Sacred Valley, Peru travel guide – The YEH, MEH, NAHs

If Machu Picchu vanished, retrieved by Incan extra-terrestrials, the Sacred Valley would still be a top Peru destination. We visited in mid-March, at the tail end of Peru’s rainy season. I can’t imagine a better time to visit. The valley was saturated with colors and we rarely had to battle for a seat at a restaurant.

Here are our Sacred Valley travel tips for the towns of Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Urubamba, and the sites of Machu Picchu, Moray, and Salineras. We’ll cover Cusco later in a separate travel guide.

[one_third]YEH Good to great, though sometimes only relative to the other options in town. ! = we wanted more.[/one_third]
[one_third]MEH An intense level of indifference. It probably won’t suck, but it won’t impress either.[/one_third]
[one_third_last]NAH Likely to cause sadness, frustration, wallet-emptying, or a raging need for Cipro. Avoid.[/one_third_last]

Beautiful every step of the way, Pisac ruins, Peru photo

Pisac's ruins are beautiful every step of the way

What to do and see in the Sacred Valley, Peru

  • Ollantaytambo ruins – Filled with wildflowers, carvings, and vistas, the town’s main ruins were so stunning that we wish we’d had more time to see the town’s other ruins. The guard working the ticket booth was insanely nice; she made change for lots of large bills we’d gotten stuck with and tried hard (if vainly) to find a discount she could give us for the expensive boleto turistico.YEH!
  • Awamaki, Ollantaytambo – High-quality, locally made Quechua co-op handicrafts that help fund nonprofit programs. Also, the volunteers at the store were a great source for local eating tips, which we wish we’d known sooner. – YEH
  • Pisac ruins – An amazing collection of Incan ruins, on top of the high hills that loom over town. Our hotel gave us a handy map of the expansive area. Bargain hard for a taxi to the far trailhead or make the challenging but not impossible hike up that starts right in town. Bring a lot of water, as there’s nothing for sale inside. – YEH!
  • Pisac Market – This market is now so popular it’s a daily event. We went on the busiest day, Sunday, and enjoyed the cheap, local street food and the colorful produce vendors. However, the tchotchke shopping was overpriced, tacky, and monotonous. Go early — by 8 or 9 a.m. — to enjoy the market before the tour groups invade. – YEH
  • Moray and Salineras – Check out our posts about visiting the Incan archaeological site of Moray and the photogenic salt pools the Salineras of Maras. We paid 60 soles for an extra long, entertaining afternoon taxi ride to the sites. – YEH!
  • Sign with arrow pointing to Machu Picchu, Peru photo

    This way to Machu Picchu

  • Inca Rail train to Machu Picchu – Check out our reviews of our train rides to Machu Picchu and back to Ollantaytambo. – YEH
  • Machu Picchu – This “YEH” is a duh, but we wanted to share some travel tips. Book your ticket for entry as well as for the Huayna Picchu hike far, far ahead. The official ticket website is a piece of junk and you’ll likely need to try every credit card you have before one works. Once there, the only food and bathrooms are at the main entrance, and the weather at Machu Picchu can be unpredictable, so plan accordingly. Signs warn that outside food and disposable water bottles are not allowed — don’t flaunt what you bring and pack your garbage out. – YEH!
  • Local transportation – Why take a tour bus when the combis, colectivos, and public buses are cheap, convenient, and frequent? We took several local vehicles that were brand spankin’ new. And though some did have a definite funk, none were worse than San Francisco MUNI. As for safety, road conditions and poor weather affect local and tour transportation equally, and are only part of the problem. Give local transport a try. – YEH

