Pisac was one of our favorite places to visit in Peru during the two months we spent in the country. So much so that we went back twice! In this post, we’ll explain your options for how to do a day trip to Pisac. We’ll also tell you a bit about Pisac, why you should stay an entire day there, the best way to get there, and things to do while you visit.
This post also makes the assumption that most of our readers will be visiting from Cusco. After all, it’s the ancient capital of the Inca empire and most use it as a sort of “base camp” for a visit to Machu Picchu. Cusco is more than just Machu Picchu though with so many different things to do there. You won’t get bored, even if you decide to just stay in the city. Promise!
That said, you shouldn’t. Some of the best Inca ruins in Peru are within a couple of hours from Cusco.
Pisac is one of the very best day-long excursions you can take from Cusco. It offers an amazing hike from the top of the ruins all the way to the bottom (or vice versa). In the center of the village, you’ll discover one of the best outdoor markets in Peru.
A brief introduction to Pisac
Pisac is an ancient Inca hilltop citadel about a 45-minute drive through incredible mountain scenery northeast of Cusco. It has temple ruins, plazas, hillside terraces and so much more.
The Inca emperor, Pachacuti, was someone who liked to memorialize his victories over other groups by building royal estates. Who doesn’t, right?
Pachacuti was also responsible for places like Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, so he clearly enjoyed this kind of thing. He most likely built Pisac in the mid-1400s, though no one knows for sure. What they do seem to know is that no pre-Inca civilizations lived in the area prior to the construction of Pisac.
How to make the most of your visit
On our day trip to Pisac, our intention was to just peruse the market and then do the Pisac hike. However, we were so impressed by just the Pisac Market that we stayed there taking photos for the entire afternoon. It’s that good!
By the time we were done (we were taking a lazy, slow day), it was too late to see the ruins. Plus, we had plans for the next few days, so coming back required a bit of a wait. We didn’t make it back until nine days later, but we were very excited to be there again.
What to see in Pisac
Pisac is worth the drive from Cusco and it’s a particularly good trip for you to take for three reasons:
The Pisac Ruins
Machu Picchu is obviously the most popular tourist attraction in Peru, but you’ll find ruins all over the Sacred Valley. Few are as impressive and as enjoyable to experience Pisac. While Pisac may not be quite as impressive as its over-touristed cousin, the big advantage of Pisac is the experience.
Unlike at Machu Picchu, you’ll won’t see large crowds at the ruins – at least relatively speaking. There are days when very few people visit the Pisac ruins. On others, there’ll be a few tours and school groups. But Pisac will never get anywhere near as overwhelmed with people as Machu Picchu.
We had to move aside for a group of school children to pass and another group of seniors from Quebec, Canada. Other than that, we only saw a few dozen people here and there.
The market at Pisac
If you’re looking for souvenirs from Peru, this is the place to do it. In the middle of town, under a canopy of white tarps that seem to go on forever, is the Pisac Market. Vendors sell art, crafts, sweaters, bracelets, musical instruments, food, and so much more. The Pisac Market is one of the top attractions in the Cusco region and it’s really easy to see why.
Even someone like me, who decidedly does not like shopping, enjoyed it immensely. If nothing else, your camera will get a good workout. It’s totally worth the 45-minute drive from Cusco.
While the market is open all week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday are the “official” days, with Sunday being the most active. Sunday is the most crowded, but it’s also the most interesting day to visit.
If your schedule permits, do your trip to Pisac on one of these days.
The Old Town
Outside of the market is the old town of Pisac. Be sure to spend some time wandering the town and noticing all of the little details.
From the drainage system with little details like the head of a serpent collecting water to things like little bull statues on the roof of most houses, there’s a treat around every corner.
Pisac might be experiencing a bit of over-tourism, but not nearly as much as some of the larger places in the Sacred Valley.
If you’re here on Sunday, be sure to check out the Catholic Mass at the church just north of the Market. You can’t miss it because it’s such a prominent structure.
Three ways to hike Pisac
To put it in the most obvious way possible, there are three ways to see the ruins of Pisac:
- Hike up and down
- Hike up and take a taxi back down
- Take a taxi up and hike back down
We think the first two basically fall into the same, category: Difficult. The terrain ranges from rocky and unstable in places to smooth, decent, manicured trails. In places, you’ll have to squeeze through tall rocks that are fairly close together.
At the time, I was about 100kg, and my body just fit through.
Hiking to the top of Pisac
We’re fairly fit people, but we didn’t think we’d have the energy to hike all the way to the top. It’s a fairly strenuous and you will need to be in shape to do it. This is not a casual stroll up a rolling hill. It’s a bona fide uphill hike.
To do the uphill Pisac hike, dress properly and wear good hiking shoes. Sneakers or running shoes are fine, but the support of trail shoes will make it easier on your feet. You’ll also need snacks and plenty of water. It usually isn’t very cold, even during summer, but we recommend layering your clothing because you’re going to sweat.
And wear sunscreen, even if it’s not a sunny day. Trust me.
At the top, you’ll find taxis that can take you back down to the village.
Hiking Pisac both ways
Hiking both ways in Pisac is for the fittest of the fit. After you go all the way up, your legs will probably be very wobbly, so doing it all over again in reverse may not be an enjoyable experience. The same clothing, food, water, and sunscreen advice applies here, but it’s even more important.
Take a taxi to the top and hike down
This is the way we opted to do it. After we exited the colectivo from Cusco to Pisac, we hired a taxi to take us to the top of the ruins. The cost of the taxi was approximately S/. 25 for both of us. That’s expensive (some might even say it’s a ripoff), but it seemed to be the “captive audience” price.
