The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a region north of Cusco that is home to several small towns, majestic mountains, and numerous archaeological sites, including Machu Picchu. Although many people chose to take day trips and tours, we strongly recommend visiting the Sacred Valley self guided.
The network of colectivos, the public transportation system in rural Peru (a collection of vans that leave when full rather than on a timetable), makes it easy and affordable to get around and you have the invaluable luxury of moving at your own pace. We recommend spending at least 2 to 3 days in the Sacred Valley. After exploring the Sacred Valley for ourselves, we put together the Sacred Valley Self Guided Itinerary we wished we’d had before we went to help you plan your trip!
Sacred Valley Self Guided Itinerary
The Sacred Valley contains many small towns in the Andean highlands, north of Cusco. There’s no shortage of tour companies that will offer to bus you to the various archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley, and many offer to hit all the major sites (minus Machu Picchu) in just one day. These are rushed visits, and most of your day will be spent on a bus. Depending on your travel style and time available, this may be the best option for you. However, if you have 3 or even 2 days available, we recommend visiting the Sacred Valley self guided. Keep reading below for practical tips for exploring the Sacred Valley on your own.
Below is a summary of the main towns and their attractions, followed by an itinerary. Further below, you’ll find details on each of the town.
- Ollantaytambo: This is where people take the train to Machu Picchu and is probably the most touristy town within the Sacred Valley. It also has extensive ruins.
- Maras: Known for its proximity to two major attractions: the salineras (salt mines) and the Moray archaeological site. Aside from tourists passing through Maras on their way to these two sites, there is NOTHING happening here.
- Urubamba: A transportation hub within the Sacred Valley, probably because it’s in the middle. Unless you’re renting a car, you’ll stop at the terminal here to change colectivos.
- Pisac: This town has all the earthy/hippie vibes. It also has the most extensive ruins we visited, and you can spend hours hiking up and wandering through them.
Many ruins in the Sacred Valley and in Cusco require a boleto turistico to enter. We recommend buying the 10-day boleto turistico as this allows you access to all of the sites. If you’ve never heard of a boleto turistico before, you can read our quick post on it here.
Maps.me is way better than GoogleMaps for exploring the Sacred Valley self guided and Peru in general. All the colectivo stops are well marked and the trails through the middle of nowhere are quite accurate! If your reading this and haven’t downloaded this app yet, do it right now!
2 Day Itinerary
Day 1: Cusco > Maras > Moray > Ollantaytambo
Visit the Maras salineras and Moray. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo.
Start in Cusco early, and take a colectivo to Urubamba (S/6, ~$2 USD), asking the driver to drop you off at Maras. You’ll get dropped off on the highway where there are several drivers for hire. Hire a driver to take you to the salt mines, then to Moray, and finally to Ollantaytambo, all for about S/40 (~$13 USD). The taxi will wait for you at the salt mines and at Moray. Visiting the salt mines costs S/10 ($3 USD) per person, and touring Moray will require a boleto turistico.
Day 2: Ollantaytambo > Urubamba > Pisac
Visit the ruins in Ollantaytambo and in Pisac.
Put on those hiking boots, you’re going to be exploring today! You’ll start with in the Ollantaytambo ruins in the morning. Hiking the main ruins requires a boleto turistico. You can expect the ruins to take about 2 hours.
Then, grab your bags and pick up a colectivo in front of the main market to take you to Urubamba for S/2 per person. In Urubamba, ask for the colectivo to get to Pisac. You’ll board one that goes to Calca (another S/2), which is a town mid-way to Pisac. In Calca, you’ll have to switch again to get to Pisac (another S/2). The colectivo transfers at Urubamba and Calca are at terminals so your next colectivo will be a just couple steps away from your drop off point.
In Pisac, wander through town and grab lunch at the market. Then hire a taxi to take you up to the ruins where you will explore for 1-2 hours and then hire a taxi to take you back to town. The total cost for a two-way taxi is about S/40 ($13 USD). You also have the option to take a taxi up and then hike back down to Pisac. The second option takes about 3-4 hours and if you have time we definitely recommend it! Once back in town, you can make your way back to Cusco by taking a colectivo from the same point place at which you got dropped off (S/4, ~$1 USD).
Hiking the Pisac ruins was one of the highlights of our time in the Sacred Valley.
- You can substitute a lot of drives for hikes or a combination of colectivo + hike. For example, you can hike from the town of Maras to Moray in under 2hrs. (This was actually Nick’s favorite hike.) You can also hike from Maras to the highway and pick up a colectivo heading to Ollantaytambo. All trails are on Maps.me.
- If you have an extra day, I would recommend spending it in Pisac. The ruins are vast, and hiking in the morning will allow you to explore them with virtually no one around. You can hike to the ruins and back in ~5hrs.
- At this point in your trip, you might be over hiking (we certainly had to take a few days to relax to be excited to hike again!) and hiring a taxi may be in your best interest. Even then, Pisac is a great place to get more of a taste of the Sacred Valley. Whether you’d like to hike or relax, there are many accommodations in Pisac that are comfortable. We recommend staying at Hatha Art Yoga Hostel (and NOT the nearby Wolf Totem Guest House).
