Incredible Things to See and Do in Sacred Valley, Peru

Pisac, one of the first towns on the Sacred Valley route, is home to mountainside crop terraces
Pisac, one of the first towns on the Sacred Valley route, is home to mountainside crop terraces | © maylat / Getty
Allegra Zagami

Since the time of the Incas, the Sacred Valley of Peru has helped agriculture to advance — its microclimates have aided cultivation for generation after generation. It is also a fertile place for culture and the Inca fortresses are every bit as spectacular as Machu Picchu, the archeological star of Peru. From citadels to sensational mountainside hotels, we know the best things to see and do in the Sacred Valley.

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Explore the ancient ruins of Ollantaytambo

This archeological site has one of the best-preserved Inca ruins in Peru. If you are heading for Machu Picchu you will probably stop in Ollantaytambo on the way. The fortress was one of the few places where the Incas resisted the Spanish. If archeology or history isn’t your thing, the ruins are worth a visit just for the spectacular view of the valley.

Discover the Pisac crop terraces

An hour’s drive from Cusco you come upon Pisac, the first town on the Sacred Valley route, which has agricultural terraces built into the mountains. Trust us, they are astounding. Five times the size of Machu Picchu, the cliff-hugging terraces were used by Inca farmers. Climb to the top for a sweeping view of the Urubamba valley.

Weave your way to Chinchero

Surrounded by lush fields and snow-topped peaks, Chinchero is one of the most picturesque towns in the Andes. It is 13,000ft (4,000m) above sea level and is famous for the residents’ weaving techniques and colorful designs. While here, take a tutorial by the Quechua women to better understand their ancient customs.

Stay in a cliffside glass capsule

A stay at SkyLodge will have you waking up in a capsule suspended in the air attached to the sheer face of a mountain

If waking up in a glass capsule suspended 1,300ft (400m) up a cliffside sounds thrilling, book a night at Skylodge Adventure Suites, near the town of Ollantaytambo. Your adventure begins on arrival, with an option to climb the face of the mountain to reach the lodge. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the glass capsules: all the suites include a bathroom and fine-quality linens and mattresses.

Explore the history of agriculture near Maras

A little way outside the town of Maras are the Moray ruins: circular terraces built by the Incas in the 15th century to grow assorted crops. Each level represents a different microclimate and allows a variety of plants to be grown. Seeds cultivated here were distributed throughout the Incan empire. It’s a place for fertile imaginations today — come and be wowed.

Discover thousands of salt pools in Cusco

Thousands of salt pools dot the mountainside 25mi (40km) north of Cusco. Spring water fills the pools and when it evaporates, salt is left behind. The ancient custom of harvesting salt is still practised today by local families. You’ll find pink Maras salt in markets in Peru (and even across the world).

Kayak the Vilcabamba-Urubamba river

Looking to fill your Sacred Valley itinerary with adventure? Book a rafting or kayaking trip on the Vilcabamba-Urubamba river. With rapids from class II, III and III-plus, you are guaranteed exhilaration. The flow is frenzied — boiling white at many turns — and you will need to have nerves of steel. The peaks of the surrounding terrain can imbue a sense of calm as you hurry along.

Tread in the steps of an emperor at Huchuy Qosqo

This Incan archeological site was once the royal estate of the emperor Viracocha. When the Spanish muscled their way in they took advantage of the existing irrigation systems to set up a farm. Huchuy Qosqo is inaccessible by road; to reach it you’ll need to embark on a two-day trip by foot or on horseback. Pack sensible shoes.

Paddleboard on Laguna Piuray

If you have seen enough of the Incas, escape to Laguna Piuray, a lagoon an hour north of Cusco. Here you can sign up for a day of paddleboarding and lose yourself in the scenic splendor, notably the snow-capped Salkantay mountain, as you splish-splash over the tranquil depths.

Soak in the Cocalmayo hot springs

After the challenges of the Sacred Valley hiking trails, it might be time to relax. If your feet are aching, try soaking them in the Cocalmayo natural thermal springs, their waters enriched with minerals that are guaranteed to heal tired muscles. The springs are a 20-minute drive from Aguas Calientes and they are a great way to recharge seeing Machu Picchu.

Manuel Orbegozo contributed additional reporting to this article.

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