Sacred Valley

In Europe, we had read on the Internet that there is a four days “Inca Jungle trek” to the Machu Picchu which includes biking, rafting, hiking and ziplining. We thought it was really nice but the prices – around 500$/person – disssuaded us from choosing this option. However, when we arrived in Cusco, we saw the same tour for a reasonable price and we decided to book it! But before visiting the Machu Picchu, we wanted to discover the Sacred Valley, its villages and ruins. So we planed the following itinerary:

  • Leave Cusco for Pisaq to visit the market & the ruins above the village. Take a collectivo to Urubamba and spend the night there
  • Visit Moray and the Salinas and go back to Urubamba for the night
  • Go to Ollantaytambo to visit the village & the ruins. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo. Pick-up on the next day at 11:00 am to start the “Inca Jungle trek”.

This option left us the possibility to visit the Sacred Valley and its Inca ruins before seeing the Machu Picchu. Moreover, we didn’t have to visit the Sacred Valley and then come back to Cusco to start the tour to Machu Picchu! Below a map of the area to give you a concrete idea of our plans:

Before going a little bit more in the details of our itinerary and our wonderful experience in the Sacred Valley, let me get one thing straight: we thought the 3 days planed in the Sacred Valley would be relaxing, but we forgot that ALL the ruins are build on the side of mountains, which means we spend 3 days going up and down the whole time!! It was wonderful, but we concluded that Incas were badasses with huge legs’ muscles and the breathing capacity of at least the best swimmer in the world… This being said, we really enjoyed discovering the Sacred Valley. Many tourists only go to Cusco to visit the Rainbow Mountains and the Machu Picchu, but if you have the time, it is definitely worth it to take the time to discover the Sacred Valley as well!

Day 1: Pisaq

We took a collectivo from Cusco to Pisaq for 4 soles per person at 09:20am and arrived an hour later in Pisaq. The ruins are located above the village and you have two options to visit them:

  • you walk up by foot until the top and go back down to the city by the same way
  • you ask a taxi to bring you at the top of the ruins for 20 soles and you go down to the city

To the surprise of the local people, we chose the first option and decided to climb up the mountain by foot to visit the ruins. We spent around 2 hours walking in the ruins and enjoying the serenity of the place. We encountered very few tourists in the ruins, but the was probably due to the fact that we went there around lunch time! If you can, take a picnic with you and eat at the top of the ruins: it’s a pretty place with a beautiful view on the valley below to have lunch!

We first had to go down all the way to the city to find a small restaurant some streets away from the market where the prices were in our budget! After lunch, we went to the city market which was, according to other travelers, really nice. We did enjoy spending some time there, but it was definitely very tourist oriented. If you are looking for a authentic local market, you might be disappointed. However, if you want to buy a lama pullover or earings, you are at the right place! Which is why Kai decided to chill on a nearby chair instead. 

We then took a collectivo to Urubamba – a local bus full with young students! It was a funny one hour ride before we arrived at the bus terminal and we started to look for a hostel. We randomly chose one as we never found the hostel I had seen on Booking.com… From there, we were only 2 minutes away from the main street of Urubamba where we had the best Lomo Saltado of our trip in Peru: if you pass by Urubamba, you have to go to the restaurant Peru Buen Gusto!

Day 2: Moray and the Salinas de Maras – and Kai’s shortcuts!

After a breakfast with good coffee – a rarity in Peru! – we headed to Urubamba’s local market to get some food for our lunch: our typical picnic in Peru consists of the round bread you can find everywhere, with avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers and tuna or eggs – quite tasty! This market is really great and you won’t see many tourists around! It’s quite the opposite from the Pisaq’s market where you only find souvenirs for tourists… So if you have some time, go there in the morning, it’s really an interesting experience to see how the locals handle the meat: after that, you might end turning vegetarian…!


Our aim of the day was to visit the terraces of Moray and the Salinas of Maras by foot. After speaking with a local, we understood that it was way better to start with the Moray terraces as they are up on the mountains and from there, to go down to the village of Maras and then to the Salinas. If you do it in the other direction, well… you will go uphill all the time 😉

We first took a collectivo to Maras and we were dropped after 15 minutes at a crossing with a road going in the direction of Maras. As the village was still 9 km away, we took another collectivo to Maras. From Maras, we started to walk in the direction of the Moray terraces: don’t be afraid to get lost, every local know the way. Once you are at a red building above the village, you have two options: you can either go left and follow the road on which cars and bus drive or you can go straight on a smaller unpaved road which will turn into a small way after a few hundreds meters.

