The Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas is a huge valley close to the Inca capital of Cusco high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru. It is also situated below the famous Incan city of Machu Picchu. When you travel to Machu Picchu and Cusco, the Sacred Valley is one of the tours that must be on your list of places to visit and explore.
The valley itself was formed by the Urubamba River, also known as the Vicanota River or Wilcamayu (Quechua for Sacred River). There are many other smaller rivers coming from other valleys that feed the Urubamba River and along its course there are many Incan archaeological villages and remains that you are able to explore. In the days of the Incans, this area was chosen for settlements due to its rich natural resources. It was the most important region for maize production in Peru.
Most tourists choose to do a one day organized tour of the Sacred Valley, but there are also longer tours available that show you a lot more of the area. It just depends on how much time you have to spend, but the one day tour is sufficient to see most of the more important sites.
Below is a list of some of the main areas to explore apart from the obvious Machu Picchu, which most people come to Peru to admire:
Pisac is one of the most impressive ruins in the Sacred Valley and is situated very close to Machu Picchu. Not all tours go to Pisac, as it is a bit further away from the other sites in the valley, but it is well worth paying the extra to go there. The ruins have temples that were built with the typical stones that were used without any mortar and are constructively a marvel for buildings in those times. Pisac city is at the bottom of the hills below the ruins and here you can visit Pisac Market, which is full of beautiful local handicrafts and delicious Peruvian street cuisine. Try out your bargaining skills here, as the vendors normally start with an inflated price, so it is normal to haggle a bit.
Another Incan ruin and shows off the incredible construction skills of the Incas. The stones that they used to construct the buildings are huge and some weigh in excess of 125 tons, which makes researchers wonder how they actually made these buildings. The Spanish conquerors defeated the Incan Empire here and was then followed by the plague, which killed a very large number of people.
Located in the North East of the valley 75 km from Cusco, Ollantaytambo is an impressive fortress, which had a sacred and military purpose for the Incans. This is where the Incas retreated to after the Spanish conquered Cusco. The city of Ollantaytambo is located at the bottom of the fortress and here you will see a very unique part of Peru in the types of buildings, which is like going back in time. There is also a chapel, a statue of Ollantay (Chief of the Incan Empire), a variety of restaurants and hostals if you feel like staying another day to explore more.
Chinchero is a charming little Inca town that lies above Cusco. The main place to visit here is the lovely market that is surrounded by beautiful white colonial buildings including the local church and the local people are dressed in traditional Quechua clothing. There are also magnificent views of the mountains. The rest of the town’s buildings mostly comprise of mud brick (adobe). Chinchero is also believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow.
Most of these places are available on an organized tour, but you need to ask as they are all different and there are many of them.
If you do have lots of extra time, then there are plenty of activities to do in these areas including, trekking, mountain biking, horse riding and more. Visiting the Sacred Valley when you travel to Peru is a very spiritual and unique experience that shows you how the Inca Empire used to live and is something that you will never forget.