Less than an hour from Cusco, the peaceful town of Pisac is an increasingly popular option for travellers looking to escape the crowds and get a little closer to day-to-day life in Peru. Set within a gorgeous part of the Sacred Valley, its cobblestone streets play host to photogenic glimmers of traditional rural life and costume, Incan architecture, and one of the most popular markets in the south of Peru.
Here’s our short guide for a day trip to Pisac, including advice on how to get there from Cusco, the two different ways to reach its spectacular hill-top citadel ruins in the clouds, and why you should try to visit on a Sunday.
Things to Do in Pisac
Pisac is a great and affordable option for a day trip from Cusco, but if you’re travelling a little slower then you could stop here on your way to Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu or use it as your base to explore the Sacred Valley.
The Sunday Pisac Market
If Pisac didn’t have such exceptional ruins (see more about them below), then we wouldn’t recommend anyone to go out of their way to visit its famous Sunday market. Now, that’s not to say that the market isn’t worth visiting - but rather that it does slant slightly towards having too many of the stalls selling the same souvenirs you will see all over Peru, rather than unique local products.
However, this sprawling Sunday market which spills out over half of Pisac’s streets is a feast for the senses and continues to see its fair share of families from the surrounding villages making their weekly trip to Pisac, which provides a wonderful opportunity for people-watching and insight into local life.
If you are planning on stocking up on souvenirs or crafts, then this is the place where you’ll have most choice, the most pleasant market shopping experience (including seeing a number of ladies weaving their own goods) , and the opportunity to perhap pick up a bargain too - prices are usually a little lower than in Cusco. Just set your expectations that it’s now definitely a tourist market first and foremost, and remember to pay a price which is fair for everyone in the transaction (rather than trying to haggle someone down to ridiculous levels).
If you can’t visit on Sunday, then a scaled down version of Pisac Market does run throughout the week, and Tuesday and Thursday are official market days (though less grand than Sundays).
Tip | Have lunch at one of the Sunday stalls in the main square. We had one of our best vegetarian meals in Peru (including the local specialty of ‘pimentos rellenos’ / stuffed peppers) for just S/. 6 at a stall run by a wonderful grandmother and her granddaughter. There are a variety of more permanent lunch options in Pisac including Apu Organic (another vegetarian option), Blue Llama, Ayahuasca - Arte Cafe Conocimiento, or simply finding a local joint offering the lunchtime ‘menu del dia’ for S/. 6 - S/. 20.
Explore the Old Town
Pisac supposedly has bit of a reputation as being a bit of a boho, hippy town. On our own Sunday visit, we certainly saw a decent number of bracelet selling hippies (the smart money would say they were Argentinian), but nothing that struck us as over-the-top hippy or deserving of its reputation.
We may just not have gone to the right spots though…
Nevertheless, a visit to Pisac offers an opportunities to stroll the cobblestone streets of a quite traditional town which, although affected by tourism, hasn’t been fundamentally transformed by it. If you are on a short visit to the country, then grab this chance to experience southern Peru away from its main cities!
Climb the Pisac Ruins
We’re not going to lie - we weren’t particularly prepared for the Pisac ruins.
We had not long finished hiking for three days in the Colca Canyon and a couple of other Cusco day-trip hikes, and our visit to Pisac was meant to be a lazy travel Sunday. You know, a mooch around the market, some nice food, take some photos, and then a leisurely stroll to the ruins which we’d heard were pretty great...
Everything was going perfectly to plan until that ‘lesiuresly stroll’ part.
As we try to do as much of our travel independently (unless a tour is necessary, such as on the Inca Trail hike), we eschewed the opportunity to take one of the many taxis offering an over-priced one-way shuttle up to the ruins. Instead, we wanted to hike the old paths ourselves in order to follow and savour the experience of walking along the centuries-old trails.
However, after 15 minutes of breathless constant uphills in our converse (we really weren’t prepared for Pisac!), we realised that this wasn’t going to be as simple a stroll as we had intended when setting out from Cusco earlier that morning.
The silver-lining? The expansive Pisac ruins blew us away - in a really big way.
We have experienced a number of ruins during our two trips to Peru, and as such, it takes rather a lot to impress us - we certainly wouldn’t encourage you to see ruins for ruins sake. But Pisac? Well, this absolutely should be on your to-do list during a trip to Cusco and The Sacred Valley! The stonework is pheonomenal, you get to clamber through a cave, its got sumptuous vertiginous views of the Sacred Valley, the crowds are minimal, and it still feels altogether quite special.
Before you go though, you do need to know about the two ways to visit the Pisac ruins:
Taxi + Walk | If you aren’t fit, then this is the sensible option; it’s also the most popular way to reach the ruins.
