Driving through the Sacred Valley

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
9
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
5
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
7
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
70 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Peru
Length of time
1 day or less
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 70
Time of year visited
May
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
114th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

The Sacred Valley is one of the must do things when visiting this Inca-inspired part of Peru, along with Walking some of the key Inca sites near Cusco, Hiking the 4 day / 3 night Inca Trail, and of course Machu Picchu itself.  And for good reason – the Sacred Valley has a wealth of gorgeous Inca sites such as Pisac, Moray and Ollantaytambo that are worth a visit all on their own, let alone the beautiful surrounding scenery and picturesque Peruvian villages that really makes this a standout experience

 

Make sure to hire your own driver for the day – whilst a bit more expensive compared to a tour (US$50, with around the same again for a guide who speaks English), it allows you to experience the place at your own pace and check out some of the areas not chockablock full of other tourists . . . and enjoy! It really is a beautiful part of the world

highlights

#1 Driving through the beautiful valley itself, which often gets overlooked by the famous Inca sites when people think of the area

#2 Marvelling at the Inca perfection at the likes of Pisac

#3 Ollantaytambo's ruins, and the small hike up to the Pinkulluna ruins for the best views

#4 Being in further wonder at the level of sophistication in Moray, where the Inca used the various levels for trialling the different types of plants they used

#5 Making your way through the various small Peruvian villages

Rough itinerary

Our timings meant that we broke the trip into 2 days, whereby we started around midday to drive from Cusco to visit Pisac and Moray; stayed the night in Ollantaytambo and then visited the ruins the following morning.  But you can easily cover the Valley’s highlights in a day.  My suggestion would be:

  • Early morning start from Cusco, and to meet your driver
  • Drive over to the Pisac ruins, passing over a pass which has spectacular views of the length of the Sacred Valley
  • Visit Moray and enjoy the scenery as you drive through some of the beautiful villages and countryside
  • Have lunch in Ollantaytambo and then visit the ruins
  • Once finished, either head back to Cusco or stay in Ollantaytambo for the evening.  This is the jumping point for visiting Machu Picchu or starting the Inca Trail

Travel Tips

  • One day is enough – as mentioned above in the itinerary, you can easily manage this in one full day
  • Take a driver – I highly recommend hiring a car and a driver for the day, which can be easily arranged by your hotel.  We paid a bit less than US$50 for the day and decided we wanted to explore with the guide book rather than a guide, but a guide would be around US$75 for the day
  • For the three main ruins:
    • Pisac – beautiful walk and fantastic surrounding views
    • Moray – the highlight for us.  Make sure to have a good walk around to see both the front and back entrance.  Also, the drive up there is one of the mots picturesque we saw in Peru
    • Ollantaytambo – the main ruins are cool, but make sure to also walk up to Pinkulluna which has fewer tourists (because of the steep walk up), but has the best views of the main Ollantaytambo ruins
  • Buy the Boleto Touristicothe – for tickets for the sites, its best just to buy the Boleto Touristico which covers all the major sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley (although not Machu Picchu).  S130 / US$37 and lasts 10 days
  • For accommodation:
    • For Cusco – we stayed in Casa San Blas Hotel Cusco, which I would recommend based on its great location, nice layout / vibe, and the staff who are only too happy to help you
    • For Ollantaytambo – we stayed in a gorgeous hotel in the valley that leads up to Machu Picchu called Del Pilar Ollantaytambo Hotel, and would really recommend
  • General Peru – as with all things in this part of Peru, I’d give a couple of key tips:
    • Altitude – Cusco is 3,300m / 11,150 feet which is high enough to give you altitude sickness (generally feeling a bit like a bad hangover, which isn’t fun).  You can do various things to help, such as take pills (we took Acetazolamide and felt like it helped), drink coca tea, take pain killers to help with the headache etc, but the best way is simply to give your body time to get used to the altitude
    • History of the Inca – this part of Peru is all about the Inca as the real master builder civilisation so it adds a lot to the trip to know a bit about them.   I’d recommend Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams – an easy read as the author re-creates the rediscovery of Machu Picchu and gives enough detail that any first time visitor would need.  For the broader context on the Incas and the other pre-Columbus American civilisations, I’d highly recommend 1491 by Charles Mann which will, I think, open your eyes to just how sophisticated these civilisations were before the arrival, in particular, of Eurasian diseases
    • Dogs! – when walking around on your own, just keep an eye out for local dogs.  We had a few run at us from a local farm just outside Cusco, which can be a little unnerving if not used to dogs.  Just remember not to panic, face them and back away slowly.  If they get super close and you feel like you need to defend yourself, give them a kick or see if you can pick up something nearby like a stick or rocks to scare them off.  I know, not fun – but unlikely they’ll be vicious and better to be prepared

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone