South America > Peru > Southern Sierra (Peru) > Sacred Valley of the Incas > Pisac
Písac (or Pisaq in Quechua-spelling) is a small traditional town at eastern end of the Sacred Valley about 35 km from Cusco. While Pisac is best known for its Sunday market this is really secondary to the magnificent Inca ruins overlooking the town from high on a mountain ridge, both the extent of which and the spectacular vertiginous views it offers of the Sacred Valley many visitors arrive unprepared for. Compared with Machu Picchu visitors can wander anywhere they like and once clear of the tour bus visitors who cluster at the top entrance to the site find very few other people around.
While the hordes of tourists arriving on buses have obviously diminished the charm of this town, they haven’t fundamentally transformed it.
Pisac is 428 metres (1,400 ft) lower in attitude than Cusco, which make it an ideal first overnight stay after flying into the area from a lower attitude compared with staying in Cusco. From Pisac you can then travel on to explore the rest of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu before finishing your visit in Cusco.
The word Pisac comes from the Quechua word 'pisaq' or 'p'isaqa', meaning partridge, a species of bird that lives in this area of Peru.
According to Inca legend it is said that the king Huayllapuma had a daughter, called Inquill, who had to marry the man who could build, in just one day, a bridge over the Vilcanota river. Despite the hard work, Asto Rimac - a handsome prince and the secret lover of the princess - decided to accept the challenge. When Asto Rimac was about to begin such a difficult task, Inquill asked the Apus (spirits of the mountains) to help him. The spirits agreed to help him with the only condition that she did not look at the work until it was finished. Just before the bridge was finished, the princess began to hear loud roars and gave in to her curiosity to see what was happening and turned to observe; At that moment the Vilcanota river swallowed her beloved, and she was turned into stone, standing with her eyes lost in the valley of Pisac.
The remains of Lucre and Killke pottery that have been found in the area, suggesting that the location has been occupied for some time.
The Inca’s constructed a massive complex now known as Inca Pisac on the ridge in the 15th century. These are now located within the Pisac Archeological Park.
The modern town of Písac was built on the valley floor by the Spanish during the 1570s.
The town is located in the district of Pisac, province of Calca at the southern end of the Sacred Valley at an attitude of 2,972 m (9,751 ft), 32 km (20 miles) northeast of Cusco. The town straddles the Vilcanota River with most of the settlement on its right bank, where it is laid out in a grid pattern, centred around the Plaza Constitución (formerly the Plaza de Almas).
Pisac, like the rest of the Sacred Valley has two seasons: dry (April to October) and rainy (November to March). In the dry season, days are often sunny, but temperatures drop once the sun goes down and early mornings can be quite chilly. In the rainy season (of which February is the worst), cloud covered skies are the norm, while the rainfall ranges from light showers to heavy downpours, but the night temperatures are slightly warmer. It’s best to carry an umbrella or poncho since the rains are unpredictable. During the rainy season the paths around the Pisac Archaeological Park can be slippery. There are sometimes landslides, which as well as posing a risk of injury can close paths, preventing access to some areas of the park.
That said Pisac is temperate most of the year with the temperature in the town varying from 2ºC. to 21ºC.
Tourism information office
There is a small tourist information office at 519 Plaza Constitution. (Ph. 084 203-026, 203-014). They can supply a useful map of the principal sights within the Pisac Archeological Park.
The closest airport is in Cusco.
Buses drop-off and pick up passengers in Pisac on Avenida Amazonas near the bridge and also near its junction with Calle Espinar. Buses tend to be old and noisy and are usually crammed with people. There is often a large queue of people particularly in afternoons and early evenings. Buses generally run from 5am to 8pm.
From Cusco there are buses leaving every 20 minutes from Av. Tullumayo 207 (S/3.50 as of 2017). Also you can catch any bus, passing by Circunvalación.
From Pisac, buses return to Cusco and depart for other parts of the valley - Yucay, Urubamba (30 minutes, S/2.50), and Ollantaytambo (one hour) from the same spot. The last bus from Pisac leaves at 7pm.
