The Sacred Valley is the name given to the valley of the Río Urubamba and the pretty tradition-rich towns and villages that cling to its sides amidst a clutch of Inca ruins. The valley begins twists and turns beneath steep mountainsides north of Cusco. Cusco is the only real access point to the Sacred Valley because it acts as one of Peru's biggest transport hubs. All travel to the Sacred Valley, therefore, first necessitates a journey to Cusco.
Getting to Cusco
Cusco is accessible by plane internationally from Bogota in Colombia, La Paz in Bolivia and Santiago in Chile by direct flight, as well as from Peruvian hubs Lima, Arequipa, Puerto Maldonado, Juliaca and (seasonally) Iquitos and Trujillo. Cusco can also be accessed by road from Lima, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Nazca, and Puerto Maldonado.
Once in Cusco, there are three main points in the Sacred Valley to head to in order to further explore: Urubamba, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo.
Cusco to Urubamba by Private Transfer or Bus
Urubamba is even more 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.
Cusco To Pisac by Private Transfer or Bus
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. A private transfer to Pisac is easily organized, and a comfortable way to go.
In Cusco, at Puputi, close to the intersection with Juan Santos, minibuses leave for the journey to Pisac, taking around one hour.
Cusco to Ollantaytambo by Private Transfer, Train, or Bus
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 in tact, 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 two options to travel to Ollantaytambo from Cusco: train and 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.