We chose the second options and that’s when things started to get interesting. Indeed, Kai has a thing for “shortcuts”. As soon as he sees one, he needs to take it, no matter how steep or impracticable it looks like… So Sue – our Malaysian travel partner in Peru – and I ended climbing a hill on our feet and knees because it was too steep to walk on it normally! After approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, we arrived in the Moray terraces just in time for lunch. Here is the view from our picnic spot – not bad!

Because we felt quite lazy, we decided to share a taxi with two French guys to go back to Maras. There, we had the surprise to see that everyone in the village was wearing costums and that a festival in honor of St. Francis of Assisi was taking place: people were playing music, dancing and food stands were everywhere to be found. We even saw gorillas!!

After spending some time there enjoying the show, we started walking again as the day was passing by quickly and we knew we still had at least an hour until the Salinas. We finally arrived at the Salinas and admired the white of the salt with the red earth in the background. Salt has been collected near Maras since pre-Inca time! There is a highly salty spring emerging at the top the Salinas and the water is redirected so that it runs downs the nearly 3000 terraced ponds: with the sun shining on the ponds, it does not take long until the water evaporates and only salt remains 🙂

After spending some time there, we took another of Kai’s shortcut where I thought I would die at least 5 times. After crawling up the mountain for 10 minutes, we joined the way leading down to the valley. When we finally arrived at the main road in the valley, it was almost dark. We stopped a car to ask how far Urubamba was and the two women in the car offered to drive us there as it was their destination. We happily accepted and were back at our hostel 15 minutes later 🙂

We would definitely recommend this hike as the landscape is really beautiful and the way down easy. If you do everything by foot from Maras to Moray, then Moray to Maras, then Maras to the Salinas and finally the Salinas to the main road, it will take between 4 and 5 hours, depending how fast you walk. Once you are on the main road, you can normally catch a collectivo to Urubamba if you wait a few minutes, otherwise, try hitchhiking!

And according to Kai: “Take the shortcuts, they really were not as bad as Charlotte described them!”

Day 3: Ollantaytambo

We took a collectivo from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo and some 30 minutes later, we arrived at our destination. Ollentaytambo serves as a main hub to get to Machu Picchu: in fact, the last possibility to join the train to Machu Picchu is here. Thus the village is very tourists oriented, markets and high prices included. After finding a hostel, we took the most important decision of the day, meaning we decided on the restaurant where we would have lunch: we headed to the Blue Magic Cafe and had an early nice lunch there for a reasonable price.

We then headed to the main ruins of Ollentaytambo: first, we went up the ruins and took an extra detour up the mountain to see some part of the ruins further uphill with an amazing view of the valley. We learned that the Spanish conquistadores suffered in these ruins one of their only defeats against the defending Inca, due to them flooding the valley during the Spanish attack and using the higher position of the ruins to defend themselves.

When we returned to the lower part of the ruins, it was still lunch time and we had the ruins mostly for ourselves to discover. As we were done visiting the ruins, they were flooded, seemingly similar than when the Spanish attacked, with hundreds of tourists!

For dinner we went for one of the touristy pizza places at the Plaza de Armas, where there was a public viewing of the Chile VS Peru World Championship qualification game. After dinner we joined the crowd and were celebrating with them the 0:0 draw which gave Peru a good position to reach the relegation spot for the qualification. Spoiler: the played 0:0 against Argentine a couple days later and landed the qualification spot because Chile and Paraguay lost.

We went to bed excited at the thought of the 4 days tour to Machu Picchu which was starting on the next day. If you want to read about our adventure on the Inca Jungle tour, click here! And if you want to see all our pictures of the Sacred Valley, click there.


Practical Information

How to find the place where collectivos leave?

Ask the people on the street, they will tell you. It should not cost more than a few soles to go from one village to another in the Sacred Valley. Here are the prices we paid:

  • Cusco – Pisaq: 4 soles per person
  • Pisaq – Urubamba: 3 soles per person
  • Urubamba – Ollantaytambo: 3 soles per person

Good restaurants
Peru Buen Gusto in Urubamba: try the Lomo Saltado, it’s DELICIOUS!!!

On the Plaza de Armas in Ollantaytambo, you can have an interesting offer if you are looking for pizza: for 30 soles, you have a huge pizza – I would say 2 pizzas are enough for 3 persons – and a big carafe of lemonade.

Accommodations

I can’t remember the name of our accommodation in Urubamba, sorry! Regarding Ollantaytambo, we went to the El Bosque Backpacker Hostel and paid 33 soles per person in a triple room with breakfast. The hostel is quite nice, 5 minutes away from the city center – but the internet connection is not really working well…

 

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