The bus tends to take longer and there has been frequent accidents over the past few years with old badly maintained buses and poor drivers.
From Cusco there are frequent buses leaving at Av. Tullumayo 207. The buses drive quickly enough, but they take a long time because they wait around in Cusco for a while picking up passengers.
Colectivos (also known as Combis) are generally safer, quicker and more comfortable. There is no schedule, as they leave when full. The colectivos operate from around 5am until about 7pm.
Colectivos passing through Pisac drop-off and pick up passengers either at the bridge or on Avenida Amazonas at its junction with Calle Espinar (from where it is a 5 to 10 minute walk uphill to the Plaza Constitución). In Cusco colectivos (S/5) to Pisac depart from the top of Calle Puputi about every 15 minutes, with the journey taking 45 to 60 minutes. There is another colectivo service across the road that goes to Calca and which can also drop you off in Pisac but it costs slightly more at S/6. A colectivo between Pisac and Urubamba costs S/4 and takes one hour. Occasionally there may be a colectivo running direct between Pisac and Ollantaytambo, but typically you have to change in Urubamba. A colectivo between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo costs S/2 to S/2.50 and takes about 25 to 30 minutes.
An advantage of a taxi is that you can stop to take photos and admire the lookouts. If you pick up a taxi on the street, make sure it’s a licensed taxi. If you are visiting from Cusco on a day trip then have the taxi take you all the way up to the upper entrance to the Pisac Archaeological Park, then walk through the ruins back down to the town, from where after exploring the market and town you can take a colectivo or taxi back to Cusco.
Expect a taxi between Cusco and Pisac to take 45 minutes and costs S/50 to 60. It is often possible to go by private car for as little as S/10 per person between Cusco and Pisac. Private cars congregate near the bus terminal in Cusco and near the taxi cooperative office in Pisac. They leave when they have three or four passengers with everyone paying the same fare.
Expect a taxi between Pisac and Urubamba (45 minutes, 39.8 km) to cost S/50 and between Pisac and Ollantaytambo (1 hour 17 minutes, 58.6 km) to cost S/80.
There are plenty of travel companies in Cusco offering a trip to both the archaeological park and market at Pisac, but because the town is so close, the itinerary usually combines other sights in the Sacred Valley as well. Note however that your time at the park will be limited to visiting only the busy top section of the site.
The town is small enough for walking.
Even in the less touristy parts of town, such as the main drag down by the river, you will generally find taxi drivers trolling for fares. If you don’t come across one on the street then go to the taxi cooperative office which is located just in front of the bridge on Avenida Amazonas. There will be some taxis parked outside.
Taxis charge S/25 for a one-way ride up to the archaeological park. Mototaxis offer short trips around town.
The new river-side promenade, which is unspoiled, fairly pleasant and uncrowded, is also worth a visit.
Pisac Archeological Park
With agricultural, military and urban areas, the largest known Inca cemetery, numerous huge terraces, baths, complex irrigation systems, cliff-hugging storage buildings, defensive walls, guarded gates and a stunning religious and ceremonial area with some of the finest Inca brick work and the only surviving Intihuanta (other than the one at Machu Picchu), this massive complex which covers a much bigger area than Machu Picchu is an excellent opportunity to see superb examples of the Inca obsession with building on high ridges and peaks.
Today the consensus is that Pisac was a royal estate built no earlier than 1440 by Pachacuti (1438–1471/1472) the ninth Inca ruler as a multi-purpose residence, citadel, observatory and religious site and may have also served as a refuge in times of siege.
Since 1983 the complex has been part of the 9,063 hectare Pisac Archeological Park.
Stretching about approximately kilometre along a mountain ridge between the Kitamayu River (to the west) and the Chongo River (to the east) at varying elevations between 3,446 m and 3,514 metres above sea level the upper parts of the complex cover 24 hectares.
The first part of the complex reached by visitors coming by motor vehicle is Qanchus Racay in the northeastern corner of the complex. From its position overlooking the road toward the Paucartambo region and the Antisuyo this district probably served as the home of the military garrison or as a shelter for local villagers in times of war. From Qanchus Racay one turns to the right and the path heads west above the first of the numerous andenes (terraces) that cover the across the slope, to an area which is home to a bath complex. Towards the west, on the irregular almost vertical mountain slope is the T’antana Marka, which is home to the looted tombs of the biggest pre-Hispanic cemetery in the region. Southwards climbing up the side of the hill is Qallaq’asa, a residential district which contains homes and storehouses. From this point onwards there are very few tourists. From here there are three possible routes for further exploration.
- Option one requires continuing along a path along the western side of the ridge above the Kitamayu River to the Tianayoc from which via a 3-metre long tunnel you can reach the Inca Qonqorina, which is an administration district and below it the ceremonial-religious district whose main feature is the Intiwatana (also known as the Intihuatana), an altar used to determine the seasons.
- The second option requires dropping down the eastern slope to the base of the Qallaq’asa and continuing southwards across the hillside and through a trapezoidal doorway called Amaru Punku in a partial wall and then a 16-metre long tunnel hollowed from the rock to connect with the path leading from the Tianayoc to the Intiwatana district.
- The third option is to descend further down the southern side of the large terrace and follow a path passing through a doorway with no lintel around the eastern side hillside southwards to where the path branches either up to the Intiwatana district or straight to the P'isaqa district.
From the Intiwatana district visitors have the choice of taking a path beginning at its southeast corner down to the P'isaqa district that has a somewhat semicircular shape following the mountain's silhouette. The third and finest residential district, complete with its own ritual bath the P'isaqa district is believed to have been homes for the elite. From here you can head back to the main entrance and take a taxi back down to the valley floor or with the mountain to your right, traverse around the outside of the mountain to join with a path that originated at the Intiwatana district. This path from the Intiwatana district runs along the top of the ridge to a view point which looks out over the three converging valleys that surround Pisac and then on (largely unmarked) to a large rocky outcrop where watch towers (pucaras) in the Coriwayrachina district and storehouses (qullqas) in the Hospitalniyoc district cling to the sheer mountainside. The path then descends through an area of steep terracing that reaches as far as the edge of precipices to merge with the path from P'isaqa. From this junction the path crosses over the ridge crest and descends though more agricultural terraces which literally plummet down the sides of the narrow valley of the Kitamayu River. The path eventually connects with a wide stone path that takes visitors on a gentle descent all the way back to the town. From the P'isaqa district there is also a path that descends partly down the hillside to the Kanchis Racay district, which consists of only a couple of structures.
There are three options to get to the Pisac Archeological Park:
- By a steep four km ascent up from the town, via a path that begins to the left of the Iglesia San Pedro Apóstolo in the Plaza Constitución. The path bends to the right through agricultural terraces and then forks. The left-hand branch offers a longer gentler ascent along the Kitamayo River to the Antachaka district at the northern end of the ruins. This route is often overgrown and poorly defined. The right-hand path crosses the river and climbs steeply through andene (terraces) up to the Atalaya towers (watchtowers) top of the ridge. Allow two hours for the climb to the main part of the site. Because of the height of the ruins it is prudent to have acclimatized before attempting the climb up.
- By taking a taxi up a winding eight kilometre long sealed road to the entrance at Paradero Alto, which is north of the Qantus Raccay urban district. A taxi can be hailed from anywhere in the town, but most taxis are usually found outside the taxi cooperative office. The price for a one-way taxi ride from centre of Pisac of Pisac is S/25. It is not recommended to take a mototaxi (the tuk tuk style ones) as they can be unstable on the steep windy road.
The scenic drive up the mountain to the control point takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Note that the ticket office is 200 m before the entrance. Your driver will normally stop and allow you to buy a ticket at the ticket office before continuing on to drop you at the control point, which is at the entrance.
- A budget option is to take a colectivo from Pisac market in the direction of the village of Maska, getting off approximately 15 minutes later at the turn-off (desvio) to the top entrance of the archeological park and from there walk five minutes up hill to the Paradero Alto entrance.
Once at the top entrance you can then either:
- Explore the ruins and backtrack to the Paradero Alto entrance to return by taxi, or
- Hike from this point through the ruins the four km back down to Pisac. Allow 1½ hours to walk down plus 1½ to 2 hours to explore the site. The walk down is suitable for just about anyone who has good mobility and doesn't suffer from vertigo. Tell your driver you will be walking down.
There are no map boards within the park and only a limited number of signposts, therefore bring the free map from the tourist information office in the town. If you are unsure of which way to go, remember that the mountain must stay more or less on your righthand side as you walk down. If you do this you can’t go wrong.
Food, drinks and souvenirs can be bought from stalls at the entrance to the site.
Bring plenty of water with you. Water is not sold within the site.
Regular trainers (sneakers) are perfectly suitable for this trek.
Make sure you take sun protection! The site is at high attitude and quite exposed, so you will get burnt!
Walking sticks are still permitted, so take them if you need them.
The park is open daily from 7:00 to 18:00. Admission is by Boleto Turístico. If you haven't purchased it already it can be purchased at the ticket office just before the entrance to the upper entrance to the site or from the control point/ticket office at the town entrance. It needs to be purchased using Peruvian Soles. US dollars and bank cards are not accepted. You also need to show your passport.
Mercado de Artesania (Pisac Market)
Pisac’s market is by far the biggest and most touristy in the region.
Official market days are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, when tourist buses descend on the town in droves, but it has taken over Pisac to such an extent that it fills the Plaza Constitución and surrounding streets every day; visit on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds. The market is at its biggest on Sunday when indigenous Quechua communities from the surrounding area come to town to sell their produce (much of which are completely organic) and stock up on supplies for the week. In the square, many bakers and chefs make treats and walk around selling their specialties. There is also an abundance of chocla, an Andean large corn specialty, available for sale on the outskirts of the market. The handcraft sellers set up shop about 9:00 and winds down by about 17:00. On Sundays the farmer's normally ends by 15:00 so that the villagers can be home before dark.
A large section of the market is dedicated to tourist-oriented souvenir stalls. It’s cheaper in the centre of the market- the people on the edges typically charge the most. Bartering is expected, they will tell you a price much higher than they are willing to accept. Many think in numbers and don’t speak English well enough to barter or even if you speak Spanish, many want written or calculated numbers to confirm that you are all on the same page.
Some of the vendors at the market don’t like having their photo taken. Always ask first and a good rule of thumb is to pay S/1 per person in the photo you take.
On days other than Sundays, the fruit and vegetable market is held at the rather characterless municipal market two blocks from the main square on San Francisco Street and is worth a visit if you have 20 minutes to spare.
- Iglesia San Pedro Apóstolo, Plaza Constitución. This church on the main plaza was built on Inca foundations and was rebuilt after an earthquake on 1950. The Instituto Nacional de Cultura, in a characteristically controversial move, demolished the church in order to reconstruct it in its original colonial style. The church has a collection of interesting colonial era paintings. Masses, are worth visiting, especially on Sunday, a Quechua-language mass which is held at 11:00. Traditionally dressed locals descend from the hills to attend, including men in traditional highland dress blowing conches (horns) to summon worshipers and ‘’varayocs’’ (local authorities) with silver staffs of office. Free entry.
- Jardín Botanico, Calle Grau 485, Cuadra 4, Pisac., ☏ . 08:00-16:30. Also known as the Felipe Marin Moreno Botanic Garden, this old enclosed colonial garden was created in 1917 by Felipe Marín Moreno, a Peruvian botanist and explorer who used the garden to experiment. His collection was built up over the years through correspondence with various institutions and botanists around the world from whom he received samples and seeds. While not a large garden it does provide a insight into native and non-native Peruvian plants and trees. It boasts a collection of 200 varieties of Peruvian potatoes and a selection of butterflies, beetles and other insects. S/8.
