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!

Araqama Ayllu district seen from the top of Ollantaytambo, Peru
View of the ancient city fortress of Ollantaytambo

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

The alternative classic view of Machu Picchu
Classic panorama of 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:

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

The granaries of the Pisac Inca ruins in Peru - only a short day trip away from Cusco
The granaries of the 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.

The Inca ruins in Pisac, Peru
The small ruins at the entrance of Pisac

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

The ancient fortress ruin of Ollantaytambo in Peru
The fortress of Ollantaytambo

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.

Parts of the Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo in Peru. One of my favorite things to do in Peru

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.

4. Tipon

Tipon peru - The amazing water gardens of in the Inca near Cusco
The sacred fountains in Tipon

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.

the tipon inca terracces seen from above, near the intiwatana

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.

6. Sacsayhuaman

The Inca ruin Sacsayhuaman in Cusco, Peru
A herd of Lama in front of Sacsayhuaman

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)

The Maras salt mines are an ancient inca site in the sacred valley f Peru
The ancient salt evaporation in 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.

maras salt mines peru

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.

7. Moray

 The agricultural terraces of the Moray ruins in Peru
The agricultural terraces of the Moray ruins

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

8. Choquequirao

The Inca ruins of Choquequirao in the early morning light.
Choquequiraro very early in the morning | pic: Danielle Pereira @flickr.com

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

The Winay Wayna inca ruins on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
The Winay Wayna Inca ruins | pic: Kevin Jones @flickr.com

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)

The Coricancha with the Church of Santo Domingo on top of it in the heart of Cusco, Peru
The foundations of Coricancha with the Church of Santo Domingo on top of it

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 temple of the sun in Cusco, Peru, with multiple windows perfectly aligned
Three windows precisely aligned with each other inside the Coricancha

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

The ruins of Huaca Pucllana in Lima right in the middle of Miraflores
Huaca Pucllana in Lima

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.

A boy in traditional clothing walking along the pathways of taquile island peru
A local in traditional clothes on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca

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!

The 10 best Inca ruins in Peru. All the top tourist attractions in the Sacred Valley near Cusco along the famous Urubamba river.

Picture Credits: Kevin Jones, Danielle Pereria

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1 COMMENT

  1. Peru is a goldmine for travel enthusiasts. Such a beautiful country. Stunning places, delicious food, affordable, and culturally rich.

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