Cusco, ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is the main gateway to the Sacred Valley. The valley begins twists and turns beneath steep mountainsides north of Cusco, and has several main access points with transport links to Cusco, namely Urubamba, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo. Travel into the Sacred Valley from Cusco can be either via bus or, in certain cases, by train.
To Urubamba by Private Transfer or Bus
Duration: 1-2 hours
Urubamba is even more of a gateway town to the Sacred Valley than Cusco, guarding the road to Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu. 27 miles (43km) northwest of Cusco, it's a town that you will inevitably need to pass through and serves as a convenient base for many Sacred Valley activities such as horse riding, mountain-bike riding, and visiting the Inca ruins at Moray.
To get to Urubamba, take either a private transfer or a bus from Cusco. Either option gets you to Urubamba in about an hour going the most direct route. Private transfer has the added advantage of being able to stop off at some of the many interesting locations along the way, such as the Inca ruins near Chinchero. If you wish to take a private transfer the fastest route, the road via Chinchero is best.
By bus, there are two routes, each departing from a different location. Take a taxi to get to the stop for either.
At Puente Grau at the intersection of Av Miguel Grau and Av del Ejército, minibuses leave via Chinchero for Urubamba, the fastest route (one hour). At Puputi close to the intersection with Juan Santos minibuses leave for the longer journey to Urubamba via Pisac (1.5 to two hours).
The journey via Pisac is popular despite being longer as many travelers want to spend time at Pisac first. Departures on both routes are at least hourly throughout daylight hours, but have no fixed schedule because they like to get as many passengers as possible before leaving.
To Pisac by Private Transfer or Bus
Duration: 1 hour
Pisac is a popular destination with travelers in the Sacred Valley northeast of Cusco. It is a pretty village full of wonderful travel-friendly accommodations and places to eat, with the added highlight of a Inca ruin towering above.
In Cusco, at Puputi, close to the intersection with Juan Santos, minibuses leave for the journey to Pisac, taking around one hour.
To Ollantaytambo by Train, Private Transfer, or Bus
Duration: 1.5-3 hours
As one of the destinations closest to Machu Picchu that is accessible by both road and rail, the charming village of Ollantaytambo has its original Inca street plan almost intact, and is dominated by the Ollantaytambo ruins, an Inca citadel-temple. It is at the end of the Sacred Valley furthest from Cusco, 45 miles (72km) away, and is often where travelers journey to in order to take the train to both Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
There are three options to travel to Ollantaytambo from Cusco: train, private transfer, or bus.
For the train, Inca Rail and Peru Rail each run three to four daily services to Aguas Calientes which stop at Ollantaytambo. All of these services call at or originate at Cusco's Poroy station, a 20-minute drive from central Cusco. Some of these services now actually begin at Cusco's historic San Pedro station, closer to central Cusco, which makes the journey longer and the upper duration given above.
One catch: it isn't possible to buy a ticket from Cusco to Ollantaytambo on the train company websites, and it can also be difficult to buy a ticket at the train stations in Cusco that is just to Ollantaytambo (you may be charged the full fare through to Aguas Calientes). This is because trains here are running on the assumption most travelers will want to go straight to Machu Picchu from Cusco. See this article for more on train travel in Peru.
For the bus, there are two routes from Cusco, each departing from a different location. At Puente Grau, minibuses leave via Chinchero for Urubamba, the fastest route (one hour). At Puputi, minibuses leave for the longer journey to Urubamba via Pisac (1.5 to two hours). The journey is popular despite being longer as many travelers want to stop at Pisac first. In Urubamba, you can pick up another bus for the 30-minute run to Ollantaytambo.
If you wish to do this journey by private transfer, the options are as per for the bus, with the route via Chinchero and Urubamba being quickest to get to Ollantaytambo.