We knew it was the only way to drive up, so we begrudgingly paid it.
At the top of Pisac, you’ll see plenty of people both exploring the area or buying stuff from the vendors. It might even look crowded. Most of these people are just there to tick the box – to see the ruins at the top, get a view of the valley, and then take a taxi back down. It’s unlikely most of them will do the hike and the trail won’t be crowded.
The hike back down to Pisac is about 1.5 to 2 hours. But if you stop to take it all in, it can take as much as 3. You’ll wind your way through temples and other ruins, with amazing views of the gorge below. Take a look at our video:
There are a few things we think you should know before you visit. Here are the most important things you’ll need to know before you visit the town.
1. How do you get to Pisac?
There are several colectivos (minivans) just down the hill from Rosaspata Market that will get you to Pisac (Google Map). The fare from Cusco to Pisac is around S/. 5 each way – about $1.50. Colectivos leave when they are full. You won’t have trouble finding them because it’s super competitive and attendants walk the streets loudly announcing, “Pisac! Calca!” The wait to leave is usually 10 minutes or less.
The van drops you at the bridge just outside of town. Either go to the market across the bridge or find your taxi to take you to the top of Pisac.
To get back to Cusco from Pisac, just go to the same spot on the opposite side of the road. You likely won’t be the only passenger waiting, especially on Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday.
Prefer a tour? For those of you who really prefer an organized tour, we’re happy to recommend this tour that takes you to both Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It’ll bring you both places with a few scenic stops along the way a buffet lunch for less than $40. But we suggest you take option A and do it yourself. It really is easy.
2. How much does it cost?
Pisac doesn’t have a separate admission charge. To get into Pisac Archaeological Park, you must buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistico). Get it at Pisac or at any of the 16 Cusco Tourist Ticket sites in the Sacred Valley.
To buy a Tourist Ticket, you will need to present your passport. So if you plan to buy a ticket at one of the sites, be sure to bring it with you.
The full ticket is S/. 130 (S/. 70 for students). However, you can also buy a partial ticket for S/. 70 that includes Pisac (and no student discount). To see all the Cusco Tourist Ticket options, go to our post on the tourist ticket and find the heading “Partial Ticket Circuit III: Sacred Valley.”
Note: You do not need the ticket to go to the market. So if you’re just coming to Pisac to see the market, don’t worry about it. There’s no cost to come and shop for the day.
3. How long should you spend in Pisac?
The best way to experience Pisac is to make it a full, relaxing day. After completing the rigorous hike, the best thing to do is sit and have a drink and lunch at one of the restaurants. Then, take a leisurely stroll through the colorful market.
Whether you hike up, down, or both, it’s worth it to chill in Pisac for the remainder of the day.
4. Where can we eat and drink in Pisac?
While there are many places to eat and drink here, there a few places we tried that we’d like to suggest.
Blue Llama: If you enter the market at the southwest corner, you’ll walk right by the Blue Llama. And it’s easy to spot because it’s as blue as any place you’ve ever seen. The coffee and food here are pretty decent with moderate prices. The view of the market from the balcony is really nice! They take cash and credit cards.
Pisac Inn: Right next door on the right is the Pisac Inn. Similar to the Blue Llama (minus the bright blue color), they serve moderately-priced food and coffee and have a perfect view of the market from the balcony. They also take cards.
Horno San Francisco: We recommend heading to the Horno San Francisco. It’s a very large and very old oven in the far northeast corner of the market (Google Map). They bake everything from cuy (Guinea Pig) to empanadas here. It’s not a restaurant exactly, but it’s a great place to pick up a snack. It’s also easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Here’s the view from the alley with the Cusco Regional Flag.
Food stalls: Just outside the market on the street you’ll find several food stalls. These were our favorite places to eat in Pisac. While there is no balcony view and the coffee isn’t great (if they even have it at all), the food here is authenticly Peruvian and tasty. Best of all, you’ll pay just S/. 5-6 for a full meal. That’s less than $2 US!
5. Can I stay overnight in Pisac?
Absolutely. If you’d prefer to turn your day in Pisac into an overnight trip, we have a few recommendations for any budget. Each of these hotels or hostels has a high rating and good reviews.
Affiliate disclosure: If you click one of the links below to book these accommodations, we’ll make a small commission from Booking.com. There will be no additional cost to you.
Allpawasi Pisac Lodge – ($$$$): This lodge is just on the outskirts of Pisac and offers guests all the comfort they’d expect. The views here are stunning and the rooms are beautiful. Allpawasi Pisac Lodge has consistently high ratings on all major sites.
Bamboo Lodge Sacred Valley – ($$$): This 3-star lodge has river views, free bikes, good WiFi, and a free buffet or American breakfast. It’s about a 25-minute walk from the market. It’s usually sold out, a testament to its popularity.
Pisac Inn – ($$): This place is located right on the main square. You can actually enjoy coffee on the balcony here and look out over the market itself.
Intihuatana Hostel – ($): This is a quite popular Pisac hostel located on the outskirts of the village about a 15-minute walk from the market. WiFi is available throughout the property. Rooms here start at about $9 US. They have private rooms and dorms.
6. What are the hours?
Pisac Market is open 7 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. The Pisac ruins are also open every day from approximately 6 am to 7 pm. Basically, from dawn till dusk.
7. What’s the best time of year to visit?
We spent a couple of months in Peru – from late August to late October. It rained for only 2 days on the entire trip (and a couple of times overnight).
The trade-off is that it was moderately cold on some days. The wet season in Peru runs from December to late April. If you’re here at that time, prepare for rain in the afternoon.
If you’ve been to Pisac and feel like we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments so you can help other readers!
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.