known as the Urubamba Valley for the river that runs through its heart – stretches for 60 miles through some of the most beautiful and historically significant areas of Peru.

From the Incan fortress at Ollantaytambo to the terraced ruins and indigenous market in Pisac, there is plenty to experience here before you make it to the Valley’s most famous destination. Choose from unique hikes and countless easy day trips, or independently explore the countless ruins, natural landmarks, and beautiful vistas of the area.

The gateway to the Sacred Valley is Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire and the transportation hub for travelers visiting the area. Whether you plan to use Cusco as a base for your trip or prefer to stay in one of the Valley’s charming towns, exploring Cusco is its own unique pleasure!

Sacred Valley Altitude

Be wary of the elevation you’ll experience in the Sacred Valley. The elevation of Cusco is 11,152 feet (3,399 meters), while the elevation at Machu Picchu is 7,972 feet (2,430 meters).

If you’re traveling from lower altitudes, it can take some time to adjust – you may feel a bit out of breath when walking or exerting yourself. Make sure to drink plenty of water, rest up, and try coca tea, a local remedy used for altitude sickness for generations.

I’d recommend adding a day to your itinerary to help you adjust to the altitude. While you may not feel much of the effects of the altitude at all, this should provide a good buffer for you in case you do.

Is the Sacred Valley Worth Visiting?

The Sacred Valley is well worth visiting! Not only is the Sacred Valley worth a visit, but it’s also worth moving to the very top of your bucket list.

Whether you’ve always dreamed of traveling to Machu Picchu or are simply interested in visiting a beautiful, interesting destination, you’ll appreciate all that the Sacred Valley has to offer. It’s packed with fascinating ruins, world-class hiking trails, beautiful towns, interesting markets, and much more. However long you plan to stay here, there will always be something more to do.

What Is the Sacred Valley Known For?

The Sacred Valley is best known as the heart of the former Incan Empire and home to Machu Picchu. While this is enough of a draw for many tourists to visit the area, don’t make the mistake of heading straight to Machu Picchu and missing out on the rest of the incredible destinations in the Sacred Valley.

sacred valley

5 Things To Do in the Sacred Valley

1. Explore Cusco

Most travelers embark on a journey through the Sacred Valley from Cusco, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking the chance to explore all that this city has to offer. Easily one of Peru’s best cities, Cusco is filled with historic landmarks, bustling markets, Incan ruins, and beautiful viewpoints.

With so many things to do in Cusco, it’s impossible to break down everything you’d want to do in this article, but these are just a few highlights:

  • Visit the ruins of Sacsayhuaman just above Cusco
  • Explore the neighborhood of San Blas
  • Eat cuy (guinea pig, a local favorite) at Cuyería Sabor Moqueguano
  • Take the WithLocals Cusco food tour
  • Rest and relax at the ReEnergize Cusco, or try luxurious spa treatments at Palacio del Inka

No matter how long you’ll have to enjoy the city, you’ll find that Cusco has some incredible travel experiences waiting for you.

2. Visit Humantay Lake

While there are plenty of incredible day trips from Cusco to consider as you explore the Sacred Valley, I’d recommend Humantay Lake as one of the most impressive spots in the valley, making for a great visit. This high-altitude turquoise lake sits just below the snow-capped Humantay Mountain, making for a destination you need to see to believe.

Cusco day trips to Humantay Lake are quite affordable – generally around $40 USD – and are by far the easiest way to visit the site. Alternatively, you could take a taxi to Humantay Lake, but you’ll end up paying much more for transportation than you would by just joining a Humantay Lake small group tour

If you’re looking for more than just a day trip to Humantay Lake, consider adding the Salkantay Trek to your itinerary. This 4-day or 5-day trek includes a visit to the lake on the way past stunning snow-capped mountains on a journey that culminates in a visit to Machu Picchu.

Read More: 9 Best Day Trips from Cusco

3. Hike the Inca Trail

The Sacred Valley is a hiker’s paradise, and its most famous trail is the classic 4-day Inca Trail. While hikers will enjoy walking in the footsteps of the Incas and seeing ruins along the way, the trek culminates in a sunrise arrival to Machu Picchu, a highlight for any trekker.

While the classic Inca Trail is completed in 4 days, you’ll also find options to make the trek in 3 days or 5 days. While these multi-day treks are pricey, it’s a bucket list travel experience that is well worth the money – I’ve never met anyone who has completed the trek and said otherwise!

The tour company TreXperience is the best at these treks, and I highly recommend booking with them. They offer excellent Inca Trail treks that are well worth the money, with their 4-Day Classic Inca Trail Trek being a favorite

4. Hike an “Alternative” Inca Trail

If you love the idea of exploring the Sacred Valley by foot but are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, there are plenty of fantastic multi-day hiking trails through the Sacred Valley to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a route that takes you to Machu Picchu or just a memorable trekking experience, you’ll have your pick from several world-class treks.

Salkantay Trek

The 4-day or 5-day Salkantay Trek is probably the most well-known Inca Trail alternative, but don’t worry, you’ll feel like you have the trails all to yourself compared to the Inca Trail. Highlights of the trek include vistas of the snow-capped peaks of Humantay (you’ll visit the stunning Humantay Lake) and Salkantay. It’s also an incredible trail for spotting wildlife like alpacas, vizcachas, and even the elusive condor.

TreXperience offers one of the best Salkantay Trek Hike experiences, and I highly recommend checking them out and considering them for your booking.

