After seeing the sights and attractions in Lima, Peru, many tourists head directly to the Sacred Valley. With the town of Cusco as your base, experiences such as the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman and Pisac are all within easy reach. Other sought-after notches on the tourist belt include Tres Cruces, Paucartambo, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo. Hereís a breakdown of what you can expect to experience.
Expect to land and launch from the city of Cusco.
Accessible by bus, plane and train, the city of Cusco, Peru is where most people launch their tour of the Sacred Valley. There are a number of attractions worth your tourist time in Cusco, not the least of which is the Plaza de Armas with its multiple churches. Thereís an Incan archaeological museum, among others and some frequent cultural performances worth photographing for the folk costumes alone. The tourism office had discount entry passes available at the time of our visit, which allowed us to experience most of the things to do in Cusco for one flat, affordable rate.
There are also several market stalls offering alpaca sweaters, hats, mittens and ponchos throughout Cusco, as well as children selling finger puppets suitable for younger classrooms. If youíre looking for souvenir ideas you can actually put to some use when you return home, this is a good opportunity to purchase them affordably.
Take time for a wildlife experience at the Manu Biosphere Reserve
Sure, when most tourists arrive in the Sacred Valley, their agenda is all about seeing as many Incan ruins as possible. But did you know that very near Cusco, Peru there’s an impressive national park known as the Manu Biosphere Reserve? Representing a fairly diverse sampling of the Amazon Rainforest, this park is often overlooked by vacationers on the whirlwind tour of Peru. Suitable for unwinding after hiking the Inca Trail or pursuing a nature photography agenda, the Manu Biosphere Reserve is worth your consideration.
Getting the most value from your visit to Machu Picchu requires a bit of planning.
Machu Picchu is on the bucket list for many travelers, and is by no means easy to get to.† For many, it requires a series of long international flights just to arrive in Lima. From there, itís another layer of logistics to get to Cusco, after which you can expect to spend several hours on a train to get to the closest town at the bottom of the mountain. Did I mention you still wonít be there yet, and the altitude will be kicking your ass? And since the uber-pricy ticket only allows one entry, making the most of your Machu Picchu experience means planning your entry time carefully. Especially if youíre arriving later in the day. †If thatís the case, youíre better off checking into your hotel, having dinner and shopping for some family souvenirs in the market.
One particularly fun daytrip from Cusco is Pisac.
With impressive ruins and the Pisac market available, you may even decide to spend the night. Pisac offers stunning scenery and a chance to shop for indigenous handicrafts affordably. This makes for a nice break from climbing the various Inca ruins, and a great way to purchase unique gifts for kids on your holiday list back home. Those interested in souvenir beads can also expect to have a bit of luck at the Pisac market as well as the market in Aguas Calientes, near Machu Picchu.
Another interesting set of ruins in the Sacred Valley is located in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
Easily included on a daytrip along with Pisac, Ollantaytambo has some sturdy and climbable ruins, along with some interesting rock formations in the mountains. The small market in the town has some colorful small dolls for those needing to shop for grandchildren, and the side streets can be quite picturesque in their own right. Thereís also preserved fountain carved from a single stone in the Incan imperial style. This video of the Ollantaytambo fountain was filmed during our visit there.
The Inca Trail hiking experience has earned more than a few travelers international bragging rights.
Not for the faint of heart, and certainly not known for its amenities, the Inca Trail is a multi-day hiking route through the Sacred Valley which ends at the lost city of Machu Picchu. Itís an intense, at-altitude experience requiring participants to leave the comforts of civilization behind until the destination is reached. While it isnít for everyone, this picturesque trail has been called one of the top five treks in the world and is arguably one of the top travel highlights of the South American continent.
The fortress of Sacsayhuaman overlooks Cusco in full Incan splendor.
Sacsayhuaman is an impressive fortress built in the shape of a puma head, and one of the main attractions in Cusco, Peru. Reachable on foot, you can also get there by tour bus or minivan if the altitude is too much for you. This archaeological site is an impressive place to spend the afternoon, and there are large grassy areas if you want to bring a picnic or a book and kick back. Pope John Paul II once visited the site of Sacsayhuaman to preach during a visit to South America, so itís also well suited to large-scale gatherings.
Urubamba makes an excellent location to enjoy a little ecotourism.
While not exactly laden with archaeological or historical attractions, Urubamba is a popular place from which to explore the jaw-dropping scenery of the surrounding mountain areas. If you have time to spend the night after a visit to Ollantaytambo, this is a great opportunity to take a two-day trip from Cusco and experience even more of the Sacred Valley.
Peruís Sacred Valley has much to offer vacationers. Archaeological ruins, natural beauty† and a number of museums along with indigenous markets and local cultural experiences are some of the things you can expect to enjoy during a visit there. After you’ve seen all there is to see, consider hopping a bus to Lake Titicaca to see the Yavari, the floating islands of Uros and the Temple of the Moon.
Photo Credits: These pictures of the Sacred Valley were photographed by the people at Trek Hound, and can be accessed for online use via a creative commons agreement through our sister web site, Pictures of Travel Places.