Valle Sagrado, Valle rojo, Vinicunca mountain, are definitely at the top of my all-time favorite day trips in Peru. Each is at a distance of a bus ride from Cusco, a picturesque city, where you could easily spend 2 weeks, exploring the region and Inca ruins in beautiful day trips, while enjoying the city life, culture, Peruvian cuisine and acclimatized to the high altitude before embarking on your Machu Pichu adventure.
The breathtaking elevation:
Rainbow mountain – 5,200 m Andes mountain range
Red Valley – 5,020 m
Sacred Valley – around 3,000 m
Cusco – 3,300 m
So, before you embark on Machu Pichu treks or climb up to the famous and popular rainbow mountain and red valley, spend at least 2 days in Cusco! What to do?
-Explore the city on foot: situated on hills, Cusco offers amazing view points and bars and cafes where you can try the local cuisine. Some of my favorites:
La B’OM creperia, the most delicious crepes, picturesque and charming place, also a backpackers hostel, how amazing is that?
El Muelo de Tono – Best Ceviche in all Peru, great service and very affordable
Viewhouse resto bar – For sunset beers and beautiful views, very chill and perfect to relax after you climb all the way up.
I loved just wandering around the old city, it’s narrow streets and white and blue architecture. Joining a city walking tour, is great for easy landing, discovering the city market, tasting Peruvian foods in the local market and learning a bit about the history and culture of Cusco.
Discovering the Sacred valley is also great for acclimatization to the altitude, and I began with a day trip to Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Chichero, and traveling to Maras & Moray on a separate tour, booking all tours with an agency. You can definitely do the tours by yourself, using public transportation and there’s an option to stay the night in Ollantaytambo and leaving to Aguas Clientes for Machu Pichu, by train.
Ollantaytambo – enormous rocks create this outstanding Inca site, with god of sun carved high up in the mountain facing the site. Food storage spaces are also carved in the mountains facing the site.
Pisac – absolutely breathtakingly beautiful overlooking the village and valley with green mountains around. Pisac connected the Inca Empire with Paucartambo, a small town towards the jungle, famous for its folklore. The terraces are stunning and ruins are quite impressive. There is a small market in the village of Pisac and if you join a tour, stopping at a silver store will also be on your itinerary, if you plan shopping.
Maras – The famous salt mines, dating back to pre-Inca times. A special and natural irrigation system delivers water to every salt pan. Salt is still collected by hand from every pan, and every pan produces various salts. Simply amazing to watch and the view around is of course beautiful.
Moray – The Inca’s experimental site for agricultural tests. Round from above, oval from a closer look!
Once you have acclimatized with these amazing 2 day trips, you are ready to climb up the 5 k”m to the rainbow mountain and red valley. While everybody know about the rainbow mountain, very few have heard about the red valley, which in my opinion is the highlight of this day trip and the only reason why you should visit the rainbow mountain. In contrary to the Inca ruins I have mentioned, which you can visit independently, these two sites are only reachable with a tour, especially the red valley.
Now, not all tour operators that offer a day tour to the rainbow mountain, include a hike to the red valley! I booked mine with Inka Time tours agency and it was superb! and their prices are very much reasonable.
The climbing up is pretty exhausting, but the view is stunning. For those of you that get tired or simply want to take it easy, donkeys are available at the starting point, for additional cost.
Half way up
Finally there! with a few hundred people… despite traveling in April, the beginning of high season, it was already packed with so many people, on a very narrow peak. No filter images, so don’t believe everything Instagram and Google shows you:)
Here’s a glimpse into the red valley, valle rojo, again no filter images, but look at the natural colors!
Reaching the red valley is quite easy, with a trail straight from the rainbow mountain, climbing slowly up, and over the hill. Be prepared for another challenging hike, in quite a high elevation, take it easy, just enjoy the view, and bring plenty of water and sun screen.
Hiking through the valley
A beautiful treat welcomed us as we began descending, a rainbow:)
This is a full-day trip, leaving at 5am from Cusco, food and snacks are not included. So, be sure to check if your hostel provides a lunch box, and bring additional snacks and fruit with you. There are vendors at the top of the Rainbow mountain, but to avoid overpaying, especially if you are traveling on a budget, like I was, be ready in advance. I bought a lunch box in my hostel, for 16 soles, and waited for me in reception, early morning. You will begin the hike at around 8-9am, finishing the day at 2-3pm and arriving back in Cusco in the afternoon. I do not advice rushing and taking a night bus from Cusco to your next destination straight after, and taking the following day off, to pamper yourself to some shopping at Todo Matana, a souvenir shop with retail prices! and of course going out to the spots mentioned above.
Day trips are the perfect opportunity to meet other solo travelers, get tips, inspiration for your trip and find partners for the sunset beer and Ceviche!