Woman looking at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley in Cusco, Peru, from above on cloudy day

Best things to see and do in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Aug 21, 2023
Reading time: 10 minutes

Just north of Cusco is the beautiful Sacred Valley. Here you find charming Spanish-colonial towns, incredible Inca ruins, rich Quechua culture, farmland, salt flats and towering mountain peaks. Here's our pick of the top things to see and do when visiting!

The Sacred Valley in the Andes of Peru isn't as well-known as the nearby city of Cusco or the mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu. Yet for many who travel to the region, the Sacred Valley of the Incas ends up being the favourite part of their trip!

alpaca close up in Sacred Valley

You can look forward to seeing alpacas and llamas in the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a big valley with many historic towns, traditional Quechua villages, Inca ruins and hiking trails. So there's plenty to see and do for several days. But most of you will doubtless not have the luxury of that much time in the area, so we want to suggest what we feel are the eight most memorable experiences.

Beautiful girl with traditional dress from Peruvian Andes culture. Young girl in Ollantaytambo city in Incas Sacred Valley in Cusco Peru

The Quechua people have lived in the Sacred Valley for millennia

In this way, you don't need to worry about doing a whole lot of research into the valley yourself. Just read this post to get a feel for what's on offer, and plan your visit accordingly!

Our suggestions combine culture, cuisine, history and adventure and so offer the perfect all-round introduction to this beautiful and storied part of the Andes!

But first, we just want to show you the layout of the valley and its position in relation to Cusco, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu ...

A map of the Sacred Valley (and Inca Trail) in Peru


Map of the Sacred Valley of the Incas

As you can see in the map above, if you head to the Cusco region of Peru, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is right there in the middle. Whether you trek or catch the train to Machu Picchu, you'll pass through the Sacred Valley as both have their entry points in the far west of the valley.

1. Go white-water rafting on the Urubamba River

The section of the Urubamba River in the west of the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo is very popular for white-water rafting.

Here, you can enjoy a half-day outing where you tackle family-friendly rapids and drift past farms, villages, lagoons and Inca ruins.

Urubamba river at Sacred Valley, between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

The Urubamba River, a tributary of the Amazon, was considered sacred by the Incas

The first section of the river journey is fairly easy going with just level one and two rapids. However, after an hour or so you encounter some level three rapids that offer exciting waves, holes and technical moments.

The sharp mountains of the Sacred Valley of the Incas were thought to be mountain gods who kept watch over the fertile valley, the bread basket of the empire.

Sacred Valley of the Urubamba river, fields and agriculture.

The Urubamba River runs from the Sacred Valley down past Machu Picchu

2. Learn about traditional weaving in Chincheros

A great thing to do when in the Sacred Valley of the Incas is to delve into the unique fabric dying (using natural materials) and weaving traditions of the Quechua people at an awana wasi (weaving house). 

Woman in red hat doing traditional weaving in village of Chinchero, Sacred Valley, Cusco region, Peru

One of the Chinchero ladies demonstrating traditional Quechua weaving

These weaving demonstrations are more interesting than you might at first expect. Also, if you're interested in sustainable tourism, you'll be glad to know that these demonstrations offer a much-appreciated additional source of income to the mostly agrarian communities that host them.

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru. December 2018, Process of natural dyeing of alpaca and llama wool, Quechua woman.

Natural ingredients are used to dye alpaca and llama wool

Weaving demonstration are offered in more than one village in the Sacred Valley, but we take clients to Chincheros. This historic town is 3,160 m in elevation and sits on the Anta plains overlooking the Sacred Valley. Its origins are believed to go back millennia, but its the more recent Inca and Spanish histories that are naturally most accessible.

Entrance of the colonial church of Chinchero with its mural, Sacred Valley of the Inca, Cusco, Peru

Entrance of the Colonial Church of Chincheros which was completed in 1607

The split-level plaza and church, for instance, were built on the foundations of the palace of Inca monarch Tupac Inca Yupanqui. The beautifully aged catholic church built by the Spanish is one of the oldest in all Peru; do pop your head in if you have the time and take a look at the many old murals.

Much of Chincheros consists of adobe homes, and the vast majority of its inhabitants are Quechua. If you visit on a Sunday, the market is a must-visit as it's one of the more authentic ones remaining in the Sacred Valley.

Aerial view of town of Chincheros, Sacred Valley, Peru

The Quechua town of Chincheros

An international airport is being built outside of Chincheros, so it's a good idea to visit the town now before its character is inevitably altered.

3. Visit the showstopper Inca ruins of Moray

At Moray there are three concentric depressions in the landscape. The Incas used the terraces to trial different crops, because the each one offers a slightly different micro climates. In fact, the top and bottom terraces can vary by 10℃!

Aerial view of Moray's concentric Inca terraces in Sacred Valley, Peru

The Incas created Moray's concentric terraces to trial test different crops

Moray was the Inca's agricultural laboratory.

View of three people looking down to Moray ruins, Sacred Valley in winter, Peru

Looking down to the Moray terraces

The site is very atmospheric. It's also only by standing there yourself that you can appreciate the full extent of the engineering prowess of the Incas.

It's believed that the Incas grew around 250 different crops! Little wonder the Sacred Valley was so revered – it was the bread basket of the empire in the Cusco region.

Stone stepped path leading up to Moray ruins viewpoint, Sacred Valley, Peru

Walking up to the viewpoint

We encourage visitors to climb the nearby hill where you can see all three depressions and appreciate a truly unique sight.

4. Do a super scenic quad bike or horse ride

We're all about adventure at Follow Alice, so we love that you can explore some of the Sacred Valley of the Incas on an exciting quad bike or horse ride!

People on quad bikes in Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

A quad bike tour in July 2023

Riding a quad bike is a fun-filled way to explore more of the Sacred Valley than you could easily do by foot.

If you choose to do a quad bike trip, you'll zip along in the fresh air on the Alta plains above the valley floor and see incredible panoramas of fertile farmland, remote villages, cold lakes and soaring mountains.

A quieter option is to go on a horse ride and enjoy the views from atop your noble steed!

Horse riders on dirt road in Urubamba, Sacred Valley, Cusco

Horse riding is a fun way to explore a portion of the valley

5. Visit the striking Maras Salt Flats

The Salineras de Maras (Maras Salt Flats) just to the south of the Urubamba River are an iconic feature of the Sacred Valley.

Woman in hat working in the salt mines of Maras in Sacred Valley, Peru

Some of the thousands of salt flats near Maras

Salty, mineral-rich water from a hot spring further up the valley are channelled into thousands of shallow salt flats (or pans), then left to evaporate to produce salt. Visitors are invariably fascinated to watch local women in traditional garb engage in this time-honoured activity.

Ariana. salineras-salt-pans-maras

The viewpoint for the salt pans

The Salt Mines are a visually striking feature of the valley – it's where green farmland gives way to steeply terraced beige salt pans dotted with workers in traditional hats.

6. Enjoy a traditional home-cooked lunch

At Follow Alice we like to clients to enjoy a traditional lunch cooked and served in a local home in the rural community of Misminay, home to just over a hundred families.

Maize seeds and corn cobs of Sacred Valley on a wood table, viewed from above

Potatoes, quinoa, corn and other worldwide favourites come from the Andes

As you likely already know, the Andes is the origin of some of the world's best-loved foods, like chilli peppers, corn, potatoes, quinoa and certain beans. Yet many of the local varieties aren't well-known outside of the country, so you expect to enjoy unusual varieties of familiar foods at your lunch, like purple corn or dehydrated potatoes.

Did you know that there are 3,800 different types of potatoes in Peru? Comfort food just reached a whole new level!

Moreover, those who enjoy meat can also anticipate trying one of the local delicacies, like cuy (guinea pig) or llama. And of course everything will be beautifully seasoned with local spices and herbs like huacatay (Peruvian black mint).

Woman's hands chopping vegetables into a bowl as she prepares a traditional Andean meal, Sacred Valley, Peru

Wholesome whole foods are great at helping your body adjust to high altitude

Your hosts will teach you about local foods and customs, and so this is a wonderful cultural experience to really induct you into local Quechua culture.

