Peru’s Sacred Valley is a vital stretch of alpine countryside that connects the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu to the bustling city of Cusco. All Machu Picchu-bound tourists must traverse the 70-mile Sacred Valley, yet very few stop to explore its riches. Here, visitors can explore a range of archaeological ruins, including the largest known Incan cemetery and an ancient sundial, as well as local markets and ancient salt pools.
Below are eight must-see experiences to add to your Peru bucket list. Note: Before you go, consider booking a private guide or tour company such as Kuoda Travel (one of the many tour operators specializing in the region), as many sites require a guide to gain access.
1. Chinchero: This quaint town is best known for its traditional weavers. Weaving and textile dyeing demonstrations are offered daily and locals will guide you through their techniques and explain how they achieve their signature vivid colors. Other local attractions include a 17th-century era church, as well as a lively Sunday market.
2. Pisac: While Pisac offers a vibrant Sunday market scene like Chinchero, don't leave here without visiting the nearby ruins, which serve as a vivid reminder of Incan architectural splendor. The Pisac Ruins contain the largest known Incan cemetery as well as crop terraces, ceremonial baths, and an ancient sundial. Although they’re just as impressive as Machu Picchu, these ruins are far less frequented. Pisac’s Sunday market takes place in the town’s Plaza de Armas and features ample crafts and souvenirs. (Tip: To avoid the crowds, consider visiting on a Tuesday or Thursday, when the market also takes place.)
3. Ollantaytambo: Ollantaytambo is where the bus meets the train for Machu Picchu, so, while most tourists stop here, they don’t stay for long. However, this sleepy Andean village — which is where the Spaniards were defeated centuries earlier — merits so much more than a 15-minute glance. A visit here offers a chance to truly step back in time as you wander the ancient streets lined with original Incan homes and irrigation canals. It’s also home to its own terraced fortress, which towers over the western edge of the town; at the base, you’ll find an open-air market, which offers fewer crowds and affordable goods.
4. Maras Salt Flats: These shimmering salt ponds are tucked into the lush Andean mountain greenery and offer incredible scenery. For centuries, locals have harvested salt here by creating small pools that fill with a salty spring water. The water is left to evaporate and the salt is then harvested by hand. Tip: We recommend hiring a private guide, as some of the access has recently been restricted.
5. Ruins of Moray: Most archeologists believe these ruins once served as an Incan research site, which was used to determine the effect of altitude on certain crops. After wandering the terraces, make the short walk over to Mil Centro. The restaurant, which offers stunning views of the Moray Ruins, is the brainchild of Chef Virgilio Martinez (whose Lima restaurant is considered one of the world's best). The menu here highlights locally sourced ingredients, and all dishes are prepared using ancient techniques.
6. Wiñay Wayna: Often referred to as Machu Picchu’s sister site, Wiñay Wayna is filled with its own collection of hidden treasures — sans the crowds. Here, amidst waterfalls and orchids, you’ll find the terraced remains of ancient baths. The best way to get here is to take the train to the zone of Chachabamba or the Km 104 stop. Note that you will need a licensed guide to access the area.
7. Huchuy Qosqo: This site is believed to be an ancient Incan retreat. To get there, you need to hike from Chincero (about six hours). Alternatively, there is a two-day version of the hike, which departs from Cusco. The two hikes offer incredible views, stunning scenery, and few crowds. Kuoda Travel offers guides for both options. Learn more here.
8. Sacsayhuaman: These ruins are located just outside of Cusco and are a stunning example of Incan engineering — complete with massive stone walls so tightly fitted (without the use of any mortar, nonetheless) that even a piece of paper cannot get between them. The site once served as a fortress, which was used to store munitions and house warriors. It was also home to sacred temples, and many ritual ceremonies took place here.