Trip Date 01/16/2018
Posted On 09/11/2018 17:00:12
Destinations | Peru | Sacred Valley | Urubamba Valley | Transportation from Cusco to Ollantaytambo | Sacred Valley Tour | Pisac Ruins | Pisac Market | Taxidatum
When we began researching a trip to South America, we saw lots of recommendations to drive through the Sacred Valley, and we are so grateful for them. Our day worked out perfectly - we were transported from Cusco to our hotel in Ollantaytambo, had the opportunity to make multiple stops including Pisac Ruins and Pisac Market along our drive and even had the chance to dine on local cuisine with a local.
If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, a drive through the Sacred Valley is the perfect link to get you from Cusco to either the start of the 4 day Inca Trail hike or the train ride from Ollantaytambo. At a total cost for the car and driver of only $65.00 for 1 - 4 people (plus gratuities, lunch and entrance fees), the price is very reasonable for about 6 hours of driving through the scenic valley along with optional stops along the way.
Cusco Tourist Ticket
In order to enter many of the tourist attractions in and around Cusco, visitors must purchase a Cusco Tourist Ticket. The Boleto Turistico is a 10-day tourist ticket (S/.130; about $45.00 USD) good for 10 days at 13 different sites. There are three additional options depending on which sites you plan to visit and how long you plan to be in the area. Called Boletos Parciales, the partial tickets are valid for one or two days (depending on the ticket) at a cost of S/.70 ($25.00 USD).
Tourist tickets can be purchased at the COSITUC office (103 Avenida del Sol) in Cusco or at the entrance to the first site you visit. We chose Boleto Parcial - Circuito III which included entry for two days to:
- Pisac Ruins
As the ticket would be required for our visit to Pisac Ruins, plus we had plans to visit Ollantaytambo, we chose to purchase our tickets at the COSITUC office in hopes of saving some time at the site entrance.
Departing Cusco for The Sacred Valley
As Scott's brother and sister-in-law were due to fly in to Cusco early on the morning that we had planned our tour, we chose a 10:00 AM departure. The mid-morning departure allowed us time for any short flight delays, breakfast, buying our tourist tickets and even a quick visit during the free entry hours (before 10:00 AM) at La Cathedral. Upon returning to our hotel, we had a few minutes to complete the finishing touches of stuffing our backpacks with everything required to live for the next 3 days and 2 nights before checking our suitcases at the hotel. (The amount of luggage is limited for both the taxi tour and the train, so we made arrangements for our bags to remain in safekeeping until our evening return two days later.)
Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi
Wilson, our driver arranged through Taxidatum, met us right on time for our scheduled 10:00 AM departure. After brief introductions, we were soon on our journey through the Urubamba Valley, better known as the Sacred Valley. Our first stop at Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi took us a little longer than planned (yet still not long enough). For a fee of S/.10 per person (less than $3.50 USD) and about 35 minutes of time, a guide leads your group around the sanctuary. Our guide, Laura explained the background of the sanctuary which is the home to a variety of animals rescued after suffering any form of mistreatment along with animals belonging to species at risk of extinction.
In addition to answering our questions, Laura introduced us to many of the animals by name, including Flower a one year old "baby" vicuna. Although vicunas have some characteristics similar to alpacas and llamas (some of which shared the same pen), vicunas are apparently not nearly as friendly ... they spit. (I think it would have been interesting to see one of them spit - just not at me!) We also walked past the area that was the home to several tortoises and learned that, when treated well, they can have a really long life span.
Our next, and much longer stop, was at the fenced in area which many of the llamas and alpacas now call home. We actually were invited to spend some "up close and personal time" with these adorable creatures ... if only I could have figured out how to sneak one out with us!
The sanctuary is currently home to three young bears aged one, two and three. Although the two youngest bears spent all of their time hiding during our visit, we did manage to see Moises, the three year old, when he came outside to pace back and forth. Walking past the "cage" which currently houses a toucan, we noticed the damage to the poor animal's beak. Laura informed us that the toucan is now unable to fly and confirmed that the reason the toucan was rescued was due to the beak damage.
