Before we started our Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, we spent one day in Peru’s Sacred Valley. The Sacred or Urubamba Valley is a valley in the Andes about 12 miles from the former Inca capital of Cusco. Visiting the Sacred Valley is a must-do if you’re staying in Cusco. Here’s how to spend one day in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Booking a Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco
The easiest way to visit the Sacred Valley is to book a tour from Cusco. There are hundreds of group or private tour options to choose from with varying itineraries. We ultimately decided to book our Sacred Valley tour with SAS Travel and we were happy with our choice. We went with tour option 4 which is a private tour including stops at Pisac, Urubamba for lunch, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. The entrance was not included in the tour price, but our guide helped us buy a Boleto Turistico at Pisac. The Boleto Turistico gives you access to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Moray. With this tour, you will only visit the first two ruins.
First Stop: Pisac Ruins
The tour started with a prompt pick up from our hotel, the JW Marriott Cusco. We started our tour at Pisac which is about an hour outside of Cusco. Pisac was the second most sacred site for the Incas after Machu Picchu. It served militaristic purposes due to its location but was also important for agriculture and religion. The first thing you’ll see when you arrive at Pisac are the agricultural terraces. These are a common sight in the Sacred Valley but Pisac has some of the most picturesque.
At the top of the terraces were the ruins of the town. It’s a bit of a hike to get up there but certainly worth it for the view!
Second Stop: Pisac Market
After visiting the ruins of Pisac, we walked around the Pisac Market. This is a market for souvenirs and handicrafts. The tour guide also brought us to a silver shop where they showed us how they handmade jewelry. We didn’t end up buying anything, but it’s always fun to walk around a marketplace.
After visiting Pisac Market, we stopped for a buffet lunch in Urubamba.
Third Stop: Ollantaytambo
After lunch, we headed to Ollantaytambo. On the way, our tour guide stopped and pointed out the Skylodge Adventure Suites, which are hotel pods that are suspended on a mountainside. I’ve seen this on Facebook so many times, so I appreciated getting to see what it looked like in person!
A short drive later, we arrived at the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo was both a fortress and a temple. This was one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a battle.
Ollantaytambo ended up being our favorite stop of the day. Not only was the history of the ruins fascinating, but the natural scenery was beautiful.
Final Stop: Chinchero
Last but not least, we visited Chinchero. This was the highest stop of the day at over 12,000 feet. There are ruins and a market here, but this stop was more of a tourist trap. Even so, I actually enjoyed it! We learned how Peruvians make dyes from natural resources and how alpaca fur is turned into scarves and other clothing.
We rarely buy anything on vacation but we each bought a scarf. They were so soft and beautifully made. We also were coerced into taking pictures like this…
After Chinchero, we had a 40-minute drive back to Cusco.
Other Places in the Sacred Valley
This itinerary doesn’t include everything that the Sacred Valley has to offer, but it’s a good day trip if you are short on time. If we had more time, I would have also wanted to visit the Moray ruins and the Maras Salt Mines. Maybe another time!
If you’re in Peru to visit Machu Picchu, make sure to leave an extra day or two to check out everything else the Sacred Valley has to offer. With so much to see, it’s easy to spend one day in Peru’s Sacred Valley. If you’re short on time, prioritize Pisac and Ollantaytambo. While you can visit the sights of the Sacred Valley on your own, we found having a guide invaluable as we got more context on what we were actually seeing.