Now, as promised, here’s the deep-dive on each stop.
- Things to Do: Visit the ruins. Entry into the main ruins requires a boleto turistico, however, there’s a smaller set of ruins on the other side of the valley that does not require a boleto and offers a good view of the main ruins themselves. Within the main ruins, there’s an optional hike uphill that offers a nice view of the valley.
- Where to Stay: We did not stay in Ollantaytambo. Check either Hostelworld or Booking.com.
- Where to Eat: There are several restaurants on the main plaza that cater to tourists. For a local experience, walk a few blocks off the main plaza (for ex., just in front of the main market) where you can find menu del dia (a fixed lunch menu) for S/6.
There’s a smaller set of ruins opposite the main ruins that does not require a boleto turistico to hike and offers a great view of the main ruins.
Maras / Moray
- Things to Do: Visit the salineras (salt mines) and Moray archaeological site. With extra time, visit the Cheqoq archeological site (also called the ancient refrigerator) just outside of town or hike from Maras to Moray (see notes below).
- Where to Stay: We do NOT recommend staying in Maras, as it has very limited options for lodging and dining. If you must, the hostel that is most accessible from the main plaza is Hospedaje Tika Wasi. It’s a block from the main plaza on Calle Jerusalen. (Note: we read blogs that recommended other hotels, but we couldn’t find the actual hostels.)
- Where to Eat: If you’re in town for lunch, you can eat at the market on the plaza for cheap. For dinner, either go to Alondra or Sal y Pimienta. Both are on Calle Jerusalen. Options are extremely limited.
There’s actually a tour guide hired by the salineras to explain to visitors the salt-making process. Whether or not you find her is pure luck. (We woke her up from her nap by calling out her name.)
Hike from Maras to Moray
The hike from Maras to Moray was one of Nick’s favorite hikes because of the mountain views, the fact that we were the only people on it, and the relative ease. (You don’t have to constantly look at the floor to make sure you don’t trip.)
To start the hike, head to the restaurant Inkasal on the edge of town. Pass in front of the restaurant, but take the road on the right, where you’ll see a sign painted on a rock (see picture below). The path had sections that were quite muddy when we went in mid-November (wear your hiking boots!), but is easy to follow and is accompanied by red arrows every couple hundred meters. Total time: under 2 hours one-way. If it has recently rained or there is rain in the forecast, we recommend skipping this hike and flagging down a taxi or tourist van to Moray.
Bonus Archeological Site: Cheqoq
Cheqoq is a pre-incan archaeological site just outside of the town of Maras and was once used for refrigeration. It offers incredible views of the Andes. If you start really early from Cusco, catching a colectivo to Maras, you can walk to Cheqoq from the Maras town plaza (look it up on maps.me). Total time: 1 hour roundtrip
- Things to Do: Change colectivos.
- Where to Stay: We do NOT recommend staying in Urubamba. There’s just no need and you aren’t missing much. Head on to Pisac.
- Where to Eat: There are a handful of nice restaurants and cafes just 1 block away from the colectivo terminal on Avenida Berriozabal.
- Things to Do: Visit the ruins. Join any number of ceremonies that may be of interest.
- Where to Stay: Hatha Art Yoga Hostel (We do NOT recommend staying at Wolf Totem.)
- Where to Eat: Antica Osteria is the ONE restaurant where you must go! Their pizza is the best we’ve had in a REALLY long time. Plus your dinner is not complete without trying their tiramisu dessert. The main market offers cheap menu del dia for S/6 (eat at one of the stands outside along the main street) and fresh fruit smoothies for S/5 (inside).
Self Guided Hike to the Pisac Ruins
You can either hike out-and-back from the town plaza or hike the loop and end in the town plaza. We recommend the loop because we like to see as much different scenery as possible! To hike the loop, follow the main road on the east side of town (the one Antica Osteria is on) around the mountain. A couple of houses past Hotel Royal Inka, you’ll see a dirt road heading in the direction of the ruins. Take the dirt road until it turns into a dirt path along the river.
It’s easy to lose track of the path here, but the main point is to keep LEFT along the river. Eventually, you’ll pass a bridge that crosses the stream. To be honest, soon after this is where WE lost the path. But again, the main point is that you can’t REALLY get lost because there’s a road that leads to the ruins. If you’re able to follow the path supposed you’ll enter the ruins through a less crowded back entrance. At some point, we lost the path and took the road the last 300 meters to the main entrance. If you follow the road, you can’t miss the ruins as there are lots of tourist vans parked along the way and a massive sign.
Once you’ve reached the ruins and have wandered to the highest point, follow the signs to Pisac to head back to town. You’ll hike through many more sites on the way back to town and end up in the town plaza.
The entire hike takes about 5 hours. You can also take a taxi up to the ruins and then hike back to town.
There you have it, our Sacred Valley Self Guided Itinerary post! From us to you, happy adventuring!
Not a fan of paying for tours, we you can do it all by yourself? If so, check out our trip on how to do the Colca Canyon self guided! It’s the second deepest canyon in the world and just a few hours away from Cusco near the city of Arequipa!