Surrounded by the energizing Andes and painted in a verdant green, to visit the lush Sacred Valley in southeastern Peru is to connect to nature and Peru’s past. Just as the Vilcanota River (also known as Urubamba River) flows through this fertile land, travelers can snake their way around archaeological wonders, connect with charming townspeople in traditional villages, and taste the local flavors that emerge from the remarkably rich soil. After an adventure in the Andean highlands, you’ll understand why this area was preferred by Inca royalty.
Experience Machu Picchu
The Inca citadel hasn’t become a common bucket list destination for nothing. Set firmly in the Andes Mountains at nearly 8,200 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu has stood the test of time as a tourist attraction for all that it encompasses: the lush flora and native fauna at its base, the spectacular views at the top, the rush of adrenaline to get there, and a showcase of impressive architectural feats throughout.
In order to reach Machu Picchu, visitors have the option to go by train or foot (via the Inca or Salkantay trails). Either way, the landscapes witnessed in the Sacred Valley will become a memorable part of your journey.
Indulge in Ollantaytambo’s Food and Spirits Scene
While travelers heading to Machu Picchu can pass through Ollantaytambo by train, it's worth stopping in to smell what's cooking. Rustic yet cool, the décor at Chuncho is as spot-on as the restaurant’s second-floor location that overlooks the town’s main square. Dishes like torrejas de choclo (fritters made from large kernel corn) and cuy (guinea pig) put traditional regional dishes in the spotlight.
Aid the digestion of your meal with a nearby visit to Chuncho’s sister company, Destileria Andina. Located in front of the Ollantaytambo train station (a 10-minute walk from the main plaza), the distillery offers tours and tastings of their numerous concoctions, many of which are based on traditional Peruvian fermentation processes.
Drinking a cold beer is a spectacular experience at this Sacred Valley brewery, surrounded by imposing mountains and accompanied by the rushing waters of the Urubamba River. Having garnered numerous national and international awards, Cervecería del Valle Sagrado has managed to attract all types of travelers, from parched backpackers to thirsty luxury seekers. When you tire of the view (impossible!), tour the facilities and enjoy a tasting of the ever-changing tap list.
To sip on their signature Be Kind Pale Ale, head to Pachar, a 20-minute drive from Urubamba’s main square and 10 minutes from the plaza of Ollantaytambo. If using public transportation, simply ask to be taken to the paradero puente Pachar.
Immerse Yourself in Inca Tradition in Chinchero
The mythical birthplace of the rainbow, Chinchero sits between Cusco and Urubamba at an altitude of 12,340 feet above sea level, offering privileged views of the Sacred Valley countryside and surrounding Andes. Elements of age-old Andean culture abound in the rustic village, making one truly feel they have transported back in time. Witness locals walking about town in colorful traditional dress and conversing in Quechua, one of Peru’s many indigenous languages.
The Sunday market is a show of vendors and artists offering expertly woven textiles and a bevy of native crops such as peculiar tubers and quinoa. Don’t leave without entering the 17th-century adobe church (built atop an Inca temple or palace) to admire the beautiful floral and religious paintings that hug its walls.
Up Your Sodium Intake at Maras Salt Mines
Known as the Salineras de Maras, the 6,000 Inca (and pre-Inca) salt pans jutting out from the side of a cliff are a sight—and taste—to behold. For hundreds of years, town locals have carried on the tradition of cultivating the crystalized salt once the sun dries up the salt water that fills each shallow pond. In fact, the salt can be found for sale just beyond the entrance to the site.
A sweet victory for Maras, the locals have exclusive mining rights to these salt flats, with each pond delegated to a certain family. Guides can be hired at the entrance, providing visitors with further access and more information about the fascinating history and harvesting process of the salineras.
Explore Pisac Market
Nestled in the bend of the Inti Huatana Mountain is the picturesque town of Pisac. The town has become a popular stop for tourists traveling from the city of Cusco towards Machu Picchu—and it’s clear why. From cobblestone streets to impressive archeological ruins, this rural town is so charming you’ll want to take a piece home with you.