Where to eat and drink in the Sacred Valley, Peru

    Puka Rumi cazuela and aji de gallina, Ollantaytambo, Peru photo

    Puka Rumi cazuela and aji de gallina in Ollantaytambo

  • Puka Rumi, Ollantaytambo – There are not a lot of impressive eating options in this small town and both bloggers and travel guide books attest to Puka Rumi’s worth. We enjoyed a comforting, huge bowl of chicken cazuela, despite the related social awkwardness. A satisfying, if not mind-blowing, aji de gallina was much improved by the Peruvian yellow hot sauce smartly offered on each table. – YEH
  • La Esquina Café-Bakery, Ollantaytambo – Owned and operated by friendly expats, this bakery on the main square offers well-made Western comforts like chicken salad sandwiches, coffee, and pastries. They’ll also let you refill your water bottles for free with their filtered water, which they are smartly nagging other businesses in town to use. – YEH
  • Panaka, Ollantaytambo – A schmancier restaurant on the town square. Cuy (guinea pig), deboned, stuffed with vegetables, and wrapped with bacon was overcooked, making everything tough. Causa, done same-same as everywhere, had potato in outlandish proportion to the chicken filling. Tender alpaca carpaccio was nicely plated with capers and dressed salad greens. Portions tiny for the price. That said, Panaka’s limonada was the best we had in Peru. – MEH
  • Alpaca carpaccio at Panaka restaurant, Ollantaytambo, Peru photo

    Alpaca carpaccio at Panaka restaurant in Ollantaytambo

  • Orishas, Ave Ferrocarrill 119, Ollantaytambo – Indifferent cooking, service, and atmosphere. Hot chocolate was made from packaged powder, an abomination in Peru. The lomo saltado was flavorless, the fries served inexplicably on the side instead of sautéed in. And the smoked alpaca salad was not worth the touch of food poisoning it probably gave us. – NAH
  • Wayra, Urubamba – Check out our review of our gourmet dinner at Wayra. – YEH!
  • Food vendors at Pisac Sunday Market – Read about the cheap and wonderful food you can enjoy at the market. – YEH
  • Cuchara de Palo at Pisac Inn, on Plaza de Armas, Pisac – A popular hotel with a solid restaurant. A fireplace and polite staff make it a chill place to relax with their fantastic chicha morada, quinoa risotto (basically Quechua version of mac and cheese), or any other of their creative dishes. The hot chocolate was so good that I sipped it too fast down the wrong pipe, bringing the waitress over in a rush. She then forced my hands above my head, pounding me on the back until long after I stopped coughing. Besides free embarrassment, you can refill your water bottle for a small fee. – YEH
  • Quinoa risotto, Pisac Inn restaurant, Pisac, Peru photo

    Quinoa risotto, Pisac Inn restaurant

  • Mullu Cafe, on Plaza de Armas, Pisac – Over a shake of chocolate, coffee, and cauña (anyone know what that is?) and a refreshingly cold limonada, we watched the hustle of the Pisac market from Mulla’s narrow balcony. The hipster, modern art-filled interior space is bright, fun, and comfortable. – YEH
  • Inti Killa, on Manuel Pardo just south of the main square, Pisac – The only place in town we could find empanadas de carne. They were excellent. – YEH

Where to stay in the Sacred Valley, Peru

  • Casa de Wow!!!, Ollantaytambo – Though the self-appointed exclamation points made us hesitant, this hostel deserved each one. Our ensuite bathroom room was clean and the room charming. Breakfast, though simple, was generous, with fresh bread, gooseberry jam, unlimited tea, and impeccably fried eggs. Good WiFi. Bunk rooms have a view of the ruins. – YEH!
  • Photo of Casa de Wow private bedroom

    Photo courtesy Casa de Wow!!!

  • Hotel Sol & Luna , Urubamba – Check out our review of Hotel Sol & Luna. Its decadent buffet breakfast, pool, and much needed sauna are included for all guests. Decent WiFi. – YEH!
  • Hospedaje Beho, Pisac, no website, just email – Though Beho had its faults, we strangely enjoyed it. The door to our shower-curtain-less bathroom wouldn’t latch, but since the door didn’t reach the ceiling, it didn’t matter. Their cama extra limpia (extra cleaned room) was as well-scrubbed as such worn surfaces can be. But, one of our bedroom walls was real Incan stonework, and the folks running the place couldn’t have been sweeter. Didn’t notice if there was WiFi. For budget travelers, Beho is a – YEH