A detailed look at the best archeological sites and Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley, Peru
For most tourists the mystic Inca ruins in Peru are the main reason to visit them. You are probably thinking of insanely high mountains, dense foliage only reluctantly yielding the crumbling sites below, and the famous explorer Hiram Bingham – a picture not all that far away from the truth!
You will have heard of Machu Picchu, but this post will show you the other, equally as fascinating, ancient ruins in Peru. The so-called Sacred Valley follows the majestic Urumbamba river, which was once the heartland of the Inca empire. Most of their former cities can be found here.
So, find yourself a nice home base in Cusco (make sure to read my guide to the Inca capital), and get ready to explore. You can either book guided tours or use public transport (train and community taxis) to get around. In most cases, taxis work out well as well. Either way, here are the 10 best Inca ruins in Peru you need to see:
1. Machu Picchu
Hate me or not, but I had to start this list with Machu Picchu. Yes, everyone knows it, yes, it’s very famous, but it is also by far the most epic, most glorious, and the most beautiful Inca ruin in Peru.
If you plan to visit Machu Picchu, here are some further reads for you:
- My ultimate guide to Machu Picchu
- What to pack for Machu Picchu
- How to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu
- The best hotel in Machu Picchu
You really should also read my guide about how to prevent altitude sickness in Machu Picchu & beyond as this will be an issue most travelers will be facing in the lost city. Remember to book your tickets early and definitely consider climbing Huayna Picchu.
2. Pisac ruins
Pisac is another very special Inca ruin in Peru. The sprawling areological site guards the entrance to the Sacred Valley of the Inca and consists of three very distinct sites. It dates back to the 15th century.
Many tourists just stick to the very top of the ruins and miss out the far more refined sites further down the mountain. Quite the big mistake, if you ask me. If you don’t want to be that tourists, do read my full guide to Pisac.
3. Ollantaytambo ruins
Ollantaytambo was the last fortress the Incas ever build. The imposing ruins are quite close to Machu Picchu and should be your logical stop before you visit the UNESCO World Heritage site in the valley beyond. The train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes has a regular stop here.
Actually, I have to admit that I liked the Ollantaytambo ruins almost as much as Machu Picchu. So, if the latter is too expensive for you or you couldn’t get a ticket, then this Inca ruin is a very good alternative for you. In this case (and in all others as well ;-P), don’t forget to read my guide to Ollantaytambo.
Another Inca ruin you really can’t miss is Tipón. The sacred water gardens of the Incas is a true gem a lot of tourists skip, but shouldn’t.
12 agricultural terraces are interconnected with small irrigations channels. The soothing murmur of the fresh spring water makes this a very introspective place and truly one of my favorite. Especially as it is not as overrun. Read my guide to Tipon (and watch my video) here.
High above the old town of Cusco, you’ll find the former main fortress of the Ince empire: Sacsayhuaman. The place was razed to the ground after the Spanish conquest. But the monolithic foundation of the Inca masons withstood the pillaging test of time and you really have to see it yourself. Read my guide here.
6. Maras Salt mines (Salinas de Maras)
Would you believe me when I said some Inca sites are still in use today? Well then, be prepared to be amazed. Near Maras, you get the chance to visit the salt evaporation ponds of the Incas.
Clinging to a mountain site, thousands of glittering pools collect the mineral-rich water from the spring above, while the strong Andean sun evaporates the water to yield a rich pink salt. The Salinas de Maras have been in use since the time of the Incas! Read my Maras travel guide here.
The Inca ruins of Moray are, without a doubt, the most mysterious. It almost looks a bit like a crop circle, and probably served as an agricultural testing lab. Each level of the circular terraces is home to its own special microclimate – slightly different to the one a level above or below
Mark my words, in 20 years, Choquequirao will be the second most visited Inca site in Peru. The ruins are almost as fascinating as Machu Picchu, though less developed. Right now, you need a two day’s hike to reach Choquequirao, which is a blessing as well. That way, you’ll be able to experience the amazing Inca ruins (almost) all alone!
9. Winay Wayna
If you are taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, then you’ll pass the Wiñay Wayna. You can also see it from the train to Aguas Calientes. The site overlooks the Urubamba River quite beautiful and the way the houses cling to the steep mountainside feels almost impossible!
10. Coricancha (Temple of the Sun)
There’s one spectacular Inca ruin in Peru I need to mention, though it is, technically speaking, not a ruin at all. I am talking about the Coricancha or Qorikancha in the heart of Cusco. It was once the most important temple in the whole Inca empire.
The Spaniards wanted to establish the Christian beliefe quite badly, so the tore it down and used the foundations of the Intikancha (its original name) to build the Convent of Santo Domingo on it. Still, you really need to visit as even the remains are beyond glorious! Read my Cusco guide for more information.
Other Inca ruins in Peru
Are you looking for even more inspiration? Well then, I got good news. Besides the Inca ruins already mentioned, there are quite a couple more lovely archeological sites to explore: Chinchero, Tambomachay Quenko or Vitcos are all beautiful Inca ruins worth a visit.
You should also realize, that there is more to Peru (or South America) than just the Incas. Though they are the most prominent kingdom to rule the country, there were other cultures before that are equally as interesting. While you are in Lima (Here are the 20 best things to do in Lima), you really should visit the Adobe step pyramid Huaca Pucllana of the so-called Lima culture. Just one example of ancient ruins in Peru.
If you know your history well, then you will probably also know that the Inca empire originated around Lake Titicaca (at least according to the legends). So, this is an area you should definitely consider visiting. On islands like Taquile (read my guide), the original language of the Incas is still spoken all day!