Visit the local and daily handicraft market, which extends over the graceful streets of Pisac’s main square. From ceramics to woven alpaca clothes and textiles, dozens of colorful stalls invite visitors to stock up on souvenirs and test out their bargaining skills.
Circle Around Moray
This Inca archaeological site is dizzyingly unique in that it is a series of concentric terraces sunk into the valley floor. Because the staggered depressions (reaching a depth of about 492 feet) result in differing soil temperatures and micro climates, it’s believed that Moray was a space for experimentation and the study of crops. Marvel at this expansive 15th-century agricultural laboratory to be reminded of the ingenuity of the Incas.
A bit off the beaten path, Moray makes for a peaceful prelude or follow-up to the nearby Maras salt ponds (a 15-minute drive). Either way, save room for a true dining experience at MIL, which overlooks the elliptic garden.
Live Like a Local in Urubamba
It may be the largest town in the lush Sacred Valley, but Urubamba is completely walkable and worth more than a day of exploring.
Start your morning at the local market around the corner from the Main Square and pick up some chapla (traditional local bread made with local wheat varieties), queso paria (an Andean cheese) and palta (avocado). Once energized, head west towards Berriozabal street. This tree-lined strip is dotted with natural food shops, an eclectic concept store, and ceramic galleries and studios for that artsy souvenir. Be sure to admire the lovely angels by Peruvian ceramist Yuri Eslava, just a few steps away from the café.
Adventure Into Lake Piuray and Surroundings
For people who want to disconnect and stay close to nature, the serene waters of Lake Piuray is an ideal option. If the climate permits, contact a local travel operator and take a kayak across one of Cusco’s magical lakes. Later, dip into the water and feel the muddy lake floor between your toes
If land-based activities are more your thing, stock up on snacks, pack a tablecloth, and head to the lake for an early picnic. Bikes are also available for rent. No matter how you experience this lake, it’s a rejuvenating and energizing dose of nature.
vPiuray can easily be reached by taxi from Urubamba or Ollantaytambo, and is a 30-minute walk from Chinchero.
Would you dare spend the night inside a cliffside glass pod suspended about 1,300 feet? Created by Natura Vive, the Skylodge Adventure is composed of four transparent pods anchored on a mountain face. To reach the aluminum-polycarbonate capsules, guests can either hike or push their bravery to the limit by ascending the metal steps of the via ferrata route.
From the suite or the separate dining capsule, adventure seekers have an incomparable view of the Sacred Valley by day and a clear sight of countless stars by night. Besides the breathtaking scenery, the reward for such daring behavior is the gastronomic offerings from this unique hotel, including a four-course dinner.
If you’re interested in delving into the wonders of the most prominent pre-Columbian cultures, make sure to stop by Inkariy Museum. Located between Pisac and Urubamba, Inkariy was created by a dedicated group of archaeologists and artists with the aim of highlighting the importance of Peruvian history and pre-Columbian civilizations.
Follow the chronological circuit to discover several halls dedicated to the major pre-Colombian cultures: Caral, Chavin, Paracas, Mochica, Nazca, Wari, Chimu, Lambayeque, and Inca. Make sure to dedicate a complete hour to explore every corner of the museum and leave some extra time to peruse the lovely shop and café. Engaging and educative, this makes for a wonderful visit for families with children.
Presenting an original combination of Asian, Mediterranean, and of course Peruvian cuisine, El Huacatay restaurant in Urubamba takes foodies on a delightful fusion journey. Highlighting seasonal Andean ingredients, Peruvian chef Pio Vasquez and his German wife, Iris, have created a local favorite just a few blocks southeast of the town’s main plaza.
From savory starters such as Alpaca Carpaccio (prepared with a Mediterranean twist) to fresh trout with quinoa as a main course, the menu features a variety of signature dishes that can be enjoyed in the garden patio. Say salud with a Coca Sour or a delicate Sauvignon. To close your dining experience, treat yourself to a frozen passionfruit cheesecake.