- Museo Comunitario de Pisac, Avenida Amazonas 133, on the corner with Avenida Federico Zamalloa, Pisac, ☏ . Su-F 08:00-13:00, 14:00-17:00. This museum has exhibits on the production of ceramics and the traditional textiles produced by local Quechua communities. A room is dedicated to Inca Pisac covering its development from the archaic period (7000 to 800 years before Christ) to the period of imperial expansion of the Inca state (1400 to 1535). The museum includes a graphical presentation of the various areas of the imperial city, as well as various ceramic objects and remains (including Inca mummies).
- Ñusta Encantada. Located on the road to the south, that leads to the Ñustayoc hill is a rock formation which according is legend is Inquill carrying bags on her back.
In the 2010s, Pisac became popular with people looking for alternative medicine solutions. Among the things on offer are, Andean coca readings, aromatherapy massage, astrological counselling, shamanic plant medicine treatments and retreats with ayahuasca, huachuma, kambô and rapé mixed with a yoga and juice fasting.
Providers of these ceremonies are not regulated by the government, so it is each participant's responsibility to do his or her homework to ensure they're dealing with bona fide operators.
- The Virgen del Carmen festival is in July, and includes colorful costumed dancers and a parade. There are few foreign tourists, and it's definitely worth a day trip via bus from Cusco if you like a little culture and history. As usual, beware of skilled pick-pockets.
- El Santuario animal de Cochahuasi (The Animal Sanctuary of Cochahuasi). It's a project of rescue animal center. People can see endangered species of animals like condors, pumas, bears. Also there are some animals from jungle and andes areas in Peru. It's in km 22 in the road from Cusco to Pisac, 1½ km before Pisac. email: .
In the streets surrounding the main plaza, there are a number of small shops selling local handcrafts including Alpaca goods, artwork, crystals, silver jewellery combined with gemstone, rugs, and knick-knackery of all kinds etc.
Although very small, it is worth putting several hours to a whole Sunday aside for the Pisac market. People come down from the highlands with their products, including very fresh food, raw materials, tomatoes, rice, potatoes. It is worth sitting down with the locals for a lunch eating just that, along with trout clearly just pulled from the river. It costs about S/5, but is a meal to remember.
The main plaza is filled to overflowing with a hundred or more stalls selling the same forgettable tourist junk available all over Peru, with more stalls spilling over onto the surrounding streets and the area in front of the church. Prices for tourists may be significantly higher than for locals, with prices for items like bottled water marked up 50 percent or more from what is charged in Cusco.
The streets near the main plaza are lined with overpriced restaurants serving mediocre fare. Restaurants may double their prices for tourists.
The town gets a bit busy on the main market days (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sundays), which means that you might have to wait for a table.
For a snack or lunch on the run, check out the excellent ‘’hornos coloniales’’ (colonial bakeries), which use traditional, wood-fired ovens.
In the back left-hand corner of the Pisac Mercado (market), there are a number of food stands where you can sit down with the locals and enjoy a locally prepared plate of Peruvian vegetarian food. For S/5 they serve a soup and a plate of four to five traditional dishes.
Cafes and restaurants
- Apu Organic, Calle Grau 534, ☏ . M Tu Th F Su 09:30 to 16:30, closed W and Sa. With the exception of the honey it serves fresh vegan juices, salads, burgers, Andean stew, raw cakes, etc.
- Blue Llama, Plaza Constitución, ☏ . daily 07:30 to 20:30. A popular restaurant on the main plaza, this is also very touristy and overpriced. The food is very good, however, and the colourful decor featuring work by the well-known mural artist Isabel Decencierre is pleasant. There is an ATM inside. Breakfast from S/15. Lunch menu from S/25.
- Café Mullu, Plaza Constitución 352, ☏ . This stylish rustic place specializes in Andean fusion fare. Vegetarian friendly with vegan and gluten free options. Popular during lunch time.
