Sacred Valley stretches roughly 60 kilometers; an area of farmland, Inca ruins and Spanish colonial villages such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. There are several options for visiting depending on how much time you have. We were short of time and so ended up doing a day trip from Cusco, visiting the highlights on a pretty whistle-stop tour. However, if you have more time you can actually go and stay in the towns and explore the area at a much slower pace. Friends of ours stayed two nights in Ollantaytambo and reported it to be a lovely town, great for relaxing and the perfect base to explore the Inca ruins that are literally on the doorstep. There are also glamping options where you can stay in small wooden huts or pods in the valley to enjoy the remoteness with a picnic and marvel at the stars at night. Another friend did this and said it was fabulous.
We visited the Sacred Valley in October 22, booking our day trip through Machu Picchu Reservations. We had booked our Salkantay Trek & Rainbow Mountain trip with them already and they offer discounts when booking additional tours. As it turns out, although they organised the trip for us, it was outsourced to another company, Peru Adventure Trek. It was them who led the tour on the day and they were really good.
We paid s/.80 (£18/$21.50) per person for the day trip including lunch. There are a few extras to pay in cash on the day; entrance to the Salt Mines which is s./10 (£2.25/$3) and Sacred Valley Entrance fee which is s./70 (£16/$19).
We were asked to meet at the Machu Picchu Reservations office at 7am. From there we were ushered onto a mini bus and set off towards Sacred Valley.
The first stop, just outside of Chinchero town was at a family run business where a local lady showed us how they use natural products such as stone, plants and flowers to dye sheep and alpaca wool to make into clothes and other textiles. It was actually really interesting and although there is a shop you can then buy local handicrafts from, there was absolutely no pressure to buy.
From here you go into Chinchero town itself where your guide tells you about the local history and shows you the famous Inca terraces and story behind them.
Next is a stop at a chocolate shop where you are invited to taste salted chocolate made with the salt produced at the local mines. Although they give you lots of freebies and tasters here, again there is no pressure to buy anything.
From here you go to the salt mines of Maras, where you have to pay an extra s./10. The bus stopped on the approach on the road overlooking the salt mines and we were able to get out and take some pics. Then the guide took us down to the salt pits themselves, told us about the production and company, and again we had some time to take photos. They were pretty impressive! We liked the fact the company is owned by a collection of local families so the success and wealth is shared across the community.
Lunch was next and my goodness it was good! We were really surprised considering the price we had paid for the tour. We were taken to a very modern, buffet restaurant where we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted from a huge selection of cold starters and salads, hot mains and a desert table of fresh fruit and cakes. We even had one free soft drink included.
After lunch the schedule got a bit more hectic and sadly the stops felt a little rushed. We knew it would be an action packed day and I definitely think some of the places warrant longer exploring but we just didn’t have the time, and so although it was a whistle stop tour we are glad we still got to see them.
The Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo were next. We found these the most impressive, very steep terraces overlooking the market place of the town. We were guided around the site and shown the sun gate at the top. We saw most of this site but it would have been nice to have more time to sit and take it all in. There are also some other ruins on the other side of the town which are apparently free to walk up to, so if you did opt to stay a night in Ollantaytambo you could visit both.
Last Inca stop was at Pisac. Pisac is an enormous Inca site, far bigger than Machu Picchu even and we barely scratched the surface. We were rushed up to one of the higher parts on one side of the hillside (the ruins continue round to the other but we didn’t even see those) and our guide did his best to give us information in the fleeting time we had there. We managed to get a couple of pictures but even that was a bit of a rush at this stop. We were shown the largest Inca graveyard on record which was quite cool. You would never spot it if you didn’t know what you were looking for as it is hundreds of holes, a bit like fox or badger dens, dotted across a hillside!
The final stop of the trip was rubbish and could have been left off for me but never mind. It was at a silver shop where a lady gave a talk about the silver mining and making of jewellery, I actually chose this point to nip to the toilet so I’m not sure if it was very interesting or not!
Back on the bus it was about 45 mins back to Cusco.
We enjoyed the day far more than we were expecting and if you are short of time would recommend the trip. As I’ve said though, if you have time to spend a few days in the valley exploring the ruins at a more leisurely pace I think this would be better.