The Pisac Ruins is a well-preserved ancient Incan complex and one of the top historical sites to visit near Cusco and in the Sacred Valley region of Peru. Situated along the Vilcanota River on top of a hill overlooking the town of the same name, these ruins highlight the incredible workmanship that went into building such structures long before the invention of modern equipment. The scenic backdrop for the site consists of mountains and sprawling countryside.
The word Pisac is thought to have come from the word “Pisaca” which translates to Partridge. Some historians are quick to point out that the ancient ruins are shaped like a partridge so there could be some truth to this claim.
Today, the Pisac Ruins is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering 9,063 hectares that contains the remains of a once mighty fortress and temple.
Curious to find out more about this incredible site and to discover how to visit it? Continue reading! I have been there several times and I am about to share everything you need to know.
The History Of The Pisac Ruins
Most historians agree that the ancient complex at Pisac was built by the Inca Emperor Pachacuti between the years 1438 and 1472. There’s not much known about the site prior to this period, but pottery and artifacts found there indicate that it was occupied for some time before the completion of Pisac.
While it’s not known what the site was used for, many experts believe it had military, religious and agricultural significance. Many also believe it was used as a retreat for royals and nobles and a safe haven for them in times of danger.
In the 1530s, Pisac was conquered by the Spanish and subsequent neglect led to the ruins you see today.
Top Sights At The Pisac Ruins
The site at Pisac is separated into seven areas of architectural significance. These areas include Qantus Raqay, Qallaq’asa, Inca Qonqorina, Intiwatana, P’isaqa, Hospitalniyoc and Kanchis Racay. These areas are connected by paths that travel along the ridge and through several tunnels. Below are some of the top sights you’ll see as you explore the ruins.
Qantus Raqay Area
This area features structures that were once home to lower-level workers or military personnel. It’s situated over three levels.
In this area, you’ll see several towers, or pucaras, that were once used for communication and observational purposes. Some vertical terraces that were likely used for defence purposes can also be seen here.
This is the quarter that’s thought to be the main ceremonial and religious area. On this ridge, you’ll not only see a carved ritual rock, a building thought to have been used for observing the sun’s movements, the remains of five temples and the sacred Inca cross, but you’ll also see some of the most stunning views of the area.
This was once a residential area that had around 30 structures and baths. The superior brickwork indicates it was where the elite lived.
This is where you’ll find six adobe storehouses where grains and other goods were stored.
This huge wall was made using rocks so big, it’s hard to imagine how they were transported to the area. The wall served as protection and along it are four gates.
Inca Qonqorina Area
This is the section of the complex that was used for administrative purposes.
This area features the remains of 23 structures that were likely the homes of lower-status workers.
This was one of the biggest cemeteries in the pre-Spanish era. This is here you’ll see tombs on the side of the mountain. No one knows how many tombs there are but estimates are between 3,500 and 10,000.
There are hundreds of these terraces at Pisac and they were used for agricultural purposes.
Other interesting sites near Pisac, Peru
Pikillaqta is an intriguing archeological site built by the Wari culture and it’s only 12 miles (20 kilometers) away from Cusco.
Q’enqo is an Inca temple featuring natural chamber and man-made tunnels, you can find this fascinating attraction about 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Cusco.
At Tambomachay, which is also about 15 miles (23 kilometers) away from Cusco, you’ll find the remains of a water temple.
Puka Pukara was likely used as a guard post or traveler’s lodge and is situated about 15 miles (23 kilometers) from Cusco.
Practical Information For Visiting Pisac Ruins
Entrance fee and opening hours
There’s no single entrance fee for the Pisac ruins. If you wish to explore the complex, you need to purchase a Cusco tourist ticket that includes this site. A full ticket, which is good for ten days and allows access to 16 sites, costs $35.00 USD (130 Peruvian Soles). A partial ticket is good for two days and costs $18.50 (70 Peruvian Soles). There are several options for the partial ticket so make sure you get the one that includes the Pisac ruins site.
The site is open all year round from Monday to Sunday from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Read my post How To Use Cusco Boleto Turistico.
Do you need a guide to visit Pisac ruins?
You don’t need a guide to visit the Pisac ruins and whether you choose to hire one or not will depend on what you’d like to get out of your visit.
The first thing you need to know is that if you’re traveling on your own without a guide, it takes about two hours to hike up to the ruins from the village of Pisac. Once you are at the site, it is easy to get around on your own, but if you want some history to go along with what you’re seeing, hiring a guide is the way to go – I did it when I visited and certainly don’t regret it! Take note that there are no plaques or descriptions detailing each structure along the way.
You can get by without the use of a guide, but it’s recommended that you do some research online beforehand to become familiar with what you’re seeing. The advantage of exploring on your own is that you can take your time and explore it your way.
