The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba River Valley, is a must-see for visitors to Cusco. Some travelers actually opt to stay a night or two in the Sacred Valley before visiting Cusco, as it has an altitude about 2,000 feet lower and thus allows for more gradual acclimatization. The draw isn’t purely practical, however: the valley offers amazing natural scenery, assorted Incan and pre-Incan ruins, and picturesque traditional Andean towns. We think that the town of Urubamba is the perfect spot from which to explore this natural, cultural and historical wealth, so today we’ll be talking about what you can do in Urubamba and how you can reach it from Cusco.
What to Do in Urubamba, Peru
There are plenty of area hikes for nature enthusiasts,and there are several stables where one can arrange for a horseback riding tour. The more popular option, however, is the rock climbing circuit known as the Via Ferrata. As we mentioned in our Via Ferrata post, it’s equipped with a series of cables and iron handles that allow even novices to scale the rock. It does take some effort, but the views are incredible. Once can get back down to the valley floor by hiking, but it’s much better to do so through the second option: a series of exciting ziplines.
The traditional souvenir from a stay in Urubamba is a ceramic piece. There are plenty of studios which offer tours and demonstrations which will teach you about traditional and contemporary Andean pottery styles. We recommend that you visit the studio of well-known artist Pablo Seminario; the artist and his family are charismatic and informative, and the pieces are covetable.
From Urubamba, you can take a car to two nearby Inca sites. One is Moray, a series of concentric circular terraces which served as a laboratory for the Incas. In their attempt to replicate different altitudes and climactic zones through the orientation and layout of the site, the Incas even went so far as to import soils from different regions.
The other site is the Maras Salt Pans, which you’ll swear are covered in snow as you approach them. The Incas diverted a stream from the interior of the mountain, so that it would flow through hundreds of stone terraces, each segmented into small pools in order to collect the saltwater for evaporation. The site is collectively managed even to this day, with each family claiming the right to work their own pan. It’s a unique and incredibly scenic spot.
How to Get to Urubamba from Cusco
The most convenient way to reach Urubamba from Cusco is to hire a taxi, which will cost you about US$30, roughly 100 Peruvian soles. It’s pricey by Peruvian standards, because the driver isn’t guaranteed that he’ll find someone to take back to Cusco. The upside, however, is that you’ll have more control over the trip, and can ask the driver to stop when you want to take photos of the striking scenery en route.
A cheaper option is to go by colectivo, a shared taxi or van, which will cost you just a fraction of a taxi’s price, up to 10 Peruvian soles. These gather on Pavitos Street, just off Avenida Grau, and leave throughout the day, as soon as they’re full.
On Avenida Grau, by where the colectivos gather, there’s also a bus terminal you can catch a bus for about 5 Peruvian soles. These take about an hour and a half to make the trip, however, compared to the colectivos which do it in just an hour.
Some travelers prefer to rent a car to tour the Sacred Valley. If you’ll be staying at our new bed & breakfast in Urubamba, which we’ll be unveiling this week, then you’ll have access to our private parking. We just need to know in advance that you require this service.