Peru Travel

The Sacred Valley of Perú

Beautiful flowers hanging with a scene of the mountains in The Sacred Valley in the background.

An area with a title that is most fitting, The Sacred Valley of Peru is just that, sacred. There are healers from all over the world that choose to call this beautiful place home. While I also went to the Sacred Valley for healing, this blog post isn’t about my healing journey. It’s about all the magical spots you should visit, on your own journey.

You can do all these sites as day trips, staying in Cusco. However, I would highly recommend staying in the Sacred Valley. I chose to stay in a sweet little town called Pisac, about 45 minutes from Cusco. Ollantaytambo would be another great place to stay, the train to Machu Picchu leaves from there. Aside from the retreat I attended, I spent an additional 2 nights in Pisac. In that time I was able to do an all day “taxi tour” of Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo, and Naupa Iglesia. Along with having time to enjoy the artsy town, and hike the Pisac ruins.

Taxi Tour Day:

As far as getting to and from each destination, you can join a tour, hire a taxi, rent a car, or if you are up for the adventure, take collectivos. I hired a taxi for the day, through a friend that lives in the valley. Your hotel should be able to arrange this for you. For the entire day, we visited 4 sites/cities and I paid 300 soles, or 80US dollars. He spoke no English, and I speak no Spanish, but with the help of google translate, it all worked out.

A photo taken on the taxi tour day of rolling country hills, bright blue skies, and big fluffy clouds.

Taxi Tour Itinerary:

  • 8am: Pick up at hotel
  • 930am: Maras
  • 1030am: Moray
  • 12pm: Ollantaytambo
  • 430pm: Ñaupa Iglesia
  • 7pm: Drop off at hotel

Maras:

A view of all the salt pans at Maras Salt Mines.

Maras is just over and hour drive from Pisac, and cost 10 soles to enter (about 3 US dollars). I did not use a tour guide, instead I wandered around myself for about 30 minutes. You’ll follow a loop, that brings you to all the scenic spots. Unfortunately, due to contamination, you are no longer able to walk within the salt pans.

As you walk towards the exit, you’ll see locals have set up little shops. Grab yourself some of the famous Peruvian pink salt, and chocolate to take home!

A little what and why behind Maras Salt Mines…

Strategically dug into the mountainside, there are over 6,000 shallow pools filled with salt water. Eventually, they evaporate and leave behind crystallized salt. These salt pans have been in operation for more than 500 years. To this day, they are mined by local families for their beloved Peruvian pink salt.

a closer look at the salt pans at Maras. Where the water is evaporated  and turned into Peruvian pink salt.

The salt is mined through the evaporation of the brine, that is channeled into the pans. Once the salt has evaporated, a member of the family comes and carefully scrapes the salt crystals, and prepares them for consumption, sales, fertilizer, etc. Once all the crystals are removed, the pan is filled with salt water, and the process begins again.

Moray:

Mysterious circlar Inca ruins.

Next stop, about 15 minutes from Maras, lives some mysterious circular Inca ruins.

One of the theories is that the mind boggling terraces were used for agriculture. It was an experiment to see which at temperate, and amount of sunlight would help the crops grow. Another theory, is that Moray was used as an amphitheater for large gatherings and ceremonies. Lastly, and my favorite is aliens.

No matter the theory you are told, or choose to believe, there is no denying that the structures here are incredible to see in person. The precision behind these perfectly circular terraces is definitely a site you don’t want to miss.

You will purchase a ticket here for entry, it cost 70 soles (25 US dollars). Make sure to save it, this ticket is good for 4 different sites, and valid for 3 days! I ended up visiting 3 of the 4 sites, during my time in Pisac!

Ollantaytambo:

Shops and women weaving textiles in the streets of Ollantaytambo.

Just over an hours drive from Moray, lives this cute little bustling town. The locals shorten Ollantaytambo, too Ollanta, making it less of a tongue twister. I spend a good 4 hours here, getting lunch with a friend, shopping, and exploring the ruins. When you go to Machu Picchu, you will catch the train from here, so I had a little sneak peak days before, and was so excited to come back.

We had lunch at Apu Veronica, I chose it because of the views, and man was it a good choice. We each had a fresh juice, an appetizer, the trout dish (I should say platter, because it was massive) for 40US dollars. More food recommendations below, in the “Good Eats”.

While there are so many shops, full of beautiful handmade items, this one stood out most. Awamaki is a non-profit create to support, educate, and uplift the women in rural Peru. All of the items in store are hand crafted by these talented women. While most stores only take cash, here they take credit card!

A wall of massive stones, upright known as The Wall of the Sixth Monoliths at Sun Temple.

The Ollantaytambo ruins blend right into the city, and mountains. As you start to ascend up you’ll realize the terraces are taller than the average human. There are many different structures here. Some being incomplete like The Wall of The Sixth Monoliths at Sun Temple, said to be used as a calendar. Unknown for certain, but it is believed that most ruins remain incomplete due to invasion and attacks.

To enter the Ollantaytambo ruins, you will use the ticket from Moray! The entrance is right behind the market, you can’t miss it.

Ñaupa Iglesia:

Alien looking portal, at the top of a mountain, in a cave.

Now this one… was for sure created by aliens. I had never heard or seen pictures of it before arriving. The friend I had lunch with, had some friends that told her to check it out. No one mentioned we would be scaling a mountain to get there. Ok ok it wasn’t THAT bad, but a lot of the steps have worn away, and it is quite steep in some areas.

The energy around the ruins was INTENSE.

We went a bit late in the day, about 430pm, and didn’t see a soul in sight. My taxi driver knew exactly where to take us, and from the parking lot you would never guess what was up there. Follow the train tracks, up to the signs, then follow the trail, up to the cave. There you have the portal, that may lead you wherever your imagination ventures.

The closest city to Naupa Iglesia is Pachar.

While the Taxi Tour day was a long one, it was also really great to see so much of the Sacred Valley, in the time I had. You could easily break it into two separate days, by doing Maras and Moray in one, and Ollantaytambo and Ñaupa Iglesia in another. As I said above, you could also spend a few nights in Ollantaytambo for the convince of your train ride to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu:

How to get there-

My trip to Machu Picchu was organized by the retreat I was attending. Our tour guide Jesus, was incredible. He was very knowledgeable about pretty much anything we asked him. He also incorporated a spiritual side to the tour, which we all loved. (his website is being redesigned now, so I will link it when he sends it my way). We paid 300US dollars for everything, which included transportation to and from Ollantaytambo, the train ride, the bus ride, and the tour itself. It was 100% worth it!

Deboarding the he train to Machu Picchu.

The trek to Machu Picchu from the retreat center, included a 1.5 hours car ride to Ollantaytambo, a 2 hour train ride, and a 20 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes to MP. All of which was organized by Jesus, making it as stress free, and enjoyable as possible. I am typically one to figure it out myself and skip the tours, but with so many steps and regulations to follow, I would leave it to the professionals.

The train has windows in the roof, great for taking in the gorgeous views. We were assigned seats, check the letter on your ticket and that will tell you where to board. Deboarding the train was a bit chaotic, so keep track of your belongings and friends!

Once getting off the train, it was a short walk to where you’ll need to catch the bus.

The have drastically cut back on the amount of visitors they are allowing in each day, and at what time. At the moment you are required to have a tour guide. If you choose to organize your Machu Picchu trip yourself, you can easily grab a guide once you get off the bus, near the entrance. Just make sure you have your ticket and passport to enter!

MP insight- What to bring, weather, and fun facts!
The intricate, precise, and mind blown ruins sitting in the tropical mountain forest, known as Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu sits at 2,430m above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest. And lemme tell ya, the elevation will kick your ass if you haven’t allowed yourself time to acclimate. Even after being in Cusco and the Sacred Valley for over a week prior, climbing the stairs took it out of me.

Apply sunscreen before, bring water, a hat, and raincoat during wet season. There is a place at the entrance, where you can check your coat, and belongings if needed.

We had ideal weather, going the first week in May. 70s, sunny, big fluffy clouds hanging above the mountain tops. Being winter, May- September is the dry season, and considered the best time to visit. December- March is summer, bringing the possibility for heavy showers. Although, the weather in the area is said to be unpredictable any time of year.

The reason most people have Peru on their bucket list is to see The Lost City, Machu Picchu. Bringing in over half a million visitors a year, it is definitely touristy attraction. For good reason, there is so much history, and beauty to be admired.

This majestic site was built by the Incas over 600 years ago. Some believe it was built for the royal family, some say it was a religious site used for worship. Either way the architecture is undeniably incredible. The precision of the massive stones, fitting together so seamless, without modern day technology, just seems impossible.

