The Sacred Valley of the Incas is the must-do stop for everyone visiting Cusco. Not only for its various beautiful and picturesque little towns, but also because of its lower altitude (from 2700 to 2900 m.a.s.l), making it the best place to acclimatize when arriving to Cusco (3400 m.a.s.l).
Although it is comprised of many different villages, there are some that stand out among the crowd, being them the places where most travelers spend their days before adventuring themselves to Machu Picchu.
Below, we have made a quick list of them, in order of preference, with a description plus info on distance and what to do when visiting. Hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.
Distance from Cusco: 2hrs aprox. Distance from Urubamba: 30 min. aprox.
Distance from Maras: 1hr aprox. Distance from Pisaq: 1.30 hrs aprox.
This is our favorite town in the valley, not only because it’s logistically the best for a trip itinerary due to location, distance between attractions and the fact that it has a train station to easily get to Machu Picchu, but mostly because it has a relaxed atmosphere and the majority of its houses have been built on top of old Incan bases (even some still maintain old Inca stone-made entrances), reason why some people call it “the last Inca living town”.
Just walking around its narrow cobble-stone streets and hearing the water going through the old water channels is an experience on itself.
While here, apart from visiting the temple and terraces, we highly suggest you to do the Pinkuylluna hike to have a great view of the town plus see the temple from a different angle.
For eating, we recommend the restaurant Baratie, they have different pre-fixed menus that include tasty local specialties like quinoa and trout.
Take in account it has mostly hostels and B&B’s for accommodation.
Distance from Cusco: 1hr 30 min. aprox. Distance from Ollantaytambo: 30 min aprox.
Distance from Maras: 25h min. aprox. Distance from Pisaq: 1hr aprox.
Located in the middle of the valley, this town is filled with the fanciest hotels, where you can spend the night hearing the murmur of the Vilcanota river and wake up surrounded by mountains and beautiful flower gardens.
This is pretty much it in this village, but besides spending the time leisurely resting at the accommodation of your choice, you can hit the town´s main plaza, visit the local market for some adventure, go to any of its great restaurants or enter the church in case it’s open.
It´s worth to mention it has a “private” station, located at the Tambo del Inka Hotel, (that stops at another hotel one nearby) for the train that goes to Machu Picchu, so in terms of trip logistics comes handy.
We would recommend this town for honeymooners or people looking for a quiet getaway surrounded by nature.
Distance from Cusco: 1hr aprox. Distance from Urubamba: 1hr aprox.
Distance from Ollantaytambo: 1.30 hrs aprox.
Mostly well-known by its Sunday market, Pisaq is a town that combines archaeology and local culture.
We totally recommend you to try here the empanadas, they are made in the moment, in rustic mud ovens that function just with wood and arrive to your hands hot and delicious. Perfect for a quick and filling snack.
Although staying in this town is logistically not the best for a trip itinerary, it would be worth it if you choose a Sunday to do it, as you could experience not only the crafts market but also see locals selling vegetables, grains and food. Also, if you arrive early, you can go to the 11:00 AM quechua mass, a true cultural immersion experience.
In the following towns there are almost no places to stay, so we can consider them mostly attractions than base villages for your trip.
Distance from Cusco: 1hr 30 min. aprox. Distance from Moray: 30 min aprox.
Distance from Ollantaytambo: 1hr aprox. Distance from Urubamba: 25 min. aprox.
This amazing place located in the crack of a mountain gives you one of the most impressive and picturesque landscapes you will see during your entire journey to Cusco. Not only because it’s a natural salty subterranean stream the one used since pre-Inca times to obtain the famous “pink salt of Maras”, but also due to the spectacle of its color and the locals working on it in an artisanal way.
Distance from Cusco: 50 min. aprox. Distance from Moray: 45 min aprox.
Distance from Maras: 35 min. aprox. Distance from Urubamba: 40 min. aprox.
Similar to Pisaq, it also has an archaeological site and a local market, but all smaller.
Its strength is on the Textile Centre, a place to learn about the art of weaving in a didactic and fun way by the women who wait for visitors with a big smile. Also on its not so known Sunday market, which is a bit more interesting than the one in Pisaq, due to here the majority of the villagers/vendors use their traditional colorful clothing.
As you can see, each of these little towns spread out in the valley have their own and unique personality. We hope after reading this you can choose better from which one you’ll want to experience the best of your andean adventure.