Laura encouraged us to take a seat when we arrived in the area where a number of Andean Condors, which are nearing extinction, get their exercise. We were a little confused when she said that one of the staff members would "make them fly", but we soon witnessed several of these amazing large birds flying - some even flew over our heads! It was quite a sight to see them get some of their daily exercise.
There were a large number of Guinea Pigs in residence at the sanctuary - both adult and child. I was surprised to learn that these animals produce offspring at just five months old.
As we neared the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to see a quick demonstration of the process which the locals use to dye as well as weave colored fibers into beautifully handcrafted items. Before walking out the door, we passed a cage where a monkey was eating, and I had to pause as I couldn't resist his adorable monkey face. Once we reached the parking lot of the sanctuary, I was excited to finally see one of the hairless dogs that we had learned was one of the four breeds of animals domesticated by the Incas.
We definitely could have spent more time with the animals at Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi, however we had a tight schedule and were appreciative of the brief introduction.
A very short drive brought us to Awanakancha located in a former Inca crop area that has been restored to its natural environment. The vision of the private initiative is to encourage the Andean textile traditions of spinning and dying the fibers of the South American camels. Although there is no admission fee to visit, there are numerous locations throughout where donations can be made.
We spent even more time amongst the llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos - we even got to feed them! Our self-guided tour of Awanakancha (meaning Textile Palace) began with a brief display about the methods of spinning and dying the fibers of the South American camels. No display about the fibers of the llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos would be complete without some of the adorable animals themselves.
The extremely long hair on some of the animals appeared to be soon ready for shearing so that it could be used for textile production.
A small number of animals that appeared to be vicunas were segregated in a field high above the animals that we could pet as we strolled by - apparently to prevent human interaction. Was the distance to ensure that the animals could not spit on the human visitors?
Part way through our walk along the path adjacent to the animal pens, I was given a handful of "greens" so that we could feed the animals as we continued along. How could anyone resist those faces?
This was our first introduction to an animal similar to a vicuna only larger, but still having the characteristics of llamas and alpacas - I'm guessing the animal is a guanaco?
As we approached the far end of the long paved pathway through Awanakancha, we witnessed some Andean women in the midst of creating their handiwork. The different hats worn by the women apparently symbolize the different villages from which they come to demonstrate their tradition of spinning the colorful fibers into masterpieces.
We caught a glimpse at the traditional fiber dying process - it was amazing to see the wide array of colors made with dye produced by using the local plants.
As the girls wrapped up their picture taking (and gave up on their hopes of bringing an alpaca along for the rest of our journey), the boys found a place where they could sit and wait. Although Scott and Todd were both smiling as we ended our walk through Awanakancha, I'm quite sure that they were not as excited about the visit as were Julia and I!
Our next few stops were quick ones - the first at Mirador Taray with an exceptional panoramic view of Peru's Sacred Valley and the Vilcanota River below.
With another panoramic view, this time of the town of Pisac, we made a brief photo stop at Mirador Pisac.
Before completing our drive down the winding road full of switchbacks for our two lengthier stops of the day, we paused for our final view with some of the Pisac terraces in the distance ... and even had a little time for Julia to barter with the youngsters.
Pisac Ruins, situated on top of the hills surrounding the Sacred Valley, was the primary motivation for our taxi tour as we continued on our quest to discover more of the ancient handiwork of the Incas. The amazing agricultural terraces built hundreds of years ago are still in use today. The 50 minutes that we had to hike through the ruins was not nearly long enough to see all that was built so many years ago, but the time gave us a good taste and a yearning for more.
Our entry to the site where the ruins are located was quick and easy since we had purchased our tourist ticket before leaving Cusco. As the "Parador de Vehiculos" (parking lot) was quite full, Wilson dropped us off near the main foot entrance. It was, however, still impossible to avoid walking past the many vendors who set up shop each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. As our next planned stop was at the market, we quickly made our way into Monumental del Parque Arquelogico de Pisac.
After passing through the "Entrada de Parque Arquelogico", we took a glance at the maps and immediately confirmed what we already suspected - there was no way that we would be able to hike the entire site in under an hour! The good news is that the well marked path winding through most of the site is either flat or has only slight inclines or declines ... with some relatively easy to navigate stairs sprinkled about.
In our effort to see as much as possible in our limited time, we began our hike along Ruta Permitida Para La Visita Turistica which led us into Qantas Raqay.