Fun Fact from Jesus: It would sometimes take 20-30 men about a month to cut a single stone!

Waterfall hike:

A beautiful waterfall, at the top of a hike.

Cataratas de Arín, while at the retreat, we were lucky enough to be staying walking distance to this beauty. A nice little trek up, and around the waterfall. Take the gravel road up, and you’ll see a few different paths. We took the one that leads you over the wooden ‘bridge’ to cross the stream, then hang a left. Catch some magical views of the valley from the top.

A bit further up the road, and off the beaten path, leads you to another waterfall. You’ll pass the first trail on your left and follow the other path straight. About half way in, you’ll pass a larger ‘bridge’, hang a left, climb over the rock wall, another left and the waterfall is a few minutes up the way.

Pisac-

The market in Pisac.

Where to stay– After the retreat center, I stayed in Pisac for two nights. It was the most darling little city to call home. I booked Pisac Inn off Booking.com, and loved my time here. Very friendly, and helpful staff, delicious restaurant on site, clean, and safe rooms. The best part was the location, right in the center of town! I paid $154US dollars for the two nights.

I was able to explore most of Pisac on foot. The city is full of brightly colored, hand woven everything. The market, Mercado Artesanal Pisac, is located just past city center. Walk straight up the hill from Pisac Inn. On Sundays, they also have a market in city center, where locals will bring produce, and crafts, to buy and sell.

Pisac ruins

Pisac Ruins– That ticket you saved from Taxi tour day, will be needed to get in here! There are a few ways you can explore the Pisac ruins. I took a taxi to the top, wandered the ruins, and hiked down. Or you can have your taxi wait for you at the top, and skip the hike. I went about 9am on a Thursday, and saw a few people hiking up, as I was coming out. I would recommend doing it the way I did, as the entire trail was uphill for them. The hike took me about an hour, if I had more time I would plan for about 2-3 hours for the Pisac ruins, and the hike.

When you get dropped off at the entrance, if you want tour guide, you can find one here.

Retreat center in The Sacred Valley:

Raicaes Inka Retreat Center, a fairytale.

Raices Inka Retreat Center- As I have mentioned a few times above, I was in the area for a retreat. It was an actual fairy tale of a center. Every single flower, stone, pond, and rock was placed with an intention. I spent 8 nights here. While I was there for a retreat, I have also heard you can stay as a hotel guest. The website doesn’t have an option for booking, but if this is something you are interested in, there is an email to reach out. It was a bit far from town, so I probably wouldn’t recommend staying here if exploring is your main priority, unless you have transportation. We paid $150US dollars per night, all meals were included.

Blog post on my retreat, and ayahuasca ceremonies coming soon!

Good eats:

Pisac-

Moutains, city, and a river. The view from the restaurant, Apu Veronica.

Ollantaytambo-

  • Apu Veronica– Big windows overlooking the city and mountains, great food!
  • Sunshine Cafe– Amazing baked goods, best carrot cake ever! Great balcony.
  • Chuncho– Cute cafe and restaurant, in city center.

Aguas Calientes ( the city before and after Machu Picchu)

  • Indio Feliz– Best meal of the trip! Good vibes, good service, amazing rolls!
  • There are a ton of little shops you can stop in before or after Machu for a quick empanada or pastry. You’ll see them as soon as you get off the train, and walk towards the bus.

Things to know:

– Not many people speak English. Google translate is a life saver, make sure to download it before.

Overlooking the sacred valley on the way to maras.

-SIM card. I purchased one at a Claro, in Cusco the day I arrived. $10US dollars for two weeks, I was able to avoid my standard $10 a day charge with Verizon. To activate the SIM card, they will need your passport. The plan I got was for iMessage, WhatsApp, and data. I was not able to make calls. Plans will vary.

– Have Soles! Make sure to stop at an ATM or money exchange. There is an ATM in Ollantaytambo, but I would recommend getting cash in Cusco, so you have it at all times. Some places will accept US dollars, but only if they are brand new bills.

– At the time of my trip, a PCR test or vaccination card was require to enter. No travel insurance necessary. In some areas, double masking was enforced, unless you had an N95.

-When flying in, you’ll most likely fly to Lima, then Cusco.

-The Sacred Valley is lower elevation, so a great place to start your trip while acclimating. Especially if you tend to get altitude sickness.

I hope all this insight, helps you plan your trip to The Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu with a little more ease. Please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below, if you have any questions!