Living in the Sacred Valley

Peru's Sacred Valley is nestled among the spectacular Andes Mountains between the Inca capital of Cusco and the sacred Inca temple of Machu Picchu. It is an area rich with history and natural resources, and Ollantaytambo serves as an ideal base for exploration!

Ollantaytambo itself is an important Inca archeological site, boasting its own set of impressive ruins. At nearly 9,200 feet (2,790 meters) above sea level, it serves as the jumping off point for many nearby hikes, including Pumamarca and Inti Punktu (the Sun Gate).

Since it's the last big town before both the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and the last major train stop before Machu Picchu, it caters to a regular and healthy tourist population, while still maintaining its sense of history and culture. Ollantaytambo provides a wealth of culinary options - from simple, cheap market "menus" to high-class dining. It is also the site of many important cultural and religious festivals throughout the year - complete with bull-fighting matches, dances, parades, pilgrimages, and the grand Choquekillka festival in June.

Sacred Valley Health's partner organization, Awamaki, runs a sustainable tourism agency in the heart of town, leading classes in basket-weaving, pottery, Peruvian cooking, and trips up to nearby mountainous villages for weaving lessons by Quechua women.

Nearby Hiking Opportunities

Situated among the Andes Mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world, the Sacred Valley is a hiker's paradise! Here is a list of some of the more common (and more spectacular) hiking options near Ollantaytambo:

Pinkuylluna (Inca Graneries)

Viewed from around Ollantaytambo, these granaries are only a moderate one-hour roundtrip hike from Ollantaytambo's center and provide beautiful vistas of the Ollantaytambo area and its famous ruins.

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Moray to Salineras (Salt Flats)

No one is 100% sure what the concentric circles built into the landscape in the small town of Moray mean, but scientists have surmised everything from astronomical area to crop experimentation ground to amphitheater. Beginning your trek in Moray, you then descend two hours down the high plains above Urubamba to reach Salineras, or the Salt Mines, where natural hot-spring-fed salt deposits have been converted into pools - in use since Inca times.

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The Inca Trail

Many argue that a trip to Peru is incomplete without making the famous Inca Trail pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. This four-day, three-night, high-altitude trek begins at Kilometer 82 outside of Ollantaytambo, travels along high mountain passes and through cloud forests, and ends at the Sun Gate approaching the entrance to Machu Picchu. Due to high demand and trail preservation, the Inca Trail can only be accessed through an official guiding company and has to be booked months in advance.

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Pumamarca

Reached along a windy road or via high terraces in the mountains behind Ollantaytambo, these stately ruins stand at the intersection of three valleys. Historians believe that they were once a fortress or a control point into the Sacred Valley. Leaving from Ollantaytambo's center plaza, most people complete this roundtrip hike in 4-6 hours.

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Perolniyoc Waterfall

Departing from the nearby village of Socma, this 5-7-hour hike will take you past a 50-meter waterfall and some Inca ruins.

Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) and Canteras (the Inca Quarries)

This hike begins on the trail on the opposite side of the Urubamba River from Ollantaytambo, and gradually winds uphill toward the canteras at Cachicata, the quarries where stones were kept to build the Ollantaytambo ruins. A couple hours later you will reach the Sun Gate, which channels the sun during the summer solstice. This 5-7 roundtrip hike is fully exposed, but offers terrific views of Ollantaytambo and the surrounding valleys.

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Ausangate

The holy mountain or "Apu" Ausangate not only serves as the site of an important spiritual festival every June, but at 20,944 feet (6,382 meters), it is also the highest mountain in southern Peru. Hikers not daunted by 5200-meter passes can circle Mount Ausangate in 4-5 days from the village of Tinqui, located three hours from Cusco. The terrain and views of this hike are some of the most spectacular in the area, as you will encounter desert-like terrain, cascading waterfalls, active glaciers, turquoise-colored lakes, and marshy landscapes - in addition to sighting roaming alpaca and traditional Quechua villages. Hiring horse guides to carry gear and lead the trek is recommended, as the weather and conditions can change frequently.

Wakra Pukara

This two-day, little-known circuit hike starts and ends about two hours from Cusco and involves hiking red, rocky mountains next to deep canyons in desert-like terrain. The camping area is located right near some impressive Inca ruins with incredible views into the canyons below.

Huaran to Cancha Cancha to Lares

Huaran is a small village in between Urubamba and Calca in the Sacred Valley. Hiking approximately 3000 feet uphill for about 4-5 hours in a narrow valley with jungle-like vegetation will lead you to the small village of Cancha Cancha, nestled amongst glaciered mountains, cascading waterfalls, and herds of alpacas. Day two you will summit the pass to give you closer view of the surrounding glaciers and some high-altitude lakes. You should reach the town of Lares, famous for its hot springs, on Day 3.

Patacancha to the Lares Hot Springs

This one-to-two-day hike begins in the mountain village of Patacancha, brings you across fields roaming with alpacas and llamas, over a 14,000-foot pass, and ends in the relaxing natural hot springs at Lares. There are camping and cheap lodging options available in Lares before you catch a minibus back to Ollantaytambo.