Known as Wilka Qhichwa in Quechua, the 110km-long Sacred Valley offers travelers many surprises—apart from the given Machu Picchu and Cusco.
Find out 11 things to do and know about the Sacred Valley (besides the main tourist attractions) below:
1. The Incas chose to settle in the Sacred Valley partly because of the agriculture
As the early inhabitants of the Cusco region, the Incas slowly achieved administrative control over the different ethnic groups living in the Sacred Valley, by conquest or diplomacy.
In addition to the fact that the Sacred Valley was very close to Cusco, one of the reasons why the Incas were so interested in the Sacred Valley was probably because it was lower in elevation and – therefore – warmer than other areas.
The fact that it was lower and warmer allowed for better agriculture, especially for growing maize, a prestige crop for the Incas.
2. One of the coolest (or most terrifying) hotels in the world is located in the Sacred Valley
Skylodge Adventures Suites, a sleeping camp hanging at the summit of a 400-meter mountain, is in the Sacred Valley, just 15 minutes from Ollantaytambo.
Not only does it enable you to enjoy the landscapes and the sky full of stars from your completely see-through room, but it also takes you on an adventure of a 400-meter Via Ferrata or hiking and ziplining in order to reach the hotel.
3. There’s a Potato Park in the Sacred Valley
Going to this biocultural reserve is one of the many things to do in the Sacred Valley.
If you are interested in learning about Andean traditions like agriculture, weaving and sharing moments with the 12 different communities that live and grow potatoes there, this is the place to go to.
4. The highest slingshot in the world is situated in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is also known for the wide range of adventures it offers.
If you’re visiting the valley, take a day to go to the Action Valley, an adventure park offering bungee jumping and slingshots, founded by two national champions: a National Paragliding Champion and a National Bungee Jumping Champion.
The slingshot, built at an altitude of 3,500 meters, fires its riders over 100 meters into the air, which makes it the highest in the world.
Likewise, the bungee jump is also often considered as the highest in South America, but that might be because of its very high altitude.
5. Try cuy, the staple diet of the highlands
Cuy, better known as guinea pig, is a traditional Peruvian dish with a history of over 5,000 years. In fact, the second Friday of October is National Guinea Pig Day in Peru.
The Cuy is often served fried or roasted and can be found in almost every restaurant in the Sacred Valley. We recommend you give it a try.
6. Go mountain biking in the incredible Maras salt mines
The little town of Maras is just 40 km from Cusco city, a very short drive from Ollantaytambo and Urubamba.
The small town is home to an impressive network of ancient salt deposits that have been used since the Inca times.
Very salty spring water arrives in hand-built pools, where it is left to evaporate in order to leave 100% natural, unrefined salt. The proper maintenance of each pond is necessary for the correct functioning of all of them.
In addition to visiting the salt mines, you can also enjoy a scenic mountain bike tour around the area.
7. The Sacred Valley houses the longest zip line of Peru
Starting close to the town of Maras, at a height of almost 5,000 m above sea level, this zip line is considered the longest in the country at 2,130 meters.
Apparently, it can take you up to a speed of 120 km/h, which is perfect for true adrenaline seekers.
As you fly through the air at a very high speed, take a deep breath and enjoy the panoramic view of the Sacred Valley and its mountains.
If you love outdoor activities, know that the Urubamba Valley has many to offer. Check out these 7 incredible adventure activities to do in the Sacred Valley.
8. Get a taste for the pre-Inca fermented beer, chicha de jora
Maize, or corn, has been a staple of Andean cuisine and culture since pre-Inca times. In fact, some archaeologists date the origin of chicha de jora, a fermented corn drink, as early as the Chavin culture (cerca 900 BC). With the Spanish arrival in the 16th century, chicha de jora would all but disappear.
The chicha de jora in the Sacred Valley is made with yellow corn called Cusco maize, and takes nearly a month from start to finish.
Locals continue to produce and conserve the traditional beverage, you can find chicherías across the valley, including at the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba where you can have a guided experience. Learn more about chicha de jora here.
9. See the Sacred Valley from a unique and adrenaline-filled spot
Looking for the ultimate adrenaline-filled experience? Paragliding can be the best option for you! Many tourism operators offer this extreme activity. Make sure to pick one that has experience and isn’t new.
Most of the operators run their tours either close to Chinchero, about 30 minutes north from Cusco, or near Pisac, about 45 minutes from Cusco. The flights last for 15-30 minutes and offer breathtaking views of the Sacred Valley.
Here’s a little sneak peek of what it’s like to paraglide in the Sacred Valley:
10. Stand where the Incas won a glorious battle against the conquistadors
In 1536, the conquistador Hernando Pizarro attacked Ollantaytambo with 70 riders and many Inca and Spanish soldiers. It was there that the Inca rebel Manco was taking refuge. Pizarro’s goal was to take him as a hostage.
They never managed to get into the fortress, as the soldiers of Manco where throwing arrows and rocks at them. Finally, Manco had the brilliant idea of flooding the plain by releasing the canalizations, which marked a great victory over the conquistadors.
The Spanish troops returned with four times as many riders, and Manco was forced to take refugein his fort in the forest.
Today, the ruins of Ollantaytambo are considered some of the most impressive and popular in the Sacred Valley.
11. Enjoy yoga by the lake in Piuray
Take some time off the tourist route to enjoy tranquility of Piuray Lake, located 45 minutes from Cusco city or Ollantaytambo.
Let go of stress and wake up to a morning yoga session right next to the lake. You can fill in the rest of your day with activities like kayaking, paddleboarding or biking.
This list of 11 things to know and do in the Sacred Valley will sure keep you busy the next time you decide to visit. So, grab your travel buddy and go have a unique and informative adventure of a lifetime in the Land of the Incas.
This article has been updated from the original version published on September 16, 2019.