Built on multiple levels, the neighborhood has an assortment of thatch-roofed buildings of various sizes all built of small and medium sized reddish-colored stones.
The neighborhood had an awesome view of Andenes Qallaqasa, the very efficient terraced mountainside complete with irrigation - all designed and built by the Incas, and still in use today.
We continued on our journey through the ruins of Pisac and made our way into the Qallaqasa neighborhood.
The remains in this neighborhood are definitely showing their age - some still have rooftops while it is more difficult to ascertain the original purpose of other remaining walls.
As our time was quickly ticking away, we opted to spend our last few minutes exploring only the lower part of the Qallaqasa neighborhood where we saw that some of the walls were even being propped up in an effort to preserve the buildings.
Although there are several ways down, we chose to begin our retreat via an uneven, narrow stone staircase - fortunately it was not too lengthy and was really the only tricky part of our hike through the site. Just as with our previous two stops, Wilson was waiting for us at the exit, and right on time, too!
Before leaving the town of Pisac, we made a 45 minute stop at the biggest and best known market in the Sacred Valley, Pisac Market. Although it wasn't a Sunday when the market is said to be the most lively with both a handicraft and farmer's market, there were still many streets filled with a variety of souvenirs offered by the artisans and peasants from nearby villages. We all enjoyed wandering through the market - and even found some "much needed items" that we should be able to make use of during our remaining weeks away and hopefully beyond.
We were also happy to have another hairless dog sighting during our visit at the market.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to take at least one photo (at cost of S./ 1 - approximately $0.35) of the youngsters dressed to impress in their bright, colorful clothing ... and, of course, carrying their "baby" along!
In order to truly visit both the market and the archaeological site definitely requires more than the two hours that we had, however I'm still glad that we made both stops and at least got a brief taste of Pisac. Maybe we can plan our next visit on a Sunday so we would have the opportunity to watch the locals buying, selling and bartering supplies such as cheeses, grains, produce and spices for the upcoming week at the Pisac Market.
Lunch at La Casita de Victoria
Before being dropped off at our Ollantaytambo hotel, Wilson suggested a stop at La Casita de Victoria for some lunch. With Wilson's encouragement, we planned to eat like a local at a restaurant that locals frequent. As we pulled into a parking space, we immediately saw some cuy (Guinea pig) being roasted in the fire in front of the restaurant.
As each plate would be served with a side of pasta and a potato, we relied on Wilson's recommendation for each couple to split one cuy.
We also ordered a whole cuy for Wilson who had been a great driver and host for our wonderful sightseeing drive through the Sacred Valley.
I'm really happy that I didn't shy away from sampling this dish native to Peru. While I wouldn't seek it out (mostly due to the very salty taste), I would not be afraid of being served cuy in the future.
Tips for Touring the Sacred Valley
To help you make the most of your time in Peru, and more importantly a day touring the Sacred Valley, here are some tips and suggestions to help with planning:
- If you are spending time and money on a trip to see Machu Picchu, why not see some more of Peru while you are already there? A tour through the Sacred Valley is an excellent addition to any visit in this area of Peru.
- In addition to the taxi tour described above, there are a variety of ways to travel from Cusco to
Ollantaytambo including train (May - December from Poroy outside of Cusco), bus, taxi,
Collectivo or even rental car. There are a number of benefits to the taxi tour including:
- the tour can be easily reserved before you leave home eliminating the stress of hoping or wondering what will be available when you arrive in Cusco;
- you have the ability to easily stop along the way to see more of the Sacred Valley;
- you won't have to worry about missing a turn or parking (taxi drivers will drop you off right at each entrance and pick you up at each exit);
- your designated driver won't have miss out on seeing some of the views while concentrating on navigating the steep and curvy roads; and finally
- the price is great - especially with 4 people traveling together.
- The annual rainy season in Cusco is between January and April, and parts of the railway close for a combination of maintenance and safety reasons. During these months, the train service between Poroy and Ollantaytambo is replaced by bus service between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. Additionally, the Inca Trail is closed annually during the month of February for maintenance.
- The taxi tour through Taxidatum can be somewhat customized. The stops at Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi and Awanakancha are optional, allowing you to spend more time at Pisac Ruins and / or Pisac Market if that is your preference.