Ausangate Trek

With passes near Peru’s 5th highest peak, Ausangate, and a day of trekking to the famous Rainbow Mountain, the Ausangate Trek is a highlight for adventurous travelers visiting the Sacred Valley. While the classic route lasts 6 days, you’ll find companies in Cusco that tack on a few more days to bring trekkers all the way to Machu Picchu.

The Ausangate Trek can be more challenging than some of the other alternative Inca Trail routes, and reaching Machu Picchu takes longer, so it isn’t as popular as some of the others on this list. However, if you’re looking for a unique, off-the-beaten-path challenge, Ausangate is a fantastic choice.

Lares Trek

Considered one of the less physically demanding alternative Inca Trail routes, the Lares Trek generally starts from the Lares area north of Cusco. Highlights include incredible vistas of peaks like Verónica, Sahuasiray, Pitusiray, and Chicón, as well as countless opportunities to explore Incan ruins and pass through tiny mountain villages.

Classic Lares Treks usually last three days. This makes the Lares Trek a great choice for a shorter and less physically demanding hike than the others on this list.

5. Visit Machu Picchu

Whether you’re hiking the Inca Trail or boarding a luxury train, if you’re traveling to the Sacred Valley, you’re definitely looking forward to visiting Machu Picchu. One of the most famous landmarks in South America – and one of the most recognizable spots in the world! – Machu Picchu is guaranteed to exceed your expectations. I had high hopes for my visit, and I was truly blown away.

If you’re looking for an experience similar to Machu Picchu without visiting Machu Picchu itself, consider embarking on the 4-day trek to Choquequirao. These Incan ruins just 25 miles southwest of Machu Picchu are extremely similar to Machu Picchu, though the experience of visiting them couldn’t be more different – only about 15 to 20 visitors arrive each day!

Read More: Best Machu Picchu Tours (For Every Budget)

sacred valley guide

Where To Stay in the Sacred Valley

Plenty of travelers use Cusco as a base for exploring the Sacred Valley. With so many charming boutique hotels and guesthouses, affordable hostels, and luxury palaces, you’ll have plenty of options when choosing where to stay in Cusco.

However, it is worth considering the benefits of staying in the Sacred Valley, outside Cusco proper. You’ll enjoy exploring beautiful Sacred Valley towns and the stunning landscapes of the Valley, away from the hustle and bustle (and high-season tourist crowds) of Cusco.

Whether you’re looking for a retreat space, a boutique hotel, or an eco-lodge, you’ll find it here. In towns like Pisac and Ollantaytambo, you’ll find a range of accommodations for all budgets. Plus, some of Peru’s most exclusive luxury hotels are spread across gorgeous estates, making the most of breathtaking mountain views.

Wolf Totem ($)

Wolf Totem is a favorite hostel in Pisac and the Sacred Valley, and you’ll hear backpackers throughout Peru talk about how much they love this friendly hostel. Nestled in the beautiful hills about a 20-minute walk outside of central Pisac, Wolf Totem feels like a luxury retreat, even if you’re traveling on a backpacker budget.

Hotel La Casona de Yucay ($ – $$)

Located just outside of Urubamba, the charming Hotel La Casona de Yucay is an affordable yet charming property you’ll love. The historic building is stunning, with its traditional colonial courtyard and grounds with incredible mountain views. Rooms are comfortable and spacious. You’ll feel like you’ve found a slice of paradise in the Valley, while sticking to budget.

Las Qolqas Eco Resort ($$ – $$$)

Come to Las Qolqas Eco Resort to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the Sacred Valley in luxury. The hotel has lovely grounds just outside of Ollantaytambo, and the dining room’s glass roof lets in tons of natural light – and beautiful views of the valley. The hotel’s restaurant is worth a visit even if you’re not staying here – everything is delicious.

Rio Sagrado, A Belmond Hotel ($$$)

Situated on a beautiful estate beside the Urubamba River, Rio Sagrado is a slice of paradise among the natural beauty of the Sacred Valley that you have to experience to believe. Much more than just a place to spend the night, Rio Sagrado is an absolute highlight of a visit to the Sacred Valley.

Every detail is thought out, from the sumptuous rooms and delicious local fare to engaging excursions and activities, and even llamas on the hotel grounds that guests can feed. Whether you’re looking for some rest and relaxation to acclimatize to the altitude or just want to enjoy a memorable stay, Rio Sagrado is the perfect spot.

Vertical Sky Luxury ($$$$)

Staying at the Vertical Sky Luxury Suites isn’t like staying anywhere else on earth – it’s truly its own adventure. Perhaps you’ve seen images of this hotel on viral Youtube videos or Instagram – the hotel is composed of glass pods suspended from a cliff hanging over the valley, making for what is sure to be an unforgettable night’s sleep.

Visitors have to climb up and zipline down – consider it all part of the unforgettable visit. You’ll need to book well in advance, as rooms are few (understandably!), and staying here is its own bucket list experience.

visit the sacred valley

Getting to the Sacred Valley

Nearly all travelers to the Sacred Valley access the area through Cusco, the Valley’s largest hub. Cusco is well connected to the rest of Peru, with frequent flights arriving at the city’s airport, located just a few minutes from the center of the city.

Cusco also receives frequent buses from other Peruvian cities, though be sure to research just how long of a bus ride you could expect: Cusco is more difficult to reach and further from other popular destinations than you might think.

Once you’ve reached Cusco, the transportation options throughout the rest of the Sacred Valley are endless. With frequent public transportation (buses or “colectivo” passenger vans) through the Sacred Valley, as well as an abundance of taxis, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.