Spare Some Time for the Sacred Valley

Here’s my advice to you about the Sacred Valley in Peru: don’t rush it.

Drainage system snake in Pisac, Peru
Because then you might miss details like this drainage-system snake in Písac.

Scores of travel agencies in Cusco run tours to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which stretches through the Andes between Cusco and Machu Picchu. It can be done in a day; Machu Picchu is only four hours north of Cusco.

But give it more than one day – each of these places were major points of interest for the Incas.


Views from Pisac ruins, Peru
Views from the top.

We caught a shared minibus from Cusco to Písac, a 30-minute journey of twisted mountain road. It cost 3.50 soles per person and dropped us off right in the easily-navigable town of Písac. We walked to the first hotel we saw (above a jewelry store) and got a double room for 50 soles.

Písac instantly became one of the highlights of our trip to Peru. Maybe it was the gorgeous sunny day. Maybe it was the quiet, cheerful village. Maybe it was the warm beers we had in a convenience store with a jolly old Frenchman. Maybe it was the mind-spinning views from the ruins.

Pisac, Peru
I’m the QUEEN OF THE WORLD. And I’m embarrassed that I just said that.

Whatever it was, Písac was a welcome surprise.

Besides the Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday markets, Písac’s main attraction is Inca Písac, the ruins of what was once the primary defense for the Southern border of the Sacred Valley.

There are two ways to get to the ruins: by bus or hiking trail. It’s a long 2-hour hike to the top, but it is by far the best way to go.

mountainside tombs in Pisac, Peru
Cavernous Incan tombs, which have since been raided and left empty.

The views are incredible – I stopped at every bend to get a picture, only to realize that it kept getting better as we got higher. The valley stretches out in front of you and terraced hillsides become more defined. This fortress played several roles: military, religious, and agricultural, and the remains of temples, houses, and farmland are still standing.

Climbing up the terraces of Pisac, Peru
The only way up is through the terraces.
Rebuilt watchtowers in Pisac, Peru
I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not the original roof.
Temple remains Pisac, Peru
Taken from the top. If we’d had a guide, I might be able to tell you what it was.
Terraced hills of Pisac
Hmm, how to grow crops on an unforgiving mountainside? Oh yes, terraces.
Hiking Pisac, Peru
Instead of simply admiring the scene, I insisted that we take 239 self-portraits.


From Písac, we took a local bus to Urubamba, where we jumped into a shared minibus to Ollantaytambo. All up, it took about 90 minutes and cost 4 soles each (1.50 for the bus and 2.50 for the taxi). You can also get here via train from Cusco, but then you’d miss Písac.

Plus, the train is about a million times more expensive.

Ollantaytambo, sometimes called simply ‘Ollanta,’ was built on the banks of the Patakancha River, overseen by an indomitable cliffside temple. We didn’t use a guide, but I think it would have been beneficial as we could have learned more about what we were seeing.

Ollantaytambo temples, Peru
The top of the Ollantaytambo ruins.

This temple is considerably easier to access, with only a brief uphill series of stairs to climb. There were more great views and more interesting ruins, including fountains and storehouses.

Storehouses of Ollantaytambo, Peru
Chameleon-like storehouses in Ollantaytambo.
Terraces of Ollantaytambo, Peru
The terraces leading up to the religious center of Ollantaytambo.

We booked a room at ‘Casa de Wow!’, which we obviously chose because of its name – one of the owners is actually named Wow. It was a pleasant place to stay, a little B&B with a great breakfast, friendly hosts, and handmade tree trunk beds with views of the mountain. (Casa de Wow did not sponsor my stay or ask me to say this.)

Entrance to the ruins of Písac and Ollantaytambo are included in the boleto turístico. There are plenty of other places in the Sacred Valley to visit, but we only had time for these two.

Cactus Flowers, Peru
The subtle beauty of a cactus.

Because let’s not beat around the bush – the main reason most people are in the Sacred Valley in the first place is to visit the ultimate tourist destination in Peru: Machu Picchu.

But if you’ve got time, spare a few days for the little places along the way. It’s one of the best things we did.

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  1. I remember exploring the Sacred Valley about three years ago fact I think I’ve got exactly the same photo of Ollantaytambo 🙂 There are some really great sites to explore.

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