One of the most popular standard group tours in Cusco is a day-trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which includes as a highlight visits to the town and ruins of Ollantaytambo and the Pisac market (depending on the day). While the former is overrun, the southern circuit through the Sacred Valley is much less traveled, mainly because most travelers don’t have the time to do more than one or two basic tours and because the sights the southern circuit includes are less publicized. This is a shame, because the route boasts evocatively beautiful natural landscapes as well as mysterious, unique historical sites. A tour of the Southern Sacred Valley includes guided visits exploring the still-functioning waterworks of the Incan ruins of Tipón, an ornate colonial church often referred to as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the Americas’, the striking Maras Salt Pans, the circular terraces of Moray, and the Wari ruins of Pikillacta.
Fall into the magic of the former imperial city of the Incas. This year, the central day of Carnaval in the towns of Cusco District will be Sunday, February 15th. It’s a time of colorful dances, parades, and competitions. Celebrations take place not just in Cusco city proper, but also in the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Southern Valley, especially in the towns of Pisac, Calca, Coya, and Urubamba. (Last year, more than 5 thousand visited Coya on the main day of its carnaval. Dancers and musicians gathered from the country communities surrounding Cusco, Arequipa, Tacna, Puno and Apurímac.)
Along the Vía Ferrata, with the help of a system of steel-enforced horizontal cables and vertical iron ladders, even beginners with zero climbing experience can tackle a 300m sheer rock face! The return trip can either be by a series of six ziplines or by rappel. All in all, it’s a jam-packed day trip that boasts both excitement and scenic views.
Renting some quad bikes or ATVs marries the beautiful landscape of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the excitement of off-roading. During the ride, you’ll enjoy expansive views of the tiny green fields which each family relies on for sustenance, picturesque communities with adobe mud-brick homes and colorfully dressed locals, small springs and Puyoc Lake, and the Andean mountains surrounding the valley. At some points, we’ll even be able to look over the city of Cusco.
The exciting terrain of winding dirt paths and frequent hills allows the bravest to jump their bikes in the air. You’ll have the space and time to exceed 4th gear.
Many of our backpacking friends who come visit us in Cusco are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and luckily, from extreme sports to high Andean treks and intriguing ruins, Cusco delivers. One thing with which Peru abounds is quality whitewater rafting for all levels. Not only does the Sacred Valley of the Incas just outside of Cusco boast a majestic landscape, but there’s also a range of amazing whitewater rafting options for those of you who want to enjoy the outdoors in a more active way, from popular day trips along the Urubamba River to longer adventures along the Apurimac River rapids.
If you’ve never rafted before but want to give it a try, there are gentle rapids along the Urubamba which are appropriate for beginners, trips begin with an equipment and safety demonstration and include a companion guide in a safety kayak should assistance be necessary. In areas where the rapids are more complicated to navigate, guides scout ahead and provide the necessary directions. With an experienced professional agency like Pirwa Travel Service, you can safely enjoy the adventure whether you’re a novice or a more experienced rafter.
The Talking Apurimac River
It’s a 5 hour drive from Cusco to the Apurimac River Valley and its epic river, which was sacred for the Incas and whose name in Quechua means “Speaking God”. The waters of the Apurimac flow down from the Mt Mismi glacier through and froth into exciting rapids as they navigate through waterfalls and narrow gorges with steep cliffsides twice as deep as the USA’s Grand Canyon. Then the waters calm, passing the scenic countryside of the Sacred Valley on the way to its final destination, the Amazon River in the tropical rainforest.
Those of you who want to tackle the Apurimac River can opt for 4 day trips which advance from Class II and III Rapids on the first day up to some Class V Rapids on the third day, tackling such famed segments as Toothache, You First, and Last Laugh. (At Right: The Devil’s Tooth) After each day’s rafting, you’ll relax in campsites in narrow gorges and sandy beaches, looking up at the stars of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Outside of the adrenaline-pumping segments of the circuit, look around for some of the canyon’s wildlife such as river otters, condors, and foxes.
The Sacred Urubamba
The Sacred Valley of the Incas was formed by the Urubamba River, which is Quechua for Sacred River. It is this river that trekkers along the Inca Trail and visitors to Machu Picchu see snaking down below, wrapping around the high peak topped by the ruins.(Photos Above: The Urubamba coiling around the Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the Urubamba River snaking through the Peruvian Andes.)
Many travelers opt for convenient day trips for rafting the Cusipata section of the upper Urubamba River, which is less crowded and cleaner than some other Sacred Valley rivers. Lasting only a day, they’re a great option for those short on time, experience, or cash. They include a picnic lunch, initial equipment and safety demonstration, and 3 hours of rafting as well as transport to and from Cusco. You can even take advantage of your foray into the Sacred Valley to arrange visits to the Ollantaytambo Fortress of Pisac enroute back to Cusco. Along the Cusipata section, rafters encounter mainly Class II and III Rapids, with perhaps some IV+ depending on the season. For those with more rafting experience, there are other options for day trips along the Urubamba showcasing world-class IV and V rapids, such as Huambutío to Pisco and Ollantaytambo to Chillca.
Your Home-Base Back In Cusco
Upon returning to Cusco, a hot shower and comfortable bed will be waiting for you at any of our four hostel locations in the Imperial City. Relax in the sunshine in the patio at Pirwa Colonial Backpackers, and make yourself at home with the self-serve kitchen. There’s an onsite bar and fast-food stand that make it easy to unwind post-adventure.
If, on the other hand, you want to stay active, stop by the Pirwa Travel Service information counter that’s present in all of our hostels for your convenience- there are lots more adventures to be had, such as trekking, bunjee jumping, ziplining, ATV off-roading, and downhill mountain biking! Calmer, more culturally-themed excursions like guided tours of Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and of course Machu Picchu are available as well, so there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy your stay in Cusco!