The Sacred Valley of the Incas | How to visit independently
The Sacred Valley Peru sits in the Andean highlands. Along with Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu it formed the heart of the Inca Empire. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo. These villages have some fantastic ancient Incan sites which are included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket and are wonderful to visit. Below we’ll help you visit them independently without the need of an expensive tour and help you enjoy not only the Incan sites but the pretty villages as well.
How to get to Ollantaytambo?
Ollantaytambo can be reached by collectivo from Cusco. The collectivo’s depart from Calle Pavitos which is a 10 min walk from Plaza de Armas in the centre of Cusco. About half way down Calle Pavitos on the right hand side you will see the Collectivo garage and there usually are men shouting the name of the town that the collectivo is going to or they’ll have the town name displayed across the windshield of the van. The cost for the journey is around 25.00 PEN per person and takes about an hour. Once in Ollantaytambo the collectivo has 2 drop off points. One near the archeological entrance and main square and the other at the train station. If you check out before hand where your accommodation is then you’ll know which stop will be best for you.
Where to stay at Ollantaytambo?
Ollantaytambo is a quaint little village with a good few accommodation options to choose from to suit every budget. The hostel we chose was Chaksa Wasi Hostal and was located just a few mins walk from the main square, Plaza de Armas. The hostel was run by a woman named Kati and had clean and bright rooms. The breakfast was a bit basic and the hot water was hit and miss but you get what you pay for and Kati was really helpful and even arranged for us to visit a local family for lunch. The location was perfect and the wifi was pretty good so all in all it was a great place to stay.
What ancient sites are there to see at Ollantaytambo?
Ollantaytambo is the only Inca town that is still inhabited. Its stone streets preserve the Inca architecture combined with temples and colonial squares. On the hillsides that surround the town you will see some stunning archeological features. As well as the main structures there are other smaller archeological sites dotted on the edges of the town. All of these sites are within walking distance of the centre of town and you can easily spend a day or two exporting them all.
The Fortress Archeological site
Activity – Archeological site – Entry with the Cusco Tourist Ticket
Behind the town is the main archeological site which is also called the Fortress and can be accessed by the Cusco Tourist Ticket. As with most sites there are guides at the entrance willing to show you round for an additional fee but as we prefer to wander and explore on our own so we didn’t hire a guide. If you are visiting this site then its advisable to get there early as the tour buses arrive around 10am to 11am and the site can get very crowded. The site opens at 7am in the morning and if you are staying in Ollantaytambo then the entrance to the site is only five mins walk maximum from the centre of town. Here’s some of the key points of interest at this site:
The Royal House of the Sun
This area is made up of seventeen very large terraces directly facing the town.
The Square Mañay Raqay
This plaza area is right inside the main entrance to the right with the water fountains and openings that are thought to be doors.
The Temple of the Sun
The incredible monolith at the top of the terraces is formed of six pieces and thought to be one of the most beautiful pieces of Ollantaytambo and they’re not wrong, its stunning.
Activity – Hike and archeological site – Entry cost free
On the opposite side of the hill from the fortress ruins there is another archeological site called Pinkuylluna which is also incredibly interesting and well worth a visit to see. The hike up to this site is on a rocky zig zag path and takes about an hour to reach the buildings. The views from here are amazing not only down to the town but over to the other archeological sites. There you can see the Qolqas which are very visible on the skyline and were used for grain and textile storage for the Incan town. They played an important role in the organizational structure of the Inca empire. The Incas believed in collective effort and re-distribution.
Wander the cobblestone streets
As previously mentioned Ollantaytambo is a living Incan town. Walking through the narrow streets of the town you can observe the water channels. This is where the local people accessed their clean water. These channels still run today and are used for various household uses. The plaza in the centre of town is a great example of how the nobles used to live and is very much still in tact today as it was then.
Enjoy the local cuisine
There are some great restaurants in Ollantaytambo that offer the local cuisines such as cuy, trucha, alpaca and many more Andean delicacies such as Lomo Saltado. Most of these you’ll find around the main square. You will also find many street food vendors selling local foods that are fun to try. There is a large food market in Ollantaytambo and many local ladies selling produce from their shawls on the street. Its a vibrant food culture and one we very much enjoyed.
How to get to Pisac?
The cheapest way to get from Ollantaytambo is by using the system of collectives and public buses that run along the valley and stop off in most of the towns and villages. For this journey you would need to first take a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to the main transport hub in the valley, Urubamba and then another from there to Pisac.
