This post is part of the Peru Series. Other posts in this series:
- An unforgettable Peru and Machu Picchu Itinerary
- Arriving in Cusco and heading to Sacred Valley
- This – Treasures of Peru’s Sacred Valley
- Spending a night in a glass pod at 1300 feet: Skylodge, Peru
- Upcoming – Exploring Cusco city and an unconventional visit to Saksyahuman and other ruins
- Upcoming – Hiking the rainbow mountain
- Upcoming – Hiking the Inca Trail
- Upcoming – Other locations to visit in Peru
- Upcoming – How we visited Peru and Dominican Republic using miles and points
- Upcoming – When to visit Peru and Machu Picchu
- Upcoming – Ins and Outs of preparing and hiking for the Inca Trail
- Upcoming – How to prepare for high elevation and avoid altitude sickness
Day 3 – Treasures of Peru’s Sacred Valley: Exploring Ollantaytambo ruins, Moray, Maras & Pisac in Sacred Valley
After a relaxing morning at the Tambo Del Inka, head out to explore the ruins after a delicious and filling breakfast. We were very happy to see the same driver Juan Carlos who had dropped us off the day before. The resort location is ideal because most day tours to the Sacred valley start in Cusco and then end up in Ollantaytambo after passing through Pisac, Moray and Maras. Not only does this typical schedule cram too much driving into your day, it also does not allow for sufficient time to appreciate each amazing historic site.
Make a note about the houses with flags and that they serve Chicha
A brief 20-minute drive from the center of Urubamba down the main 2-lane highway and you’ll find yourself winding into the aged colonial town square outside of Ollantaytambo with it’s dusty 2 story restaurants and guest houses smooshed on top of ancient Incan foundations. This style of architecture is almost as interesting as the well preserved historic sites carved into the hillsides and cliff faces of Ollantaytambo.
A quick ticket-punching of your “Boleto General” at the entrance gate, gets you in these magnificent ruins (see more information about purchasing this “Boleto general” or tourist ticket in this post).
The usual boat load of fanny packers arrive in Ollantaytambo at around 2pm which is another reason to start your day early. You can get this beautiful part of Peru all to yourself and just a handful of early risers, which would otherwise be packed with tourists!
You can begin meandering through the tiny old village streets and up to the remarkable stone terraces. These terraces for farming are vast, and the steep stone steps leading to the storehouses and religious sites makes you wonder how grueling the life of a farmer must have been. With only llamas and weeds occupying the terraces today, you dutifully march up…up….up – passing other gringos that haven’t yet had their coca tea. Or you’ll be getting passed by younger gringos that don’t have old knees. The wonderful part about all of Peru’s terraced landmarks is that venturing higher always provides for some great views! You can spend hours here wandering and beautiful terraces.
After sufficiently appreciating this site which takes about 1 to 1.5 hours (if it is crowded you will be inclined to leave early), you can have a quick bite at the Hearts Café if you are hungry and swiftly be on your way to the next destination.
After another hour-long picturesque drive, you head up the mountains with fantastic views of the Urubamba Valley. Our driver Juan Carlos found this perfect spot for us to stop on the drive and I could’ve stayed here for hours admiring the views.
After many quick hair-pin turns we arrived at Maras Salinas (salt mines) which looked like a perfect patchwork of beige and white hues from the top of the road. Who would think you can get artisnal sea salt away from the ocean up high in the Andes mountains?! Seeing how the locals produce salt out of the natural water source coming from the mountain is definitely impressive, and the view is unique!
This site is not covered by the “boleto general” so you have to pay a separate entrance fee (10 sol per person) upon entering the region. There is a tourist foot path at the top level where you can walk along the salt mines and admire the views with lots of photo opportunities. Like any tourist location, you exit through little tourist shops at the end where you can buy some souvenirs like local salt. After a quick jaunt around the pools, we were ready for our next destination of Moray just 15 min away.
The most intriguing aspect of these concentric terraces might seem to be aesthetics at a first glance. However, on further inspection, architectural genius and the resourcefulness of Incas is even more impressive! The Incas used the temperature variance at different levels to cultivate different crops.
The foot path along the rim of the terraces eventually winds all the way down to the lowest level where you can see the masonry up close. This stroll enables you to take in the enormity of the circular terraces and you can also capture pictures from various angles. However, the pictures do not do this site justice. It is totally mind blowing – the symmetry, the scale, the location. Truly an engineering wonder.
Entry to this site is also covered by Boleto General (see more information about purchasing this “Boleto general” or tourist ticket in this post).
Unlike most tourist day trips, leave Pisac for another day instead of cramming this market stop along with other Sacred Valley gems. Pisac is located closer to Cusco than to Urubamba, so we suggest that you cover it as a day trip from Cusco or on your way from Urubamba to Cusco.
The Pisac archaeological site is filled with historic ruins and surrounded by lush, green, picture-perfect terraces. This site is also one of the largest ones and hence involves a lot of walking along the steep terraces. Considering the steep uphill and high altitude (above 11,000 ft), take some time to reorient and strategize this visit and you will thank yourself later😊
The best way to explore these ruins is to be dropped off at the top entrance of the site and walk down while exploring the ruins along the way. You can also hire a guide who can explain the history and other fun facts to you, but we just decided to admire the views and have a good time. Depending on your pace and how much time you like to spend along the way, it will take about 1.5 – 2.5 hours to arrive at the lower entrance where a little path takes you to the bustling Pisac market filled with local delicacies, souvenirs and colorful Peruvian merchandise – advertised as hecho a mano (hand made) but mostly hecho a máquina (machine made). Don’t forget to snag some empanadas from the community oven tucked inside Pisac Market for a quick bite! If you are hungry before the ride back and craving for a meal, you can also stop by at Mullu Café or Apu Organic.
From Cusco, you can hire a private taxi costing about 65 USD for entire trip or you can get a taste of local transportation by taking the van from Calle Puputi in Cusco which will cost you just 3 soles ($1) to Pisac. You can then take a taxi to the top of the ruins for 25 soles. It takes about 40 min one way from Cusco to Pisac in a taxi and up to an hour in the van. After visiting the ruins and market, you can catch the van back to Cusco from the main street where it dropped you off. The entrance to this site is also covered by “Boleto General.”