The Sacred Valley of the Incas (Spanish, Valle Sagrado de los Incas; Quechua Willka Qhichwa) is a valley in the Andes of Peru full of Inca ruins. The Sacred Valley was slowly incorporated into the Inca Empire from 1,000 to 1400 and soon became the heartland. Here one will find Inca citadels like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.

Today many of the locals still speak Quechua (the tongue of the Incas). Many of these people continue to grow corn, weave brightly colored textiles, and raise alpacas not dissimilar to their Inca forbears. Throughout Peru, one can also see the Inca Roads - the best roads in all of the Americas.

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History of the Sacred Valley

The valley is a 70-mile narrow strip of land stretching from the old imperial capital of Cusco to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The valley is a stunning sight, set as it is against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks contrasted with the fertile river valley and the steep forest and ancient agricultural terraces.

The fertile lands of the valley have long been inhabited. It is believed that the Chanapata civilization first used this area from around 800 BC. Afterward, the Qotacalla civilization inhabited the Sacred Valley from 500 AD to around 900 AD.

They were in turn replaced by the Killke civilization who lived there until the powerful Inca Empire appeared on the scene in 1420. In the past, the surrounding hills worked as a buffer to safeguard the inhabitants against Andean jungle tribe raids (who would often raid the highlands).

Because of the naturally rich soil, many Inca came to settle here and began maize production on a large scale. The legacy remains attested with the many archaeological Inca remains today.

Related: 20 Things Tourists Do At Machu Picchu (That Locals Can't Stand)

What's In The Sacred Valley?

Today the Sacred Valley is a major tourist attraction pulling millions of visitors from all around the world (most seeking to hike to the breath-taking Machu Picchu - by far the most famous archeological site in the region).

The Sacred Valley is a great place for tourists to begin their Machu Picchu adventure as the altitude is not as high as it is on the Inca Trail or at Cusco. The valley is a reminder that while Machu Picchu is truly breathtaking, it is far from the only Inca ruin and one should avoid tunnel vision of only visiting Machu Picchu (the Inca Empire was an Empire - not a citadel). Still, Machu Picchu has an incredible history that is fascinating to know.

  • River: The Sacred Valley Is Cut Through By the Urubamba River

Visitors should take their time to explore the Inca remains in this valley and see what is often overshadowed by the touristic juggernaut that is Machu Picchu.

One of the benefits of the valley is the altitude. Whereas Cusco rises on average to around 11,000 feet above sea level, the valley is mostly 7,000 to 9,000 feet. That is the "sweet spot" with altitude sickness. Visitors may feel the symptoms in Cusco but not the valley.

When the Inca conquered lands, their custom was to divide the land into three roughly equal parts. These where:

  • For The Emperor
  • For The Religious Establishment
  • For The Farmer Communities Themselves

In the 1400s the Sacred Valley became an area of royal estates and country homes. Royal estates included:

  • Estate of Emperor Yawar Waqaq: Located At Paullu and Lamay (Near Pisac)
  • Estate of Emperor Vicaocha Inca: Called Huchuy Qosqo It Overlooks The Sacred Valley
  • The Estate Pachacuti: At Pisac
  • Estate of Emperor Huayna Capac: In the Town Of Urubamba
  • Estate of Pachacuti: Machu Picchu - This is a Belief Held By Many Archeologists
  • Terraces: Today The Most Visible Signs Of The Inca Are The Agricultural Terraces

Related: 15 Inca Structures And Sites You Can Visit In Peru Today

Visiting The Sacred Valley

Sports that one can do in the Sacred Valley include Quad biking, trekking, rock climbing, ziplining, rafting, and cycling. When visiting the Sacred Valley, one has the choice of getting a tour package or going alone. The two tourist packages are the:

  • Full-Day Sacred Valley Tour: Includes Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero
  • Maras, Moray Half-Day Tour: Includes Maras Salt Mines And The Moray Circular Platforms

If going by oneself one must first get the Tourist Ticket of Cusco Circuit 3 that includes admission to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Moray. One can see various tickets online.

Some of the main attractions are:

  • Pisac: A Town Known As the Gateway to The Sacred Valley, Famous for Its Artisan Market and Impressive Archaeological Remains
  • Urubamba: One Of The Most Important Inca Cities In The Valley
  • Ollantaytambo: Was An Inca Fortified City With Temples And Defense Walls - Considered One of The Most Important Archaeological Sites In South America
  • Chinchero: Was The Palace of The Emperor Tupac Yupanqui And The Spanish Colonial Church Nuestra Señora de Monserrat
  • Others: Maras, Moray, And Yucay

Next: What You Need To Know About Hiking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu