Pisac, Peru – Massive Incan terrace ruins
One of Peru’s biggest archaeological sites
Is Pisac worth a visit?
When exploring the Sacred Valley, a visit to Pisac is a definite must. This unique town stands out with its captivating blend of ancient Incan ruins and a vibrant indigenous market, creating a uniqueexperience. Though small, Pisac has much to offer curious visitors, and its popularity among travelers is rapidly growing.
The majority of people who visit Cusco spend a few days in the city before visiting Macchu Picchu and then moving on. And if they have limited time, who can blame them? However, there’s a lot more to see than just Macchu Picchu. Pisac was one of the most impressive and interesting archaeological sites that I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t know what to expect, as it was included in the Boleto Turístico de Cusco, and part of me just wanted to get my money’s worth from the ticket. However, I was blown away.
The ruins date back to the 15th or 16th century during the Inca period, just like Macchu Picchu. Unfortunately, many of them were destroyed during the Spanish Inquisition. The terraces are the most intact. They were used for growing potatoes, of which there are over 300 varieties in the Andes. As well as the potato terraces, you can also see the remains of the main citadel at the top of the site, the Temple of the Sun, as well as enjoy the beautiful views into the Sacred Valley below.
There are two options to get there: you can either take a bus/taxi or hike from the village. I chose to hike, meaning that I got to see pretty much the whole site. It’s split into 4 sections – Pisaqa, Intihuatana, Callacasa (Q’allaqasa), and Kinchiracay – all of which are different elements that were important to the Incas.
Now, if you’re visiting these ruins, you do need to do a bit of research to know what you’re seeing. There’s not a lot of information at the site itself, and I couldn’t find any kind of leaflet at the entrance. The only signs you will see are the names of the area you’re in, and the direction you need to go next. In a way though, this made it more interesting. It allowed me to imagine what each part of the ruins might have been, and what people used it for.
The other good thing about this is that there has been very little encroachment on nature. This means that the site is very peaceful and quiet, and is awash with hummingbirds, huge bees, and lots of beautiful plants. There are also huge blue mosquitos that I’ve never seen before, but I’d say that’s more of a negative.
The hike up to the top of the ruins is relaxing, and it’s manageable even if you’re not an experienced hiker. I managed it in trainers, although I’d recommend wearing walking boots if you have them. Just be careful with the altitude. When I visited, there was a thunderstorm which was amazing to behold (from under a straw shelter). But I guess that’s what you get when you visit in the rainy season.
I’d recommend a visit to these ruins to anyone. Even if you’re not that interested in history, they’re an amazing place to take in the peace and quiet of the Sacred Valley and get away from the modern world for a bit. There are plenty of beautiful spots to sit, where you’ll not be disturbed by humans. The insects are another matter though!
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Pisac is about 34km northeast of Cusco. Get yourself to Calle Puputi, a little outside the historic centre, where you’ll find several colectivos (minibuses) which will all be fighting over your business to head to Pisac. Most charge 4 soles (less than £1) for the journey, which takes between 45 minutes to one hour.
Get out of your colectivo at the bridge in Pisac, as they don’t go into the centre.
From there, you can either walk to the ruins (this is the option I’d suggest) and do the two-hour hike. The entrance is a 2-minute walk up the hill from the Plaza de Armas. If you want to take a bus or a taxi to the ruins, that’s possible too. Taxis are the most expensive option and will cost 30 soles. Most visitors walk back down into Pisac village.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Many people choose to do a day trip from Cusco to visit the ruins at Pisac. However, the town is right by the ruins, and there are no town-centre accommodations that are more than a 5-minute walk from the entrance. Here are some of the options we’ve picked:
A great option for budget travellers, Wayqi Wasi is actually a little out of the town centre, so it’s very peaceful and quiet. The hostel has free wi-fi, a patio, a garden, and a BBQ for guests to enjoy. Single private rooms start from as little as £7.
La Casa de Adela Hospedaje
The best-rated place to stay in Pisac according to Booking.com, this is a great option for solo travellers or couples. Offering a patio, garden, and free wi-fi, rooms start at £14. That’s for both singles and doubles.
Pisac Inca Guest House
A real luxury option and a true experience of Peruvian hospitality, Pisac Inca Guest House is set around a garden and offers a delicious free breakfast. Guests can also enjoy free wi-fi and beautiful mountain views. Double rooms start at £38 per night.
Eat – Restaurants
Pisac is hippy heaven, and for that reason, there are a lot of vegan and vegetarian restaurants here. However, if you’re itching to get a taste of cuy (guinea pig) or alpaca, that’s an option too.
Mercado de Abastos Pisac
A great place to spend little and eat largely, the Mercado de Abastos is the town’s food market. Several kiosks offer Peruvian favourites, including trucha frita (fried trout), lomo saltado (stir-fried beef), and aji de gallína (chicken in sauce). Expect to pay around 5 soles.
Ulrike’s Garden Café
A Pisac favourite, choose from vegetarian dishes, homemade pasta, and delicious desserts. There’s a book exchange, and the owners speak English, French, and German, as well as Spanish, of course.
Cuchara de Palo
Translating as the wooden spoon in English, this restaurant is inspired by the traditional Peruvian family table, with a dash of European fusion thrown in. If you’re brave enough to try alpaca, this is as good a place as any to give it a go!
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The best time to visit the Pisac ruins is during the dry season, which is between April and October. Apart from the obvious reason that there’s less chance of you getting wet, during the rainy season paths can be slippery and treacherous, and there are sometimes landslides. If there are landslides, the paths will be closed, meaning you won’t get to see all of the ruins.
Safety – Possible risks
The altitude and the sun are possible safety risks, but more about that in the Reality Check section below.
The risk of crime is low here, but it’s best to visit the site and leave before nightfall. The opening hours don’t permit anyone to enter after 5 pm but leaving by this time isn’t strictly enforced. Tourists alone in areas of the ruins after closing time make themselves a target.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Entrance to the Pisac archaeological site ruins costs 130PEN (roughly £30) or 70PEN (around £16-17) if you’re a student. Rather than permitting only entrance to this site, you’re actually paying for the Boleto Turístico de Cusco, a ticket that allows you to enter 16 historical and cultural sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley over a ten-day period.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Pisac’s ancient ruins don’t have any ropes stopping you from climbing on the stones, however, that doesn’t mean that you should do it. If you do, not only do you risk damaging the stones, but injuring yourself too.
The site is very well-maintained and is in pristine condition. If you do take food with you, please make sure that you take your rubbish home and then dispose of it responsibly.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Pisac is high up. The village sits at 3,100m, and the ruins climb up to over 3,500m. If you’ve just arrived in Peru, spend a couple of days either in Cusco or Pisac acclimatizing before attempting to hike up to the top of the ruins. For your hike, take plenty of water, sugary snacks, and it may even be a good idea to chew on some coca leaves.
Also, the sun is pretty unforgiving here. Even on a cloudy day, it can get through the clouds and give you some nasty burns – as I found out, unfortunately. Be prepared with a high factor sun cream, and don’t forget to actually apply it.
http://cosituc.gob.pe – the official Peruvian government website where you can buy your Boleto Turístico de Cusco. The website also includes information on the other attractions that you can visit with the ticket.
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