The Sacred Valley

An hour from Cusco brings you to a steep-sided valley with a wide floor that follows the course of the Rio Urubamba. This magnificent mountain river arrives into the valley close to the village of Pisac, tumbles past the 30km of fertile pastures and fields it has created, then flows out of the end of the valley at Ollyantaytambo. From that point it tumbles through narrow gorges, passes beneath Machu Picchu, and eventually finds its way out of the Andes to join the Amazon.

For the Incas, the Sacred Valley was heaven on earth. You can easily see why.

You could stay a long while in the Sacred Valley. Taking long country walks along the valley, or striding out on the highlands above. Shopping in village markets. Exploring the ruins of Incan temples and palaces. Eating hearty food. Enjoying the clean air. It's the kind of place you might feel you could settle down in sometime.

There's lots to see. Perched on a ridge above the market town of Pisac at the head of the valley, is an Incan citadel that once controlled a strategic route from Cusco to the Amazon. The views from here are astounding, looking down on the patchwork of fields and intricate terracing of the valley itself, as all around steepling peaks cascade into the distance.

Parts of the ruins at Pisac are extremely fine, with a Temple of the Sun that is reckoned to be the equal of anything at Machu Picchu. More ruins, largely unexcavated, lie above, along with ancient burial sites hidden in rocky cliffs.

The other end of the Sacred Valley was guarded by the magnificent temple-fortress above Ollyantaytambo. The ruins include a temple of the sun in astoundingly precise Incan stonework, with 6 pink monoliths to catch the rising sun.

Ollyantaytambo is itself an Incan town, laid out in the pattern of a maize cob, each grain an individual courtyard. Agricultural terracing around the village makes the shape of a mother llama with her calf.
A further example of Incan agricultural technology lies on the highlands above the Sacred Valley: the curious 'laboratory' at Moray. Here a deep circular depression ringed with terraces was created in Incan times, which archaeologists interpret as a place to experiment with crops in different conditions.

You'll also want to see the dramatic salt-pans at Salinas above Maras, and perhaps explore the town of Urubamba, which makes a good place to stay if you are spending time in the valley.

There's a train line that runs from Cusco, through the Sacred Valley to halt at Ollantaytambo and again a few kilometres on. Alight here for the start of the Inca Trail, or stay aboard for the exciting ride through deep gorges beside the Rio Urubamba, to emerge below Machu Picchu itself.

Start planning your trip to Peru

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Holiday designs that visit the Sacred Valley

'A Month in Peru'

Peru - Touring and wildlife

A very well-paced trip that visits all the iconic sites, and goes on to explore the Amazon, the desert kingdoms of the northern coast, and down to the south Pacific and the Nazca lines.

26 nights from £5750

'Peru Nature Explorer'

Peru - Touring and wildlife

Wildlife in three distinct Amazon rainforest regions (Manu, Pacaya-Samiria and Tambopata), time in the Sacred Valley, and a visit to Machu Picchu. Wind down on the Pacific coast and an opportunity to see the Nazca Lines.

19 nights from £5570

'Chile, Bolivia and Peru'

Chile - Touring and wildlife

One of the most inspiring journeys in Latin America visiting all of the key sites of the Andes: Atacama, Uyuni Salt Flat, La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu- the Lost City of the Incas.

19 nights from £5145

'Luxury Peru'

Peru - Touring and wildlife

From ancient Incan ruins to the beauty of Lake Titicaca, this itinerary couples awe-inspiring sights with fine accommodation.

12 nights from £450

'Peru in Our Winter'

Peru - Touring and wildlife

Desert kingdoms, wildlife and the classic Incan sites, with just a short time at high altitude. A perfect trip to Peru for our winter months, and a good choice at other times too.

14 nights from £3425

'Peru Odyssey'

Peru - Touring and wildlife

Visit Peru’s most iconic sites, and discover what lies beyond, on a beautifully designed journey of rich experiences.

13 nights from £2500

'The Royal Inca Trail'

Peru - Walking and active

The Inca Trail much shortened to reach the ruins in a day walk. So no camping! Cheating? Well, maybe …

1 nights from £645

'The Classic Inca Trail'

Peru - Walking and active

Step in the footsteps of the Incas to their secret citadel of Machu Picchu. This is the classic way to follow the trail, taking 4 days to arrive at the Sun Gate facing Machu Picchu at dawn. You tour the ruins and return to Cusco on that day.

3 nights from £50

'A Quieter Inca Trail'

Peru - Walking and active

By starting the Inca Trail later in the day you avoid others on the path, and camp in quieter places. You arrive at Machu Picchu in the peace of the afternoon (a lovely time) and return the next day for a full visit.

4 nights from £1855

'Salkantay trek'

Peru - Walking and active

The Salkantay Trek is the most established alternative to the Inca Trail. It runs through remote and beautiful scenery skirting the magnificent Mt Salkantay to arrive at Machu Picchu from the other side.

6 nights from £1060

'Lares community trek'

Peru - Walking and active

The Lares Valley lies just beyond the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Over 5 days you reach passes up to 4200 metres, walking among communities living traditional Andean ways of life.

4 nights

'Peru Family Adventures'

Peru - Walking and active

13 nights

'Peru Birds and Culture'

Peru - Birdwatching

An excellent bird watching holiday, with wetlands, puna, scrub, altiplanic lakes, montane forest, lowland rainforest and macaw clay licks, artfully combined with wonderful landscapes, iconic travel experiences, and some of the best Incan sites.

18 nights from £4840