- Sapos Lounge, Calle Espinar (From the main plaza where the market is, head west past the Blue Llama to the first left. Take it, heading south toward the main road until you see Sapos on the left.), ☏ . Tu-Su 17:00 to 22:00, closed M. There are not many night time places, but this the reputation of being the liveliest. They have a bar offering cocktails, beer and wine and they play decent up-beat Peruvian and salsa music. Sapos means ‘toad’ in English, hence the toads painted on the walls and toad ornaments throughout the place. The menu is simple with a focus on thin base pizzas and organic salads. The pizzas are cooked in their toad-shaped wood-fired oven. Check their Facebook page for events. Large pizzas from S/24 and salads from S/15.
- Tierra Bistro Organico, Corner of Calle Grau and Arequipa, ☏ . The relaxing decor of this restaurant features large glass windows overlooking the Jardín Botanico. The menu is somewhat limited and relatively expensive by local standards.
- Ulrike's Cafe, Calle Pardo 613. = daily 08:00 to 21:00. This long-established place has both a relaxing rooftop terrace and inner courtyard. It offers great vegetarian options, good value, filling meals, local experiences such as Chicha Morada, and delicious deserts such as Kahlua cheesecake. Set menu S/30 is reasonable and has good choices. Serves breakfast. You can also inquire about local lodging here. Salads S/8 to 15. Pizzas from S/16 to 36, depending on size and toppings. Mains S/18 to 28. Desserts S/4 to 8.50..
Pisac does not abound in nightlife options. The only place to get a drink is Sapo's Lounge on Calle Espinar. They also do the best pizza in town.
- ChaskaWasi, Avd. Amazonas (s/n). A beautiful hostel by the river. Includes common kitchen and dining area, garden and mediation room
- Hospedaje Inti, Calle Espinar, ☏ . This family run hostel has clean simple rooms and a nice courtyard to relax in. Situated two minutes walk from the main square, yet just enough out of the way to be quiet. Room with shared bathroom, single US$10, double $18. Double room with ensuite US$20. twin room with ensuite US$25.
- Melissa Wasi, Pisac, ☏ , . This family-run guesthouse is a short walk from the town. It has a wonderful view, huge garden, common kitchen, dining area, common area, and very nice hosts.
Pisac is a very safe town, but you should be careful when walking around the crowded market. It is also prudent due its isolation to ensure that you are clear of the Inca ruins before nightfall to avoid making yourself a target.
Due to its attitude there is a heightened risk of attitude sickness as the town are at 2,972 m and the ruins at around 3,500 m. If you have just arrived in the area from a lower attitude then you need to acclimatize before undertaking any strenuous exercise. At this attitude the sun can be very unforgiving even on cloudy days so wear suitable sun cream. If visiting the Inca ruins then take plenty of water.
The Centro de Salud Clas Pisac medical centre on Avenida Amazonas is open 24 hours.
Any major emergencies or patients who require surgical care are sent by ambulance to Cusco, usually to the Hospital Antonio Lorena.
There is a pharmacy above the Plaza Constitución near the public parking area and another on Calle Bolognesi. Both are generally open daily from 8am to 9pm with a midday closing for lunch.
Most guesthouses have free Wi-Fi.
Internet is available at several locations around the Plaza Constitución. They are generally open daily from 9am to 10pm
There's a post office on the corner of Comercio and Intihuatana. There is a mail box inside the Restaurant Samana Wasi on the Plaza Constitución. The restaurant also sell stamps.
The area code for Pisac is 084. +51 84 XXXXXX for international callers.
There are public telephone booths at Sofia Market on Calle Bolognesi and near the municipality on Plaza Constitución.
There is a lavanderia on Avenida Amazonas. Otherwise ask at your accommodation.
There is ATM on the main square inside the Blue Llama restaurant. It is wise to bring some extra cash with you just in case the ATM runs out of money, as is known to happen, (especially if coming on Sunday to the crowded market). There is a moneychanger on the main square near the church.