If you're interested in learning more about the traditional foods of the region, you might like to check out Culinary Cusco – the best foods and restaurants.

7. Hike up to the incredible Pisac ruins

At the top of the Sacred Valley (where the Vilcanote River becomes the Urubamba River) is the town of Pisac and its incredible Inca ruins.

Ruins of ancient citadel of Incas on the mountain, Pisac, Peru

Ruined Inca citadel of Pisac

Pisac is divided into two parts:

  • On the valley floor is the Spanish colonial town, which was built on a pre-exiting Inca settlement at the command of Viceroy Toledo (the man responsible for the final defeat of the Incas).
  • The Inca citadel, meanwhile, sits high above on a spur and is surrounded by terraces.


Baby llama in woman's arms in Pisac, Sacred Valley, Peru

A baby llama in the town of Pisac

While you can catch a ride up the citadel, we encourage you to hike there if you can, imagining as you do how the Incas and conquering Spaniards would have had to reach it the same way.

Quechua was adopted as the official language of the Inca Empire, which helped to spread it to more of the Andes.

The ruins themselves are massive, and so you want to give yourself at least an hour or two to explore them, whether with a guide or on your own. The site was multifunctional, and you will see the farming terraces, water channels, hidden chambers and more.

Ruins of inca town of Pisac in Peru on a green hill with farming terraces with shallow depth of field

The Inca's farming terraces in Pisac

Needless to say, the views of the jagged peaks above, the surrounding ruins and the town and valley below are just breathtaking!

8. Visit Ollantaytambo, the only still-occupied Inca town

Ollantaytambo stands at the narrow end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where the land steepens before the river flows into a gorge. This is also where folks catch the train to the trailhead of the Inca Trail or to Machu Picchu Town.

Inca Fortress with Terraces and Temple Hill in Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru, belonged to Pachacuti emperor

Ollantaytambo and its Inca terraces

When in historic Ollantaytambo, we recommend you make time to:

  • Stroll around the town
  • Visit the local market
  • Pop into CATCCO Museum
  • Explore the Ollantaytambo Inca ruins

Stroll around Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is small and compact, making it an easy town to explore on foot.

Ollantaytambo is a great example of Inca town planning, as the historic streets are still in use, and some of the original homes still stand too! The town was arranged in canchas (communal blacks), each of which was home to a few families.

Cobbled side street of Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Some of the streets and gutters are from Inca times

Ollantaytambo still has some original Inca streets and homes, making it a must-see when visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas!

Visit the market

Not all Sacred Valley markets offer the same authentic experience. The market in Pisac, for instance, has lost much of its charm since it started targeting tourists. But the Ollantaytambo market remains a great touchpoint of Quechua commerce and culture.

A colourful street in the artisan market in Ollantaytambo near Cusco in Peru

Ollantaytambo still has a wonderfully authentic market to visit

Pop into CATCCO Museum

The Andean Centre for Technology and Culture of the Communities of Ollantaytambo (CATCCO Museum for short) is a great place to see Inca artworks as well as artefacts arranged in eye-catching displays.

What's more, CATCCO is also the workshop for local weavers, ceramicists and artisans, so you can admire their work and support them if you see something you fancy in the museum shop.

Small souvenir shop in a small town Ollantaytambo in Peru

Alternatively, you can support local artisans by visiting one of the souvenir shops

Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins

The Ollantaytambo ruins have a storied past. The fortress that sits above the steep terraces protected the army of Manco Inca against the Spanish and it was here that the colonial army saw its first defeat by the Incas!

C15th farming terraces and ruins of Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

The incredible Ollantaytambo ruins

The ruins sit just above the town, so they're easy to access, though of course you're going to have to put in some effort if you want climb up the terraces to the fortress! But it's well worth it to see the town and valley below. You can also imagine what it must've felt like to be besieged up there with Spanish army champing at the bit below!

Pinkuylluna, Inca storehouse, on mountainside in the Sacred Valley during dry season, Ollantaytambo, Peru

The Inca storehouse of Pinkuylluna above Ollantaytambo

So those are our recommendations of the best things to see and do in the Sacred Valley of the Incas! Feeling inspired??