Sacred Valley | In the footsteps of the Incas through the Urubamba Valley
Machu Picchu citadel is among the most famous tourist destination in the world, and visiting it is an experience that starts in Cuzco, from tens of kilometers away. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can follow the Inca Trail for 4 days on foot, or you can get by bus or car to Ollantaytambo, then by train to Aguas Caliente. Regardless of your choice, surrounded by Urubamba Valley you will enjoy a spectacular panorama among the mountains that still hide mummies in tombs made of clay as Andean condors fly above them.
The road from Cuzco to Machu Picchu village, called Valle Sagrado de Los Incas or Sacred Valley of the Incas, is parallel to the Urubamba River, in the middle of Peruvian Andes, among small colonial cities, authentic villages, and archeological sites.
How to enjoy Urubamba Valley
One day itinerary in Sacred Valley
Our itinerary in Peru included visiting Lima, Cuzco, Aguas Caliente, and the archaeological sites Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. We chose a local agency to handle our reservations, and a guide accompanied us throughout our trip.
We left Cuzco immediately after breakfast, accompanied by our guide Richard and a driver. We had tickets to the last train departing from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente, so we had the entire day to enjoy the view between the mountains, the ruins, and the famous Peruvian cuisine.
In Valle Sagrado de Los Incas, Quechua traditions have been passed down through generations in memory of Pachacutec, the king of whom the Andes still tell stories with respect and admiration. Between Pisac and Ollantaytambo we discovered people with a rich culture, living from agriculture or selling handmade objects and Peruvian handmade fabrics. If Cuzco had become a city sometimes too crowded, in Sacred Valley you will find yourself among the locals who still respect their Inca heritage, speak Quechua, wear traditional clothes, and have a modest lifestyle, that reminds of the past.
Tips & Tricks
Due to its variety of regions and climates, Peru’s biodiversity is one of the richest in the world. Peruvian gastronomy is remarkable for the diversity of its ingredients, therefore globally recognized. In the nearly 90 km to Ollantaytambo, you will be able to try at the local inns different traditional dishes such as Andean soup, alpaca steak, or cuy (the roasted guinea pig that Peruvians swear it is absolutely delicious).
Our favorite Guided Tours
Santuario Animal de Cochahuasi
On the way to Machu Picchu, among spectacular landscapes from Sacred Valley of the Incas, you have the chance to see the largest flying bird in the world, the Andean condor. Animal Sanctuary of Cochahuasi is approximately 20 km from Cuzco. This rescue center helps in increasing the populations of condors by breeding the birds in captivity then releasing them back in the mountains. The rehabilitation center is probably the only opportunity in the Andes to walk among the impressive birds on the verge of extinction and admire them flying around you.
In addition to condors, many injured wildlife is sheltered in Cochahuasi, most of them arriving here especially after they have come in contact with poachers or illegal traders. The animals are regularly being released by the volunteers back into the wild, but if they need care for the rest of their life, Cochahuasi becomes their permanent home.
33 km from Cuzco you can visit the archeological site Pisac and the town with the same name. Pisac is famous for its market, where every week local producers come from the surrounding communities to sell their handmade souvenirs, ceramics, alpaca wool clothing, ponchos, or jewelry. The fair itself is an excellent opportunity to observe the indigenous people or Quechua traditions.
At 3347m altitude, the citadel dates from 1440 and was an important agricultural sector in Sacred Valley of the Incas. The 40 terraces built strategically to penetrate as much of the sunlight through the mountains, were used by the Incas to grow corn, potatoes, and peppers. Within the site, you can see dozens of constructions, irrigation systems, fountains, houses, ceremonial altars, and a temple of the Sun, which have remained true symbols of the Inca architecture and engineering. The complex is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Peru and one of the most beautiful places to visit on the way to Machu Picchu.
Built during the middle of the 15th century, at a distance of 70km from Cuzco and 30km from Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is the last fortress that withstand the conquest of the Spanish. Located at 2972m altitude, the archeological site and the city with the same name can be visited right before boarding the train to Aguas Caliente. The view from the top of the mountain, among the ruins, is absolutely amazing.
Very high agricultural terraces are built at its base, where the Incas planted tulips and other native plants. Besides the agricultural sector, in Ollantaytambo, you can visit an area of temples, a defensive one, and an altar of ceremonies. The Temple of the Sun also known as Wall of the 6 Monoliths is one of the most famous and important structures preserved in time. In order to build it, large blocks of stone weighing between 50 and 100to were transported from the opposite side of the valley, from a distance of 4km (including over a river) by a civilization that archeologists have no evidence that they had ever discovered the wheel. The monoliths were cut, polished, and combined to perfection, by a technique that remained a mystery of the Inca architecture and engineering. Although the fortress was still developing at the time of the Spanish arrival and most of the constructions have remained unfinished, same as Pisac, Ollantaytambo is a very well preserved archeological site.