While we were in Cusco acclimating to the high altitude, we did the Sacred Valley day trip. Sacred Valley is located about 500m (1500ft) lower than Cusco at 2900m (9514ft) so it’s a nice way to ease into the high altitude.
There are plenty of tour operators throughout the historical center of Cusco. You probably will see 4 operators while walking down one street near Plaza de Armas. How do you know which one to use? Are they all the same? No, not all travel agencies are the same actually. We randomly went into an office and they seemed less than professional as the guy couldn’t even tell us the exact route and places we will visit. While walking around, we saw a group of tourists coming out of the SAS Travel office so we decided to go in and take a look.
The SAS Travel office actually seemed really professional, they were able to explain to us in detail what we would be seeing. Our tour to Sacred Valley was 20 USD, not including lunch and tourist ticket. It’s slightly more expensive than the sketchy place we first visited but it seemed a lot more legit, so we booked the Sacred Valley Tour with them, as well as Moray & Salinas half day trip (also 20 USD) and Rainbow Mountain (100 sol).
The tourist ticket is a ticket that every tourist needs in order to visit the various ruins in the Cusco region. You have the option of getting a 1 day ticket or a multi day (10 days to be exact) pass.
The 1 day pass costs 70 sol (~23 USD) and the 10 day pass costs 150 sol (~50 USD). Every time you visit an archaeological site, they will hole punch your ticket so you can’t go to the same site twice.
Our hotel was located right across from the SAS Travel office (which is how we found them), so we met in front of the office at 8:20am. This was probably the latest meet up we’ve had in Peru (all of our other tours met at 3:30am).
If your hotel is far from the office, the tour company will pick you up from your hotel directly.
One thing to note is that they will generally pick you up with a small van, then drive outside of the historical center to change to a SAS only big tour bus. I thought that was nice since you get a lot more space on the big bus.
After driving for about 30 minutes, we first stopped at a tourist shopping center with bathrooms. Note that in Peru, you have to pay for public bathroom; they generally cost about 1 or 2 sol, so always have change on you! If you pay for public bathroom, most of the time they will give you toilet paper, but not always.
After another short drive, we were greeted with this beautiful view point.
Pisac is an Incan village located in the Sacred Valley. There is also a large market there every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. It’s probably one of the best known Incan archaeological site in the region and it has an agricultural terraces similar to the ones we saw near Machu Picchu. Historians also believe that Pisac was used as a defense base for the Sacred Valley.
What I didn’t know before visiting is that you actually have to walk up to the top to see ruins of the citadel. Even though the altitude is lower than Cusco, it was still a struggle to hike up, so make sure you wear walking shoes.
After Pisac, we stopped by a silver factory, which I spent about 5 minutes in. I preferred exploring the market next door a lot more!
Lunch was not included for us, so we had to pay 35 sol for buffet lunch (not including drinks). Food was alright, not special since it was buffet.
After lunch, we drove about 30 minutes to the sacred site of Ollantaytambo. It was the royal estate of one of the Inca emperor and a stronghold during the Spanish invasion.
At first sight it was quite breathtaking, then the thought “omg I have to climb up again?” came to mind. But our guide took it slow and told us a lot about the history and religious ceremonies of the place so the climb wasn’t too bad!
On the way back to Cusco, about an hour after Ollantaytambo, we stopped by this village called Chincheros. If you do day trips from Cusco, more than likely you will stop by here because it sits between Cusco and all the famous Inca ruins.
On the Sacred Valley tour, you get to visit a Spanish church as well as a “woman’s center” where they show you how they dye the llama furs and make them into beautiful table cloths.
The advertised time to return to Cusco was 7pm and we got back literally at 7. It was a long day but definitely worth the 20 USD. It’s probably one of the most popular day trips from Cusco, so definitely put it on your list.