Once your colectivo has dropped you off and you cross the bridge into Pisac, you will find a group of taxi drivers who run tourists up the road for 15 minutes to the back of the ruins for around S/. 20-25 one way (a rip off if you ask us).
Due to the inflated price, try to do this trip in a group to split the cost and don’t be afraid to haggle if you are being charged more than this. You can either take the taxi one-way and walk back down to Pisac from the ruins along the trail (our recommended option), or you can agree that the taxi driver will wait and take you back down once you’ve explored the ruins for a certain amount of time.
Just Walk | The option we went for and, although it was an unexpected slog up continual steep inclines at an altitude of 3,300m, it was definitely worth it.
The access checkpoint is located at the very top of Calle Pardo, and from there it’s up, up, and up, to explore the citadel and savours its views.
This hike along narrow but well sign-posted paths took us 3 hours up and 90 minutes down, so factor in enough time for this and make sure you’re back down in Pisac before dark in order to catch the bus back to Cusco.
If you are struggling at the top, then it is possible to go across to the back entrance once at the summit and take a taxi down to Pisac (see above).
Tip | Bring plenty water for this hike and wear suncream. Go slowly too - as we mentioned above, we were taken aback by just how exhausting this hike was, especially in the hot weather. Also, the Pisac Ruins are located 3,347 metres above sea-level so you should not take this on without having first spent two days acclimatising in Cusco - read more about how to deal with altitude sickness in Peru.
How to Get to Pisac from Cusco
Connections between Pisac and Cusco are frequent and easy to find, with a journey time of 45 minutes and a one-way fare costing just S/. 4 per person (although don’t be surprised if you’re asked for S/. 5 by some drivers). If you are doing this as a day trip from Cusco and plan on hiking up and down the Pisac ruins like us, then leave no later 9 a.m.
Firstly, make your way to Calle Puputi in Cusco - every taxi driver will know it and it shouldn’t cost you more than S/.5 to get there from elsewhere in the old town. Alternatively, you could walk to it in about 20-30 minutes from most places in the old town.
On the street, you will find several colectivos (minibuses) going to Pisac, Urubamba and Calca, and it won’t take much time before a man tries to get you on his bus which will hopefully already have some people in it - just make sure you confirm destination and price before boarding. These minibuses, which are much better than those we experienced on our first Peru trip, depart when full.
The driver will stop at the bridge outside Pisac, and you then simply have to disembark and cross the bridge to be in the town proper.
For the return journey, cross the bridge again and wait at the opposite side of the road (there’s a small bus shelter facing the large mural billboard) - you likely won’t be the only person waiting to return to Cusco. It may be necessary to flag down the colectivo as it passes and, depending on the time of day and season, it might take a while before you can find a bus with an available seat (we actually had to stand all the way back to Cusco). If it’s dark by the time you’ve made it back to Cusco, then we’d recommend taking an Uber or taxi back to your hostel/hotel.
It is possible to take a private taxi to / from Pisac - Cusco but we don’t think this is really necessary.
As it’s relatively straightforward to have a day trip in Pisac, we recommend doing it independently. If you plan on staying for a little longer in town, then keep reading to find out the best accommodation options for your budget.
Where to Stay in Pisac
If you do plan on extending your time in Pisac, using it as a Sacred Valley base, or simply want to disconnect and savour a few nights out of the big city, then the town does have a few hostels and ma n’ pa accommodations on offer which you could simply turn up to on the day. If you wanted to book in advance however, or your budget is a little higher, then we’ve included the best options below. Note that a number of the nicest accomodations in Pisac are located a 5-10 minute walk outside the town.
Casa Intihuatana | A basic but popular hostel a little outside the centre of Pisac. Dorms and privates available, with a guest kitchen and wifi. Prices start from £10 for a budget private double - check prices and availability here.
Bamboo Lodge Sacred Valley | Just outside of the town, this is a really lovely modern hotel with lots of traditional touches throughout. A buffet breakfast is included. Prices start from S/. / £55 for a private double with balcony - check prices and availability.
Allpawasi Pisac Lodge | With beautiful mountain views and beautiful rooms, this is one of the most luxurious options for a night in Pisac. Prices start from S/. / £75 for a large private double - check prices and availability here. A more affordable alternative is the Pisac Inn.
La Case del Conde | A beautiful rustic ‘hobbit house’ style retreat in the countryside, La Casa del Conde offers the chances to disconnect from everything for a night or two and enjoy the tranquility of the Sacred Valley. Prices start from £50 for a private double - check prices and availability here.