If you want to do what we did and visit some of the less excesible sites and attraction on the way between the two towns you will need to book a private transfer. This however is not cheap we negotiated a price of 250 soles through our hostal. This would pick us up from our accommodation and take us to three sites, Moray, The salt pans and Chinchero. It would then drop us off at our accommodation in Pisac. Unfortunately Chris got ill and we had to skip the salt pans so we didn’t get to visit but the idea was a good one.
What sites did we visit en route to Pisac?
There are two sites included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket that you can visit en route to Pisac.
Activity – Inca Ruin – Entry with the Cusco Tourist Ticket
This site contains Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 metres deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has quite a sophisticated irrigation system. We don’t know what this site was used for, but its depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a significant temperature difference between the top and the bottom so they could have been for agriculture or religious purposes. We can only guess but the site is impressive nonetheless.
Activity – Ancient Incan Town – Entry with the Cusco Tourist Ticket
The ancient town of Chinchero is one of the most beautiful Incan sites in the Sacred Valley Peru. A wonderful place where you can still feel and see the Inca culture as it was in times past. It has an wide open plaza based on what was an Inca palace, with a typical Sunday fair where ancient crafting is still done and where the local people dress up in the typical clothing of their ancestors. When we visited there were a few ladies selling their wares in the main plaza. The site also has a beautiful little church – The Church of the Virgin of Nativity in Chinchero and a museum telling the story of Chinchero through the ages.
Where to stay in Pisac?
Pisac, like many other small towns and villages in the Cusco area, has a variety of accommodation to suit most peoples budgets, from shared dorm rooms to more luxury type hotels. We chose to stay in a hostel that was classed as a boutique hotel and it was a really good choice, apart from it being a vegan hotel that was, but hey, we survived. Our accommodation was the Ubuuntu Boutique Hotel and it was lovely. Our room was large and the bed was comfy and the water in the shower was hot. The breakfast, being a vegan hotel, was based around pancakes, fruit and advocado and we did miss our eggs and the day we tried a vegan cappuccino will remain in our memory for a long time but it was an experience and the hotel was great. The staff were lovely and available to help with any guidance to the sites or transport help. The best thing about this hotel was that it was literally ten steps away from the main square so could not be more central.
What ancient sites are there in Pisac?
To reach the main archeological site in Pisac it is best to take a taxi to the top and then walk back down through the different ancient areas to the town. You can walk directly from the town but its about a two hour walk upwards, approx 4km, and if the sun is out then it will a tough climb. We chose to get a taxi in town, right next to the orange bridge on the road to Cusco, and take it up to the top entrance of the archeological site and then make our way down. The taxi only cost 10.00 PEN each as we shared with an Irish family.
The Pisac ruins are said to be amoungst the best intact Inca sites in Peru. Located high on the mountain overlooking the town of Pisac. This was the best site we visited in the sacred valley. Once we exited the taxi and made our way into the site everywhere you turned there were impressive buildings. Its said that this site served different functions. military, agricultural and religious and you can find evidence of all these in the different sectors. We found that the site, in the morning was really busy with loads of tours but after 11.00am the tour buses left for other sites and we practically had the place to ourselves.
The sweeping terraces which you can see from afar and dominate the central point of the site signify the agricultural element of this site. The temple of the sun with its large smooth well apointed stones lean to the religious aspect and the height of the structures on the mountain tell the military story.
The four main groups of ruins you’ll encounter are P’isaqa, Inti Watana, Qalla Q’asa, and Kinchiraqay. Once you’ve visited the sites at the top of the mountain you can make your way down paths that run down the sides of the terraces or alternatively you can walk up to the mirador and take the path there. By choosing the mirador route you’ll miss the ruins of old Pisac town that you see on the way down but its up to you which one you choose.
The walk down takes you right to the bottom entrance of the archelogocial park and comes out at the Plaza de Armas in the centre of Pisac. If you have time and a few spare coins then get a fresh orange juice from the lady just outside the gate. Its incredibly refreshing after a long walk down the hillside.
We enjoyed visiting The sacred valley Peru very much staying in the two villages gave us more options and a greater length of time to explore. If you’re short of time you can visit with a tour from Cusco but if you can stay a while we’re sure you won’t regret it. There’s loads to do and see and it really is like stepping back in time when you see some of the ruins and how intact they are.
Booking resources for your stay in Cusco
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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Machu Picchu must be on everyone’s to do list, the Inca Trail is the most exhilarating way to get there.