Should you decide to hire a guide, upon entry to the site, there are English-speaking guides available to take you around the grounds. You’ll need to pay an extra guide fee that’s not included in the Cusco tourist ticket.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one experience that includes your transportation to and from the site and a guided tour, you can book a Sacred Valley tour that usually includes a few other sites on the itinerary as well. Just make sure you book one that tours that ruins and not just the village of Pisac.
The Sacred Valley bus tour costs around $25.00 USD (93 Peruvian Soles). A private tour for a smaller group in a smaller van costs about $120.00 (450 Peruvian Soles). To ensure you book with a reputable guide, make sure to book through your hotel or even better do some online research.
For a guided tour of the Sacred Valley that also goes to Pisac, click here.
How to get to the Pisac ruins from Cusco
If you’re touring the Incan ruins of the Sacred Valley, you’ll likely be making your base in Cusco. There are several ways to get to the Pisac ruins from Cusco and the one you choose will depend on your schedule and your budget. The village of Pisac where you’ll find the ruins is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Cusco.
One way to get there is via a colectivo. This is a minibus that costs about $1.25 USD (4 Peruvian Soles) and departs from the Paputi bus station. This is the cheapest way to get to Pisac and the drive takes about 45 minutes. The place where you get dropped off is where you’ll get back on at the end of your visit.
Getting from the village to the ruins
Once you find your way to the village of Pisac, you’ll need to get to the top of the ruins and there are two ways to do that. The first way is to take a taxi which will cost about $8.00 USD (25 Peruvian Soles) one way. The other way is to hike up. Be warned, it’s not an easy hike. It takes about two hours and it’s mostly uphill. Some visitors take a taxi up to the top and then hike back down at the end of their visit to save money. The hike down is a lot easier!
Another way to get there is with a taxi which costs a bit more at $15.00 to $25.00 USD (56-93 Peruvian Soles) one way. This is a good option if you’re traveling with more than one other person to split the cost and it’s a much more comfortable ride. It’s always best to book taxis through your hotel.
By guided tour
A guided tour is definitely a very convenient way of making your way to Pisac ruins, and a number of other sites in the Sacred Valley. You will have comfortable transportation in a private shuttle, and a guide to take you around and explain about all there is to know about the site. Most tours return to Cusco on the same day, but you can even asked to be dropped off in Ollantaytambo to then continue to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
For a guided tour of the Sacred Valley that also goes to Pisac, click here.
How to explore the Pisac ruins
You’ll need to get to the town of Pisac first and then get to the top of the ruins and all this travel can eat up a bit of time so to get the most out of your day, you should plan to put a whole day aside or at least a minimum of four hours.
There are signs along the trail throughout the ruins. At the entrance, follow the road that leads to Q’alla Q’asa on the side of the hill, past the ceremonial baths and onto the main entrance of the temples. The path continues through a tunnel that leads to the Pisaca Area. Just keep following the trail and make sure to explore the trails that lead off the main one so you don’t miss any sites!
When to visit the Pisac ruins
The best time to visit the Pisac ruins and the other attractions of the Sacred Valley is between the end of April and November. This is the dry season and the time of year when you’re least likely to see heavy rains. Most days are sunny this time of year and while the sun is strong, it doesn’t get overly hot because there’s usually a cool breeze.
Any time of day is great for exploring the ruins but if you want to take your time seeing everything and avoid the scorching high afternoon sun, the morning is best. If you travel during the rainy season, it’s best to tour the site in the morning since it’s less likely to rain earlier in the day. The afternoon is the best time to go if you want to avoid crowds.
What to take on a trip to the Pisac ruins
Since there’s a lot of walking along steep and sometimes uneven terrain, the single most important thing you should have with you during a visit to the Pisac ruins is a comfortable pair of shoes. They should at least be sneakers, but a light pair of hiking shoes is better. Flip flops are definitely a no-no, no matter how hot it is!
The weather in this high-altitude region of Peru is highly unpredictable no matter what time of year it is. Wind and rain are common, and temperatures can fluctuate from near freezing to scorching hot. It’s possible to experience all of these conditions on the same day! Make sure to dress in layers that you can peel off and put back on with ease. Have a light rain jacket with you in case it rains.
Make sure to take a light, easy-to-carry daypack so you can store all of your items in it. Inside this pack, have a few light snacks, a bottle of water, identification, your Cusco Tourist Ticket and some cash. No matter what the temperature is on clear days, the sun gets very hot and can cause a serious sunburn, so make sure to take some sunscreen. For much of the day, you’ll be in open areas without shelter so you should take along a hat and sunglasses too. And finally, don’t forget your camera!