- Taxidatum has two additional options for transportation between Cusco and Ollantaytamo. The first includes stops at Chincheros, Maras Salt Mines, and Moray Terraces ($65.00 USD for 1 - 4 persons). Or, if you have the time for a full day tour, your stops can include all of the above with the exception of the animal sanctuary and Awanakancha at a cost of $85.00 for 1 - 4 people. It never hurts to ask for further customizations in the comments section of the "Book now!" page on the Taxidatum website should you have a specific request.
- If you have an interest in animals, Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi and Awanakancha are great opportunities to get up close to some of the animals native to the area who are not being exploited solely for tourist photos.
- From both the two optional stops, the miradors, the market at Pisac Ruins (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays only) and the Pisac Market, there are plenty of opportunities for bargain shopping!
- Taxidatum requires neither advance payment in full nor a deposit; payment is made to your driver once you arrive at your final destination.
- Although Taxidatum drivers speak Spanish, since your tour itinerary is arranged and confirmed in advance, the inability to communicate won't hinder your day. (With our very limited knowledge of Spanish and our driver's limited English, we were able to convey basic information back and forth.)
- With a 4 person tour, the standard sedan will be able to accommodate only light luggage and backpacks. If you are traveling with fewer people, you will of course have room for more luggage. If you are traveling by train from Ollantaytambo however, only a carry-on bag or backpack is permitted.
- Unlike tickets for Machu Picchu, there are no limits to the number of tourist tickets (or partial tickets) that are sold. Either ticket can be purchased at the COSITUC office (103 Avenida del Sol) in Cusco (8:00 AM - 6:30 PM weekdays and 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM weekends) or at the entrance to the first site you plan to visit. Cusco Tourist Ticket has up to date information regarding which tickets provide entry into which attractions.
How Much Should You Budget for a Sacred Valley Taxi Tour?
Excluding hotel, here's a breakdown of how much we spent during the day of our Sacred Valley tour plus our evening in Ollantaytambo (all in USD):
- Boleto Parcial - Circuito III - $25.00 per person
- Entrance to / Tour of Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi - $3.50 per person
- Cuy Lunch at La Casita de Victoria (including 1/2 of lunch for driver) - $27.00 for 2
- Taxidatum Taxi Tour / Tips - $80.00 for 4 persons
- Pisac Market purchases - $10.00 for scarf, water bottle strap & photo
- Dessert in Ollantaytambo - $9.00
Totaling up the above (and including only our portion of the taxi tour since we were part of a group of 4), Scott and I spent $143.00 for the two of us. For meals, souvenirs, a full day of sightseeing plus the transportation needed to get to our next stop in Peru, we were very happy with the cost. Plus, we still had the ability to use our tourist ticket during the following morning before leaving Ollantaytambo by train.
Need a Hotel in Ollantaytambo?
If you plan to stay overnight in Ollantaytambo, rooms at Sol Natura Hotel are very spacious. At just under $80.00 per night, the price is fair and the hotel is only a 10 minute walk to the Peru Rail ticket windows and 15 minutes to the boarding platform. The Ollantaytambo Ruins as well as the Town Square are also within walking distance. The grounds surrounding the hotel are well manicured and we also enjoyed the large central open courtyard at Sol Natura.
Although we spent very limited time in the hotel, the view from the window in our room was excellent and the hotel had all that we needed including one of the best complimentary breakfasts that we had in all of South America. Breakfast is served buffet style, except for cooked to order eggs which are ordered at and served to the table. For us, the only downside to the hotel was a subtle odor in our room - but it did not prevent us from getting a great nights rest.
A valid Boletico Turistico or the Boleto Parcial - Circuito III also includes entrance to Ollantaytambo Ruins. Take a look at our post titled 18 Hours in Ollantaytambo for some ideas on how to spend your time seeing the ruins, market and more, in addition to getting a good nights rest before departing on your train ride or hike to Machu Picchu.
Peru's Sacred Valley
If you've previously visited the Sacred Valley, please share your suggestions in the comments section below on your recommendations for the best places for visitors to spend their time. From viewpoints to ruins and markets to restaurants, there are lots of options, and it's always great to have multiple ideas when planning a vacation.
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